A debate over balancing human rights and anti-terrorism laws broke out in the United Kingdom ahead of Thursday's stunning general election.

It was a reminder – in a country that has witnessed three recent attacks – of the many facets beyond military or police might that factor into a nation's security. National outlook is one. Brits pushed back hard when called a “reeling” nation. Political authority is another. Prime Minister Theresa May banked on an unassailable parliamentary majority, only to fall well short of that. What does a hung Parliament mean for Brexit talks? Or for the public’s confidence?

As in the United States, where attention was riveted Thursday on the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, such developments can engender a nervous conversation about where all this is headed.

It may seem impossible to overcome sharp divides in a polarized era, and that can feel destabilizing. But that points to yet another factor: leadership. French President Emmanuel Macron faces a challenge in uniting his country. But against expectations, his new, centrist party is expected to take a majority in Sunday’s vote. His reassuring style is creating momentum, and engendering another conversation – about a willingness to hear him out. 

1. For denizens of D.C., life and work in unusual times

‘Why am I doing this?’ It's a question that has crossed the mind of more than a few Washington staffers amid the often sharp-edged disruption of the Trump administration. But most are drawing on qualities long on display in the capital, even amid the rough and tumble of politics: adaptability and commitment to good government.


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Donald J. Trump’s singular presidency is reverberating all across America. But what does it feel like to be on the front lines in Washington? In a town that thrives on orderly rhythm, President Trump – elected to do things differently – is delivering near-daily disruption. For some, that’s energizing. Drew Hammill, longtime aide to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, says he’s never seen such enthusiasm among Democrats who want to work in Congress. “People want to be in the fight,” he says. Others are exhausted, or feel exasperated with the lack of direction in federal agencies as top spots remain unfilled. But for the afflicted there may be comfort in this: A country that’s 241 years old can probably handle an unpredictable leader who’s fond of social media. “The American republic is an extremely resilient entity,” says a D.C. business lobbyist, who previously worked for a Republican on Capitol Hill. “It’s not going anywhere.”


1. For denizens of D.C., life and work in unusual times

From Senators to low-level staffers workaday Washington is dealing with the drama and disruption of Donald J. Trump's singular presidency.

The nation’s capital thrives on orderly rhythm, and that’s something in short supply these days. A Trump tweet or sudden statement can blow up months of legislative or lobbyist planning, on any issue. Executive branch bosses are thin on the ground, as many top spots are still unfilled.

Reporters? They’re everywhere, in unruly packs. Constituents are jamming congressional phones to express opinions or to ask about where the country is going.

Weekends off aren’t a given. Vacations won’t be a respite unless cell phones are turned off. But for the afflicted there may be comfort in this: A democracy that’s 241 years old can probably handle an unpredictable leader who’s fond of social media. Presidents come and go. The process of US government endures.

“The American republic is an extremely resilient entity,” says a DC business lobbyist who previously worked for a Republican on Capitol Hill. “It’s not going anywhere.”

‘Kids always help’

The struggle starts at the top. By all accounts President Trump demands a lot from his staff – and so does everyone else.

Take Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy White House press secretary. She’s got one of the most demanding jobs in Washington, trying to explain Trump to shouting reporters.

Ms. Sanders is known for her no-nonsense style, but softens when she mentions her kids. Last month, she kicked off a press briefing with a shout-out to her daughter, who was turning five that day.

“I get to wish Scarlett a happy birthday,” Sanders said, flashing some of the southern charm of her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “I think her first birthday wish would probably be that you guys are incredibly nice.”

Sanders, who also has two sons, says having three young children helps her maintain perspective. But she doesn’t buy into the idea that things are especially stressful now. “It’s always like that – kids always help,” she says.

‘A test of our institution’

Up on Capitol Hill, a press secretary for a high-profile Republican senator says that Saturday used to be the day to let off stress. Not anymore. There are no breaks.

“It’s a totally different job” with Trump as president, this staffer says.

There’s been a big increase in constituent and media inquiries, a deluge of news to handle, and big pieces of legislation to try to shape. And the senator’s office hasn’t gotten any bigger.

But this aide finds reinforcement in the high purpose of the work itself.

“I think this is a test of our institution,” the press secretary says. “I believe in the Senate as an institution. If you believe in your boss and what they’re trying to do, that’s all you can do, just get up every day and do your best.”

‘People want to be in the fight’

On the other side of the aisle, there are lots of Democrats that still bemoan Hillary Clinton’s loss and look for coping mechanisms to get make it through each Trump news cycle.

But others have responded to the challenge of losing in a different way, says Drew Hammill, a longtime aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California.

“I’ve been approached by so many people who have either been on the Hill before or are fresh out of college and want to come to the Hill. People want to be in the fight,” says Mr. Hammill. “I’ve never seen anything like it”  – not even in the years of Republican President George W. Bush and the controversial Iraq war, he says.

Hammill, who was Rep. Pelosi’s spokesperson when she was Speaker of the House, says that for himself, things are busier now than they were last year under President Obama. Pelosi and her Senate counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) of New York, are the top elected Democrats in town. They’re more the face of the party.

The presidential tweets add a new dynamic, of course. Then there are the breaking news bombs that seem to drop with regularity around 6 or 7 p.m.

“You can’t combat all of it,” says Hammill. Otherwise the message gets lost. Indeed, he observes, the White House’s own message got lost this week.

