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U.S. | The Atlantic
U.S. | The Atlantic
Introducing Floodlines
Dear Reader,The coronavirus pandemic represents, among other things, a lesson about the importance of competent government leadership.But we’ve learned this lesson before.Last year, Vann R. Newkirk II, one of our staff writers, and our podcast chief Katherine Wells, came to me with an idea for a thorough reassessment of Hurricane Katrina, 15 years later. We knew that the story of Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans was a crucial one to tell. We knew that it was a way to explore our climate future, and our relationship with nature itself. We knew that it would help explain issues of race and class, and truth and lies. But we did not know then how chillingly relevant it would be. Katrina marked a breakpoint in the history of our country, a moment when Americans came to understand that, sometimes, the cavalry isn't coming.Floodlines, the mesmerizing podcast series that grew out of these conversations, is The Atlantic’s first foray into narrative audio. For 163 years, The Atlantic has specialized in great storytelling; Floodlines builds on this tradition. Vann, Katherine, and their team have taken a story we think we know and have made it dramatically, shockingly, new. They unearth human stories that take us to the heart of the tragedy; they investigate the failures of politicians and the media; and they question the officials who were in charge: the tormented former police chief of New Orleans, and the former FEMA chief Michael Brown—“Brownie”—among them. They achieve something great here, the deepest understanding of what Vann calls “an unnatural disaster.”I hope you listen to Floodlines. You can subscribe on any podcast app (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play) or visit our website at theatlantic.com/floodlines.I thought I knew most of what there was to know about Hurricane Katrina. But then I listened to Floodlines.
2020-03-12 12:00:00
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
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theatlantic.com
Photos: Tornado Damage in Tennessee
Wade Payne / AP At least one tornado tore through central Tennessee earlier this week, damaging hundreds of houses and larger buildings and killing at least 24 people. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has declared a state of emergency as rescuers search for dozens of people still listed as missing, most of them in Putnam County, east of Nashville. Below are images of the storm’s widespread destruction and some of the rescue and salvage work taking place.
2020-03-04 19:34:27
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
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theatlantic.com
Maryland: Images of the Old Line State
Maryland is one of the smaller yet most densely populated states in the union. From sandy beaches along the Atlantic, through the Chesapeake Bay, the city of Baltimore, and out to the rural stretches of western Maryland, here are a few glimpses into the landscape of the state of Maryland, and some of the animals and people calling it home. This photo story is part of Fifty, a collection of images from each of the United States.
2020-03-01 21:11:34
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
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theatlantic.com
A Secret at the Border
Raul Rodriguez was proud to be a border agent. For nearly two decades, he had searched for people and drugs hidden in cargo before it entered the United States. In his years of service as a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, he’d initiated the deportations of thousands of people. His job gave him security and a sense of purpose. One day, in 2018, that all came crashing down. Investigators came to Rodriguez’s office in McAllen, Texas, to tell him his career in immigration—and his military service before that—was based on a lie. His United States citizenship was fraudulent. He was an undocumented immigrant himself. In a new documentary from The Atlantic, Rodriguez reveals the shattering impact that this discovery has had on his life. “I can relate to people who I turned back, people that I deported,” he says. “They call it karma.” For more, read Jeremy’s Raff’s article, “The Undocumented Agent.” A version of this story appears on This American Life. You can hear it on public radio stations this weekend, and online Sunday, February 16 at 8 p.m. ET.
2020-02-14 16:00:00
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
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theatlantic.com
The #MeToo Case That Divided the Abortion-Rights Movement
On a 92-degree morning in September, three clinic escorts gathered in the meager shade of a tree outside the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives. They arrive here at 8:30 a.m. on the dot, regular as clock-punchers, on the three days a week the Huntsville clinic is open to perform abortions. The women and girls arrive dressed for comfort in sweatpants and shower slides, carrying pillows from home or holding the hand of a partner or friend. The escorts, meanwhile, wear brightly colored vests and wield giant umbrellas to block the incoming patients from the sight, if not the sound, of the other group that comes here like clockwork: the protesters.To hear more feature stories, get the Audm iPhone app. Sometimes there are as many as a dozen. This day there were four: one woman, three men, all white. Four doesn’t sound like that many until you’re downwind of them maniacally hollering: Mommy, don’t kill me! You’re lynching your black baby! They rip their arms and legs off! They suffer! They torture them! But escorts are made of stern stuff. Josie, with her short snow-white ponytail and T-shirt spangled with buttons (fearless flawless feminist, abortion is normal), doesn’t get paid to defend, as she puts it, “these patients, these doctors, this staff.” Nevertheless, that’s her job. Among those Josie has sworn to protect is Willie Parker, an ob-gyn who has worked here for the past several years and who, until recently, was a hero of the reproductive-rights movement.Last fall, while trying to defend Parker—not in this parking lot, but in the no-less-divisive wilds of Facebook message boards—Josie got dragged into a dispute that has shaken the reproductive-rights movement, from its uppermost reaches to its grassroots volunteers. One of Josie’s fellow escorts was called “trash” after she spoke up for Parker; others were told they didn’t deserve to be escorts. The people hurling the insults were not pro-lifers but fellow abortion-rights foot soldiers: How dare Josie—how dare anyone—not believe Candice?On March 25, 2019, the activist Candice Russell posted a 3,300-word essay on the website Medium titled “To All the Women Whose Names I Don’t Know, About the Pain We Share, the Secrets We Keep, and the Silence That Shouldn’t Have Been Asked For.” In prose that was by turns confusing and moving, Russell wrote that after a year and a half of casual texting and a handful of face-to-face meetups, she and Parker had met for dinner in Dallas in October 2016. She got drunk, while he, she discovered partway through the evening, stuck to tonic water and lime. Then they went back to his hotel room, where she continued to drink, and they had sex.Russell did not write that she’d told Parker she didn’t want to sleep with him, but she strongly implied that, having downed “four martinis and an entire bottle of wine,” she was inebriated beyond any practical ability to consent. And, in a sweeping accusation that extended far beyond what had happened between the two of them in that hotel room, she called him a “predator.” She’d gradually learned, she wrote, that the way he’d treated her was part of a pattern. Rumors about his behavior swirled in “whispers [that] had become so loud they were more like shouts”—and unnamed movement leaders were refusing to expose him.Russell did not report Parker to the police, and unlike, say, the cases of Matt Lauer at NBC or even Al Franken in the Senate, a workplace investigation was never on the table: The activist and the doctor operated in the same sphere, but they weren’t colleagues. Instead, the case of Russell versus Parker has been battled out largely on message boards and in closed-door conversations within the insular, impassioned realm of abortion rights, among people, mostly women, for whom the cause of bodily autonomy was a calling long before the dawn of the #MeToo movement. Yet its tentacles stretch much further, bringing into the open generational and, to an extent, racial divisions in our rapidly shifting views on sexual assault—the kinds of questions and doubts that are typically expressed only in private. How does alcohol figure into culpability? What constitutes appropriate sexual behavior when one person has more power than the other? And perhaps most crucial, how absolute is the duty to believe women—the rallying cry of #MeToo?That the saga of Candice Russell and Willie Parker is set in the abortion-rights world heightens the stakes, and not just for the two of them. Sooner rather than later, one of the recent spate of state laws prohibiting abortion after six weeks’ gestation may have its intended consequence: provoking a ruling by the right-leaning Supreme Court that could further erode, if not eliminate, the rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade. Within the reproductive-justice movement, talk of a post-Roe America is not an if but a when—planning is well under way for how to help women in red states get abortions when the procedure is no longer federally protected. Indeed, with only one abortion clinic per state in six states, you could argue that many Americans are already living in a post-Roe reality. All of which makes Russell’s allegation against Parker a potential chink in the armor of the movement itself—one that could, as an activist put it, “reify the narrative that ‘abortionists abuse women’ simply by providing abortions.”This isn’t just a theory. Three days after Russell’s essay was published, Life Dynamics, a Texas group known for sending “spies for life” into abortion clinics to try to dig up information that might be used to close them down, reveled in the allegations against Parker, claiming on Twitter that it had proof that “thousands of women have been sexually assaulted or raped by abortionists. Some of the abortionists that we documented are still working!”More recently, Gloria Gray, the owner of a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, clinic where Parker worked last fall, told me that one of her regular protesters had begun making the baseless charge that she was employing a “sexual molester” who’d “fondled patients.”Willie Parker and Candice Russell met in 2015, at the Hartford, Connecticut, airport, after attending the annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference. The bald-headed, then-52-year-old Parker, who wears round, black-framed glasses and a silver hoop in one ear, had been a featured speaker. The Latina Russell was, at age 32, a “scholarship kid,” as she jokingly puts it—a freelance writer and fledgling activist allowed to attend for free. As she recalls, she sat down at the gate, plunked down her bag, and accidentally bumped Parker. As the two chatted, other conference attendees kept interrupting to take selfies with him.It would be hard to overstate Parker’s prominence within the reproductive-rights movement at the time. He was its most visible male figurehead—indeed, its only one. A black, devoutly Christian ob-gyn born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Parker spent the first half of his career refusing to perform abortions. Then, in 2003, at the age of 41, he had what he has described as a “come-to-Jesus moment.” He radically reversed course, becoming not just an abortion provider but, you might say, the abortion provider: a traveling doctor who—eschewing the bulletproof vest favored by some in his high-risk profession—zigzags across the Deep South tending to patients, most of whom are poor women of color, at clinics in Alabama and Mississippi.That was only part of it. Parker posted himself up at the movement’s front line with the same zeal with which he had once handed out religious pamphlets as a born-again teenage preacher. At one event after another, he cast abortion as a moral imperative that ensures a woman’s human right to lead the life she wants to live. This message refashioned the most controversial medical procedure of our time as the Christian thing to do—and gave the abortion-rights community a language it sorely needed. The abortion storytellers’ organization Shout Your Abortion sold T-shirts bearing Parker’s face. The novelist Jodi Picoult modeled a character on him. In 2017, Parker would publish his own book, a memoir called Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice.One reason Parker was so beloved is that he never acted superior. Exalted as he became, he never lost his easy affability or his appetite for conversation; even in the procedure room, he’s known for keeping up a steady stream of comforting small talk. That day in Hartford, he offered to save Russell a seat on the plane—he was in boarding group A; she was in C—which was not unusual. It was Parker being Parker. But to Russell it was a big deal. On the plane, she shared a story she’d written for HuffPost; he compared it to the work of James Baldwin. (She had to Google the name in the airplane bathroom.) Parker told her he was working on his memoir—maybe he could send her some chapters to read? When we met in a Tuscaloosa hotel’s conference room in September, about six months after she posted her essay, Russell relived the thrill of the request: Here was “the Gloria Steinem of the movement, and he wants to be writing partners?” she recalled thinking. “This is awesome.”Russell’s own come-to-Jesus moment—though she’d never describe it as such—had occurred a couple of years earlier, after she finished a bartending shift at a place she calls “Ye Olde Irish Hooters.” When she got into her car and turned on the radio, the news was all about the Texas legislation later known as H.B. 2, which proposed banning abortion after 20 weeks, among other restrictions. This was 2013. State Senator Wendy Davis was soon to become famous for filibustering the bill in her hot-pink Mizunos. Sitting in her car listening, Russell thought, “They’re talking about abortion like it’s this horrible thing. They don’t know what they’re talking about.”She drove straight to Austin, 200 miles south, changed into a dress that was in her trunk, and marched into the capitol rotunda, where she waited in line for hours to testify about her abortion before the state Senate. Russell had gotten pregnant after dating her then-boyfriend for only a month and a half and, at 21, had had an abortion without regret—she views the procedure as the key to her future, and her personal freedom. Making her story more powerful, Russell is what anti-abortion activists call an “abortion survivor.” When her mother was 14 and about to have what would have been her third abortion, she decided at the last minute to keep her baby, Candice. Russell’s narrative flipped the pro-life assumption that no one who’d almost been aborted would ever terminate her own pregnancy.Eventually, telling this story—and that of her second abortion, which she had at age 30—became a sort of job for Russell. As a member of the advocacy group We Testify (an arm of the National Network of Abortion Funds), she shared her account with reporters at The New York Times, The Guardian, and CNN.But in 2015, when she met Parker, Russell was still looking for a way into the movement, volunteering at local Texas organizations without gaining much traction, she told me. Curled up in an armchair, Russell looked dramatically different from the bright-eyed, sprightly woman in Facebook photos taken back then. She seemed deeply fatigued, with dark circles under her eyes, and she was noticeably heavier: Russell had had gastric-bypass surgery in 2009, shedding almost 180 pounds to become, at 5 foot 2, a petit size 4. But since the night with Parker, she said, she’d gained some 80 pounds, which she attributed mostly to alcohol. Still, a certain dorm-room girlishness remained, with her chipped black nail polish and black floral dress; flashes of wit and charisma made it easy to imagine the funny, “boisterous” woman Parker says he was initially charmed by.After that flight together, Russell said, Parker became a “very close and personal friend,” thanks to a bond based on shared childhood trauma. As he wrote in his memoir, Parker and his five siblings grew up on food stamps. Their mother was twice hospitalized after psychotic breaks and eventually was diagnosed with manic depression.Russell’s own mother was a stripper and sometime sex worker, and was addicted to meth and heroin, she says. By the time Russell was a preteen, she had been abandoned to live with her stepfather and two half-siblings. But during a brief reappearance, her mother sold her 12-year-old daughter for sex—one of multiple incidences of sexual abuse in her childhood, Russell says.Russell herself struggles with mental illness, she told me, and in the months leading up to her October 2016 get-together with Parker, she’d been diagnosed with severe PTSD due to childhood trauma. She’d been looking forward to confiding in Parker about this at dinner that night, in fact. On the handful of occasions when they’d met in person, the two had had hours-long conversations, she said, in which she told him “things I hadn’t even told my [ex-]husband.”Listening to Parker describe his relationship with Russell is like listening to a record played backwards: A completely different sound comes out. At 5 foot 11, Parker is barrel-chested and physically imposing, a presence that is offset by his signature collection of professorial bow ties and ascots. But the day we met, at a Manhattan sidewalk café, the city was sweltering, and he wore a crisp button-down, no tie. As he talked, in long blocks of uninterrupted speech, he frequently removed his glasses to mop his brow.What Parker said he knew about Russell, you could learn at a cocktail party: She was from Seattle, had been married, had a stepson she was still in contact with. Their conversations, he said, covered music, the Seattle Seahawks, their activism, Russell’s various jobs—over time, she was appointed to the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas and hired as an executive assistant by the National Network of Abortion Funds. She “absolutely” never opened up to him about her childhood trauma or mental-health problems, he said. If she had talked about her mother, he likely would have shared about his own, he added, “but we didn’t have that kind of fluency.” Their interactions were “too inconsistent for me to become a close confidant to her,” and he said he never asked her to read his book-in-progress.Parker got married for the first time in August 2018, seven months before Russell posted her story, to a 54-year-old flight attendant with whom he now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. But until then he’d been an object in motion, always on the road for his advocacy or abortion work, finding connection where he could—people he’d grab a bite with when he happened to land in their town. In his mind, the only thing that differentiated Russell from those friends is the fact that on one occasion they’d had sex.Both Parker’s and Russell’s recollections of the night of October 8, 2016, are fragmented—hers, she says, because of alcohol; his, he says, because of the erasure of time. They agree on this: They had dinner at a Cajun restaurant in Dallas, where he’d come for a conference, before heading to a rooftop bar called Happiest Hour. Around midnight, they returned to his hotel and had sex.Parker’s version of the story hinges on a moment—maybe at the bar, he’s not certain—when Russell looked at him and said something along the lines of “There’s this undeniable chemistry between us. It’s mutual. What are we going to do about it?” This surprised him, he said. He’d found Russell attractive, but they hadn’t seemed destined for anything more than friendship. Still, to him, this was the moment not just of consent but of initiation: She made the first move.In Tuscaloosa, when I repeated this part of Parker’s story to Russell, she practically doubled over in pain. “That’s not how I talk,” she said, spitting out the words. And even if she had come on to him—which she doesn’t remember doing—she said she was drunk enough that any indication of consent was irrelevant. “I don’t care if I said ‘Let’s go fuck in the bathroom.’ ”In some ways, Russell’s and Parker’s conflicting views of the night all boil down to this. Russell said Parker could not have missed that she was plastered: She drank a few martinis at dinner, at least one more at the bar, and a whole bottle of wine in his hotel room, and she describes herself as “clumsy” when she drinks. “I sway a lot, fall a lot. I slur. If I’m brownout drunk—so drunk, I’m not remembering—I’m sloppy at that point.”But Parker, a lifetime teetotaler, said that he didn’t count Russell’s drinks, never saw a bottle of wine in his room, and didn’t witness Russell act as she describes. Removing his glasses to rub his eyes, he recalled her condition using a physician’s parlance: “There were no slurs, no incoherent thoughts, no motor-function impairment.” Until the Medium post, Russell hadn’t given him an inkling that she thought their night together was anything other than consensual, he said, and the two continued to text periodically. At some point, Russell must have “decided to feel some other kind of way about” sex she’d agreed to and so reframed it as an “exploitative, predatory thing”—the kind of thing “nobody would question.”With at least part of this analysis, Russell would concur: She did change her mind. For a long time, she described the encounter to herself and others as “problematic.” But the more she thought about it, the more that idea began to break apart and reassemble into a different shape. If another woman had told Russell that she’d gotten “brownout” drunk and had sex, she says, “would I be calling it ‘problematic’? No, I would call it rape.”Protesters outside the Supreme Court on the eve of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt oral arguments, in March 2016. The case challenged a Texas law that regulated abortion-providing facilities. (Dawn Porter)The day after Russell’s March 25 letter, Parker took to Medium to post a point-by-point rebuttal of her allegations, but that did not keep him from being swiftly disappeared from the movement. On the 26th, he stepped down, under duress, from his position as chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health. He says he was disinvited from four upcoming academic talks and lost his seat on the boards of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Abortion Access Front (formerly Lady Parts Justice League), an organization led by the comedian and activist Lizz Winstead, who until then had been one of his closest allies. The National Network of Abortion Funds declared solidarity with accusers, and said it already had been in the process of dropping Parker’s name from one of its two national funds. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue, perhaps the most powerful abortion-rights leader in the country after Cecile Richards resigned in 2018 from the top post at Planned Parenthood, tweeted: “We #believesurvivors and we believe Candice Russell. Sexual assault does occur in movement spaces, and we should have no tolerance for it.”The fierce constituency that rose up around Russell demanded no proof. None was necessary. She was one of their own, clearly the David to Parker’s Goliath, the older, richer, more powerful male—the movement “rock star” 20 years her senior. To these ardent, instant supporters, the thinking was: Why would anyone do what she did—reveal a humiliating experience, including her own hard drinking, and risk being ostracized by the abortion-rights community for tarring its MVP—unless it was true? What could she possibly have to gain by lying about such a thing?“That is literally an option of last resort,” says Amanda Reyes, the founder and executive director of Alabama’s Yellowhammer Fund, a reproductive-justice organization that helps pay for abortions in that state. After reading Russell’s Medium post, Reyes wrote to Russell—whom she’d never met—to say I believe you. In recent years, Reyes told me, groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL have leaned hard on hashtags like #trustwomen, meaning that we should trust women to make their own decisions about whether to terminate a pregnancy. “If I do not extend that [same trust] to survivors,” Reyes said, “then who am I?”As it happens, Reyes’s belief led to one of the more unlikely plot twists in this story. In June, Reyes offered Russell a job as the deputy director of Yellowhammer, which practically overnight had gone from a shoestring operation to a force to be reckoned with. After Alabama passed the country’s most restrictive abortion ban in May, the group’s bank balance leaped from $5,000 to more than $2 million in just two months, enriched by the online activism of celebrities like Rihanna and Reese Witherspoon.For Russell, the job meant moving to Tuscaloosa to work for an organization whose primary mission is funding abortions in Alabama—including those Parker performs. But she was undeterred: This was a chance to do important work at a level she’d only dreamed of. And her supporters had her back; all summer, the fire Russell had lit continued to rage online, and with increasing vitriol. Why was Parker, “a serial rapist,” even allowed to perform abortions anymore? one activist asked on a Facebook page called #IbelieveCandice. “I wouldn’t feel safe under his care.”For all his eloquence on the subject of a woman’s right to choose, Parker is not deft at expressing the emotional impact of his exile, or of such invective. He uses phrases like profound disappointment and moments of pain. But he once offered, piercingly, that the way Russell had written on Medium of his hands all over her had made him sound “animalistic,” like the stereotypical sexualized black man.While Parker says he prefers not to dwell on the racial dimensions of this story—a black man accused of a crime and condemned with no recourse—one of his close friends, the social-justice advocate Wyndi Anderson, believes that on some level he had been steeling himself against this possibility. “If you grew up in the South, this is what we think black men do—rape women,” says Anderson, who is white and was raised in South Carolina. “As a black man who has been putting his hands on and in white women and [other] women, he has been waiting for this fucking thing, this charge, since the day he started doing this work.”The few who did publicly take issue with Russell’s denunciation of Parker were lambasted for victim-blaming, or written off as “rape apologists.” The documentary-film maker Dawn Porter, who spent three years in Parker’s orbit while shooting her 2016 film, Trapped, about the diminishing number of abortion clinics in the Deep South, uncorked her outrage on Twitter: “What did i miss? You drank 4 martinis and a bottle of wine on your own. Did he force you to do that? You slept with him and you regret it? That makes him a PREDATOR?” Mallory McMaster, one of Russell’s fellow abortion storytellers, fired back: “Dawn, your next documentary should follow your abrupt departure from the movement after showing us all that you don’t share our values.”The notion that a woman who drinks too much is at all responsible for unwanted sex has become verboten in recent years—understandably, because it risks reopening an old window, allowing back in the creeping suspicion that women are in some way to blame when they’re assaulted. But in reality, things get messy. In her Medium post, Russell herself wrote, “If I had done the right thing, left at the appropriate time, stopped after two drinks like I should have, none of this would have ever happened.” By the time we met six months later she was free of any ambiguity. The fact that Parker was sober figured prominently in her thinking. If they’d both been drunk, the sex would have been “not great, but not predatory,” in Russell’s estimation. But because he’d had his wits about him and she hadn’t, she said to me, as if addressing Parker directly, “That’s your bad. You’re a feminist leader and a physician, and you are choosing to count that as consent. That is your mistake. That makes you a predator.”The law draws no such distinction. These days, we all know that a person cannot consent to sex when incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, but what constitutes incapacitated, exactly? In most states, including Texas, an accuser who drinks of her own volition (versus, say, being roofied) must be fully unconscious—literally unable to resist—to qualify as such. So legally, it doesn’t matter how wasted Russell was—as long as she wasn’t passed-out. Cynthia Godsoe, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in gender and sexuality, says the standards in this area are beginning to shift: Under Title IX rules, which govern how colleges address sexual assault on campus, people who are visibly drunk are sometimes considered past the point of consent. And coincidentally, a bill is now pending in the Texas statehouse to expand the definition of sexual assault to include cases of what Godsoe calls “serious drunkenness,” or, in the language of the legislation, cases in which “the actor knows the other person is intoxicated” to the point that he or she can’t “appraise the nature of the act.”Of course, defining that level of intoxication isn’t necessarily straightforward, nor is proving that one person knew how drunk another person was. “Some people act sloppy; some don’t,” Godsoe says. “Someone could drink four martinis and be okay; someone else would not.” The limits of the justice system are one reason the writer Tanya Selvaratnam—who told The New Yorker in 2018 about being domestically abused by then–New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman—last April wrote an op-ed for Glamour backing Russell. For many victims of sexual assault and harassment, Selvaratnam contended, “the court of public opinion” is the best or only option available. (Schneiderman was never criminally charged.)Post-#MeToo, many people have become comfortable trusting narratives that wouldn’t have been credited before. Christine Blasey Ford recalled her alleged assault by Brett Kavanaugh with great specificity and also with occasional imprecision, more than 30 years after the fact—and polls showed that 45 percent of Americans believed her (versus 33 percent who believed Kavanaugh). Andrea Constand recalled an assault during which she had been only half-conscious, thanks to three little blue pills she’d been given by Bill Cosby—and the comedian was convicted of aggravated indecent assault. Russell’s drinking, her spotty memory, and her troubled past make her exactly the kind of woman whose account of sexual harassment or assault was for generations disregarded, dismissed without a backwards glance. What is #believewomen, after all, if you don’t believe this woman?The mounting force of this duty to believe was apparent the week after Russell posted her essay, when two elder stateswomen of the reproductive-justice movement called for due process—and were roundly ignored. In an op-ed, Toni Bond Leonard and Loretta Ross exhorted the abortion-rights community not to rush to judgment, lest they violate Parker’s human rights. “What is painfully evident,” they wrote, “is that our lack of process is fracturing the movement, often along racial and generational lines, through a dangerous collision of #MeToo with reproductive justice.” Six months later, not one activist I spoke with had been swayed by this sentiment: The generational divide Leonard and Ross had identified was real, they all told me, and the elders were on the wrong side of it.Ross helped coin the phrase reproductive justice, which emphasizes the needs of marginalized communities (the poor, people of color) and has replaced pro-choice as the dominant framework for abortion-rights activism. From 1979 to 1982, she was the director of the first rape crisis center in the country, in Washington, D.C. “I’m pre-#MeToo,” she told me last fall. No one who’s seen what she has wants to undermine the credibility of survivors, Ross continued, but by the same token, “no reasonable veteran of the anti-rape movement is going to agree that every so-called survivor is absolutely telling the truth. That’s just not true.”At this time in history, in the circles in which Ross operates, that is an extremely controversial statement, but she didn’t hedge. “A lot of people tell stories through the lens of their trauma that are as real as can be to them. That doesn’t make it the objective truth. While you want to hold that story for that person, you have to be very, very careful what you do with it. Because you have to have other evidence—something to back it up, other than their feelings.”Dawn PorterRussell might never have gone public, based on her own telling, were it not for the stories she says she heard about Parker hitting on other drunk or vulnerable women—the “whispers [that] had become so loud they were more like shouts.” Indeed, her essay reads as an invitation to those who suffered similar harm to join her in publicly naming Parker. That hasn’t happened: No one else has come forward to say she has been sexually assaulted by the doctor.One woman accused Parker of sexually harassing her: Yamani Hernandez, the executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, who happens to be Russell’s former boss. In a series of tweets in August, Hernandez said that during a 2015 photo op, Parker leaned in and whispered in her ear that “he would tell his boys back home I was one of his new honeys.” Later, when those pictures were posted on the group’s Facebook page, and someone joked that they looked like wedding shots, he commented on the photo that he would “draw [Hernandez] a bath with oil and flowers and rub [her] feet.” When Hernandez then texted him to ask if he wanted to say something to her privately, Parker replied (in communications he shared with me), “All just jokes, if I was interested in you, you’d have known by now”—a comment intended, she thought, to “knock me down a peg.” (Parker wrote Hernandez in August to say that while he didn’t remember their exchanges the same way she did, he was sorry for “ever” offending her. She thanked him for the “important step toward repair,” adding that she hoped he would “seek education.”)Russell knew about Parker’s sexually tinged comments to Hernandez, and she says they’re one of the “whispers” that persuaded her to write her essay. As for the other stories that influenced Russell, I followed up on each, and, among those I could trace, her version had marked differences from the one offered by others.The moment Russell said she was sure she “wasn’t alone” came one evening when she was confiding in a female colleague about Parker. The woman stopped her. “She said she could finish my story, because it had happened to her best friend,” Russell told me. Specifically, an activist younger than Parker had gotten drunk past the point of consent and had sex with him. When I spoke with this colleague, however, she said that while she believes Russell is telling the truth about her own experience, she’d told Russell only that she’d heard other “shady” things about Parker—and she’d been alluding only to inappropriate remarks he’d made to a friend.Russell collected another piece of damning information, she said, at a 2017 conference called Let’s Talk About Sex, held a year or so after her encounter with Parker. There, another higher-up in the movement (who declined to be interviewed) said to her, “Oh, you must be one of Willie’s girls.” To Russell, this suggested that reproductive-rights power players knew that Parker took advantage of young women and weren’t doing anything about it. How many other victims are out there? she thought.Cherisse Scott, the founder and CEO of a Memphis reproductive-justice organization called SisterReach, told me she made a “Willie’s girls”–like comment in front of Russell at that conference, but her intention was close to the opposite of Russell’s interpretation. Watching Parker and Russell sitting together at a table near the hotel bar—the pair’s only in-person meeting after their encounter—Scott got the impression that Russell was irritated when other women tried to join them. (Russell, meanwhile, said she was just trying to be “cordial” with Parker because she “didn’t want to make a scene” in public.) At the time, Scott, who is African American, thought Russell was white, which to her put the physician at risk. In a country where black men have “historically been fetishized by white women,” she wrote in an email to me, “he could easily become ‘Native Son.’ ” Scott determined to intervene, with a light touch. “Dr. Parker,” she recalled exclaiming as she approached their table, “you are always holding court. The girls know they love them some Willie Parker!” After Russell left the table, Scott warned Parker to be careful—which at the time he considered unnecessary, he told me, because he was confident in his ability to handle himself with women.Russell said she was finally moved to divulge her story by at least two people who mentioned that they’d seen, or heard tales of, Parker “sidling up” to unidentified young women at conferences. She wouldn’t disclose the name of one of those people, however, because the story was told to her in confidence. The second person, a board member of a reproductive-rights group, told me that while he believes and supports Russell, he didn’t remember telling her this—he wouldn’t have firsthand knowledge of such behavior anyway, he said, because he was never around Parker.In Tuscaloosa, Russell showed me a video clip that someone had forwarded to her before she wrote her letter. It showed Parker dancing at a conference, “humping somebody to some stupid ’90s slow jam,” as she described it—proof that he’d become “brazen, emboldened,” and had to be stopped. The video is 15 seconds long, and shot from a distance. In pink light, on a small platform in the middle of a dance floor, Parker is dancing surrounded by five women, maybe more; it’s hard to tell. He’s the outlier, older than the rest and, well, male. With his shirtsleeves rolled up and his bow tie undone, he looks exactly the way one activist described him to me: “like your fun uncle,” right before last call at a wedding.At the eight-second mark, Russell jabbed a finger at the screen. “Do you see that?” Revulsion was thick in her voice. “His hand, it’s on her hip. He’s practically grinding on her.”We replayed it, twice. I strained. I squinted. Did Parker’s hand graze the woman’s hip? Maybe. Though to me, it looked like he was worried she was about to fall off the platform and was reaching out to catch her. I began to get the surreal sense that Russell and I were watching two different videos: Mine was benign; hers was evidence of predatory behavior.Beyond trying to track down the leads Russell gave me, I contacted numerous members of the reproductive-rights field to ask: Was Parker’s bad behavior an open secret in their world? The overwhelming majority of people I spoke with, many of them Russell’s own allies, said they had never heard anything untoward about Parker before her Medium piece. There were two exceptions. Laurie Bertram Roberts, a co-founder of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, told me that a year before Russell posted her story, another woman had disclosed that she’d had sex with Parker when she was too drunk to consent and considered it rape. Parker denied this, and Bertram Roberts would not ask the woman to speak with me; doing so, she argued, would only retraumatize her. In addition, Bertram Roberts said four women have told her Parker made comments that made them feel “uncomfortable,” along the lines of what he said to Hernandez; Bertram Roberts would not share their names or any specifics.Separately, a former journalist who covers reproductive rights (and asked not to be identified because he didn’t think it was his place as a “cisgender man” to get too involved) said that before Russell’s Medium post, two female activists had mentioned to him that Parker “had a reputation” for taking advantage of young women at conferences. Both of his sources declined to be contacted, so it’s impossible to know whether they were talking about what happened with the two women already on the record—Russell and Hernandez—or other women. (Parker said that none of this is true.)Before Russell’s story went live, Bertram Roberts said a rumor was widely circulating that an abortion provider had sexually assaulted someone in the movement. Later, she realized the gossip was about Russell. So again, were there many women with stories to tell about Willie Parker? Or were the stories of Russell and Hernandez gaining momentum as they reverberated in the tight-knit community?Even if that’s the case, Bertram Roberts told me that she doesn’t think Parker should be let off the hook. Take Russell’s rape allegation out of the equation—what’s a man like Parker doing in bed with a woman like Russell in the first place? she asked. A 41-year-old queer woman, Bertram Roberts is also something of a rock star in the movement; she knows what it’s like when these “18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds” run up and ask to take a selfie. “They’ll be all doe-eyed,” she said. “Can I just sit and talk to you? Can I come hang out in your room?” Her answer, invariably, is “Hell no.” Refusing to bask in that kind of abject admiration, she says, “is an ethical choice.”Parker considers this a false equivalency. When he and Russell met, she wasn’t 19; she was 32. “I’m still questioning what authority I had over Candice, even if she says ‘I looked up to you as a hero,’ ” Parker told me, shaking his head stubbornly. Such reasoning, he contended, strips women of sexual agency. Any woman who admires his work—or for that matter, any woman who admires a man who is richer, more successful, better-looking—“is unable to give consent?” If it’s a question of age, “how old would Candice have to be to assert herself toward me, and for me to be able to say yes without being regarded as [having] preyed upon her?”Left: Parker outside the Supreme Court in March 2016 (Dawn Porter). Right: Russell speaking at a reproductive-justice event at the Texas capitol building in 2015 (Trust Respect Access Coalition).Two weeks after I got home from Alabama, I learned that friends of Russell’s had become worried about her mental health. Increasingly anxious to provide proof for this story, and claiming that it was a hit piece on her, she had begun to lean on people to back up her narrative, including one woman who told me Russell had asked her to say that she’d overheard conversations she had not. (After two days of interviews in Alabama, Russell did not answer any further questions from me or the magazine.)What happened in the hotel room with Parker, we’ll never truly know. But in the course of reporting this story, I couldn’t help but think that Russell may have confabulated or exaggerated her version of the ensuing drama. The generous view is that, at an exceedingly vulnerable time, Russell heard what she needed to hear, mistaking, for instance, a comment about “shady” behavior as a sign of corroboration. The less generous view is that, out of either a growing sense of desperation or malevolence, she made up parts of the story.When pieces of a story are not true, what does that mean for the whole? I’ve wondered what would have happened if, from the beginning, Russell had simply stuck to her own account of her experience with Parker and left out the rumors about other women. Whatever you believe about the truth of it, it’s at least, in the vernacular of #MeToo, “her story to tell.” Of course, Russell may have written about many women being harmed by Parker because she thought there were many. But also, maybe, she did not think it was enough to talk about a single, relatively powerless woman: Candice Russell.Coming forward has clearly been painful and destabilizing for Russell, as it has been for many women who have alleged sexual harassment or assault. Although the online chorus was mostly on her side, she took the doubt expressed by revered leaders such as Ross as a hostile attack. But it was when she described other blowback to her Medium piece that her inability to support her claims became most conspicuous. Russell told me that her website was flooded with “hundreds and hundreds” of emails declaring that the blood of the women of Alabama and Mississippi would be on her hands. But when I asked to see some of them, she said they’d been lost after her website was hacked. Russell said Ross called her a “whore” and “a stripper with a $75,000-a-year salary” on social media, but she couldn’t show me the posts because they’d been eliminated—perhaps by an internet “scrub” company, she added darkly. (Ross denies harassing Russell online, dismissing her claims as “delusional and self-serving.”)Russell did show me screenshots of three threatening text messages—“Nobody will ever believe the daughter of a $2 crack whore,” one reads—but they looked somehow off to me, so I showed them to a digital-forensics expert. He said that the font didn’t look like a standard Apple one, and the file had been saved in an unusual format, using the now-defunct software Picasa—which raises questions: If Russell had captured these on her phone, why would they have gone through extra editing and storage software? It’s extremely difficult to tell when a text has been doctored, and I have no way of knowing whether these were, but the expert told me that he’d be “concerned about the authenticity of the images.”One friend of Russell’s, Robin Marty, the author of Handbook for a Post-Roe America, believes it was Parker’s own Medium essay that led him to be so completely ostracized from the movement. Had Parker recognized the power disparity between himself and Russell; had he said something like “I did not realize at the time how those actions were perceived by you—I am going to look at how I have done things and see if there are things that I can change within my own life,” the outcome might have been different. Instead, he indulged in textbook “gaslighting,” she says, treating a woman as if it was all in her head.When I shared Marty’s language with Parker, however, he was unmoved. Russell was blatantly fabricating, he said. So, on principle, he could not accept responsibility for harm—not even if doing so would somehow restore him to his former prominence. “Not even to make this go away,” he told me firmly.Even if Parker had managed to sound more humble—or more evolved, as Marty might put it—he probably wouldn’t have helped himself much. Grassroots activists told me that the stain of doubt Russell’s charges put on Parker immediately rendered his presence untenable at meetings and conferences, particularly because they’re valued as “safe spaces” for people who are regularly subject to ugly threats. These female activists, many of them volunteers, many of them young, arguably keep the fight for reproductive rights afloat. Who could risk alienating them?Jodi Magee, the longtime president of Physicians for Reproductive Health, whose board Parker chaired, refused to disclose details of confidential deliberations about him. But she did say that, in the Trump-Pence era, with “state legislators coming after us every single day,” her job is to keep the wheels on the bus, so to speak. I took that to mean: Keep the organization above reproach, so that it can stay on task and avoid throwing red meat to anti-abortion forces.This past fall, when no one else had accused Parker of sexual violence, Tanya Selvaratnam told me she felt compelled to revise her post for Glamour. It weighed on her that the doctor had been banished seemingly with no “due process.” She wrote: “I believe in investigating allegations. If we don’t establish the veracity of the allegations and the credibility of the accuser, if we don’t distinguish between men behaving badly versus men committing horrific acts against women and causing lifelong trauma, we do the #metoo movement a great disservice.”Such calls for due process, though, give rise to the question: Due process administered by whom, exactly, and how? In June, the leaders of some 30 abortion-rights organizations gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss, in part, how the movement might handle complaints of sexual misconduct in the future. Though the deliberations were off the record, Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, which helped convene the meeting, told me that the overarching goal wasn’t “due process,” a criminal-law standard established to protect the accused, but “fair processes” for the accused and the accuser, like those used in workplaces. What this means practically for a movement made up of interwoven but independent groups is hard to fathom, but Goss Graves said it was unlikely that a central entity might be formed to resolve complaints. All she would say is that the first step is to make sure that every organization, large or small, informs its employees and volunteers that if they’re harassed—whether at the office or at a meeting or an event—“we want to know about it.”There is no evidence that the conflict over Parker, or his sidelining, seriously damaged the abortion-rights cause. But it did open up one more rift in a movement that some see as already full of them, at an extremely risky time for the future of abortion access. At Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards’s successor, Leana Wen, was pushed out in July because, Wen has said, she wanted to focus more on health-care delivery than politics; the organization blames her “leadership and management style.” According to an investigation published by The New York Times in December, amid record-breaking fundraising stoked by states’ passage of stringent anti-abortion bills, various factions in the movement are clashing over issues such as how to allocate resources to ensure that poor women get the services they need.When Parker published his memoir in 2017, it was praised by feminist luminaries from Gloria Steinem to Lena Dunham to bell hooks. Richards, then still at the helm of Planned Parenthood, called it “a beacon of hope” that would “change lives,” writing: “At Planned Parenthood, our motto is ‘Care, no matter what’—words that might as well have been written with Dr. Willie Parker in mind.” In November, when I asked Richards to talk about the fate of the man who for two and a half years was employed as the medical director of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., she declined to comment.That day in New York Parker told me, “I would prefer to have been accused of murder, because there would have been some effort at due process.” While Russell’s allies argue that Parker emerged from the scandal relatively unscathed—he can still practice medicine, after all—to him the loss of his advocacy role has been crushing. That is what “allowed me to live my core values,” he said, “to be a person of integrity.”Russell, too, has lost the work she loved. In mid-October, Yellowhammer released a statement that praised her work and dedication but announced that she had resigned “to pursue other interests outside of the reproductive rights and justice” arena. Russell had predicted this outcome when we talked. Because of the controversy around her, Russell believed that Yellowhammer was being shut out of important conversations in the movement. Leaving, she said, “will break my heart, but at some point it’s going to be a choice I have to make.”The same month Russell resigned, Parker flew to Los Angeles to attend a reproductive-medicine conference he’d been invited to by a fellow physician, a gathering at which he’d spoken several times in the past. He hadn’t preregistered, and when he showed up at the hotel where the event was taking place, he was told to wait—someone would be down shortly to check him in. He waited in the lobby for three and a half hours. Friends, passing through, expressed sympathy, but none took on the task of fighting to get him in. Eventually, he gave up and returned to his hotel room. The next morning, he flew home.This article appears in the March 2020 print edition with the headline “The Abortion Doctor and His Accuser.”
2020-02-13 14:00:00
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Photos From the 2020 Westminster Dog Show
Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty The 144th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is hosting 2,500 dogs this year, consisting of more than 200 different breeds or varieties. Below are images from the three-day competition and preliminary activities held in New York City. The competition ends tonight in Madison Square Garden, with the announcement of this year’s “Best in Show.”
2020-02-11 19:28:59
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South Carolina: Images of the Palmetto State
Larry Knupp / Shutterstock South Carolina is home to more than 5 million residents, and has a landscape that ranges from the salt marshes and plains of its Low Country to the heights of its Blue Ridge region in the west. Gathered here are a few glimpses into the varied and historic features of South Carolina, and some of the animals and people calling it home. This photo story is part of Fifty, a collection of images from each of the United States. An earlier version of this photo essay inadvertently included a photo taken in Charlotte, North Carolina. The photo has been removed.
2020-02-09 21:01:57
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The Absurd Theatrics of the Border Wall
In November 2017, eight imposing edifices were built in Otay Mesa, near Tijuana. Some were topped with slick steel and spiky barbed wire; others featured bollard-style columns affixed to 30-foot-high slabs of metal and concrete. These were the winning prototypes of President Donald Trump’s border-wall design contest. The requirements were straightforward: Design an impenetrable wall built to stretch across the rugged and varied terrain of the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border. The day that the filmmakers Luis Gutiérrez Arias and John Henry Theisen arrived in Tijuana to document the prototypes, a military-grade tactical team was testing the structural integrity of each design. Their short documentary, It’s Going to Be Beautiful, features evocative imagery of the border walls as they are being tested for resiliency. The film casts an absurdist light on the project itself. (All eight designs reportedly failed the basic breach test and posed significant and expensive construction challenges.) “The subject of the prototypes was interesting to us because they offered a visually striking way to portray the border conflict,” Theisen told me. “The imagery of the walls is so bizarre that the film became about expressing what we felt when we were in the vicinity of the border.” “What was interesting to me about this [border-wall contest] was its theatrical quality,” Arias told me, “and how dystopian these eight pieces of the wall looked and felt. All of these different textures and colors seemed more like a movie set or a piece of land art than a project related to national security. “We believed the images were powerful enough to say what we needed to say,” Arias added.
2020-02-01 00:24:54
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Photos From the Pro-gun Rally in Virginia
Stephanie Keith / Reuters Thousands of gun-rights activists took part in a peaceful rally on Lobby Day, today, in Richmond, Virginia. Demonstrators from Virginia and from out of state gathered around the state capitol to protest gun-control legislation being pushed by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and other Democratic state legislators, such as universal background checks and a military-style-weapons ban. Although many participants showed up armed, no arrests were reported.
2020-01-20 21:15:16
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Wyoming: Images of the Equality State
Larry Mayer / Getty Wyoming got its nickname “The Equality State” when it granted women the right to vote in 1869, the first state to do so. Although Wyoming is one of the 10 largest states in the U.S., it is also the least populated, with barely more than 575,000 residents. Gathered here, a few glimpses into the beautiful wide open spaces of Wyoming, and some of the animals and people that call it home. This photo story is part of Fifty, a collection of images from each of the United States.
