Monitor Daily Podcast

May 08, 2017
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Monitor Daily Intro for May 8, 2017

Today, the first day of the new Christian Science Monitor Daily, there is interesting news out of Britain. Facebook announced an effort to crack down on “fake news” ahead of elections next month. It’s banning dubious sites and telling readers to be alert. But what is fake news, really? Research suggests that people can see events completely differently, depending on whether they are in the majority or the minority. In other words, it’s not really just a question of facts, but also of perspective.

Facebook’s efforts are welcome, as are the efforts of fact-based journalism. Both are necessary. But the Monitor has always worked to take facts deeper – into ideas and solutions. And that’s the point of our new Daily: How we see the world matters. The answer to fake news is understanding – not just of facts but of each other and of the values that shape our lives. Today, we start our newest effort to show that light to the world.

Here are our top five stories for the day:

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In Macron, supporters see a champion of optimism

In recent months, we heard so much about Marine Le Pen's radical view of French politics. But in some ways, President-elect Emmanuel Macron's vision is just as radical: He's trying to revolutionize French politics from the inside out. 


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The electoral totals of France’s new president-elect, Emmanuel Macron, benefited immensely from French fear of his opponent, Marine Le Pen. But many of his most devoted supporters backed him because he has not chosen to bash the “other,” be it Muslim, immigrant, rival party, or European bureaucracy. Rather, he has emphasized dialogue and practical solutions over political jockeying. That, says Christelle Dernon, is a critical change in approach for the French government, and a major reason why she decided to volunteer for Mr. Macron’s campaign. “When you do political reform in France no one explains it. It’s just, ‘We are going to do this.’ Then everyone goes on strike. Then nothing happens. It has been the same thing since I was born.” She admits that Macron faces huge hurdles – not least imminent legislative elections. But his unique position as both centrist and mainstream outsider fuels her hope that he can circumvent the politics that have stalled France – and get to focusing on solutions.

In Macron, supporters see a champion of optimism

Laurent Cipriani/AP
Supporters of French independent centrist presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron cheer outside the Louvre museum in Paris on Sunday.

The improbable rise of Emmanuel Macron as the youngest president in modern French history – held up as a rebuke to transatlantic populism and generating expectations from Boston to Berlin – started with the big hope of women like Christelle Dernon.

Ms. Dernon was one of thousands of French people who signed up for the political movement “En Marche” that Mr. Macron started just a year ago, knocking on doors across the country and helping create and curate the message of optimism that ultimately prevailed at the polls Sunday night.

At the time the then-economy minister was not a presidential candidate. In fact, his name was barely known, and certainly not outside of France. But Dernon was impressed by her perception that he put projects above politics, and when he started his movement outside the traditional party apparatus – claiming to be neither left nor right – the 25-year-old who didn’t even vote in the previous presidential election joined his army of volunteers.

“He was talking to people, engaging in dialogue, something that we don’t see that often in France,” she says on a recent evening outside his headquarters where she has put in almost as many hours as into her day job as a public affairs consultant. “I subscribed right away. I wanted to be part of it.”

“When we started we just thought that we were building a project, a platform but probably for 2022,” she adds. “So it went way faster than we imagined.”

Indeed, Macron’s victory Sunday night not only surprised his own movement, it caps one of the most extraordinary races in French history. Both mainstream parties were ousted from the race, and the runoff featured two outsider candidates with wildly divergent ideas for France’s future. Marine Le Pen made it to round two with an anti-immigrant, anti-EU message that tapped into pessimism in French society, while Macron forged forward, unapologetically pro-global and pro-European. The French opted for the latter, with 66 percent choosing Macron, compared to 34 percent for Ms. Le Pen, a larger margin than polls predicted.

And now he faces the enormous task of channeling the expectations – and some would say idealism – of Dernon and the movement he founded into a reformist, centrist presidency that pushes back against the populist forces that still lurk.

'Oui, nous pouvons'?

If all of this sounds familiar – perhaps too familiar, from some vantages – to the American election of Barack Obama, it’s not a coincidence.

The first major action of “En Marche” was the door-to-door campaign of which Dernon became part, marching across France in a listening tour. Called the “Grande Marche,” it was unabashedly American in style, and, organized by the electoral technology startup Liegey Muller Pons, it borrowed directly from Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential bid.

What they found, in conversations across the country that focused on what’s working at the local level and what could be expanded, is that polls didn’t always reflect the full scope of people’s views. “There is a tendency among French people to be pessimistic about their future,” says Vincent Pons, a co-founder of Liegey Muller Pons. “But during these interactions Emmanuel Macron found out that there were many people who had ideas, who had a positive outlook of the country.”

It’s one reason Macron so enthusiastically embraced optimism as a guiding message, despite the general sense that it is pessimism that is winning the era.

But now he faces the gargantuan task of unifying the nation. Despite Macron's decisive victory, Le Pen still won a third of the electorate – a historic win for her National Front – while another third either abstained or cast blank votes, refusing to endorse either candidate. While “En Marche” calls itself a movement of optimism, of the two-thirds of voters who cast ballots for Macron, many did so begrudgingly – because they feared Le Pen’s rise. Despite his outsider claims, many see him as a continuation of President François Hollande, the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic. He faces the immediate challenge of legislative elections – where a man without a party seeks to secure a majority next month.

“He is a candidate who did not play on people’s fears, on people’s resentments, anger. He did not try to look for scapegoats, Islam, immigration, or European institutions,” says Karim Bitar, a senior research fellow at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris. “But many of the 66 percent of voters who chose him did not necessary adhere to this message of hope that he was carrying. They were basically trying to say no to Marine Le Pen. It is going to be quite difficult to maintain the climate of hope.”

Dialogue, not condemnation

As thousands of supporters cheered and danced in the courtyard of the Louvre Palace, in front of I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid Sunday night, Macron seemed to acknowledge the doubts after his victory was announced. “I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that very many of you have also expressed. It's my responsibility to hear them,” he said.

That’s the kind of message that first piqued Dernon’s interest. After the Bataclan terrorist attack in November 2015 that rocked Paris, she says he was the only one who wasn’t fixating on a foreign threat. “He said, ‘This is the second time we are attacked by French people on French people. We need to think about the roots of this to solve the problem.’ I appreciated he had the courage to say this at that time, no one was saying that,” she says.

Later, when his government tried to push forward deeply unpopular labor reform, she was drawn to his style that seemed not to bash people or parties but to debate projects.

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
'When you hear the Socialists, or the rightwing party, they are just always about bashing the other,' says Christelle Dernon, a volunteer for Emmanuel Macron's 'En Marche' movement. 'They never suggest anything to improve things.'