“You don’t break through if you react to every little thing. But on the flip side, their lack of message discipline doesn’t allow them to break through on a lot of things as well.” For example, this was supposed to be infrastructure week. “What happened to that?”

Indeed, what did happen to that?

Consternation over the unpredictability

The saga of infrastructure publicity may be a textbook example of how Trump has blown up the way Washington usually proceeds.

Trump has long said he wants an infrastructure bill to help rebuild America. But the White House is far from the only entity working on that issue. A coalition of 200 groups outside government – unions, business organizations, think tanks, and others – interested in rebuilding the US organized their own Infrastructure Week for mid-May. They scheduled more than 100 events around the country.

Then, boom, Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey. Cue the media frenzy. The infrastructure events did not get as much attention as they might have otherwise, says the Washington business lobbyist, who was involved in planning the week.

In the time of Trump “there’s a greater sense of consternation because of the unpredictability of what may occur in the next day and how that can disrupt things that have been previously planned,” he says.

Does that burn people out? Maybe a little. But another dynamic is that the Trump swirl has discouraged the Republican governing class from trying to join the new administration, says this D.C. veteran.

After a party has been out of executive power for eight years, a return to the White House usually generates a tsunami of applications from stalwarts who have been working in the private sector. It’s an opportunity to put into practice policies they’ve been working on for years. But this time, it's different.

“We aren’t seeing that rush,” says the lobbyist.

‘Is it a lost cause? No.’

All across D.C., offices meant to house deputy assistant secretaries and other political appointees are empty and echoing. These are the mid-level executives of the government, the people who take policy guidance from the White House, present it to the career civil service folks, and press for implementation.

“We are missing several layers of leadership still,” says a current State Department official, speaking on background.

On issues from Trump’s proposed travel ban to his pullout from the Paris climate change agreement, the White House has not consulted State Department area experts. These are very committed people who have worked long hours trying to protect US interests and make progress for the world at the same time, says this official.

“When decisions are being made without input or engagement from experts, people feel marginalized and are quite concerned about the future,” says the State Dept. official.

In practice, the career staff left can keep some issues moving forward, if funded with money from past year budgets, says this official. But they’re facing proposed budget cuts of 9 to 10 percent under Trump, something that is causing fear and concern.

Those proposed 2018 budget cuts would affect a vast array of government programs, including federal funding that has been used to stand up new renewable energy technologies – and has helped the US keep its global lead in that space, says a noted energy lawyer who works in project finance.

One such loan guarantee program with the Department of Energy has seen strong success, with a default rate of only 2.3 percent, says the lawyer, who has been working in Washington since 1975.

But he’s not throwing up his hands. “Am I concerned? Yes. Do I think it’s a lost cause? No.”

For those who work on climate change, the Trump administrations actions have caused particular concern, prompting more to participate in marches or protests. Peter Graham, managing director for policy and research at Climate Advisers, says in talking to friends from developing countries with unstable governments or transitions hes realized the importance of playing the long game.

“We have a lot to learn from them in terms of how to maintain stamina,” he says.

‘So much fun’

Back on Capitol Hill, Bill Cassidy, the Republican senator from Louisiana, has his own way of dealing with Trumpian distractions.

He simply ignores them and stays focused. Putting his hands up to the sides of his head, he says, “I’ve got my blinders on.”

He’s happy, though, to talk about areas where he’s in the thick of things: health care and tax reform, two major issues occupying the Senate. Reporters regularly trail alongside him in the halls, up the elevators, and on to his next destination as he shares his thoughts on tax credits, or, in his own healthcare bill, insurance auto-enrollment for patients.

“It is so much fun, because you walk around thinking about incredibly interesting things, but things which have import,” he says.

This story was reported by Francine Kiefer and Linda Feldmann in Washington, with additional reporting by Christa Case Bryant, Henry Gass, and Jessica Mendoza. It was written by Peter Grier.

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2. Macron’s next act: expand a political experiment

In France, voters appear to want something old – a reminder that France matters globally – and something new, in the form of a challenge to a creaky status quo. But the new president seems to be threading those two things together with the common element of hope.

Bob Edme/AP
A man in Bayonne, southwestern France, passed by campaign posters for candidates in parliamentary elections set for June 11 and 18. A yearning for something new has been apparent throughout the legislative race, with candidates from all parties touting their 'regular person' credentials.

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“France is back on the international stage.” That’s the image that new President Emmanuel Macron has been presenting since his inauguration last month. He has positioned himself as the equal of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, critic of the Kremlin, and opposite of US President Donald Trump, who is broadly disliked in France. But Mr. Macron’s most lasting effect is likely to be felt domestically, and what that legacy will be depends in large part on the results of French legislative elections, which start on Sunday. At present, polls suggest he will earn a commanding majority in the National Assembly, despite his party only having launched weeks ago. That support stems in part from a campaign promise to present a new political face to the nation: Half of all the candidates are women, and half of them have never before been elected to office. But Macron’s own strong leadership (so far) also helps restore a sense of grandeur that many French feel was lost by his unpopular predecessors.


Macron’s next act: expand a political experiment

No sooner had Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency that doubts about his ability to govern clouded the victory. The real race would come in June, when a man without a political party would attempt to win legislative elections to push through his reform agenda.

But now the most improbable of French presidents, a 39-year-old never before elected to office, is poised to clinch an absolute majority in the National Assembly, according to leading pollsters in France. After two rounds of voting, on June 11 and June 18, he could capture the largest majority in the lower house of any president in the past two decades – or much farther back.