2020-01-12 19:56:02
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Kennecott Mines: An Alaskan Ghost Town
In 1900, a pair of prospectors hiking near Alaska’s Kennicott glacier discovered an outcrop of copper ore on a mountainside about 100 miles inland from Valdez. Soon, several mines were developed, and a small base camp grew into a mill town dominated by enormous processing buildings. Kennecott Mines (yes, the town name is spelled differently from the glacier’s) operated for nearly 30 years, until the ore was depleted and the remote town was abandoned in 1938. Kennecott’s massive structures sat deserted for decades, until the Alaskan tourism market developed, and the site was declared a National Historic Landmark, much of it later acquired by the National Park Service. Some preservation work has been undertaken, but a few of the buildings are being allowed to continue their “slide into oblivion.”
2020-01-07 21:09:07
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Christmas Under the Bypass
U.S. Highway 90, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2015Photograph by Joshua Dudley GreerOn a warm, sunny December day in 2015, Joshua Dudley Greer drove into New Orleans and set up his large-format camera beneath Pontchartrain Expressway. The scene Greer encountered was both somber and festive, an assertion of personal space in the bowels of an industrial structure marked no loitering. The tinsel, the carefully placed ornaments, the gold star atop a tree too tall to fit inside its owner’s small tent—these items were hardly practical, let alone portable. They suggested, to Greer, “a public gesture,” an effort, perhaps, to stake out a sense of normalcy.Greer was in New Orleans as part of a series of road trips he’d begun taking in 2011, during which he photographed people and places on and around the American network of superhighways. “Rather than moving quickly through these spaces,” Greer has written, he “made the decision to slowly and deliberately dwell within them, looking for unforeseen moments of humor, pathos and humanity.”The New Orleans photo contains layers of humanity. While the viewer’s eye is initially drawn to the individuality of the figure in the foreground, closer inspection reveals others in the distance—a reminder of the scale of homelessness, which is ultimately a systemic, nationwide problem.
2019-12-22 20:00:00
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The Christian Withdrawal Experiment
Image above: Priests of the Society of St. Pius X. Father Patrick Rutledge, the parish rector, is on the left.Half an hour down the highway from Topeka, Kansas, not far from the geographic center of the United States, sits the town of St. Marys. Like many towns in the region, it is small, quiet, and conservative. Unlike many towns in the region, it is growing. As waves of young people have abandoned the Great Plains in search of economic opportunity, St. Marys has managed to attract families from across the nation. The newcomers have made the radical choice to uproot their lives in pursuit of an ideological sanctuary, a place where they can raise their children according to values no longer common in mainstream America.To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. St. Marys is home to a chapter of the Society of St. Pius X, or SSPX. Named for the early-20th-century pope who railed against the forces of modernism, the international order of priests was formed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church’s attempt, in the 1960s, to meet the challenges of contemporary life. Though not fully recognized by the Vatican, the priests of SSPX see themselves as defenders of the true practices of Roman Catholicism, including the traditional Latin Mass, celebrated each day in St. Marys. Perfumed with incense and filled with majestic Latin hymns, the service has an air of formality and grandeur. To most American Catholics under the age of 50, it would be unrecognizable.Throughout American history, religious groups have walled themselves off from the rhythms and mores of society. St. Marys isn’t nearly as cut off from modern life as, say, the Amish communities that still abjure all modern technology, be it tractor or cellphone. Residents watch prestige television on Hulu and catch Sunday-afternoon football games; moms drive to Topeka to shop at Sam’s Club. Yet hints of the town’s utopian project are everywhere. On a recent afternoon, I visited the general store, where polite teens played bluegrass music beside rows of dried goods. Women in long, modest skirts loaded vans that had enough seats to accommodate eight or nine kids—unlike most American Catholics, SSPX members abide by the Vatican’s prohibition on birth control. At housewarming parties and potluck dinners, children huddle around pianos for sing-alongs.In their four decades in St. Marys, the followers of SSPX have more than doubled the town’s size. Even with six Masses on Sundays, parishioners fill the Society’s chapel to capacity; overflow services are held in the gym of the Society’s academy, which inhabits an imposing campus built by the Jesuit missionaries who called St. Marys home in the 19th century. The school is constantly running out of classroom space. The parish rector, Father Patrick Rutledge, has to scramble each summer to accommodate rising enrollment. Real estate sells at price points closer to those of Kansas’s big cities than of its other small towns.Left: A sign welcomes visitors to St. Marys, Kansas. Right: A young man takes part in an SSPX rite. (Bryan Schutmaat)Newcomers are attracted by the opportunity to live beside like-minded neighbors. But many are pushed here as much as they are pulled. When they lived in other places, many SSPX families felt isolated by their faith, keenly aware that their theological convictions were out of step with America’s evolving cultural sensibilities and what they perceive as the growing liberalism of the Catholic Church, especially on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. They were wary of being labeled bigots by co-workers and even friends. They worried that their children would be exposed to sin: A friend’s parents might let their kids watch violent television shows; teens might encounter pornography on a classmate’s phone. “We can’t keep things out that we’d like to keep out completely,” Rutledge told me. But the environment in St. Marys is “as conducive as possible for children to save their souls.”In 2017, the conservative writer Rod Dreher published The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, in which he describes growing hostility to Christian values in the secular world. Dreher, a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, argues that sexual expression has become secular society’s highest god. He laments that Christians have been pressured to accommodate and even celebrate LGBTQ identity. In the face of what Dreher calls the “barbarism” of contemporary American life, he believes the devout have no option but to flee—to build communities, churches, and even colleges where they will be free to live their values and pass the gospel on to the next generation.Among the conservative-Christian intelligentsia, Dreher’s book was explosive. Charles Chaput, the outgoing archbishop of Philadelphia and an influential figure in the Catholic Church, described it as “a tough, frank, and true assessment of contemporary American culture.” The New York Times columnist David Brooks called it “the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.” The Benedict Option prompted a flurry of essays in evangelical magazines, panel discussions at Christian colleges, and at least one spin-off book from a young Dreher acolyte. Dreher himself continues to write about so-called Ben-Op communities springing up around the country, from Alaska to Texas to the suburbs of Washington, D.C.Dreher addressed his book to fellow conservative Christians, but in calling for a strategic retreat from society, he tapped into an impulse felt by a range of groups in America. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C., contemporary followers of Marcus Garvey, the 20th-century Pan-African activist and thinker, have built infrastructure designed to free black people from systemic oppression: community gardens to provide food in neighborhoods devoid of grocery stores, and Afrocentric schools that teach black pride. Young leftist Jews skeptical of assimilation have founded a number of Yiddish-speaking farms in upstate New York, in an effort to preserve their ethnic heritage as well as Judaism’s agrarian tradition. Environmentalists have established sustainable settlements in rural Virginia, which serve as both utopian experiments in low-impact living and shelters for the climate disasters ahead.[Read: Seeking an escape from Trump’s America]These groups ostensibly have little in common, but they share a sense that living according to their beliefs while continuing to participate in mainstream American life is not possible. They have elected to undertake what might be termed cultural secession. Katherine Dugan, an assistant professor of religion at Springfield College, in Massachusetts, who studies Catholicism in the U.S., describes the desire for protected, set-apart communities as “a natural American response to not liking what the cultural context is.”Students gather around Father Paul-Isaac Franks to sing. (Bryan Schutmaat)In some ways, these groups are merely practicing an extreme form of the insularity many Americans have already embraced. Deep-blue enclaves such as Berkeley and brownstone Brooklyn are similarly homogenous, sought out by people with a certain set of values and hopes for their children. But the rise of more radical self-sorting poses a challenge to America’s experiment in multicultural democracy, enshrined in the motto e pluribus unum—“Out of many, one.” The dream of a diverse society is replaced with one in which different groups coexist, but mostly try to stay out of one another’s way. The ongoing experiment in St. Marys suggests what might be gained by such a realignment—and what might be lost.Michelle and Francis Snyder moved to St. Marys seven years ago, just as Barack Obama was about to win his second term as president. The high-school sweethearts had grown up attending SSPX chapels, and wanted to raise their children with a strong Catholic faith, but in the early years of their marriage they struggled to make this vision a reality. Moving from job to job around Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, Francis found it difficult to earn enough money to support the large family the couple wanted. To make ends meet, he worked construction jobs seven days a week, skipping Mass for months at a time. Michelle had made sandwiches at Panera after high school, but quit after she gave birth to their first child.It was only after the couple moved to St. Marys that Michelle realized how lonely her life in New York had been. In St. Marys, few married women work, especially once they have children. Mothers trade strollers and bassinets and coordinate a constant supply of casseroles when a new baby arrives. Michelle relies on her neighbors for carpooling and in emergencies, trusting them implicitly. “We’re all Catholic,” she told me. “We’re all raising our children to get to heaven.” Francis now works for a manufacturing business that, like many of the companies in town, is owned by a fellow SSPX parishioner. He gets time off to attend Mass and observe holy days of obligation.Michelle and Francis Snyder and their six children. In St. Marys, the Snyders are able to live according to their conservative-Catholic beliefs. (Bryan Schutmaat)Michelle and Francis, now in their mid-30s, have six children, three born since they arrived in St. Marys. They are raising their daughters—11-year-old Anna, 5-year-old Lucy, and an infant, Evelyn—to follow in Michelle’s path. If they aren’t going to become nuns, she said, the girls should be preparing to become wives and mothers. “I would not mind if they went for a career, but once they got married, I would encourage them to focus on their family,” she said as she nursed Evelyn in the family’s light-filled living room. “We’re having children and raising them and educating them. And in the Catholic faith, that’s priority.”That education takes place at St. Mary’s Academy. (The town spells its name with no apostrophe; the academy uses the possessive form.) Students are strictly separated by gender. Little girls wear Mary Janes and jumpers to class on the upper part of campus. The boys, in crew cuts and ties, learn in the buildings of the lower campus. Female students can compete in intramural sports, such as volleyball and archery, but only against other girls. The boys compete against sports teams in the area, although the school attracted controversy in 2008 for forfeiting a basketball game when a woman showed up to referee. (“Teaching our boys to treat ladies with deference,” SSPX said in a statement at the time, “we cannot place them in an aggressive athletic competition where they are forced to play inhibited by their concern about running into a female referee.”)Left: A student at St. Mary’s Academy, where enrollment is rising rapidly. Right: An SSPX parishioner. Formed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, the Society sees itself as defending the true practices of Roman Catholicism. (Bryan Schutmaat)In the classroom, students are instructed in the Catechism. Latin is the only foreign language offered, and teachers favor blackboards over computers. A classical education, the school believes, is the foundation of students’ Catholic future. The day I visited, I watched ninth-grade girls discuss G. K. Chesterton and the Epic of Gilgamesh.[Read: Why Orthodox Judaism is appealing to so many Millennials]Newcomers find St. Marys appealing precisely because it is built around uncompromising theological principles and shared social values. But for those who aren’t affiliated with the Society, the town has become a less welcoming place since SSPX arrived.As the SSPX community in St. Marys has grown, parishioners have come to dominate the town’s civic life. Francis Awerkamp is an SSPX parishioner who serves in local and state government and is a co-owner of the business where Francis Snyder works. He told me it makes sense that Society parishioners hold the mayoralty and every seat on the city commission, since members of SSPX make up the majority of the town’s population. Most of the matters that commissioners deal with are crushingly mundane, he said: installing a new drainage ditch, or rezoning the golf course. “Government has a certain role in a community. And that role, in St. Marys, mainly revolves around infrastructure,” he said. “Is there stuff that gets into religion? No.”The grounds of St. Mary’s academy (Bryan Schutmaat)Doyle Pearl tells the story differently. A longtime St. Marys resident, Pearl is the last “townie”—as non-SSPXers have taken to calling themselves—to have served as a commissioner. In the early days, he said, Society parishioners disapproved of the town swimming pool, the first concrete-bottomed pool in Kansas and a source of pride for old-timers. Society members were worried about seeing girls in skimpy bathing suits; their kids would try to swim in jeans, which left behind fibers that taxed the pool’s filtration system. Later, Society members on the city commission pulled funding from a chamber-of-commerce event, citing concerns about an allegedly ribald country-and-western band. While the local economy has grown, the chamber has shrunk.SSPX’s insularity, and the order’s controversial history, have bred suspicion in town. Among the post–Vatican II changes the Society rejects is the Church’s declaration regarding its relationship with non-Christian religions, including a passage repudiating the long-held belief that Jews are responsible for the death of Christ. In 1989, a Nazi collaborator convicted of committing war crimes in Vichy France was caught hiding out at an SSPX monastery in Nice. Two decades later, Richard Williamson, a former SSPX bishop, gave an interview denying that the Nazis had used gas chambers and claiming that no more than 200,000 to 300,000 Jews had died in the Holocaust. (During my visit to St. Mary’s Academy, I noticed a photograph hanging in the school’s main administrative building in which Williamson is a central figure.) For years, townies whispered about alleged weapons stashes in the steam tunnels beneath the academy. When I asked Rutledge about this, he laughed. To his knowledge, he said, no weapons are now or have ever been stored on campus.Pearl and his wife, Laura, are pleased that their hometown has a growing population and a lively Main Street. Doyle told me he even feels “a little envious” of the Society’s vibrant church life and constant baptisms. “Their children continue their religion,” he said. “They seem to follow the values that their parents have.” But the town barely resembles the place where the Pearls grew up. Its bright future doesn’t necessarily feel like their future.Townies look wistfully to Wamego, a small city just down Highway 24 that has established itself as Kansas’s hub for Wizard of Oz tourism. “They’ll have the Tulip Festival. They’ll have Octoberfest. They have a Fourth of July that, I think, is the biggest fireworks in Kansas now,” Doyle said. “People sometimes say, ‘Well, they’re doing it. Why aren’t we?’ ” Laura supplied the answer: “Because we don’t have a community.”Students at the academy are strictly separated by gender. Female students can compete in intramural sports, such as volleyball and archery, but only against other girls. (Bryan Schutmaat)For the Snyders, and many other recent arrivals, moving to St. Marys has liberated them to practice devout beliefs without apology. But what feels like freedom to some can feel like a prison to others. While parents may choose SSPX for their children, those children don’t always want to live according to its moral strictures. And the Society spares little room for dissent.Tiffany Joy-Egly moved from Tulsa to St. Marys with her parents and two sisters in 1979, when she was 6 years old. Tiffany grew up immersed in the SSPX world: learning about the dangers of rock music, skipping adolescent experiments with makeup, avoiding any behavior that might tempt men into sin. But Tiffany was possessed of a skeptical mind. “I would question in religion class,” she told me at a Starbucks in Topeka, where she works as an emergency-room nurse and lives with her husband and two daughters. “If God gave us a brain, how come we can’t use birth control? Because that makes more sense than having 12 kids that you can’t afford to feed.” This attitude was not welcome at the academy. “I was in detention a lot,” she said.Her siblings, too, chafed at the constraints of life in St. Marys. One sister got engaged to a Catholic man who attended Mass at Immaculate Conception, the townie church. According to Tiffany, the SSPX priest announced from the pulpit that anyone who attended the wedding would be committing a sin.Tiffany herself started using drugs and alcohol, but later resolved to return to the SSPX fold. She went to confession and delivered a litany of her sins, but the priest stopped her when she shared that a friend had recently had an abortion. This, the priest said, was unforgivable. While Tiffany herself had not terminated a pregnancy, she had failed to stop another woman from doing so. The priest declared that she would be excommunicated. (With proper penance, SSPX officials said, she could be reconciled with the Church.)St. Marys “is a little, safe community,” Tiffany told me. People go there to escape “a world that is considered unsafe.” When she started building a life for herself outside St. Marys, however, she experienced less fear than relief. Small things like going to the mall and wearing shorts were revelatory; she finally felt she had choices about how to pray and when to get married. In St. Marys, that hadn’t been possible. “You give up everything to come into this community,” she said, “and do what you’re told.”A model of the new church the Society plans to build. It will seat 1,550 and stand 12 stories high. (Bryan Schutmaat)At a time when American politics is so fractured and dysfunctional, the idea of huddling among our own holds undeniable appeal. SSPX parishioners believe they know God’s way and try to follow it, largely unencumbered by those who do not share their views. But there is peril in the premise that we would all be better off living among our own. Democracy depends on the friction that comes from encounters with difference. The movements for abolition, enfranchisement, labor dignity, and civil rights all stemmed from factions of Americans demanding rights and basic respect from their neighbors. If the country’s most fervent believers, whether Catholics, evangelical Christians, civil-rights advocates, or environmentalists, were to simply give up their visions for a better nation, the American project would stagnate.On the eastern side of the St. Mary’s campus, the stone entrance is guarded by twin knights representing the school’s mascot, the Crusaders. The SSPX bookstore is filled with toy soldiers and warring knights from Catholic history—the perfect gift, a salesman told me, for a little boy’s First Communion.But as much as SSPX may still think of itself as raising children to be warriors in the faith, the metaphor is no longer a good fit. What the Society has built in St. Marys is more like a haven for those retreating from the culture wars than a training ground for battle. Safe behind its walls, parishioners can seem uninterested in the moral failings of the outside world and untroubled by the country’s political turmoil. “There’s a lot to do,” Paul-Isaac Franks, a priest and a music teacher at the academy, told me. “I don’t have a daily ritual of reading the news.” Jim Vogel, the editor of Angelus Press, which publishes SSPX literature, says that people in St. Marys are engaged in local politics, but “we can’t really do much about what’s happening in Washington.” Here, at least, parishioners can be confident that the tradition and truth they crave can be preserved.In a field high above the academy’s campus, the Society is planning to construct a new church called the Immaculata, named for the old Jesuit church that burned down decades ago. For now, the space is marked only by metal rods sticking out of the overgrown grass, but once it’s built, the church will seat 1,550 and stand 12 stories high. Father Rutledge hopes the Immaculata will be visible from the road for miles around, a beacon on the Plains calling to those in search of refuge.This article appears in the January/February 2020 print edition with the headline “Retreat, Christian Soldiers.”