She still thinks economic reform will be his biggest bugaboo. Many already dismiss him as a candidate of corporatism and could resist his reform agenda. But Dernon says that his gift for dialogue will make the difference. “When you do political reform in France no one explains it. It’s just, ‘We are going to do this.’ Then everyone goes on strike. Then nothing happens. It has been the same thing since I was born,” she says.

“People don’t understand that the social rights come from a different time. There are jobs that are disappearing and we have to adapt our system,” she says. “This is not saying we are going to do everything like the US, it’s not working in the US either. We have to build our own system protecting people but also bringing more mobility and possibility for people to move into jobs.”

Mr. Pons, also an associate professor at Harvard Business School, says the timing might be right for him to effect change. The same breakdown in ideological divides that ushered him into power could also boost his leadership, since so much resistance to reform came from the rejection of the political class in the first place.

“The strength of Macron is that he is a new face. He is really young, relatively charismatic, his movement is entirely new," Pons says. "So he benefits from a lot of credit. He benefits from much more trust by French voters than moderate parties do. This trust maybe could be very instrumental in helping him implement reforms.”

Waiting for change

For a man whose party is just over one year old, these are outsize expectations – another parallel, this one ominous, with Obama, who won the Nobel Peace prize early in his term with the world looking on, setting expectations that left many deeply disappointed.

But not Dernon. She says her political activism was directly inspired by the former American president, and when she heard his "yes we can" spirit in Macron's movement – including Obama volunteers working directly in their campaign – she joined without hesitating. On a trip to Washington in January, she says she bumped into Obama’s daughter Malia in a park – something she considers more than a coincidence.

Cognizant of what followed Obama's two terms in office – the arrival of Mr. Trump – she has hope that Macron is the man to effect change without populism winning in the future. She says she’s not an idealist, something she couldn’t be after knocking on thousands of doors. “Sometimes you have a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand anything, or who is just aggressive,” she says. “In the end you are just like, ‘What is the point of doing all this?’ It can feel quite frustrating and disappointing.”

And yet amid hundreds of slammed doors were hundreds more that opened. Her lasting impression: “People are waiting for this kind of change."

What it could take to address the global populist tide

Yes, Ms. Le Pen’s populist approach was roundly defeated. But we’re seeing something else, too. The deeper anxieties that fueled it remain, in France and globally. In the end, the persistence of those perceptions might prove just as important as Sunday's result. 

Eric Gaillard/Reuters
Supporters for Marine Le Pen, the French National Front’s candidate in yesterday’s presidential election, attended a campaign rally in Nice last month. Centrist Emmanuel Macron won, with about two-thirds of the votes cast. But large numbers of voters abstained.

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The actual landslide in Sunday’s presidential election in France may not be what you are thinking. Yes, centrist Emmanuel Macron won about two-thirds of the actual votes. But in a striking rejection of the status quo, a third of those who voted opted for Marine Le Pen. And a third of all eligible voters either abstained or spoiled their ballot papers in protest. And that is cheering up supporters of her populist, anti-immigrant National Front party, who see the vote as “another step toward electoral success.” Experts on the rise of nationalist populism in Western democracies say the French vote fit the trend seen in the British vote to leave the European Union and America’s election of Donald Trump. In this “new political era,” the experts say, voters are voicing economic pain, cultural uncertainty, and anger at the political system. Political leaders anxious to preserve Western liberal values should be mindful of citizens’ fears about immigration and globalization. To stem the populist tide, says one Harvard expert, it will take improved living standards and more successful ways of handling ethnic and racial relations than governments have yet managed. [Editor's note: The original version misstated how many people either voted for Ms. Le Pen or abstained from voting.]

What it could take to address the global populist tide

Charles Platiau/Reuters
Marine Le Pen greets supporters at the Chalet du Lac in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris after her defeat in the second round of the 2017 French presidential election, France, May 7, 2017.

The scale of her defeat could scarcely have been more comprehensive. Marine le Pen won little more than half the votes that her rival, Emmanuel Macron, garnered in Sunday’s French presidential election.

So why were so many of the far-right leader’s supporters and advisers so cheerful about the election results? Because her one-third share of the vote, they say, is a sign that the international wave of populism that has rolled through the US and Europe has not yet crested.

And they may be right, analysts say.

“The threat to liberal democracy is clearly still there,” says Yascha Mounk, a German-born politics teacher at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Protectionist, anti-immigrant, and illiberal parties such as Ms. Le Pen’s National Front (FN) are now the second largest parties in France, Italy, Austria, and the Netherlands.

Such parties are growing, and say they have their eyes on greater prizes.

“These elections were a decisive new stage in our development, another step toward electoral success,” FN secretary general Nicolas Bay said Monday morning.

Simply the fact that neither of the traditionally dominant parties in France, on the center left and center right, made it through to the second round of the presidential elections showed “a rupture of the traditional political establishment,” says John Short, an expert on globalization at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). [Editor's note: The original version misidentified Mr. Short's institution.]

Like Donald Trump, both Le Pen – who campaigned hard against “the system” – and Mr. Macron, who launched his party only one year ago and had never been elected to any office before Sunday, ran as outsiders.

“The French results fit the trend we have seen” in last June’s British vote to leave the European Union and in President Trump’s election, of voters voicing “their economic pain, their cultural uncertainty, and their political anger at the system,” says Professor Short.

Rejection of status quo

Macron may have won by a landslide, but many voted for him only to make sure that Le Pen, whose angry nationalism has been widely denounced as racism, would not win. And many voters simply did not go to the polls, equally repelled by Macron’s free market, pro-European Union platform and by the National Front’s extremist message.

In a striking rejection of the status quo, 67 percent of eligible French voters either voted for Le Pen, or abstained, or spoiled their ballot papers in protest.

If the first round of the election had buried the old system with the collapse of the two biggest parties, Le Pen said in her brief concession speech Sunday night, the second round had fashioned “a major political restructuring around the split between patriots and globalists.”

She, of course, being a “patriot.”

That will be a tough corner for Macron to fight. Over half the voters in the first round of the French elections chose anti-European Union, anti-globalization candidates.

“We are in a new political era,” argues the UMBC’s Short. “There is no glib, easy defense of globalization or of multiculturalism any more. Politicians have to be aware of the new sensibilities that have been brought to the surface.”

Labor market is the 'main driver'

From this perspective, Macron is making the right noises.

“I know there is anger, anxiety, doubt,” he said Sunday evening in a victory speech. “It is my responsibility to listen to that, and to protect the weakest.”

He told his supporters later that he knew many people had “voted out of anger and distress. I respect that. But I will do everything I can over the next five years to make sure they have no reason to vote for extremes” in the next presidential elections in 2022.

If he fails, warns Jean-Christophe Lagarde, head of France’s centrist Union of Democrats and Independents, “our democracy will be in danger again.”