So what exactly has changed in one month?

Mr. Macron, to be sure, is still enjoying a honeymoon in which he hasn’t had to make unpopular choices at home. And the legislative elections, positioned shortly after the presidential poll, tends to favor a newly elected leader.

But his first month has also been viewed as forceful, and largely impeccable, especially on the international stage. His first trip took him to Berlin, where he positioned himself as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s equal, after France has been the weakling in the Franco-German relationship for years. When he hosted Vladimir Putin at Versailles, he lashed out at two Russian media outlets, calling them organs of “deceptive propaganda.”

The white-knuckled handshake with President Trump at the NATO summit in Brussels last month, when he refused to let up his grip and later said it was an intentional message, was a hit with Trump’s foes worldwide. And when Trump later backed out of the Paris climate agreement, Macron appealed to American scientists in English to work with France, getting a dig in while he was at it: “We all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again.”

On the heels of a volatile campaign, whose upheaval in part owes to a frustration with France’s lost influence in the global arena, Macron has brought a sense of hope that its position can be restored. And the French seem willing to continue on with their experiment in politics.

The image that he is sending, says Jérôme Fourquet, head of political surveys at pollster Ifop, is simple: “France is back on the international stage.”

In with the new

Navigating domestic waters will be his bigger challenge, with a rebel mood among the French electorate. Pro-EU globalists have looked to Mr. Macron and France for mooring in an otherwise uncertain geopolitical time, including a shock result for the Tories in Britain yesterday that complicates Brexit negotiations with Europe.

But Dominique Reynié, director of the think tank Foundation for Political Innovation (Fondapol), says the world seems to have forgotten what preceded his victory. In the first round of voting, 49.6 percent of voters choose candidates of “rupture,” he notes. In the second round, 57 percent of France's overall eligible voters selected far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, voted blank, or abstained. These voters are unlikely to cut Macron slack as he turns to labor reform or unemployment at home.

Still, the revolutionary mood has for now seemed to play in his favor. Macron’s République en Marche (REM) is slated to win 29.5 percent of seats in the first round, according to an Ipsos Sopra-Steria poll published Tuesday. Far behind them trail the center-right Républicains, at 23 percent. The National Front is polling at 17 percent. Meanwhile, the Socialists are expected to receive another beating by the electorate, attracting just 8.5 percent of votes. REM's advantage in the first round could set them up in the second to win more than 380 of the 577 seats at stake.

It is part of an ongoing implosion of the political status quo that pollster Édouard Lecerf of Kantar Public says started with the presidential election and will carry through beyond the legislative elections. “It will reorder the way we see and interpret the political landscape,” he says.

Macron has deftly reacted to the new political environment. He put together a cabinet from the right and left, as pledged. In doing so he not only disrupted the mainstream further, he took the political wind out of the sails of his nearest rival on the center-right, from whose party France's new prime minister, economy minister, and budget minister all hail.

The right-left makeup of his cabinet has also enchanted voters who see in French politics new possibilities. Mounir Mahjoubi, secretary of state of digital affairs in the new Macron government, says the president represents a choice to people who couldn’t find a home with either the center-right or center-left. The son of Moroccan immigrants, he uses a personal anecdote to explain it: “I am an entrepreneur but also a unionist. When you are [both] in your heart and in your mind, then you feel completely aligned with the ideals of Emmanuel Macron,” he says on the sidelines of a recent canvassing event.

Unfamiliar faces

The yearning for something new has been apparent throughout the legislative race, with candidates from all parties touting their “regular person” credentials. One candidate’s flier from a race in southern Paris notes “0 percent candidate, 100 percent citizen.”

It is REM, which started out as a social movement, that has the most legitimacy when it comes to promises of renewal. Macron kept a campaign promise to present a new political face to the nation: half all the candidates for the National Assembly are women, and half of them have never been elected to office before.

On a recent weekend, REM candidates were campaigning across Paris. There is Ilana Cicurel, who gathers a group of volunteers steps from the Arc de Triomphe. Before they hand out fliers, she first has to tell them who she is. Across town, in the multiethnic neighborhoods of northeast Paris, Delphine O, who is half-French, half-Korean, never thought she’d get involved in politics but threw her name into the ring because Macron’s party has given her a political home.

“I’m nervous, because of the responsibility it represents, of sitting at the National Assembly and being a representative of the people,” she says, as she and a group of volunteers head out to knock on doors in the 19th arrondissement.

Guillaume Liegey, a founder of the electoral technology startup Liegey Muller Pons, which designed the door-knocking tactic that’s been a hallmark of Macron’s campaign, says that it is a trend toward a return to “direct contact,” which bodes well for confidence in politics. “Being able to engage with your voters, being able to push your volunteers and get out of your circle, this is mandatory if you want to be a good politician.”

Annick Garache, a resident in the 19th, says that she is not scared about a parliament of civil society with no political experience but excited by the prospect. “We are fed up with people high up over us telling us what to do and having no knowledge of the real world,” she says.

'A hyper-presidency'

Yet for as much as the French seem to be seeking change, they are also attached to older times, analysts say. Part of the political shakeup of 2017 is simply frustration over France's loss of grandeur and a stronger leader to represent it.

That's why Macron's hints of strong leadership have been a hit. Many have placed hopes on him that he can bring back a dignified presidency to France – after the disappointments of his unpopular predecessors – and give France a strategic position on the international stage, reconfiguring the politics of Europe.