2019-12-12 14:00:00
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
The Hidden Crisis in Rural America
It’s prohibitively difficult to access mental-health services in rural America. That’s because, relative to urban areas, rural counties have so few mental-health professionals. The majority of nonmetropolitan counties in the U.S. don’t have a psychiatrist, and almost half lack a psychologist. The paucity has resulted in a public-health crisis—rural Americans suffering from a psychiatric condition are more likely to encounter police than receive treatment. Each year, 2 million mentally ill Americans, most of whom aren’t violent criminals, end up in jail. This is the case in Cochise County, Arizona, a sprawling area nearly the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined, but with 3.8 million fewer residents. Many 911 calls in the area involve people with mental-health issues, and according to Mark Dannels, a local sheriff, 67 percent of the people in Cochise County Jail were diagnosed with a mental-health condition. In the short documentary Out of Sight, Out of Mind, directed byJames Burns for PBS Independent Lens, Dannels and other residents of Cochise speak to the alarming implications of the area’s lack of psychiatric resources. “There’s an increasing demand for mental-health services across the board, and we can’t keep up,” Dr. James Reed says in the film. Reed is one of just two mental-health professionals serving the entirety of Cochise County. “With the lack of resources in a county like Cochise, it is a revolving door [to prison],” Dannels says. “The options are limited … one option that remains constant is the arrest. I’ll be the first tell you, that’s not the answer.” Burns, who has personal experience with the criminal-justice system, told me that when a county is already struggling financially, mental-health care is often pushed to the bottom of the list of concerns. “It’s seen as a luxury, yet oftentimes it’s those with the least access to it that need it the most,” the filmmaker said. “Cochise is an acute example of how the crisis manifests,” Burns continued. “It is so remote that people are physically unable to travel the distances they would need to go to get help. That’s emblematic of the story playing out in rural areas all over the country.” In a recent speech at the National Institute of Mental Health, Dennis Mohatt, vice president of rural mental-health research, said that rural America often eludes the public consciousness. “What most people think about when they picture persons with mental illness are people sitting on a city street, homeless,” Mohatt said. “They think of an out-of-control teenager in a large metropolitan school. They think of a person locked in a psychiatric hospital ward. They think about people making poor choices.” “What few Americans picture,” Mohatt continued, “is a farmer or a rancher with serious depression. They don’t think about the stress associated with a changing rural economy … they certainly don’t think about the refugees and the migrants that travel across this country harvesting the food that we all eat. They don’t think about rural America.” This film is an Independent Lens “Stories for Justice” production in association with Terry Greene Sterling and the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.
2019-12-06 16:57:20
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
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theatlantic.com
5 Days in Jail
Chasity Hunter was on a Tinder date when she was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. The police ran her ID and found an outstanding warrant. “I didn’t know at the time that there were warrants out for me—I just had school tomorrow,” Hunter says. Later, she discovered that her aunt had falsely accused her of stealing a laptop. In Kira Akerman’s powerful short documentary The Arrest, Hunter recounts, in harrowing detail, what happened next. For five days, she was held in the Plaquemines Parish jail in New Orleans, where she was systematically dehumanized. Unable to afford bail—set at $450— or a lawyer, Hunter had no recourse but to wait for a public defender to take her case. After four days in jail, Hunter describes experiencing an overwhelming loss of control over her life, which led her to attempt to take extreme measures. “I’m just trying to think of a plan,” she says in the film. “What can I do—what can I say—to get myself out of this situation?” Eventually, a hastily-formed coalition of Hunter’s teachers and mentors raised Chasity’s bail and came to support her at court. “It was a testament to their commitment to Chasity and a willingness to stand against the systems and processes that threatened to make her a statistic,” Akerman told me. The simplicity of the film’s approach throws the stark reality of Hunter’s experience into sharp relief. “It was important to me to describe Chasity's experience of jail,” Akerman said, “rather than simply answer everyone's automatic question: Why were you in jail? To me, the ‘why’ matters insofar as it begs a bigger question: Does anyone deserve this kind of treatment?” The New Orleans bail system is rooted in the city’s history as the center for an economy of enslaved people. According to Akerman, on any given day in New Orleans, more than a third of people in jail are locked up because they can't pay the price of bail. Of those people, 8 out of 10 are black. “Louisiana jails are still filled with people like Chasity, who are there just because they can’t pay the price set on their freedom,” the filmmaker said. “Chasity's story is one that occurs to nearly every person who comes into contact with these processes, and most stories go untold.” Today, Hunter is a pre-law student at The University of New Orleans, where she is continuing her fight for justice.
2019-11-22 23:21:43
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
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theatlantic.com
The Flight of Apollo 12: Photos From 50 Years Ago
NASA On November 14, 1969, the NASA astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., Richard F. Gordon Jr., and Alan L. Bean blasted into space aboard a massive Saturn V rocket to become the second mission to land humans on the moon. Just four months after the historic Apollo 11 mission, Apollo 12 crew members would land their lunar module in the Ocean of Storms with extreme precision, setting down within walking distance of another NASA spacecraft—a lander named Surveyor 3 that had been on the moon since April. For more than a full Earth day, Conrad Jr. and Bean worked on the lunar surface, making two extravehicular-activity excursions that added up to nearly eight hours of walking on the moon. A package of scientific instruments was deployed, soil and rock samples were collected, and parts of Surveyor 3 were removed for scientific study. The crew made it home safe on November 24, 1969, splashing down in the Pacific.
2019-11-14 20:24:30
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
1 y
theatlantic.com
How America Ends
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. “Our radical Democrat opponents are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage,” Trump told the crowd at his reelection kickoff event in Orlando in June. “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” This is the core of the president’s pitch to his supporters: He is all that stands between them and the abyss.In October, with the specter of impeachment looming, he fumed on Twitter, “What is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!” For good measure, he also quoted a supporter’s dark prediction that impeachment “will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric matches the tenor of the times. The body politic is more fractious than at any time in recent memory. Over the past 25 years, both red and blue areas have become more deeply hued, with Democrats clustering in cities and suburbs and Republicans filling in rural areas and exurbs. In Congress, where the two caucuses once overlapped ideologically, the dividing aisle has turned into a chasm.As partisans have drifted apart geographically and ideologically, they’ve become more hostile toward each other. In 1960, less than 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they’d be unhappy if their children married someone from the other party; today, 35 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats would be, according to a recent Public Religion Research Institute/Atlantic poll—far higher than the percentages that object to marriages crossing the boundaries of race and religion. As hostility rises, Americans’ trust in political institutions, and in one another, is declining. A study released by the Pew Research Center in July found that only about half of respondents believed their fellow citizens would accept election results no matter who won. At the fringes, distrust has become centrifugal: Right-wing activists in Texas and left-wing activists in California have revived talk of secession.Recent research by political scientists at Vanderbilt University and other institutions has found both Republicans and Democrats distressingly willing to dehumanize members of the opposite party. “Partisans are willing to explicitly state that members of the opposing party are like animals, that they lack essential human traits,” the researchers found. The president encourages and exploits such fears. This is a dangerous line to cross. As the researchers write, “Dehumanization may loosen the moral restraints that would normally prevent us from harming another human being.”Outright political violence remains considerably rarer than in other periods of partisan divide, including the late 1960s. But overheated rhetoric has helped radicalize some individuals. Cesar Sayoc, who was arrested for targeting multiple prominent Democrats with pipe bombs, was an avid Fox News watcher; in court filings, his lawyers said he took inspiration from Trump’s white-supremacist rhetoric. “It is impossible,” they wrote, “to separate the political climate and [Sayoc’s] mental illness.” James Hodgkinson, who shot at Republican lawmakers (and badly wounded Representative Steve Scalise) at a baseball practice, was a member of the Facebook groups Terminate the Republican Party and The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans. In other instances, political protests have turned violent, most notably in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a Unite the Right rally led to the murder of a young woman. In Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere, the left-wing “antifa” movement has clashed with police. The violence of extremist groups provides ammunition to ideologues seeking to stoke fear of the other side.What has caused such rancor? The stresses of a globalizing, postindustrial economy. Growing economic inequality. The hyperbolizing force of social media. Geographic sorting. The demagogic provocations of the president himself. As in Murder on the Orient Express, every suspect has had a hand in the crime.But the biggest driver might be demographic change. The United States is undergoing a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced: Its historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority—and its minority groups are asserting their co-equal rights and interests. If there are precedents for such a transition, they lie here in the United States, where white Englishmen initially predominated, and the boundaries of the dominant group have been under negotiation ever since. Yet those precedents are hardly comforting. Many of these renegotiations sparked political conflict or open violence, and few were as profound as the one now under way.Within the living memory of most Americans, a majority of the country’s residents were white Christians. That is no longer the case, and voters are not insensate to the change—nearly a third of conservatives say they face “a lot” of discrimination for their beliefs, as do more than half of white evangelicals. But more epochal than the change that has already happened is the change that is yet to come: Sometime in the next quarter century or so, depending on immigration rates and the vagaries of ethnic and racial identification, nonwhites will become a majority in the U.S. For some Americans, that change will be cause for celebration; for others, it may pass unnoticed. But the transition is already producing a sharp political backlash, exploited and exacerbated by the president. In 2016, white working-class voters who said that discrimination against whites is a serious problem, or who said they felt like strangers in their own country, were almost twice as likely to vote for Trump as those who did not. Two-thirds of Trump voters agreed that “the 2016 election represented the last chance to stop America’s decline.” In Trump, they’d found a defender.[Robert P. Jones: The electoral time machine that could reelect Trump]In 2002, the political scientist Ruy Teixeira and the journalist John Judis published a book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, which argued that demographic changes—the browning of America, along with the movement of more women, professionals, and young people into the Democratic fold—would soon usher in a “new progressive era” that would relegate Republicans to permanent minority political status. The book argued, somewhat triumphally, that the new emerging majority was inexorable and inevitable. After Barack Obama’s reelection, in 2012, Teixeira doubled down on the argument in The Atlantic, writing, “The Democratic majority could be here to stay.” Two years later, after the Democrats got thumped in the 2014 midterms, Judis partially recanted, saying that the emerging Democratic majority had turned out to be a mirage and that growing support for the GOP among the white working class would give the Republicans a long-term advantage. The 2016 election seemed to confirm this.But now many conservatives, surveying demographic trends, have concluded that Teixeira wasn’t wrong—merely premature. They can see the GOP’s sinking fortunes among younger voters, and feel the culture turning against them, condemning them today for views that were commonplace only yesterday. They are losing faith that they can win elections in the future. With this come dark possibilities.The Republican Party has treated Trump’s tenure more as an interregnum than a revival, a brief respite that can be used to slow its decline. Instead of simply contesting elections, the GOP has redoubled its efforts to narrow the electorate and raise the odds that it can win legislative majorities with a minority of votes. In the first five years after conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 39 percent of the counties that the law had previously restrained reduced their number of polling places. And while gerrymandering is a bipartisan sin, over the past decade Republicans have indulged in it more heavily. In Wisconsin last year, Democrats won 53 percent of the votes cast in state legislative races, but just 36 percent of the seats. In Pennsylvania, Republicans tried to impeach the state Supreme Court justices who had struck down a GOP attempt to gerrymander congressional districts in that state. The Trump White House has tried to suppress counts of immigrants for the 2020 census, to reduce their voting power. All political parties maneuver for advantage, but only a party that has concluded it cannot win the votes of large swaths of the public will seek to deter them from casting those votes at all.The history of the United States is rich with examples of once-dominant groups adjusting to the rise of formerly marginalized populations—sometimes gracefully, more often bitterly, and occasionally violently. Partisan coalitions in the United States are constantly reshuffling, realigning along new axes. Once-rigid boundaries of faith, ethnicity, and class often prove malleable. Issues gain salience or fade into irrelevance; yesterday’s rivals become tomorrow’s allies.But sometimes, that process of realignment breaks down. Instead of reaching out and inviting new allies into its coalition, the political right hardens, turning against the democratic processes it fears will subsume it. A conservatism defined by ideas can hold its own against progressivism, winning converts to its principles and evolving with each generation. A conservatism defined by identity reduces the complex calculus of politics to a simple arithmetic question—and at some point, the numbers no longer add up.Photograph: Sam Kaplan; prop styling: Brian ByrneTrump has led his party to this dead end, and it may well cost him his chance for reelection, presuming he is not removed through impeachment. But the president’s defeat would likely only deepen the despair that fueled his rise, confirming his supporters’ fear that the demographic tide has turned against them. That fear is the single greatest threat facing American democracy, the force that is already battering down precedents, leveling norms, and demolishing guardrails. When a group that has traditionally exercised power comes to believe that its eclipse is inevitable, and that the destruction of all it holds dear will follow, it will fight to preserve what it has—whatever the cost.Adam Przeworski, a political scientist who has studied struggling democracies in Eastern Europe and Latin America, has argued that to survive, democratic institutions “must give all the relevant political forces a chance to win from time to time in the competition of interests and values.” But, he adds, they also have to do something else, of equal importance: “They must make even losing under democracy more attractive than a future under non-democratic outcomes.” That conservatives—despite currently holding the White House, the Senate, and many state governments—are losing faith in their ability to win elections in the future bodes ill for the smooth functioning of American democracy. That they believe these electoral losses would lead to their destruction is even more worrying.We should be careful about overstating the dangers. It is not 1860 again in the United States—it is not even 1850. But numerous examples from American history—most notably the antebellum South—offer a cautionary tale about how quickly a robust democracy can weaken when a large section of the population becomes convinced that it cannot continue to win elections, and also that it cannot afford to lose them.The collapse of the mainstream Republican Party in the face of Trumpism is at once a product of highly particular circumstances and a disturbing echo of other events. In his recent study of the emergence of democracy in Western Europe, the political scientist Daniel Ziblatt zeroes in on a decisive factor distinguishing the states that achieved democratic stability from those that fell prey to authoritarian impulses: The key variable was not the strength or character of the political left, or of the forces pushing for greater democratization, so much as the viability of the center-right. A strong center-right party could wall off more extreme right-wing movements, shutting out the radicals who attacked the political system itself.