Key to the new president’s goal will be creating jobs, in a country where unemployment has hovered around 10 percent for the past five years and where youth unemployment has hit 25 percent. It is even worse in Spain and Greece.

Researchers in Germany found in 2016 that “the main driver” of surges in votes for populist right wing parties is the labor market, says Robert Gold, an economist at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and one of the researchers who carried out the study.

When globalization kills jobs in industrialized countries by shifting them to countries where wages are lower, or when robots take over manual work, governments must take care of the losers with more than social security and unemployment benefits, Dr. Gold argues.

“People need more than that,” he says. “They need prospects and a chance to make their living again.” That means a much sharper focus on retraining so that laid off workers find it easier to move into new jobs.

'They are not all racists'

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, makes a similar point in a recent opinion piece published by the international nonprofit Project Syndicate.

“In the absence of … strong social welfare programs, job retraining, and other forms of assistance to individuals and communities left behind by globalization, Trumpian politicians may become a permanent feature of the landscape” in world politics, he writes.

At the same time, says Short, political leaders anxious to preserve Western liberal values have to be less dismissive of citizens’ fears about immigration – a particularly sensitive issue in Europe. “You cannot just use diversity as an easy slogan to shut up people with concerns,” he says. “They are not all racists.”

Sunday’s election results were “good news but qualified good news,” says Harvard’s Dr. Mounk. “The forces of liberal democracy can win against this threat,” but Le Pen won twice as many votes as her father did in 2002 when he reached the second round of presidential elections, he points out.

To stem the populist tide, he says, it will take improved living standards and more successful ways of handling ethnic and racial relations than governments have yet managed.

“It means making people satisfied with their lives and with their political systems,” Mounk argues. “It is the challenge of a whole political generation.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

What’s emerging as Americans grapple with identity

Conscience can be an act of conviction ... or convenience. At a time when new groups are demanding new rights, some others say it's their right not to participate. For US courts today, figuring out how to navigate that thicket of competing claims is crucial.


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Like many Americans, W. Paul Reeve has been thinking a lot about personal conscience and the meaning of religious liberty this year. As a scholar of 19th-century Mormon history, he says it was his own conscience that compelled him to join a group of fellow scholars who filed a brief for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in April. Their aim was to provide historical context for the court as it considers President Trump’s travel ban, and describe the US government’s anti-Mormon policies more than a century ago. The travel ban, which temporarily prohibits immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, was in court again today, as the Fourth Circuit held its own hearings on its constitutionality. “We’re in a moment in which the United States is grappling again with its own identity,” says Professor Reeve, director of graduate studies at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “Out of a hope for a pluralistic society, it seemed the right thing to do, to speak up.” 

What’s emerging as Americans grapple with identity

Carlos Barria/Reuters
President Donald Trump signs an Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during the National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C., U.S., on May 4, 2017.

When a Kentucky judge announced that he would recuse himself from any further adoption cases involving “homosexual parties,” he said it was “a matter of conscience.”

Invoking the American tradition of “conscientious objection,” W. Mitchell Nance, a family court judge, also said that his views of homosexuality might constitute a “personal bias or prejudice” that compromised his impartiality, since same-sex marriage and adoption are now considered fundamental rights. So his general recusal from such cases, he suggested, was required as a matter of judicial ethics and law – as well his personal conscience.

Other religious conservatives, too, have begun to appropriate legal concepts often understood to protect religious minorities. With their attempts to carve out conscience exemptions for certain wedding vendors and public officials, allowing them to opt out of participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies, many have begun to couch their arguments within the traditional values of religious pluralism and tolerance.

Unlike the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who asserted her religious conscience in 2015 in refusing to allow her government office to grant marriage licenses to any same-sex couples as a matter of principle, Judge Nance has appeared to weigh his moral choices in a more considered way. (On May 2, a federal appeals court reinstated a lawsuit a number of gay couples brought against Ms. Davis.)  

“It's preemptive in nature,” Nance said after issuing his April 27 order. “I wanted to preempt there from being any uncertainty if the situation arose.” No one would be delayed or denied access to the services of the court, officials said, since the jurisdiction’s other family judge would now be assigned such cases.

From one perspective, Nance’s justification of his claim to be a conscientious objector included a logistical consideration that the law be upheld in a timely and orderly way, and that no gay or lesbian couples would be inconvenienced. Absent any demonstrable harms, some legal scholars argue, religious conscience claims should be respected. President Trump on May 4 signed an executive order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” which people on both left and right criticized as vague.

“I believe as an American that, in general, it is a good thing for society to shape laws in ways that allow people to live their lives in ways consistent with their sincerely held religious obligations,” says Mark Goldfeder, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s in our First Amendment for a reason: It is extraordinarily important as part of the American constitutional experiment that separated us from previous societies, and made us a better nation. At the end of the day, that’s a cornerstone, the bedrock of our society.”  

From another perspective, however, the judge’s blanket beliefs about a group of people – rooted, it appears, in religious convictions – immediately violates his oath to uphold both the law and the principle of equal protection. Nance told the Courier-Journal that he’s never met any gay adoptive parents, and he was unaware of any research to back his claim that “under no circumstance” would homosexual parents promote a child’s best interests as well as a heterosexual couple.

And while the United States, as both a nation of laws and a society of diverse peoples, may indeed be exceptional in its unique commitment to religious liberty, it has also had a very troubled and sometimes vicious struggle against religious minorities as its national identity evolved.

“We’re in a moment in which the United States is grappling again with its own identity,” says W. Paul Reeve, a professor of history and director of the department's graduate studies at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

'It seemed the right thing to do, to speak up'

Like many Americans, Professor Reeve has been thinking a lot about personal conscience and the meaning of religious liberty this year. As a scholar of 19th-century Mormon history, he says it was his own conscience that compelled him to join a group of fellow scholars who filed a brief for the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in April.

Their aim was to provide historical context for the court as it again considers President Trump’s bogged-down travel ban, and to describe the US government’s anti-Mormon policies more than a century ago. The travel ban, which temporarily prohibits immigration from six majority-Muslim countries, was in court again Monday, as the 4th Circuit held hearings on its constitutionality.

“Out of a hope for a pluralistic society, it seemed the right thing to do, to speak up,” says Reeve, citing his research into the US State Department’s 19th-century policy to pressure European governments to keep Mormon converts out of the country.

“The parallels seemed striking,” he continues. “And it sort of grew out of a desire to demonstrate empathy for another religious group, to stand in someone else's shoes, draw upon a context that I’ve studied as a scholar, and stand up for pluralism and what it means to be an American.”