"What he has done in France is resounding elsewhere in Europe," Mr. Lecerf says. "He is becoming a reference for young politicians. Everyone will want to be the new Macron.”

Perhaps ironically, his promise of a grassroots renewal may help him become the stronger president the French seek. With so many new faces, power necessarily gravitates to the top.

“It’s shaping up as a hyper-presidency,” Mr. Reynié says. “There’s a very strong central authority and that’ll be accentuated by having many deputies who are new to politics.”


3. A heartland city finds success – but more reasons to strive

We found a Midwestern city that is in some ways living out President Trump’s economic vision. Kokomo, Ind., has low levels of immigration and a thriving manufacturing sector. But the city is defining its aspirations less around data points and more around building a community that's attractive to newcomers.


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Howard County, home to the industrial city of Kokomo, voted for Donald Trump by a 2-to-1 margin, more strongly than the state of Indiana as a whole. Jobs at Fiat Chrysler make it one of the most factory-intensive cities in America’s most manufacturing-dependent state. It features humming assembly lines and low immigration – leading elements of the economic vision that Mr. Trump pitched while campaigning for office. But here’s a twist: Civic leaders in Kokomo, from businesspeople to the Democratic mayor, see diversifying beyond manufacturing as a key to a brighter future. And to grow service-sector jobs, from restaurateurs to architects and other professionals, they see population growth as vital. Many Midwestern cities are losing population. Kokomo is making strides toward avoiding that fate. “We’re back. But that's not to say we’re satisfied where we are,” says Charlie Sparks, president of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance.


A heartland city finds success – but more reasons to strive

In Kokomo, Ind., soon after Highway 931 bends away from due north, two long, low factories stretch for more than a quarter-mile.

On the right is General Motors, a shell of its former self; on the left, a Fiat-Chrysler transmission plant, going full tilt. With five facilities in the area, Fiat-Chrysler employs twice as many people as it did in the depths of the Great Recession. It churns out more transmissions here than anyone anywhere else in the world.

In some ways, this factory city in America’s most manufacturing-dependent state is living the Donald Trump dream. Jobs are plentiful. Foreign immigration is extremely low. In the presidential election, the county went 2 to 1 for Mr. Trump, better than red-state Indiana as a whole.

But for a conservative region, Kokomo and surrounding Howard County are committing a kind of economic heresy. While the president touts more manufacturing jobs as one of the central pieces of his overall economic plan, the county is diversifying away from them.

The city's mayor, a Democrat, has transformed the downtown to make it a livable, walkable place for professionals. And despite the partisan strife in Washington, local Republicans – at least, many of those who live or work in the city – have come around to back the strategy, which turns traditional economic development on its head.

The “aha” that triggered the change? The realization that jobs often follow people, not the other way around.

“We are the poster child for showing how you can take a community at the bottom and come back and prosper,” says Paul Wyman, a Howard County commissioner and head of his own real estate firm. “To me, that is very conservative. [And] we are doing it all together: government, unions, companies. On the big picture idea, we are together.”

New appeal as a place to live

Kokomo’s changed theory of civic progress is on display just south of downtown. On the site where, 120 years ago, Kokomo built its first horseless carriage, a concrete mixer makes a rumbling turn into a construction entrance. It’s followed by a gravel truck and, a few minutes later, another concrete mixer. Workers are building 306 Riverfront District, a $32 million mixed-use development that is Kokomo’s largest-ever public-private project.

The riverfront motif seems a little over the top. A sky deck will overlook the “Walk of Excellence” (actually a bike trail) and Wildcat Creek (which is less than three feet deep on a good day).

But in comparison with eight years ago, when the idea of building any apartments here, let alone luxury ones, seemed ludicrous, Riverfront represents a breakthrough.

Back then, unemployment topped 20 percent. All four of the city's major employers were in bankruptcy. The future of auto-dependent Kokomo hung in the balance as Congress deliberated a bailout for the floundering Big Three.

Riverfront isn’t just a gamble that those dark days are over. It reflects a confidence that some of the 9,000 people who work but don't live in Howard County want to trade their suburban or rural homes for an urban lifestyle. And it’s the hope of ripple effects for the local economy that go beyond the development itself.

‘There's lots to do’

“You say ‘Kokomo,’ and all you hear about is Chrysler,” says Jake Brown, a financial adviser who in January moved into one of the luxury apartments atop downtown’s new parking garage. “But you come up here and you find there’s lots to do.”

Indeed, the dark days of recession seem almost unimaginable now. New projects include shops, townhomes, and a YMCA. The city core has swapped stoplights and one-way streets for stop signs and narrower, two-way streets – a conscious effort to slow down traffic and be more pedestrian-friendly. A moribund one-block stretch by the old train depot has been transformed into a restaurant district where on a Thursday night nearly all the parking spots are taken and kids play ping pong on outdoor concrete tables.

In what many here see as a pivotal step, the city also razed its worst neighborhood and replaced it with a baseball stadium that hosts high school games and the Prospect League, where collegiate players show their stuff during the summer in the hopes a major league scout will notice.

“By cleaning up the neighborhood and taking your biggest liability in the city and turning it into your best asset, that flip made a difference,” says Mayor Greg Goodnight, who is largely credited with the turnaround. “I've had dozens, more than dozens, of people come up to me and say, ‘Mayor, I opposed the stadium. I was wrong. Thank you.’ ”

Big cities such as Austin and Atlanta adopted the jobs-follow-people strategy years ago. The idea is that instead of trying to jump-start growth by attracting a new factory, a city attracts new residents by making itself a great place to live, says Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. That population influx in turn creates new jobs for teachers, health-care providers, waiters, attorneys, and so on. But “few smaller cities have figured this out, and almost none as well as Kokomo,” he writes in an e-mail.