[Read: Daniel Ziblatt on why conservative parties are central to democracy]The left is by no means immune to authoritarian impulses; some of the worst excesses of the 20th century were carried out by totalitarian left-wing regimes. But right-wing parties are typically composed of people who have enjoyed power and status within a society. They might include disproportionate numbers of leaders—business magnates, military officers, judges, governors—upon whose loyalty and support the government depends. If groups that traditionally have enjoyed privileged positions see a future for themselves in a more democratic society, Ziblatt finds, they will accede to it. But if “conservative forces believe that electoral politics will permanently exclude them from government, they are more likely to reject democracy outright.”Ziblatt points to Germany in the 1930s, the most catastrophic collapse of a democracy in the 20th century, as evidence that the fate of democracy lies in the hands of conservatives. Where the center-right flourishes, it can defend the interests of its adherents, starving more radical movements of support. In Germany, where center-right parties faltered, “not their strength, but rather their weakness” became the driving force behind democracy’s collapse.Of course, the most catastrophic collapse of a democracy in the 19th century took place right here in the United States, sparked by the anxieties of white voters who feared the decline of their own power within a diversifying nation.The slaveholding South exercised disproportionate political power in the early republic. America’s first dozen presidents—excepting only those named Adams—were slaveholders. Twelve of the first 16 secretaries of state came from slave states. The South initially dominated Congress as well, buoyed by its ability to count three-fifths of the enslaved persons held as property for the purposes of apportionment.Politics in the early republic was factious and fractious, dominated by crosscutting interests. But as Northern states formally abandoned slavery, and then embraced westward expansion, tensions rose between the states that exalted free labor and the ones whose fortunes were directly tied to slave labor, bringing sectional conflict to the fore. By the mid-19th century, demographics were clearly on the side of the free states, where the population was rapidly expanding. Immigrants surged across the Atlantic, finding jobs in Northern factories and settling on midwestern farms. By the outbreak of the Civil War, the foreign-born would form 19 percent of the population of the Northern states, but just 4 percent of the Southern population.The new dynamic was first felt in the House of Representatives, the most democratic institution of American government—and the Southern response was a concerted effort to remove the topic of slavery from debate. In 1836, Southern congressmen and their allies imposed a gag rule on the House, barring consideration of petitions that so much as mentioned slavery, which would stand for nine years. As the historian Joanne Freeman shows in her recent book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War, slave-state representatives in Washington also turned to bullying, brandishing weapons, challenging those who dared disparage the peculiar institution to duels, or simply attacking them on the House floor with fists or canes. In 1845, an antislavery speech delivered by Ohio’s Joshua Giddings so upset Louisiana’s John Dawson that he cocked his pistol and announced that he intended to kill his fellow congressman. In a scene more Sergio Leone than Frank Capra, other representatives—at least four of them with guns of their own—rushed to either side, in a tense standoff. By the late 1850s, the threat of violence was so pervasive that members regularly entered the House armed.As Southern politicians perceived that demographic trends were starting to favor the North, they began to regard popular democracy itself as a threat. “The North has acquired a decided ascendancy over every department of this Government,” warned South Carolina’s Senator John C. Calhoun in 1850, a “despotic” situation, in which the interests of the South were bound to be sacrificed, “however oppressive the effects may be.” With the House tipping against them, Southern politicians focused on the Senate, insisting that the admission of any free states be balanced by new slave states, to preserve their control of the chamber. They looked to the Supreme Court—which by the 1850s had a five-justice majority from slaveholding states—to safeguard their power. And, fatefully, they struck back at the power of Northerners to set the rules of their own communities, launching a frontal assault on states’ rights.But the South and its conciliating allies overreached. A center-right consensus, drawing Southern plantation owners together with Northern businessmen, had long kept the Union intact. As demographics turned against the South, though, its politicians began to abandon hope of convincing their Northern neighbors of the moral justice of their position, or of the pragmatic case for compromise. Instead of reposing faith in electoral democracy to protect their way of life, they used the coercive power of the federal government to compel the North to support the institution of slavery, insisting that anyone providing sanctuary to slaves, even in free states, be punished: The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required Northern law-enforcement officials to arrest those who escaped from Southern plantations, and imposed penalties on citizens who gave them shelter.The persecution complex of the South succeeded where decades of abolitionist activism had failed, producing the very hostility to slavery that Southerners feared. The sight of armed marshals ripping apart families and marching their neighbors back to slavery roused many Northerners from their moral torpor. The push-and-pull of democratic politics had produced setbacks for the South over the previous decades, but the South’s abandonment of electoral democracy in favor of countermajoritarian politics would prove catastrophic to its cause.Today, a Republican Party that appeals primarily to white Christian voters is fighting a losing battle. The Electoral College, Supreme Court, and Senate may delay defeat for a time, but they cannot postpone it forever.[From January/February 2009: Hua Hsu’s cover story on the end of white America]The GOP’s efforts to cling to power by coercion instead of persuasion have illuminated the perils of defining a political party in a pluralistic democracy around a common heritage, rather than around values or ideals. Consider Trump’s push to slow the pace of immigration, which has backfired spectacularly, turning public opinion against his restrictionist stance. Before Trump announced his presidential bid, in 2015, less than a quarter of Americans thought legal immigration should be increased; today, more than a third feel that way. Whatever the merits of Trump’s particular immigration proposals, he has made them less likely to be enacted.For a populist, Trump is remarkably unpopular. But no one should take comfort from that fact. The more he radicalizes his opponents against his agenda, the more he gives his own supporters to fear. The excesses of the left bind his supporters more tightly to him, even as the excesses of the right make it harder for the Republican Party to command majority support, validating the fear that the party is passing into eclipse, in a vicious cycle.Photograph: Sam Kaplan; prop styling: Brian ByrneThe right, and the country, can come back from this. Our history is rife with influential groups that, after discarding their commitment to democratic principles in an attempt to retain their grasp on power, lost their fight and then discovered they could thrive in the political order they had so feared. The Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, criminalizing criticism of their administration; Redemption-era Democrats stripped black voters of the franchise; and Progressive Republicans wrested municipal governance away from immigrant voters. Each rejected popular democracy out of fear that it would lose at the polls, and terror at what might then result. And in each case democracy eventually prevailed, without tragic effect on the losers. The American system works more often than it doesn’t.The years around the First World War offer another example. A flood of immigrants, particularly from Eastern and Southern Europe, left many white Protestants feeling threatened. In rapid succession, the nation instituted Prohibition, in part to regulate the social habits of these new populations; staged the Palmer Raids, which rounded up thousands of political radicals and deported hundreds; saw the revival of the Ku Klux Klan as a national organization with millions of members, including tens of thousands who marched openly through Washington, D.C.; and passed new immigration laws, slamming shut the doors to the United States.Under President Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic Party was at the forefront of this nativist backlash. Four years after Wilson left office, the party faced a battle between Wilson’s son-in-law and Al Smith—a New York Catholic of Irish, German, and Italian extraction who opposed Prohibition and denounced lynching—for the presidential nomination. The convention deadlocked for more than 100 ballots, ultimately settling on an obscure nominee. But in the next nominating fight, four years after that, Smith prevailed, shouldering aside the nativist forces within the party. He brought together newly enfranchised women and the ethnic voters of growing industrial cities. The Democrats lost the presidential race in 1928—but won the next five, in one of the most dominant runs in American political history. The most effective way to protect the things they cherished, Democratic politicians belatedly discovered, wasn’t by locking immigrants out of the party, but by inviting them in.Whether the American political system today can endure without fracturing further, Daniel Ziblatt’s research suggests, may depend on the choices the center-right now makes. If the center-right decides to accept some electoral defeats and then seeks to gain adherents via argumentation and attraction—and, crucially, eschews making racial heritage its organizing principle—then the GOP can remain vibrant. Its fissures will heal and its prospects will improve, as did those of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, after Wilson. Democracy will be maintained. But if the center-right, surveying demographic upheaval and finding the prospect of electoral losses intolerable, casts its lot with Trumpism and a far right rooted in ethno-nationalism, then it is doomed to an ever smaller proportion of voters, and risks revisiting the ugliest chapters of our history.Two documents produced after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 and before Trump’s election in 2016 lay out the stakes and the choice. After Romney’s stinging defeat in the presidential election, the Republican National Committee decided that if it held to its course, it was destined for political exile. It issued a report calling on the GOP to do more to win over “Hispanic[s], Asian and Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Indian Americans, Native Americans, women, and youth[s].” There was an edge of panic in that recommendation; those groups accounted for nearly three-quarters of the ballots cast in 2012. “Unless the RNC gets serious about tackling this problem, we will lose future elections,” the report warned. “The data demonstrates this.”But it wasn’t just the pragmatists within the GOP who felt this panic. In the most influential declaration of right-wing support for Trumpism, the conservative writer Michael Anton declared in the Claremont Review of Books that “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die.” His cry of despair offered a bleak echo of the RNC’s demographic analysis. “If you haven’t noticed, our side has been losing consistently since 1988,” he wrote, averring that “the deck is stacked overwhelmingly against us.” He blamed “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners,” which had placed Democrats “on the cusp of a permanent victory that will forever obviate [their] need to pretend to respect democratic and constitutional niceties.”The Republican Party faced a choice between these two competing visions in the last presidential election. The post-2012 report defined the GOP ideologically, urging its leaders to reach out to new groups, emphasize the values they had in common, and rebuild the party into an organization capable of winning a majority of the votes in a presidential race. Anton’s essay, by contrast, defined the party as the defender of “a people, a civilization” threatened by America’s growing diversity. The GOP’s efforts to broaden its coalition, he thundered, were an abject surrender. If it lost the next election, conservatives would be subjected to “vindictive persecution against resistance and dissent.”Anton and some 63 million other Americans charged the cockpit. The standard-bearers of the Republican Party were vanquished by a candidate who had never spent a day in public office, and who oozed disdain for democratic processes. Instead of reaching out to a diversifying electorate, Donald Trump doubled down on core Republican constituencies, promising to protect them from a culture and a polity that, he said, were turning against them.[The gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol, argues Adam Serwer. It’s the false promise of civility.]When Trump’s presidency comes to its end, the Republican Party will confront the same choice it faced before his rise, only even more urgently. In 2013, the party’s leaders saw the path that lay before them clearly, and urged Republicans to reach out to voters of diverse backgrounds whose own values matched the “ideals, philosophy and principles” of the GOP. Trumpism deprioritizes conservative ideas and principles in favor of ethno-nationalism.The conservative strands of America’s political heritage—a bias in favor of continuity, a love for traditions and institutions, a healthy skepticism of sharp departures—provide the nation with a requisite ballast. America is at once a land of continual change and a nation of strong continuities. Each new wave of immigration to the United States has altered its culture, but the immigrants themselves have embraced and thus conserved many of its core traditions. To the enormous frustration of their clergy, Jews and Catholics and Muslims arriving on these shores became a little bit congregationalist, shifting power from the pulpits to the pews. Peasants and laborers became more entrepreneurial. Many new arrivals became more egalitarian. And all became more American.By accepting these immigrants, and inviting them to subscribe to the country’s founding ideals, American elites avoided displacement. The country’s dominant culture has continually redefined itself, enlarging its boundaries to retain a majority of a changing population. When the United States came into being, most Americans were white, Protestant, and English. But the ineradicable difference between a Welshman and a Scot soon became all but undetectable. Whiteness itself proved elastic, first excluding Jews and Italians and Irish, and then stretching to encompass them. Established Churches gave way to a variety of Protestant sects, and the proliferation of other faiths made “Christian” a coherent category; that broadened, too, into the Judeo-Christian tradition. If America’s white Christian majority is gone, then some new majority is already emerging to take its place—some new, more capacious way of understanding what it is to belong to the American mainstream.So strong is the attraction of the American idea that it infects even our dissidents. The suffragists at Seneca Falls, Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and Harvey Milk in front of San Francisco’s city hall all quoted the Declaration of Independence. The United States possesses a strong radical tradition, but its most successful social movements have generally adopted the language of conservatism, framing their calls for change as an expression of America’s founding ideals rather than as a rejection of them.Even today, large numbers of conservatives retain the courage of their convictions, believing they can win new adherents to their cause. They have not despaired of prevailing at the polls and they are not prepared to abandon moral suasion in favor of coercion; they are fighting to recover their party from a president whose success was built on convincing voters that the country is slipping away from them.The stakes in this battle on the right are much higher than the next election. If Republican voters can’t be convinced that democratic elections will continue to offer them a viable path to victory, that they can thrive within a diversifying nation, and that even in defeat their basic rights will be protected, then Trumpism will extend long after Trump leaves office—and our democracy will suffer for it.