But American religious pluralism nevertheless evolved under the broader theological aegis of Protestantism, rooted in the traditions of northern Europe. From the time of the early Puritan theocracies, dissenters like Thomas Hooker, who left Massachusetts and helped establish Connecticut, and Roger Williams, who made a principle of freedom of conscience in Rhode Island and in the Baptist theology he helped shape, religious pluralism defined the new nation.

In time, liturgical Episcopalians could tolerate free-wheeling Methodists, and Presbyterian Calvinists could, in general, live among Baptists preaching the “soul competency” of an individual interpreting Scripture for himself. But these Protestants often had a hard time extending such tolerance to Catholics from southern Europe, or non-orthodox Christian sects like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Today, despite their reasserted power unleashed in the 2016 presidential elections, white Evangelical Protestants have experienced the decline of their cultural dominance.

“White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership in exchange for an equal seat,” wrote Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, in The New York Times. “And it’s this new higher-stakes challenge that is fueling the great partisan reorientation we are witnessing today.”

Opposing ideas of what it means to be American

As Dr. Jones noted, this great partisan reorientation includes “mirror-opposite” ideas about what it means to be an American. Almost two-thirds of Republicans, 64 percent, see a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs as extremely or very important, compared with only 32 percent of Democrats, according to an Associated Press-NORC poll released in February.

Conversely, 66 percent of Democrats said the mixing of cultures and values from around the world was extremely or very important to American identity, compared with only 35 percent of Republicans.

“You really do have this strongly held conviction on the part of many conservative Christians that, because of Obergefell, because of shifting opinions regarding same-sex marriage, that they are now a persecuted minority,” says Russell Arben Fox, a professor of political science at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, who also signed the scholars’ brief to the Ninth Circuit.

A way out of culture-war mindset?

But Professor Fox, too, sees a way out of the culture-war mindset.

“For myself, I tend to believe there are ways to carve out language that would allow for certain religious groups, maybe even closely held corporations, to avail themselves of religious protections, but without inviting persecution of minorities,” he says.

In Utah, state legislatures responded to the same-sex ruling by meeting with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocates and hashing out a similar compromise. Utah became the first Republican state to include LGBT protections in its state civil rights laws. In exchange they passed religious conscience exemptions for clerks and other state workers who would choose not to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies, while making sure no one ever had to wait or be made to feel unwelcome.

“We should abide by a vision of pluralism that is fully inclusive and not born out of anxiety and exclusion,” says David Kim, a professor in American Studies and the chairman of the religious studies department at Connecticut College in New London. “In the case of religious accommodations or exceptions, those are not made as a matter of course; instead they are determined on a case by case basis. Context matters. Issues matter.”

An unlikely alliance that could save Western lands

Decades ago, Western ranchlands were ground zero for a “sagebrush rebellion” against federal power. But attempts to rekindle that revolt more recently have failed. Why? We found a surprising answer: Cooperation is taking root. 

Ann Hermes/Staff
Ranchers Carl Lufkin and Merill Beyeler survey cattle in Lemhi County, Idaho, where more than 90 percent of the land is owned by the federal government. Amid intense debate over public lands, there has been movement. “What doesn’t get attention,” says Mr. Beyeler, “is the really good, responsible, productive work taking place on the Western landscape.”

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With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, many expect that the federal government will begin shifting more control of public lands in the West to the states. Perhaps surprisingly, many Western ranchers – a group not known for embracing big government – are resisting such a move. Concerned that handing the land to cash-strapped states would result in the sale of the lands to private interests, the ranchers seek a recalibration, not a revolution, in how Washington manages federal public lands. In places like Idaho's Lemhi County, where 92 percent of the land is owned by the Feds, ranchers are working with officials in a way that could become a model for solving future land wars. The battle to keep public lands public has united environmentalists and ranchers. “We’re finding this is a unifying issue, with folks on both sides of the aisle,” says Land Tawney, director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a nonprofit that opposed the bill. “There can be nothing more American than our public lands.”

An unlikely alliance that could save Western lands

Ann Hermes/Staff
Merill Beyeler, who runs a ranch outside Leadore, Idaho, wants public lands to stay public – not be sold to private interests or fall under state control.

Merill Beyeler bears the classic look of a Western rancher. He’s got the leathery face of someone who has spent a lot of time outdoors. He wears flannel shirts, jeans, and a bone-colored cowboy hat.

Mr. Beyeler, whose family roots in Idaho’s Lemhi County extend back to the 1850s, is also a rock-ribbed Republican. True, in Idaho, one of the reddest states in the nation, most people are Republican. But in Lemhi County, a hauntingly beautiful expanse of bald, taupe mountains and verdant river valleys wedged up against the Montana border, virtually no one puts a Democratic bumper sticker on his or her pickup. So you’d think that people like Beyeler would be happy at the prospect of the new Trump administration, buttressed by one of the most conservative cabinets in decades, ushering in a dramatic change in the management of public lands in the West. You’d think that they would relish the prospect of federal agencies either opening up more expanses to ranchers and commercial interests or giving more control to states.

You’d be wrong.

While Beyeler occasionally chafes at the way federal lands are managed, he doesn’t want US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land opened up unconditionally to loggers or developers, or – worse – handed over to bureaucrats in Boise and sold off. “The reason you come home is that this is the soul of our people,” he says. “When you look at our public lands in that respect – as an economic driver and as the soul of our state – the idea of losing that, or risking that, is just too great.”

As the Trump administration works to fashion an identity in Washington, one of the big questions is how much the federal government will change its stewardship of public lands in the West. With Republicans in control of Congress, many envision a significant shift in access to and development of public expanses similar to what happened under the Reagan administration 35 years ago. They believe it could be one of the signature achievements of the Trump era. A few on the right are even pushing for an outright transfer of some of those lands to state control.

Yet others – including many Republicans – occupy a more pragmatic middle. Like Beyeler, they are looking for a recalibration rather than a land-management revolution. They believe that the natural landscape is as much a part of the region’s identity as coal seams and oil shale and requires at least some federal stewardship. And they believe firmly that public lands need to stay public – not sold off to private interests.

When Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah recently introduced a bill in Congress to sell 3.3 million acres of federal lands in the West, he was forced to withdraw the legislation days later because of the backlash from his own constituents, many of whom regularly fish for trout or hunt elk on federal lands.

“I’ve been working in this field for 17 years, and no one has ever seen a congressman introduce a bill and then withdraw it within a week,” says Land Tawney, director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a nonprofit that fiercely opposed the bill. “The sportsman community is about 70 percent conservative. We’re finding this is a unifying issue, with folks on both sides of the aisle. There can be nothing more American than our public lands.”

The land-use decisions of the next four years will have the most impact in places like Lemhi County, which is 92 percent owned by the federal government. Few areas of the United States are more remote than the high desert sagebrush area here.