“Things are hot right now,” says Brandi Rees, a local realtor phoning in on her way to show a home that came on the market less than an hour earlier. “The buyer said he could meet me at 7. I told him I'm afraid it's going to be sold. Let's go right now.” (The buyer dropped everything to see the house and put in an offer above asking price, which was accepted.)

Renewal, but not an easy road ahead

There’s a cautionary element in Kokomo’s revival. The hopping assembly lines at Fiat and the busy cement trucks are a reminder that the ​success story here is rooted not just in the rise of service-sector jobs, but also in the cyclical industries of manufacturing and construction. A heavy reliance on those jobs means extra vulnerability to potential downturns.

And low levels of immigration are one reason why, for all its efforts to attract people, Kokomo’s strategy has been only a partial success.

Three days a week, David Tharp, the deputy mayor, checks his computer for Census and other data. His main obsession: population figures. The city is growing, slowly, but the county is not, overall. The population peaked in 2012 at 82,914 and has since declined by 350 people.

The deputy mayor and others are quick to point out that holding one’s own is good compared with the dire predictions a few years ago. Many Midwestern cities, after all, have been posting population declines.

Making things beyond cars

Due to automation, a factory-driven “people follow jobs” strategy simply stopped working. But Kokomo’s story is also that manufacturing endures as a building block. And it can coexist with the philosophy of downtown redevelopment.

“These two views don't need to compete,” says Charlie Sparks, president of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance. “We're back. But that's not to say we're satisfied where we are.”

In fact, start-ups that make things are an integral part of Kokomo's diversify​ing economy.

“This is our map,” says Mary Baker, customer service director of AndyMark, which designs and sells parts for educational robots. The map is full of yellow pushpins denoting sales to nearly 70 countries, including China, Nigeria, and Trinidad and Tobago. The company started in the Bakers’ home in 2004, moved to the county’s innovation incubator, then to its own 24,000 square-foot facility, and is now bursting at the seams again.

“Either I am foolish or a purist. I believe that American manufacturing is still alive and well,” says company president Andy Baker (husband to Mary), who left his job at Delphi Electronics in 2007 to work full-time at the robotics firm.

The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep here. Engineer Elwood Haynes built his first horseless carriage two years before Henry Ford built his. The city also claims to have produced the first pneumatic rubber tire, mechanical corn picker, and push-button car radio, made by Delco (now Delphi). More recently, a retired GM engineer developed a business that today sells large music speakers with a vintage sound.

Trump’s resounding win here 

There is some political irony in Kokomo’s recovery. The city would not be where it is today – investing to diversify away from the auto industry – if car manufacturing had not made a comeback first. Thanks to a bailout initiated by President George W. Bush and overseen by President Barack Obama, Fiat-Chrysler has poured a staggering $1.9 billion into upgrading its five plants in the area. All the plants have three shifts going. The casting plant, billed as the world’s largest, operates 24 hours a day.

Yet Howard County voters last year rejected both the Democratic successor to Obama and the Bush wing of the Republican Party to help elect Trump.

One of the enduring mysteries here (to local Democrats, anyway) is why Trump did so well. While he preached how bad things were on the campaign trail, Kokomo was blossoming. While he warned about the dangers of Muslim immigration, Indiana University of Kokomo was hosting a dozen or more Saudi graduate business students.

In fact, Howard county voted for Trump by a larger margin than the counties containing nearby Muncie and Anderson, cities that permanently lost auto jobs and for whom his campaign rhetoric more closely fit the facts. The president's success here may have something to do with voters taking a longer view than just the rebound of the past few years.

“A lot of people believe that trade impacted manufacturing negatively in the Midwest and Kokomo, in particular,” says Jeff Kovaleski, editor of the Kokomo Tribune. “There's a longing for those high-paying manufacturing jobs to return…. And when we hear that we are going to strengthen the military, that's us. It's almost like he was talking to us.”

Union jobs, but with pressure on paychecks

These days, although some factory jobs are high-paying, many others aren’t. A decade ago, struggling Chrysler, GM, and Ford got the United Autoworkers (UAW) union to accept a two-tier wage system where new hires would be paid much less than current workers. So today, while the average wage at Fiat-Chrysler is $29 an hour, more than half its Kokomo workers toil at jobs that start at $17. That’s $8 an hour less than what the United Way estimates a family of four in Howard County would need for a “bare-minimum” household survival budget.

Slowly, pay will improve. The newest Fiat-Chrysler contract allows new hires to catch up with veteran pay over eight years. GM has a similar contract, but has specifically excluded workers at its Components Holdings factories, including the one in Kokomo, because intense foreign competition would make higher pay unsustainable. GM’s Kokomo factory is slated to lose another 160 workers, paring its workforce to around 600 by mid-year.  

“You have people who say: ‘I remember when the parking lots at GM were full.’ Well, that world is gone,” says Mr. Tharp, the deputy mayor. “You can't go back in time and compare.”

Either way Kokomo goes – attracting service jobs or growing new entrepreneurs – the aim is to move beyond auto jobs.