2019-11-12 10:00:00
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
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theatlantic.com
Veterans ‘Deprogram’ War Through Dance
“Keep your fingers straight and off the trigger. Do not point the rifle at anyone you do not intend to shoot.” That’s Roman Baca, a U.S. marine and Iraq War veteran. But he’s not speaking to the company of soldiers he led during his tour as a sergeant in Fallujah, Iraq. Here, Baca is instructing a company of ballet dancers.In the riveting short documentary Exit 12: Moved by War, directed by Mohammad Gorjestaniin collaboration with Even/Odd and Square, Baca shares the story of his remarkable transformation from a veteran with PTSD to a choreographer who helps others heal from the trauma of war through dance.“We were trained to be aggressive to survive,” Baca says in the film. “But we were also among civilians that you’re trying to help. How [can] you be a marine in a war zone and a human being at the same time? That created a lot of conflict inside of me.”After Baca’s tour in Iraq ended in 2006—he was an anti-tank missile-assault man, machine gunner, and fire-team leader—he had difficulty readjusting to life as a civilian. Anger, depression, and anxiety consumed him. He feared that his wife would leave him. Instead, she encouraged him to start a dance company. Exit 12 quickly became an emotional ballast for Baca, who was classically trained as a dancer before enlisting as a marine. His powerful choreography embodies the experience of war. Gorjestani first encountered Baca’s work through an image taken at an Exit 12 performance. The photograph showed two female dancers wearing abayas—the Iraqi version of the hijab—alongside male dancers clad in military fatigues. “The juxtaposition was striking, full of tension, and frankly strange,” Gorjestani told me. “I'd never seen that before.”While filming Exit 12: Moved by War with Baca, Gorjestani learned how a soldier is molded into a machine of war. “Starting with boot camp, it happens through posture, movements, and a physical reprogramming of the mind and spirit,” Gorjestani said. “It’s like you tie a knot, but [when you return from war] you don’t undo it.” Baca believes that a veteran has to physically untie that knot to begin healing.To facilitate this process, the dance company holds workshops for active-duty and retired veterans, with the goal of encouraging expression through movement. “I saw the power of this idea firsthand by watching the workshops,” Gorjestani said, “and became convinced of it after speaking to many of the veterans who have participated. I think this film, and Roman’s work, is a powerful reminder that spoken language is just one way of communicating.”“Dance injects the consideration and humanity back into the body,” Baca says in the film. “There’s a liberating energy to it … It’s a sort of deprogramming.”Perhaps because it’s so hard to talk about war, Baca believes that service members are often misunderstood. “You can’t put a veteran in a box and say this is what they are,” the choreographer says in the film.Gorjestani agrees. “We only have two polarized versions of veteran stories in America,” he said. “There are stories that unashamedly glorify the war experience, and postwar PTSD stories.” The latter, Gorjestani said, often portray the veteran as a kind of ticking time bomb. “There’s a vast middle ground between those two extremes that, I think, represents a majority of veterans.”After an award-winning festival run and an acquisition by Fox Searchlight, this film is now being considered in the Academy Awards race.
2019-11-11 22:54:31
2021-05-12T08:49:16.000000
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theatlantic.com
Can Marriage Counseling Save America?
Photographs above and throughout are of attendees at a Better Angels “Red/Blue” workshop held in San Francisco this fall.Back in the 1970s, Kingsley Amis—the grumpy British novelist now remembered mostly as the father of the slightly less grumpy novelist Martin—made a remark that even today holds a high place in the anthologies of human grumpiness: “If there’s one word that sums up everything that’s gone wrong since the war, it’s Workshop.” Amis died in 1995, so he had the misfortune of living to see the workshop triumph as the primary means of socialization and instruction in American commercial and cultural life. He might have even lived long enough to hear the noun turned into a verb: “We really need to workshop this …” It might have been what finally killed him.To hear more feature stories, see our full list or get the Audm iPhone app. Grumpy myself, I share Amis’s dim view of the workshop as a sly instrument of regimentation, a technique of smiley-faced uniformity, a venue for mandatory “sharing” and ostentatious empathy. For a grump, the workshop’s ties to group therapy make it immediately suspect. Its implementation in aid to the trendy causes of human-resources departments confirms the worst suspicions. The sight of easels and flip charts and fat Sharpies has the power, for some of us, to induce feelings of deep trauma.Yet there I was one bright summer Sunday, wreathed in skepticism, gathered with a dozen others in the community room of a suburban public library in Northern Virginia to test whether this nation, or any nation so fragmented and so polarized, can be united and saved by a workshop.This was not just any workshop, of course. I was at a “skills workshop” put on by a grassroots citizens’ group called Better Angels. The group got its start in the shell-shocked weeks right after the 2016 election, and it takes its name from Abraham Lincoln’s famous plea, in his first inaugural address, that his divided countrymen heed the “better angels of our nature.” (They didn’t.)Paid-up membership in Better Angels stands at a little over 8,000, but the group creates a commotion bigger than that of organizations many times its size. On any given day somebody somewhere in the United States is hosting an event like the one I attended. There are an average of eight to 10 such events a week. The mission everywhere is the same, explained by the inspirational mottoes on the posters the organizers had hung in the library. “Let’s depolarize America!” “Start a conversation, not a fight.”The skills workshop teaches workshoppers how to do this with specially designed techniques for listening and speaking to people whose political views differ from their own. It is just one item on the Angels’ menu of workshops, which also include highly stylized public debates between liberals and conservatives (called “blues” and “reds”), and a relatively new session, “Depolarizing Within,” during which one is taught to turn inward and depolarize oneself, in preparation for depolarizing the rest of us. BA’s work has been featured on PBS and NPR, both of which strongly approve.Lots of organizations are in the civility business these days, as irenic activists recoil in horror at the rhetorical violence and deep division that have come to characterize American political disputation. Living Room Conversations, Bridge the Divide, Make America Dinner Again—all have the same goal of calming our heated debate by bringing well-meaning people out of their cultural bubbles, those insular Facebook feeds and message boards and book clubs where people talk only with people who think the way they do and express growing alarm at people who don’t.The success of the civility movement over the past several years is hard to gauge, though the level of public rancor suggests that it is not really catching on. From one perspective, these organizations seem to have succeeded mostly in forming a new bubble—what activists call “the civil-dialogue space.” Americans are beginning countless dialogues about how important it is to begin a dialogue.Jonno RattmanBetter Angels is different from its counterparts, and more worthy of attention, for at least two reasons. First is the rigorous and ingenious design of the workshops, nearly all of it bearing the imprint of Bill Doherty, a prominent family therapist and professor at the University of Minnesota, and a co-founder of Better Angels. Doherty is what you might call a therapy entrepreneur, creating different counseling programs and marketing them to willing customers—“educating couples in all stages of stuckness,” as the Doherty Relationship Institute website puts it. Beyond his private practice with families and couples, Doherty specializes in public programs of the kind BA now offers. One of his recent initiatives was the Police and Black Men Project, which brings together cops and African American men “to develop relationships of honesty and trust.” (Not sure this one’s catching on either.) “Bill’s the one who realized that most of the techniques of family therapy, the tools to resolve intrafamily conflicts, could be used to resolve intrasocial conflicts too,” says David Blankenhorn, the president of Better Angels and another of its co-founders.Doherty’s workshops are an artful mashup of techniques shared not only by psychotherapy but also by America’s vast facilitation industry of life coaches, diversity instructors, and leadership counselors. As a business sector, facilitation is too ubiquitous to be a mere “space.” Better Angels deploys role-playing, fishbowl discussions, scripted Q&A sessions, and other exercises that will be familiar to every workshopping citizen. They all have an impeccable American pedigree. In Better Angels, one sees traces of Carl Rogers and Richard Farson’s Active Listening and Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training, from the 1960s. Several sessions contain elements that resemble Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People—a big hit in the ’90s—particularly habits 4, 5, and 6 (“Think Win/Win,” “Seek First to Understand,” and “Synergize”). There are also echoes of John Dewey’s “reflective thinking” and his six steps to group problem-solving. Dewey came up with his program in 1910. We have been trying to teach one another to be civil for a long time.BA’s second distinction is what the Angels sometimes call the 50-50 rule: At all organizational levels—from the leaders of the local chapters to the paid and volunteer staff members who keep the enterprise going—Better Angels insists on precise parity between reds and blues. Achieving this is not easy. The great weakness of the civil-dialogue space is that it tends to bring liberals into dialogue with other liberals, while conservatives, if they even notice, look on in horror or puzzlement. This is nobody’s fault, just a matter of taste and self-selection. “That whole ‘workshopology’ industry,” as Blankenhorn calls it, “skews blue.” If you don’t insist on the presence of reds, he says, “it just turns into blue BS very quickly.”I admire the principles behind Better Angels but was dubious about their practicality. Before I attended any BA events, Ciaran O’Connor, the group’s chief marketing officer, suggested that I watch a documentary film about one of the first workshops, a weekend-long event held in rural Ohio in April 2017. The movie was well made and even moving in spots, as a group of 15 stalwart reds and blues depolarized one another and began viewing their opposite numbers with respect and affection. The workshop closed with an appearance by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary, who led the assembled workshoppers in a hushed rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”Now, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who will join hands and sway gently back and forth while singing “We Shall Overcome” with Peter Yarrow, and Republicans. And indeed, while the 50-50 rule holds within the organization’s leadership and funding, and while BA’s “Red/Blue” workshops require attendance to be equally divided, membership is another story. Dues are minimal—$12 a year—and no politicking or propagandizing is allowed. Still, membership is overwhelmingly blue.So the Angels bend over backwards to project an image that is not merely nonpartisan but scrupulously non-left. The standardized material the moderators use in the workshops has been scrubbed of any suggestion of bias, cultural or political. You won’t find cant about “safe spaces” or “family values.” One moderator not long ago compiled a list of fact-checking sites for his workshoppers that classified sites run by The New York Times and The Washington Post as nonpartisan. “Whoo, boy,” Doherty recalled in an interview. “Can you imagine? Reds just don’t think that way about the Times and the Post. We’d lose every red on the planet.”Doherty chooses his wardrobe carefully before he ventures out to a BA event: no shades of red or blue lest he offer hints of his own political inclinations. “I don’t want to put anybody off,” he said. In several online bios, however, we learn that Doherty left a Catholic seminary to become a therapist, a community organizer, a college professor, and a Unitarian. We are free to speculate.If reds, suspicious by nature, fancy that Better Angels is a subtle exercise in political indoctrination, they should come see for themselves. The first thing the Angels would have you know is this: They don’t want to change your mind—they want to change you. If you’re a crypto-monarchist or an anarcho-capitalist, a neo-Trotskyite or a committed syndicalist—even if you’re a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican—the Angels assume an official indifference toward your political beliefs, no matter how idiotic they are. The great enemy of national comity, in their view, isn’t the conflict of ideas but the mutual contempt with which the contest is waged.“Our job here today is to learn how you maintain, or create, a good relationship with people even though you don’t agree with them,” one of the moderators said on that sunny Sunday at the library in Northern Virginia. “We’re not here to learn how to convince each other of some political agenda.” Of the two moderators, I later learned, one was red and one was blue. But at the time I couldn’t have told you which was which. The attendees were an easier mark. The well-fed fellow with the neck beard wearing the too-tight Ozzy Osbourne T-shirt—definitely a red. The woman with the short gray hair, gingham wraparound skirt, and All Things Considered tote bag—blue, blue, blue.I’m stereotyping, of course. One of the themes of Better Angels is that civil dialogue requires us to concede that many of the stereotypes about our own side contain elements of truth—“kernels,” in Doherty’s lingo. The stereotyping exercise that opens BA’s flagship “Red/Blue” workshop is a good example of the group’s method. After the participants identify themselves, reds and blues gather in separate groups with a moderator. The dreaded easels, flip charts, and Sharpies are brought into play. The moderator asks each group to list untrue things that the other side believes about them. “What this does,” Doherty says, “is bring up the worst stuff anybody can think of—but it comes from one’s own side. So it’s all out in the open, but curated, as it were.”After observing half a dozen BA workshops, I’m astonished at the lack of variety these exercises elicit, uncoached by the moderator. Reds routinely say blues think of them as racist, homophobic, anti-government. Blues say reds believe they’re elitist, socialist, unpatriotic. Next, the moderator scribbles as each group volunteers what they see as the truth about themselves: We’re not socialists, the blues will say; we just believe that government has a responsibility to help the needy. Far from being heartless, say the reds, we favor capitalism precisely because it lifts people from poverty. Then the groups are encouraged to concede the kernels of truth. While rejecting the charge of elitism, blues might acknowledge that they can often be condescending in argument. Reds might say that blues misconstrue their professions of color blindness as racism—but let’s face it, there really are some racists lurking on the right side of the political divide. The final step of the exercise is for the two groups to reunite and explain to each other what they’ve come up with.The response is invariably disarming. Most participants come to believe that they have much more in common than they’d realized. Blues seem less statist and more pragmatic than reds thought. Reds seem more tolerant and less coldhearted than blues imagined. In a properly curated setting, it seems, all of us are eminently reasonable when we are explaining our own views of what’s required to make a better world. From attending Better Angels events, I have learned that nearly everyone believes in helping the needy; no one thinks we should encourage dependency on government. All of us favor taking the long view and condemn shortsightedness. We must live within our means, never encourage bad behavior, and think objectively and rationally rather than subjectively and emotionally. We shall overcome. As long as we don’t get too specific. When it comes to politics, a Better Angels prospectus says, “we support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.” Whatever those may be.Better Angels is too young and underfunded to have compiled the kind of hard and reliable data that would reveal whether the warm feeling engendered by the “Red/Blue” workshops has a lasting effect. That’s why BA promotes the skills workshop, to teach people the practical ways in which they can “be the change we want to see for our country.” Our moderator in Northern Virginia told us, “It’s really just Communications 101, basic facilitation stuff.” When discussing politics with someone disagreeable—or at least someone you disagree with—avoid bald assertions of fact in favor of “I”statements that begin with “I feel …” or “What I’m hearing from you is …” Don’t ask loaded gotcha questions. “You just have to remember that people are people,” our moderator continued. “So simple, right? But sometimes it can be hard.”The notion that our national divide may simply be a matter of ill temper is at once reassuring and depressing—it’s reassuring to know that the cause seems superficial and remediable, but depressing to think that something so inessential could cause all this unpleasantness. Is it really a matter of temperament, though? It’s true—and notable—that contempt is the ingredient that kills personal relationships more swiftly than any other. Eliminating contempt may not be sufficient to save a relationship, but, as marriage research suggests, it is almost certainly necessary. Perhaps the same is true for the nation.And yet Better Angels participants, from my experience, are already well-mannered folk. They are also by nature people who enjoy the workshop atmosphere: the cathartic self-disclosures and debriefs, as well as the moment of reconciliation and uplift on which such encounters are designed to end. It’s the self-selection problem again. The great question facing BA is whether there are enough such people to change the tone of national politics.