Salmon, the county’s largest town, is 90 miles from a railroad, and 150 miles from an airport, the Interstate, or a Wal-Mart. The county is empty, stark, and stunning. Local ranchers and residents differ – even within families – over how public lands should be managed. But some of them are also working with government officials in a way that could become a model for solving future land wars in the West.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Land-use decisions in Washington have a big impact on towns like Salmon, Idaho.

The battle over public lands and resources is as old as westward expansion itself. It extends from early fights over mining and water claims in the 1800s to the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s to the anti-Washington “wise-use movement” of the 1980s and ’90s. The only constant in it all is the ebb and flow of tensions between Western residents and the largest landholder, Washington.

“The political side of it dates all the way back to the creation of the country,” says Robert Keiter, a law professor at the University of Utah and director of the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment.

Last year, simmering frustrations about federal control over Western lands culminated most visibly in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by militant ranchers. Yet Westerners’ grievances have been finding an outlet through various assaults in Washington as well.

In late April, the Trump administration ordered the Interior Department to review some 30 places that have been designated national monuments over the past 20 years. The White House believes the designations have increasingly set aside more land than was intended under the 1906 Antiquities Act, costing the nation jobs. Environmentalists see the move undermining one of the most important tools for protecting national parks and public lands.

The change could affect places such as the Bears Ears National Monument, in the red-rock area of southern Utah, which was protected in the waning days of the Obama administration. Several Utah lawmakers, including Mr. Chaffetz and Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, have been pressing to overturn the designation. (In response, the Outdoor Industry Association pulled a trade show, which brings about $45 million a year to Utah, from Salt Lake City.)

Western lawmakers have also been pushing the idea of selling off some public lands to private parties, or transferring them to state ownership. And the Trump administration is trying to repeal a regulation that requires oil and gas firms operating on public lands to control their methane emissions. 

Behind all the rebellious moves is the size of Washington’s real estate portfolio. The federal government owns 47 percent of all the land in 11 Western states. That ranges from a high of 85 percent in Nevada to a low of 30 percent in Montana. 

“It’s a long-standing irritation, and at times it becomes more pronounced,” says Lynn Scarlett, global managing director for public policy for The Nature Conservancy and a former deputy Interior secretary under President George W. Bush. Ms. Scarlett says tensions have always simmered over how the federal government manages those lands in regard to energy development, mining, grazing rights, and endangered species.

What’s new in the latest backlash, she says, is the focus on the lack of maintenance on public lands, which is largely the result of federal agencies getting less funding. Departments such as the Forest Service, BLM, and US Fish & Wildlife Service had hoped that highlighting the backlog of work would help them garner more funds. Instead, critics have just seized on the maintenance issues to buttress their argument that the federal government isn’t the right steward of public lands.

“The bottom line is that we want our public lands to be managed in a way that’s responsible,” says Jennifer Fielder, a Montana state senator and chief executive officer of the American Lands Council, a leader in the call to transfer federal land to state control. “Those of us who live near here are sick of seeing the lock-it-up and let-it-burn policies out of Washington.”

Senator Fielder says she watches the ineptitude from her living-room window in Montana. The Feds’ inability or unwillingness to thin underbrush and perform other basic management practices, she says, led to a wildfire last summer becoming much larger, and more expensive, than it needed to be. “Forty thousand acres burnt to a crisp, habitat destroyed,” she says.

Others believe that having an absentee landlord isn’t the best way to care for property and that the people closest to the land are the ones who know best how to manage it – and should reap the benefits from it.

“Without these lands, you can’t operate as a republican form of government inside your state,” says Jim Chmelik, a former Idaho county commissioner and a leader of the land-transfer movement. “If you don’t have access to your resources, you can’t provide good-paying jobs and you can’t provide a good quality of life.”

Yet critics of shifting control to the states believe it will either lead to lands being sold off to private interests or an oil derrick being put on top of every ridge, despoiling the natural beauty that attracts people from around the country – and contributes to regional economies. States also have far fewer resources than Washington to manage the vast public expanses. And most states are required to balance their budgets, which could put pressure on them to sell lands in lean times, even if they vow not to do so.

As proof, critics point out that 11 Western states were granted a total of almost 77 million acres of land at statehood. They’ve sold off about 44 percent of those lands. Nevada, granted 2.7 million acres at its founding, now has just 3,000 acres of public state land. 

“Study after study has shown states can’t afford” to manage public lands well, says Mr. Tawney of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Ann Hermes/Staff
‘Old-time customs and culture – that’s the way we like it,’ says Wayne Butts, a Custer County (Idaho) commissioner, referring to the need for ranching, mining, and logging on federal lands.

Just south of Lehmi lies Custer County – home of some of the most spectacular wilderness in Idaho. The celebrated Middle Fork of the Salmon River flows through the area, and the rugged Sawtooth Mountains rise steeply from the plains. It’s the third largest county in Idaho, but home to barely 4,000 people. Roughly 96 percent of the county is federal land.

“Custer County is the size of Connecticut, but we have one sheriff and four deputies,” says Wayne Butts, a county commissioner who has lived in Challis, the county seat, since he was 8. “There’s no tax bases.”

Sitting next to the warmth of a wood-burning stove in his small-motor repair shop, he ticks off the economic limitations of living in a remote area: The county has a 100-year-old jail with just six beds in one room, making it impossible to house men and women at the same time. Local roads are in desperate need of repair, but no money exists to fix them. A decrease in grazing rights on federal lands has led to fewer ranchers, resulting in less local revenue. A molybdenum mine, once the county’s largest employer, shut down in 2014.

People come from all over the country to hike, fish, and play in Custer County, but don’t add much to the economy, says Mr. Butts: Many of them drive in from Boise, bring their own food and camping supplies. They don’t even buy gas in Custer.

“Old-time customs and culture – that’s the way we like it,” says Butts. To him, that means ranching, mining, logging. He’s frustrated that federal lands increasingly seem to be managed to inhibit those activities.

Still, despite all those irritations, Butts isn’t willing to back transferring lands to state ownership unless he sees a budget proposal that makes sense to him. He thinks either the state or local communities could do a better job managing the lands, but he is well aware of the costs involved. Instead, he wants to see limits put on turning any more private land into public land and hopes that the Trump administration and Republican Congress will help roll back some of the more onerous environmental protections on federal lands that already exist.

A few dozen miles to the east of Challis, in the shadow of Idaho’s tallest peak, Mt. Borah, Steve Smith shares many of Butts’s grievances. Mr. Smith and his parents live on his family’s 2,800-acre ranch, where they have a herd of 400 cows.

Just a mention of public lands is enough to set Smith and his father, Wiley, off, venting about their years of vexation in dealing with the BLM and Forest Service. This has included navigating around what they see as burdensome protections for the sage grouse, as well as a BLM water-rights claim that took them years to defeat.