When GM drastically cut pay at its Kokomo plant, Amber and Todd Jordan ended up quitting their jobs and devoting themselves to their fledgling business, Kokomo Toys, that had grown from their hobby of collecting action figures.

“We're making more” than at GM, Ms. Jordan says.

And for her and others, the economic gains are part of a broader revival of civic life. “Honestly, I think [Kokomo] is better than what it was. You come downtown and everything’s beautiful,” she says.

Churches are working together as they never have before, says Morgan Young, pastor at the nondenominational Oakbrook Church, one of the biggest churches in the city. His wife, Sandra, a former school administrator, runs the Main Street Café downtown, which serves everything from hot beverages to tasty watermelon smoothies.

“The history of Kokomo is the history of the automobile. And the history of the automobile is this constant roller coaster,” Pastor Young says. “People have recognized it's great that the auto industry got us here. But it's probably not going to take us to the next level.”


4. China hopes a planned megacity will bring new kind of growth

Think megacity and you may think urban sprawl and pollution. But Michael Holtz traveled south of Beijing to see where a country that's playing for global green-power dominance – think solar panels – is now turning its attention to clean urban development. 

Jason Lee/Reuters
A banner supporting Beijing’s move to ban new property sales was displayed at a closed sales office in Xiongxian, part of a new special economic zone in China’s Hebei Province. The new area – eventually to spread across 800 square miles – is intended to become a model city with clean air, a large public transportation network, and high-tech industries.

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Su Jiaxing opened his first factory in Xiong County in 2001 – the same year China joined the World Trade Organization and the country’s export-driven economy was racing to become No. 2 in the world. Back then, Mr. Su employed just five people; today, there are 36. It’s time to move on, he says. But his future plans don’t quite align with Beijing’s plans for the Xiongan region. In April, the government christened it a special economic zone, twice the size of New York City, in hopes of transforming the manufacturing backwater into a hub of high-tech industries. The Xiongan New Area is particularly ambitious, but it’s one more example of the country’s shift to a more consumer-focused, slower-but-sustainable economy. It could model a new take on urbanization, as well: Building megacities from scratch is nothing new for China, but this one, officials say, will be a greener city, reducing nearby Beijing’s overcrowding and related problems like pollution. That future might not include the industries and residents here today, like Su, but he says he doesn’t mind. Thinking of his 18-year-old son’s generation, he says the changes are more of a blessing than a curse.


China hopes a planned megacity will bring new kind of growth

Su Jiaxing has had a busy spring. Soon after April 1, when the Chinese government declared plans to create a megacity from scratch in this industrial backwater 70 miles south of Beijing, he hit the road to find a new location for his plastics factory.

Mr. Su has since visited a dozen cities and met with countless local officials in his ongoing search. The government hasn’t explicitly told him to relocate, but he says it’s only a matter of time before it does – and he doesn’t want to be caught unprepared.

Beijing’s ambitious plan for what will someday become Xiongan New Area will likely leave out many of the more than 3,000 plastics manufacturers that have formed the economic backbone of Xiong County for some 30 years. Instead, the new area is intended to become a model city with clean air, a large public transportation network, and high-tech industries. It will eventually cover nearly 800 square miles across three counties – an area more than twice the size of New York City – and be home to more than 2 million people. Government planners envision it as a pillar of a new capital region, diluting the overcrowding that has hampered Beijing, and a gleaming example of China's shift from export-driven manufacturing to consumer-focused growth.

The goal is to make Xiongan “a demonstration area for innovative development,” as Chinese President Xi Jinping says, and particularly to spur economic growth in northern China. But for that to happen, many local factories will be left behind. Strict new environmental regulations will force all but the cleanest ones to shut down; others will likely be forced out by soaring prices. But Su insists he isn’t bitter. In spite of his own uncertain future, he sees the new area as more of a blessing than a curse, especially for his 18-year-old son.

“There will be a lot of opportunities for him,” he says. “That’s why I’m happy. It’s good for the next generation.”

Su’s success as a small business owner has been driven by China’s export-driven economic boom of the past three decades. He opened his factory in 2001, the same year China joined the World Trade Organization, a move that guaranteed the county greater access to the American and other world markets. In his first year, Su had five full-time employees making plastic bags. He now has 36 full-time employees making plastic flower pots and bouquets. His 32,000 square-foot factory, located in an industrial park, is surrounded by more than 40 other plastics manufacturers making everything from PVC pipes to plastic wrap.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

China’s entry into the WTO catapulted it to become the world’s second largest economy by 2010. Yet economic growth has slowed in recent years as China tries to develop a consumer-driven economy and reduce its reliance on trade and investment. Meanwhile, in its pursuit of building a “moderately prosperous society” by 2021, the country is no longer content with being the world’s factory floor. It wants to move away from low-end manufacturing in favor of high-tech economic zones, research and development centers, and less-polluting industries.

The plans for Xiongan exemplify the vast economic transformation China is hoping to pull off as it tries to achieve a more sustainable form of growth. The alternative, warn economists, is Japan-style stagnation, or even a debt-fueled financial meltdown.

While the exact details for Xiongan are vague, its development could attract as much as 2.4 trillion yuan ($348 billion) in public and private investment over the next 15 years, according to a Morgan Stanley estimate.

The sheer scale of the project has put it on a path to rival China’s other pre-ordained economic powerhouses: the southern city of Shenzhen and Shanghai’s Pudong district. Shenzhen, once a collection of small fishing villages, has transformed into a 10 million-person hub of high-tech manufacturing and technology, while Pudong is now a center of finance and trade.

