Within minutes of hearing Tony Norman speak, you’ll have no doubt where he stands on the most critical issues facing the country.
In what he jokingly called a “shpiel” in reference to the proximity of Purim, the affable Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist spoke before a group of congregants and community members at Temple Ohav Shalom on Wednesday, March 16, tackling such hot-button issues as race relations and politics.
Norman is as eloquent a speaker as he is a writer. He engaged the audience in spirited discussions about such current topics as the recent Wilkinsburg shootings as well as a more philosophical discourse on mainstream fundamentalist Christianity and the continued racism in a society that has already elected a black president.
In this election season, though, uppermost on many folks’ minds is the upcoming race for the presidency. Norman said that the election will be a “… titanic battle, the ugliest campaign in a generation. I am scared witless of Donald Trump and the kind of politics it portends.”
Calling Donald Trump a “monstrously cartoonish figure” who represents the “darkest, blackest, political soul of our nation,” Norman said with Trump’s “outlandish antics,” which he called “unabashed and unapologetically fascist,” he gets a little more afraid every day of a potential Trump presidency. He referred to the early 1980s, when Trump was a subject of great mockery, and he said that there was no way anyone could have, at that time, ever imagined that he could be elected president.
Norman then read the audience a column about why he is endorsing Bernie Sanders, which ran on March 8 and was headlined “Vote Your Values.”
In part, he wrote:
“I sincerely believe that a Bernie Sanders presidency would put into the Oval Office the biggest skeptic of the economic status quo the American public has seen since the New Deal era. As a candidate for the highest office in the land, Mr. Sanders has consistently articulated a revulsion for the upside-down values of the moneyed class that controls our politics. He has expressed righteous indignation at much that is indecent about the American economy and those it has left behind.”
Reading from a Feb. 5 column, he also discussed the recent death of a police dog, killed by a suspect, and his opinion that it was unethical and immoral to train dogs to attack. Norman said that he could not believe the overwhelmingly positive response he received to that column.
Norman also led the congregants in a discussion about the intermingling of politics and mainstream fundamentalist Christian beliefs, saying that there is coursing through society “an ugly strain of triumphalism,” with some candidates mechanically following this “antiquated theology that informs our sociology and our politics.”
When asked by an audience member what should be the task for Jews and nonfundamentalist Christians other than voting, he responded, “Loving people. Being willing to get in the trenches and loving even your enemies.” He elaborated by citing examples from the civil rights movement.
On a more personal note, Norman relayed some of the racism that he experienced as a student at a predominantly Christian college, as well as that of his father, who, despite having earned a college accounting degree, had a hard time finding employment due to Jim Crow laws that were still in effect at the time.
Norman, a Philadelphia native who also serves as the paper’s book editor, has won numerous writing awards and is an adjunct professor of journalism at Chatham University. He began his Post-Gazette tenure as a clerk, then as the pop culture critic and has been a general interest columnist since 1996.
Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.