Yet even this father and son don’t agree on whether control of public lands should be shifted from Washington to the states. Despite his virulent criticism of federal management, Wiley doesn’t believe states have the resources to care for public lands.

Steve would like to see a modest transfer – perhaps 2 percent of total holdings – provided states have a plan for how they will manage the areas. “The ranchers, the miners, the loggers – they’re the ones that have taken care of these areas,” he says. “[Federal officials] put a black mark on those industries and don’t see that [the land] has been in their care for 150 years.”

Others are more adamant in their opposition to state control. On a cold, rainy Saturday in March, nearly 3,000 people gathered at the State Capitol in Boise to support public lands staying public – and under federal stewardship.

The demonstration attracted plenty of traditional environmentalists, but also hunters, anglers, and dirt-bike riders. “Rednecks and hippies unite!” read one sign. “I fill my freezer on public lands,” said another.

In between various chants – such as “Keep public lands in public hands!” – the crowd listened to speakers ranging from a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes to a fifth-generation Idaho woman who talked of accompanying her mother on her first moose hunt when she was 8 days old.

“I hunt and I fish on public lands,” says Travis Long, who came to the rally from Kuna, Idaho, outfitted in camouflage. “I’ve got four kids and I want to make sure public lands remain that way.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
Volunteers Chris Gaughan, Scott Brand, Laurel Faurot, and Brady Bever smooth a trail near Salmon, Idaho, as part of an Earth Day event organized by a local natural resource collaborative.

It is too early to know what a Trump administration will mean for public lands. Much of the push to undermine the power of federal oversight agencies, or to transfer or sell off public lands, is coming from Congress, and President Trump’s Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has repeatedly said he would never transfer or sell them.

“I think we’re in a better place with [Mr. Trump and Mr. Zinke] than we would have been with others interviewed for the Interior secretary, or with Ted Cruz,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and chief executive officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a nonprofit that represents sportsmen and sportswomen.

At the same time, Mr. Fosburgh and other conservation leaders say they’re concerned about legislation that has been passed or proposed. In March, for instance, the Trump administration rescinded Barack Obama’s three-year moratorium on coal leases on federal land. A proposed bill in Congress would strip the Forest Service and BLM of their law enforcement powers, putting the job of policing environmental and other rules in the hands of local sheriffs.

“It’s one more attempt to weaken management of public lands,” says Fosburgh.

Trump’s proposed budget also includes a 12 percent cut to the Interior Department, which could make maintenance of public lands even more problematic and give states more leverage in their quest to take over. 

Eventually, it’s possible that some of the hostility to Washington’s handling of public lands will die down under the new administration. The Sagebrush Rebellion subsided once Reagan came to power.

“In the big picture politically, it would not surprise me if [the transfer movement] slowly disappears from the radar screen with Republicans in control of Congress and the White House,” says Mr. Keiter, the Utah law professor. “It works as an oppositional strategy to more progressive or environmentally friendly policies of Democratic administrations.”

Perhaps the best hope for ending the standoffs over public lands is a more collaborative approach in the canyons and valley floors of the West itself – far from the politics of Washington and statehouses. One such effort is under way in Salmon, where ranchers, federal agencies, and conservation groups are finding common ground.

“What doesn’t get attention is the really good, responsible, productive work taking place on the Western landscape,” says Beyeler, the Lemhi County rancher.

At the same time that the Malheur standoff was occurring, he notes, the Forest Service and BLM were working with a local rancher to help him get seven miles of pipeline approved in an area that includes an important salmon spawning tributary. Endangered sockeye salmon travel more than 900 miles, up 6,500 feet of elevation, to spawn in rivers and lakes here.

“It was a collaborative process,” says Beyeler. “I worry that this tension on whether the state or federal government should own [public lands] distracts from the collaborative work.”

Tom Page, another Salmon Valley rancher, got into ranching in part because he wanted to see if he could do it in a conservation-minded way – and make money. He is surprised by how hard it has been to navigate all the environmental rules and by how difficult lawsuits filed by activists make it for local landowners.

When he recently sought to get approval for 200 feet of fence on his grazing allotment, to keep cows from straying into restricted forest land, federal officials told him not to apply for the permit. Because it would disturb fish and sage grouse habitat, the US Forest Service “knows they have to write a thick document for those 200 feet of fence,” says Mr. Page, and that they’re likely to be sued by environmentalists – which was not worth it, in their view, for such as small project.

The Upper Salmon area, Page agrees, has become a model for conservation and collaboration – but only because it has nonprofits and both federal and private money helping to support that work. In rural counties with less federal attention, there tends to be a lot less trust, he says.

Bob Cope has seen both cooperation and conflict. A large man with a deep voice and earthy sense of humor, he is a veterinarian for all the local ranchers as well as a Lemhi County commissioner. He has served on numerous state and federal committees representing Western interests.

With face-to-face collaboration and local involvement, he says public-lands disputes are solvable. But he understands people’s frustrations, especially when they see onerous rules being made by people back East.

“We can work with our federal officials, but [local people] get handcuffed,” he says. “We’ve had management by legislation and litigation. There’s still a lot of mistrust on both sides…. People feel like they have no voice.”

Over on the 25,000-acre ranch he’s managed for 20 years, Shane Rosenkrance epitomizes the attitude of many people in this part of Idaho. He harbors a deep love for the lands he manages and the public holdings that surround them. Mr. Rosenkrance points to the imposing peaks rising out of the desert floor – the Lost River Range, the Pioneer Mountains, Mt. Borah. He wants them to remain in federal hands and not be sold to individuals who might turn them into their own private preserves.

“You can go anywhere you want,” says Rosenkrance, whose family has lived in the valley for seven generations. “Residents appreciate that more than anyone. But we don’t want some guy in New York telling us how to manage these lands, or to lock them up.”


Ideas that drive change

Will your next home be built by robots?

OK, maybe you wouldn't want to live in the hideously yellow, semidomed structure a robot built in a California parking lot. But it shows the widening scope of what could be possible. 


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Could automated manufacturing do for home-builders what it did for automakers? Construction is a huge industry, consuming more raw resources than any other. It’s inefficient, too, producing half of all US solid waste. That makes it a prime target for the precision that robotics offers. And advances have been tangible: In April, MIT researchers unveiled their Digital Construction Platform, the robotic system that built a 50-foot-wide, 12-foot-tall structure in just two days. Was it also laying the foundation for countless future buildings? Special issues complicate that. Construction sites, unlike assembly lines, have to contend with the vagaries of weather. Another reason the industry remains cautious: With structures meant to stand for 50 to 100 years, notes one of the researchers, “lives are at stake.” 