“In the past, we can say southern China drove the country’s economic development,” says Zhang Jie, a professor in the Institute of China’s Economic Reform and Development at Renmin University in Beijing. “Xiongan will help with northern China’s economic transformation.”

Jason Lee/Reuters
Liu Zhipeng (C.) speaks to Reuters about his idea for the new special economic zone in Anxin county, China, April 6, 2017.

But Xiongan’s relative isolation in Hebei Province leaves it at a distinct disadvantage compared to its predecessors, which had easy access to world-class ports and foreign investors. For now, extensive infrastructure spending is expected to drive growth across the region.

That means large state-run companies that produce construction materials such as steel and cement are likely to be among the earliest beneficiaries. After the initial development stage, however, Chinese leaders hope Xiongan can help replace the region’s dependence on those same heavy industries. 

They also hope it will relieve the pressure on Beijing, which is struggling to cope with a population of more than 20 million. The capital’s rapid growth has fueled complaints about “megacity diseases,” from traffic congestion and air pollution to prohibitive apartment prices. Xiongan provides a convenient cure. The government has announced that “non-capital functions” – such as universities and businesses – will move to the new city.

Together with Beijing and nearby Tianjin, a coastal city of 15 million people, Xiongan is a central part of the government’s plan to unify the capital region. But with the government having announced few concrete development plans, it's little more than hype at this point. It will be years before one of the project’s key questions has an answer: If you build it, will they come?

“This is the biggest challenge it faces,” says Chen Yao, an economics professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “The problem is not about money. It’s about making a good environment” so people will want to live there.

For now, locals like Su are just happy to see the government give the region a chance. Su says he was beaming with pride on a recent trip he took to Shenzhen. When a stranger asked where he was from, he didn’t hesitate to answer. 

“I felt proud,” Su says. “What Shenzhen has done, Xiongan New Area can do, too.”

Xie Yujuan contributed reporting.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

5. Newest home buyers? A generation that’s been averse to owning.

More "I'll rent forever" Millennials are eyeing home ownership. But the challenges they face in taking that step point to the need for fresh thinking on everything from financing to house size – some of which is already in evidence.


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Millennials are known as a generation that doesn’t own stuff. But when it comes to housing, that’s changing as more Millennials enter child-raising years, as their careers grow more stable, and – not least – as the cost of renting has become increasingly onerous. Here’s a sign of the times: During the first three months of this year, newly formed households across the United States included more buyers than renters, according to analysis of Census data by the real estate firm Trulia. A big chunk of those new households are Millennials. But if this is an emerging trend, young buyers still face steep hurdles. The supply of starter homes is often sparse, and student loans make it hard to save for down payments. Many who do buy are cosigning a loan with friends or family. For 30-year-old Anne Hogan in Burbank, Calif., an inheritance from grandparents opened the door to a down payment. “Without that I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” she says.


Newest home buyers? A generation that’s been averse to owning.

Andy Heatherington, Keri Sidle, and Anne Hogan live in three very different corners of America, but they all bought their first homes for the same reason – their rent got too crazy.

“When I first moved here in 2013, it was $800 for everything,” says Mr. Heatherington, in Atlanta. “By the time I moved it was $1150.”

After three years in a one-bedroom apartment, Heatherington bought his split-level three-bedroom, two-bath home east of downtown Atlanta for $109,000 in July of last year. “I had the goal to buy within one year, but I wasn’t able to save anything,” he says.

He managed to scrape together a 5 percent down payment, thanks to a promotion at his job doing quality control at a call center, and cutting back on spending. His monthly mortgage is now $750.

“It makes me feel like a grownup,” says Heatherington. “I like the fact that it’s mine, it’s quiet, and that the dog has space to roam around. But in terms of drawbacks, now I’m responsible for repairs and I’m still learning the different noises the house makes.”

These 30-somethings are part of a growing cohort of Millennials entering homeownership. As they do so, they’re bucking a few widely held stereotypes. People born after 1982, after all, were supposed to embrace the sharing economy and eschew the usual trappings of adulthood, delaying marriage and avoiding ownership of things like houses and cars.

Yet, “Millennials  are bullish [on owning homes],” says Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Trulia, an online listings resource. “In our surveys more Millennials tell us it is part of the American dream than any other generation.” [Editor's note: The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mr. McLaughlin's last name.]

The ownership trend is fueled in part by more Millennials becoming parents, and by more of them feeling a sense of career stability. But it also faces headwinds. The combination of a tight supply of homes available to them and common Millennial tropes (They want to live in cities! They’re loaded with debt! They value experiences more than ‘stuff’!) makes the path to ownership more difficult.

That’s leading to fundamental changes in the housing market itself – such as a trend toward smaller down payments. And to the degree that Millennials remain financially unready to buy, the risk is that the already-yawning wealth gap between owners and renters widens further.

“There are some very early signs that group of younger buyers is starting to become homeowners in greater numbers, but it’s not a solid trend yet,” says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president of real estate date firm ATTOM Data Solutions. “Many of them are needing help to do so.”

Taking the plunge

Signs of Millennials clambering onto the property ladder have been growing. According to ATTOM’s research, more people are buying houses for themselves rather than investors snapping up properties to rent out – a pattern that became common in the wake of the 2007 housing crash. The share of “starter homes” sold that are “owner-occupied,” in industry parlance, has been growing since 2013.