[Abortion is possibly the most divisive issue of our time. The loudest advocates on both sides are terrible representatives for their cause, Caitlin Flanagan argues.]It won’t take too many, to hear the Angels tell it. Blankenhorn says that 1 percent of the population of any given community, if sufficiently motivated, can influence that community in decisive ways. He points to groups such as the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club, with membership rolls in the low seven figures. The difference is that Better Angels has no policy agenda to push. “Relationship-building is at the core of who we are,” John Wood Jr., BA’s director of media development, says. “We’re not trying to get people to agree ideologically—except in the sense that we should be able to agree that there are core values that unite us as a people, that run deeper than ideology.”Deeper than ideology? Most political actors you run into these days will have a problem imagining anything deeper or more intimate than ideology. I met Wood at BA’s second annual national convention, held on the campus of Washington University, in St. Louis, this summer. In the meeting rooms and hallways there was much discussion of a blistering Washington Post op-ed about Better Angels and the civil-dialogue space, which had appeared the week before. “ ‘Love politics’ has a genuine appeal,” wrote a left-wing fundraiser named Julie Kohler. “But like love itself, love politics is complicated.” In truth Kohler didn’t think it was complicated at all, as her article demonstrated. “Love politics flattens anger,” she continued, and “righteous anger” was the only proper political response to the litany of outrages she presented: a “right-wing media ecosystem that sows disinformation,” “Trump’s demagoguery,” “structural inequities,” and so on.Kohler’s article seethed with the authentic voice of people who practice politics nowadays. Change the specific issues but not the tone and it could have been written by any number of right-wing Twitter boobies. When I read it in St. Louis, I wondered how the Angels might respond face-to-face to these avatars of grievance and anger. “What I’m hearing from you is that you’re coming from a place of frustration over the way the other side is …” Kerpow! The Angels would be lucky to finish the sentence.Blankenhorn gave his own response in a brief talk to the Angels one evening in St. Louis, defending the group’s mission of elevating a new style of politics over the same old disputes about substance. He acknowledged Kohler’s anger. “Everyone thinks the stakes are too high not to fight,” he said. Fighting, and winning by whatever means necessary, was the urgent thing, the demand of maturity, according to Kohler and her fellow ideologists. “But what if this is precisely wrong?” Blankenhorn asked. “What if fighting is the childish way? What if the tough-minded thing is to practice love?”It’s a handsome thought indeed, and all credit to Blankenhorn and his Angels for advancing it, for practicing it, and for showing the rest of us, no matter how grumpy, what it might look like. But as Kohler and her rivals on the other side know, the world—for better or worse—isn’t a workshop.This article appears in the December 2019 print edition with the headline “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”
2019-11-11 15:00:00
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theatlantic.com
Frederick Douglass’s Vision for a Reborn America
Diana Ejaita “We are a country of all extremes, ends and opposites; the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world … In races we range all the way from black to white, with intermediate shades which, as in the apocalyptic vision, no man can name or number.” — Frederick Douglass, 1869 In the late 1860s, Frederick Douglass, the fugitive slave turned prose poet of American democracy, toured the country spreading his most sanguine vision of a pluralist future of human equality in the recently re-United States. It is a vision worth revisiting at a time when the country seems once again to be a house divided over ethnicity and race, and over how to interpret our foundational creeds.The Thirteenth Amendment (ending slavery) had been ratified, Congress had approved the Fourteenth Amendment (introducing birthright citizenship and the equal-protection clause), and Douglass was anticipating the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment (granting black men the right to vote) when he began delivering a speech titled “Our Composite Nationality” in 1869. He kept it in his oratorical repertoire at least through 1870. What the war-weary nation needed, he felt, was a powerful tribute to a cosmopolitan America—not just a repudiation of a divided and oppressive past but a commitment to a future union forged in emancipation and the Civil War. This nation would hold true to universal values and to the recognition that “a smile or a tear has no nationality. Joy and sorrow speak alike in all nations, and they above all the confusion of tongues proclaim the brotherhood of man.”[From December 1866: Frederick Douglass’s ‘Reconstruction’]Douglass, like many other former abolitionists, watched with high hopes as Radical Reconstruction gained traction in Washington, D.C., placing the ex–Confederate states under military rule and establishing civil and political rights for the formerly enslaved. The United States, he believed, had launched a new founding in the aftermath of the Civil War, and had begun to shape a new Constitution rooted in the three great amendments spawned by the war’s results. Practically overnight, Douglass even became a proponent of U.S. expansion to the Caribbean and elsewhere: Americans could now invent a nation whose egalitarian values were worth exporting to societies that were still either officially pro-slavery or riddled with inequality.The aspiration that a postwar United States might slough off its own past identity as a pro-slavery nation and become the dream of millions who had been enslaved, as well as many of those who had freed them, was hardly a modest one. Underlying it was a hope that history itself had fundamentally shifted, aligning with a multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious country born of the war’s massive blood sacrifice. Somehow the tremendous resistance of the white South and former Confederates, which Douglass himself predicted would take ever more virulent forms, would be blunted. A vision of “composite” nationhood would prevail, separating Church and state, giving allegiance to a single new Constitution, federalizing the Bill of Rights, and spreading liberty more broadly than any civilization had ever attempted.Was this a utopian vision, or was it grounded in a fledgling reality? That question, a version of which has never gone away, takes on an added dimension in the case of Douglass. One might well wonder how a man who, before and during the war, had delivered some of the most embittered attacks on American racism and hypocrisy ever heard could dare nurse the optimism evident from the very start of the speech. How could Douglass now believe that his reinvented country was, as he declared, “the most fortunate of nations” and “at the beginning of our ascent”?[From December 2018: Randall Kennedy on the confounding truth about Frederick Douglass]few americans denounced the tyranny and tragedy at the heart of America’s institutions more fiercely than Douglass did in the first quarter century of his public life. In 1845, seven years after his escape to freedom, Douglass’s first autobiography was published to great acclaim, and he set off on an extraordinary 19-month trip to the British Isles, where he experienced a degree of equality unimaginable in America. Upon his return, in 1847, he let his profound ambivalence about the concepts of home and country be known. “I have no love for America, as such,” he announced in a speech he delivered that year. “I have no patriotism. I have no country.” Douglass let his righteous anger flow in metaphors of degradation, chains, and blood. “The institutions of this country do not know me, do not recognize me as a man,” he declared, “except as a piece of property.” All that attached him to his native land were his family and his deeply felt ties to the “three millions of my fellow-creatures, groaning beneath the iron rod … with … stripes upon their backs.” Such a country, Douglass said, he could not love. “I desire to see its overthrow as speedily as possible, and its Constitution shivered in a thousand fragments.”Six years later, as the crisis over slavery’s future began to tear apart the nation’s political system, Douglass intensified his attacks on American hypocrisy and wanted to know just who could be an American. “The Hungarian, the Italian, the Irishman, the Jew and the Gentile,” he said about the huge waves of European immigration, “all find in this goodly land a home.” But “my white fellow-countrymen … have no other use for us [blacks] whatever, than to coin dollars out of our blood.” Demanding his birthright as an American, he felt like only the “veriest stranger and sojourner.”The fact that emancipation, extracted through blood and agony, could so quickly transform Douglass into the author of a hopeful new vision of his country is stunning, a testament to the revolutionary sense of history embraced by this former slave and abolitionist. Yet he had always believed that America had a “mission”—that the United States was a set of ideas despite its “tangled network of contradictions.” Now the time had come to reconceive the mission. Douglass’s immediate post–Civil War definition of a nation came quite close to the Irish political scientist Benedict Anderson’s modern conception of an “imagined community.” In his “Composite Nationality” speech, Douglass explained that nationhood “implies a willing surrender and subjection of individual aims and ends, often narrow and selfish, to the broader and better ones that arise out of society as a whole. It is both a sign and a result of civilization.” And a nation requires a story that draws its constituent parts into a whole. The postwar United States served as a beacon—“the perfect national illustration of the unity and dignity of the human family.”Americans needed a new articulation of how their country was an idea, Douglass recognized, and he gave it to them. Imagine the audacity, in the late 1860s, to affirm the following for the reinvented United States:A Government founded upon justice, and recognizing the equal rights of all men; claiming no higher authority for its existence, or sanction for its laws, than nature, reason and the regularly ascertained will of the people; steadily refusing to put its sword and purse in the service of any religious creed or family.Few better expressions exist of America’s founding principles of popular sovereignty, natural rights, and the separation of Church and state. From his enslaved youth onward, Douglass had loved the principles and hated their flouting in practice. And he had always believed in an Old Testament version of divine vengeance and justice, sure that the country would face a rending and a renewal. Proudly, he now declared such a nation a “standing offense” to “narrow and bigoted people.”In the middle section of his speech, Douglass delivered a striking argument on behalf of Chinese immigration to America, then emerging as an important political issue. In the Burlingame Treaty, negotiated between the U.S. and the empire of China in 1868, the American government acknowledged the “inalienable right” of migration and accepted Chinese immigrants, but it denied them any right to be naturalized as citizens. Douglass predicted a great influx of Chinese fleeing overcrowding and hunger in their native country, and finding work in the mines and expanding railroads in the West. They would surely face violence and prejudice, Douglass warned. In language that seems timely today, he projected himself into the anti-immigrant mind. “Are not the white people the owners of this continent?” he asked. “Is there not such a thing as being more generous than wise? In the effort to promote civilization may we not corrupt and destroy what we have?”But this rhetorical gesture of empathy for the racists gave way to a full-blown attack. He urged Americans not to fear the alien character of Asian languages or cultures. The Chinese, like all other immigrants, would assimilate to American laws and folkways. They “will cross the mountains, cross the plains, descend our rivers, penetrate to the heart of the country and fix their home with us forever.” The Chinese, the “new element in our national composition,” would bring talent, skill, and laboring ethics honed over millennia. Douglass invoked the morality of the natural-rights tradition. “There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are eternal, universal and indestructible.” Migratory rights, he asserted, are “human rights,” and he reminded Americans that “only one-fifth of the population of the globe is white and the other four-fifths are colored.”Just as important, he placed the issue in the context of America’s mission. The United States ought to be a home for people “gathered here from all quarters of the globe.” All come as “strangers,” bringing distinct cultures with them, but American creeds can offer a common ground. Though conflict may ensue, a nation of “strength and elasticity” would emerge through contact and learning. What might sound like a manifesto for multicultural education in the 1990s or a diversity mission statement at any university today actually has a long history.Douglass made sure to embed his bold vision in first principles. To the argument that it is “natural” for people to collide over their cultural differences and to see one another only through mutual “reproachful epithets,” he countered with the notion that “nature has many sides,” and is not static. “It is natural to walk,” Douglass wrote, “but shall men therefore refuse to ride? It is natural to ride on horseback, shall men therefore refuse steam and rail? Civilization is itself a constant war upon some forces in nature, shall we therefore abandon civilization and go back to savage life?” Douglass called on his fellow citizens to recognize that “man is man the world over … The sentiments we exhibit, whether love or hate, confidence or fear, respect or contempt, will always imply a like humanity.” But he did not merely ask Americans to all get along. He asked his fellow countrymen to make real freedom out of slavery, out of their sordid history—to see that they had been offered a new beginning for their national project, and to have the courage to execute it.swept up in hope, Douglass did not anticipate the rising tide of nativism that lay ahead in the Gilded Age. The U.S. passed a first Chinese-exclusion law, directed at women who were deemed “immoral” or destined for forced labor, in 1875. By 1882, Sinophobia and violence against the Chinese led to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act, banning virtually any immigration by the group—the first such restrictive order against all members of a particular ethnicity in American history. Those who remained in the country lived constrained and dangerous lives; in the late 1880s, Chinese miners were gruesomely massacred in mines across the West. The Chinese also faced the hostility of white workers who now fashioned the ideology of “free labor” into a doctrine that sought to eliminate any foreign competition for jobs, especially in economic hard times. For Douglass, these bleak realities were just the outcomes he had warned against as Reconstruction gathered momentum.Immigrants from Europe continued to stream into the United States, even as a resurgent white South gained control of its society in the latter days of Reconstruction. As nativism, racism, and nationalism converged in the closing decades of the 19th century, the idea of America as a cosmopolitan nation of immigrants fought for survival. Eugenics acquired intellectual legitimacy; and violence, and eventually Jim Crow laws, consolidated a system of white supremacy.[Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia to rival the great universities in the North and transform a slave-owning generation. As the university celebrates its 200th anniversary, Annette Gordon-Reed reviews Alan Taylor’s new book about how Jefferson’s plan was launched.]By the 1890s Douglass, aging and in ill health but still out on the lecture circuit, felt hard-pressed to sustain hope for the transformations at the heart of the “Composite Nationality” speech. He never renounced his faith in natural rights or in the power of the vote. But in the last great speech of his life, “Lessons of the Hour”—an excoriating analysis of the “excuses” and “lie” at the root of lynching—Douglass betrayed a faith “shaken” and nearly gone. Disenfranchisement and murderous violence left him observing a nation mired in lawless horror. Lynchings were “lauded and applauded by honorable men … guardians of Southern women” who enabled other men to behave “as buzzards, vultures, and hyenas.” A country once endowed with “nobility” was crushed by mob rule. His dream in tatters, Douglass begged his audiences to remember that the Civil War and Reconstruction had “announced the advent of a nation, based upon human brotherhood and the self-evident truths of liberty and equality. Its mission was the redemption of the world from the bondage of ages.”Many civil wars leave legacies of continuing conflict, renewed bloodshed, unstable political systems. Ours did just that, even as it forged a new history and a new Constitution. In 2019, our composite nationality needs yet another rebirth. We could do no better than to immerse ourselves in Douglass’s vision from 1869. Nearly 20 years earlier, he had embraced the exercise of human rights as “the deepest and strongest of all the powers of the human soul,” proclaiming that “no argument, no researches into mouldy records, no learned disquisitions, are necessary to establish it.” But the self-evidence of natural rights, as Douglass the orator knew, does not guarantee their protection and practice. “To assert it, is to call forth a sympathetic response from every human heart, and to send a thrill of joy and gladness round the world.” And to keep asserting those rights, he reminds us, will never cease to be necessary.Practicing them is crucial too. In an 1871 editorial he took a position worth heeding today. The failure to exercise one’s right to vote, he wrote, “is as great a crime as an open violation of the law itself.” Only a demonstration of rebirth in our composite nation and of vibrancy in our democracy will again send thrills of joy and emulation around the world about America. Such a rebirth ought not to be the object of our waiting but of our making, as it was for the Americans, black and white, who died to end slavery and make the second republic.This article appears in the December 2019 print edition with the headline “The Possibility of America.”
2019-11-09 18:00:00
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theatlantic.com