Will your next home be built by robots?

Courtesy of Keating, et al.
Author Steven Keating poses for scale inside of a half-dome autonomously printed by a newly developed robotic arm.

Imagine: At the push of a button a team of machines jumps into action, taking a digital blueprint and transforming an empty lot into one with a physical home in just days. They finish on time, on budget, and with zero waste.

This Jetsons-like vision of an automated future has come largely true for car manufacturing. Now engineers hope buildings will be next. From Apis Cor’s 3-D printed house to the MIT Media Lab’s new multipurpose robotic arm, startups and research teams alike aim to spark a digital revolution in an analog industry that has thus far proved resistant to disruption.

In a California parking lot last July, a 50-foot wide, 12-foot tall semi-domed structure arose over just two days, as a a robotic arm mounted on self-driving, tank-like treads spent 13.5 hours depositing layer after layer of plastic foam until it ballooned into a giant yellow beehive. MIT hopes its Digital Construction Platform (DCP), which it presented in the journal Science Robotics in April, will lay the foundation for future buildings.

“We’ve seen huge, huge advances through digital processes for the design side,” says lead author Steven Keating. “But we haven’t yet really seen that translate to the construction site.” Despite the alleged dawning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, builders still build much like they did before the first one: stacking rectangles, sometimes by hand.

Construction is a massive industry, consuming more raw resources than any other and accounting for 11 percent of all global economic activity. It's inefficient, too: construction produces half of all US solid waste, which makes it a prime target for the precision that robotics offers.

Yet construction sites, unlike indoor assembly lines, lie at the mercy of Mother Nature. And we rely on buildings for our safety far more than we do most other other consumer products. 

As such, the construction industry has proven understandably reluctant to innovate, explains Dr. Keating in a phone interview. “They have to be worried about structures standing for 50 to 100 years. Lives are at stake.”

Still, some groups think they’ve made a breakthrough. In February, recent startup Apis Cor’s robotic arm built up layers of quick-drying concrete into the walls of what it calls the first on-site 3-D printed home. Completing the $10,000 model house took one month, including wiring and finishing, and printing the walls took one day, according to spokesperson Konstantin Nefedev.

It’s easy to see the technology’s allure. Printing walls allows builders to accurately predict the time and materials needed, which could bring down costs. Indeed, the University of Southern California is developing the similar Contour Crafting system with the explicit goal of making housing affordable for millions of people in developing countries.

But technology is just one part of the equation. “There are several obstacles – the first being construction codes and regulations,” writes Mr. Nefedev in an email. Russian testing facilities have certified Apis Cor’s concrete as being able to withstand multiple freeze/thaw cycles, but MIT’s Dr. Keating wonders how eagerly the safety-conscious industry will adopt materials that haven't proven themselves with decades of use.

Keating prefers technologies that buttress, rather than replace, the current methods. “Baby steps is how we can actually start to change the industry. If you’re doing it all from the ground up in one giant leap, it’s very difficult to integrate with existing construction worksites’ techniques.”

Instead of going straight for erecting a whole building with novel materials, MIT chose to construct a mold suitable for pouring regular concrete as their proof of concept, a method that is backward-compatible with half a century of construction history.

“If you can come in and replace one key step, which is making that formwork, which defines the entire building’s geometry, you’re already using a system that’s widely used in construction. That’s how you can maybe get some actual real structures built and scale very quickly,” explains Keating.

The robotic arm’s flexibility unshackles cost from form, opening the door to the strength of curvy buildings. “If you look in nature, have you ever seen an animal or insect that has a square-shaped shell?” he asks.

Keating’s also quick to point out that the demo showcases just one feature of the DCP: “I want to emphasize that we don’t call this a 3-D printer. This is a platform.” Like a human hand, its functions are tool-expandable, and currently include site excavation, cutting, surface finishing, and welding chain links into stiff rods.

Alexander Schreyer, a professor of building technology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, agrees that 3-D printing could bring welcome efficiency gains, but suspects it will never be a one-size-fits-all solution.

“In construction you’ve always had a mixture of techniques,” he says in a phone interview. “Rather than saying ‘I’m going to 3-D print an entire house,’ I think a combination is ultimately a really good approach.”

Mr. Schreyer says developments are already underway in the form of prefabricated parts that builders assemble onsite: “It’s like putting an Ikea piece of furniture together: it just fits.”

Such techniques are readily available, but their lack of widespread popularity suggests that innovation in construction may face barriers besides technology and regulation.

“We all live in houses that have roughly the same functionality and roughly the same aesthetic. Why on Earth should every house have to be re-thought from the ground up?” asks Schreyer.

“The car industry produces some things in mass and customizes just enough so that people are happy. It’s mind-boggling that that doesn’t happen with houses,” he continues. “I’m assuming it can only be perception.” People may assume prefabricated buildings are less durable, he speculates.

Ultimately, economics may force innovation. Despite the vast sums of money involved, the industry faces margins in the low single-digits. Any method that offers a path to profit will handsomely reward companies who adopt it, but Schreyer suggests none has hit that tipping point yet.

Whether the houses of the future are cast, printed, or prefabricated, experts agree that change is coming, albeit gradually. “I think the world will become more automated, and that includes construction, but I think it’s going to be a lot slower than people expect,” says Keating.

In that sense the construction may resemble concrete itself, with its imperceptible but unstoppable flow. “We all move in a single general direction,” says Nefedev, about MIT’s DCP. “All technologies are progressing in incremental steps – whether it be a step or a leap forward, only time and practice will tell.”

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France’s new president: a mender of trust in Europe

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The voter mandate for Emmanuel Macron places faith in fixing France as well as the torn identity of the European Union. France’s longtime ruling parties lost the trust of voters in this election, as did the anti-EU National Front of Marine Le Pen. Mr. Macron was elected in part because he has said a politician must constantly earn the trust of voters. The 28-member European Union is hardly unraveling, but it certainly is under strain. Having correctly defined the key issue for both France and the EU as broken trust, Macron now enters the Élysée Palace as a president eager to fix it. 

France’s new president: a mender of trust in Europe

REUTERS/Francois Mori/Pool
French President-elect Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony to mark the end of World War II at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris May 8.

In his victory speech Sunday after being elected France’s next president, Emmanuel Macron made an unusual promise for a national leader: “I will work to mend the bond between Europe and its peoples.” Indeed, if Mr. Macron’s mandate from French voters means anything, it is that trust across the Continent must be rebuilt after 60 years of trying to form a European identity.

The 28-member European Union is hardly unraveling. But it certainly is under strain. Britain, its second-largest economy, is leaving. Greece, whose lies about its debt triggered the Continent’s 2008 financial crisis, still falters as a partner. EU states differ over how to counter Russian aggression, share the burden of settling refugees, or change bureaucratic rules that impinge on daily life. And many of the 19 states in the eurozone are violating a basic rule on fiscal discipline.

Despite those divisions, two-thirds of Europeans consider themselves to be citizens of the EU, according to a poll last year. Trust in the EU is higher than trust in most national governments. Like Macron himself, Europeans can easily adapt to multiple identities – either as a nation or the EU – as long as those institutions share common values and rights.

Macron knows his first task is to reform a France where 25 percent of youth are unemployed and where government spending eats up 57 percent of the gross national product. To do that, his fledgling centrist party, En Marche! (Forward!) will need to win an election in June for a new French Parliament.

He admits that economic reform in France is needed to win the trust of the EU’s other major partner, Germany. “There is a French responsibility to fix the situation,” he says. Only then can the EU tackle its needed reforms. He likens the union as a “half-pregnancy” in achieving the mission of an integrated Europe.

Macron was elected in part because he has said a politician must constantly earn the trust of voters. France’s longtime ruling parties lost the trust of voters in this election, as did the anti-EU National Front of Marine Le Pen. Having correctly defined the key issue for both France and the EU as broken trust, he now enters the Élysée Palace as a president eager to fix it.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Overcoming prejudice

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In need of a phone, Daniel was afraid to ask his closest neighbor. He felt sure he'd encounter racism, so he prayed. What actually transpired was a beautiful connection. He realized: Racism is defeated, primarily and ultimately, in thought.

Overcoming prejudice


I live in the Democratic Republic of Congo and would like to share a beautiful experience I had on a trip I was taking for the first time. After landing in Geneva, Switzerland, I needed to continue on to a different town, where friends were waiting for me.

I was already on the train when I realized that my phone conversation with my friend was going to be interrupted for lack of minutes. It was difficult for me to buy more minutes right away, and I was afraid of getting lost without my friend’s directions. 

On the train, there were black Africans a little bit away on my left and white people next to me on my right. It seemed obvious to me that I would have to ask someone for assistance. As I was about to ask the person sitting next to me for her help, a very negative thought with regard to myself, the concept of race, and the help I needed suddenly went through my mind: I thought that it would be useless to solicit assistance from the person next to me, simply because her skin was white. 

For no good reason at all, I imagined a scene where she would start to denigrate me, seeing me as a “little black boy” lost in the middle of Switzerland. I felt completely unable to communicate with her. It was as if a mental wall without any foundation had been set up all of a sudden in front of me, and it stopped me from doing anything! 

After a few minutes of confusion, I regrouped and started asking myself a lot of questions: Who am I? Who are the whites? Who are the blacks? Is our skin color really stopping us from expressing ourselves? Am I simply a mortal defined by my race? I started to pray, as Christian Science has taught me, in order to find answers to these questions. 

I became conscious of my spiritual identity as a child of God, created in the image and likeness of God. Using the generic term "man," which refers to every man, woman, and child, Mary Baker Eddy says in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" : “Man is not matter; he is not made up of brain, blood, bones, and other material elements.… He is the compound idea of God, including all right ideas; the generic term for all that reflects God’s image and likeness; the conscious identity of being as found in Science, in which man is the reflection of God, or Mind, and therefore is eternal; …” (p. 475). 

That defined what I was, and what we all are – no more, no less. This man does not belong to a limited material race! He is free, happy, and always conscious of his spiritual identity, because he is constituted by God, Spirit, whom he reflects. 

Skin color is not the substance of man; it does not define him. It’s at best a human symbol of the spiritual beauty that originates from God. I could then cherish the idea that skin was unable at any moment to become an obstacle and to keep us from expressing spiritual qualities. 

I saw the mask of prejudice falling before the joy and freedom of appreciating man, not as a mortal, but as a reflection of God.

Very naturally, after prayerfully correcting this malignant suggestion regarding myself and, therefore, my neighbor, I felt completely free to explain my predicament to the young white lady sitting next to me. I asked her if I could use her cellphone in order to call my friend. 

I don’t know how to describe the eagerness and the compassion with which the young lady lent me her phone. I only wanted to make a call for a few seconds or send a text, but she insisted that I use her phone as many times as would be necessary. To me, this was a true healing. I saw the mask of prejudice falling before the joy and freedom of appreciating man, not as a mortal, but as a reflection of God.

The young lady held in her hands a book dealing with the mind-body connection. It mentioned God, too. To my great delight, she talked to me of what she understood about God. Seeing her interest, I shared with her a few fundamental points regarding Christian Science and introduced her to "The Herald of Christian Science," French Edition, and the French translation of Science and Health. 

Right away, she said she would like to have her own copy. I showed her where to find Christian Science Reading Rooms in the Herald directory, as well as the online shop that can be reached through JSH-Online.com and ChristianScience.com. A month later, she sent me an email to let me know that she had just ordered her first copy of Science and Health in French. 

I’m so grateful for this experience, which proves how important it is to identify oneself correctly in order to defeat prejudice and beliefs of all kinds attempting to limit the activity of the Christ in human consciousness. We see each other not as miserable sinners, but as God’s beloved children, and have a better appreciation of our neighbor. 

I think this way of seeing spiritually is a solid basis on which to establish peace on earth. We pay too much attention to what’s being said about each other and to labels attached to certain groups of people. The study of Christian Science helps us understand that all this has nothing to do with man created by God. 

I sometimes reflect with great care on what Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Science and Health on page 563: “Human sense may well marvel at discord, while, to a diviner sense, harmony is the real and discord the unreal. We may well be astonished at sin, sickness, and death. We may well be perplexed at human fear; and still more astounded at hatred, which lifts its hydra head, showing its horns in the many inventions of evil. But why should we stand aghast at nothingness?” While we can pray sincerely and deeply about the issue of prejudice, there is no need to “stand aghast” at prejudice and other mental montages built against nations, peoples, or particular groups. 

My daily work consists in affirming the truths that I already know about God, His nature, and His relation to each one of us. I am then ready to establish in my thought the reign, or supreme government, of divine Truth, Life, and Love, which takes down the mask of prejudice and brings healing. 

I had a wonderful time during my stay in Switzerland and built new friendships that have developed over the years.

Originally published in the April 2017 French edition of The Herald of Christian Science.

This article was adapted from an article in the April 10, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

Blacks … Whites … Overcoming prejudice

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High water, still rising

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press/AP
Brother, got a boat? Residents use canoes to move belongings today in Deux-Montagnes, Quebec. Flooding from heavy rains and melting snowpack has forced the evacuation of people in almost 150 municipalities. The US Midwest, too, has been hit by heavy flooding.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for reading. Come back tomorrow for part one of a special report on multibillion dollar fraud in the health-care industry, and the story of a young woman who became lost in it.

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