Another sign: During the first three months of 2017, more newly formed households were buyers than renters, for the first time in 11 years, according to a Trulia analysis of Census Bureau data. The exact age breakdown for these newly formed households is difficult to parse. But Mr. McLaughlin says that Millennials, because of their sheer numbers and current stage in life (more and more are getting married and moving out of their parents’ homes), almost certainly make up the bulk of them.

Keri Sidle made the switch after moving from Jacksonville, Fla., to the St. Paul area so her husband, Dan, could take a job with the Minnesota Vikings. The relocation came with major sticker shock. “In Jacksonville, we were paying $860 [per month] for three bedrooms and a garage,” says Ms. Sidle, who works for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. “Here it was $1,300 for two bedrooms.”

The steep rent made it difficult for them to save – a pervasive problem for renters, particularly in and around large cities.  

"Renting and paying that much, we thought: How will we save to buy a house?” Ms. Sidle remembers.

A recent survey by Apartment List, for example, found that 80 percent of Millennial renters in major metros would like to buy a home, but two-thirds will not be able to afford it anytime in the near future. According to Apartment List’s calculations, less than 30 percent of those surveyed will be able to scrape together a 10 percent down payment over the next three years. ATTOM data show that in 65 percent of the country, the average monthly mortgage payment is less than the average monthly rent.

Two other major obstacles: student loans and homes available for them to purchase. Young adults ages 20 to 26 carry a debt load of $10,205 on average, according to TD Ameritrade's “Young Money Survey.” Most expect to pay off their debts sometime in their mid- to late thirties.

Even for those who are financially ready, suitable houses are scarce: Nationally, the supply of homes for sale hit its lowest level on record during the first quarter of this year, according to Trulia. And the number of starter homes available has fallen 8.7 percent from a year ago.

A little help?

The Sidles, who got out of college debt-free, managed a 3 percent down payment on their $160,000 townhouse, thanks to them both getting fortuitously timed bonuses at work. But they had planned on getting help. “We had talked to [Mr. Sidle’s] dad, and was going to give us a $5,000 loan. Luckily we didn’t have to do that. Had we not had that option would have taken us a while.”

Anne Hogan, too, needed a boost to afford the down payment on her two-bedroom condo in Burbank, Calif. “When my grandparents passed away, I did have some money socked away from that,” she says. “Without that I wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Beyond help with a down payment, getting a leg up onto the property ladder is becoming a common arrangement, Blomquist points out. Twenty-two percent of all single-family home purchases nationwide in the first three months of 2017 were to “non-married co-borrowers,” or co-signers who get onto a loan to help a buyer qualify for a property. The percentage was much higher in some of the country’s hottest housing markets, like Miami, Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Portland.

“The most common relationship is a parent helping a child buy a home,” Blomquist says. “It points to a problem with affordability, especially in these bigger cities that are attractive to Millennials.”

This can make for an unfair playing field, he continues. “The inequality piece is that you have folks who already have home equity wealth are leveraging that to build more wealth through real estate. Folks who haven’t bought a home yet are further behind because … renting is draining their ability to save up and buy a home. The haves are gaining more home wealth, and the have nots are being left out to a large extent.”

How housing market adapts

Housing developers and lenders are finding ways to let more sidelined buyers in. From January through March, 31 percent of speculative new homes from major builders were under 2,250 square feet, or “starter homes” – up from 27 percent a year before.

During the same period, ATTOM data show, the dollar amount and percentages for down payments decreased (Heatherington and Sidle both had down payments in single-digit percentages; Hogan put down 10 percent). “This could be an indication that more first time buyers with lower payments are getting involved,” Blomquist says.

Within large cities, he adds, more developers are “flipping” homes (buying and fixing them up for resale). In places with a dearth of land for new construction, this means some added inventory of smaller homes near downtowns, including in areas like East Los Angeles that in prior years would have been considered less desirable, Blomquist says.

Ms. Hogan, in Burbank, was more interested in the neighborhood than the size of her first place. And besides, she says she wasn’t ready for a full-on house just yet. “I am single and work a lot, so I knew I wanted a condo instead of a house,” she says. “I don’t want to handle the yard work and stuff.”

“This is a good bridge for a first time buyers,” she continues. “I have some of the perks of an apartment building, but I can still paint a wall and swap out a light fixture.”


The Monitor's View

Keeping the global promise of a quality education

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Countries and world bodies such as the United Nations have helped expand access to schooling. Now, amid rising global concern that students are learning far too little even as access to education expands, they must enhance the quality of education, a foundational building block for achieving nearly every other goal in a country’s development. For every year of schooling, a person’s earnings rise some 6 to 12 percent. People with better education are more engaged citizens. The title of a coming report from the World Bank is “Learning to Realize Education’s Promise.” Let’s hope that all nations keep the promise of quality learning for their young people.


Keeping the global promise of a quality education

A big worry in education these days is that easier access to schooling has come at the expense of the quality of learning. One example is an investigation of test scores at some 200 American colleges by The Wall Street Journal. The results reflect a rising global concern that students are learning far too little even as access to education expands.

The Journal study found that the average graduate of some of the most prestigious universities showed little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. At a majority of all schools, at least a third of seniors could not make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document, or interpret data in a table.

Such results reflect a global trend that has caught the eye of many big institutions. The World Bank is expected to devote its upcoming World Development Report solely to the topic of education – a first for the bank. And in a preliminary report last January, the bank said there is a “learning crisis” in low- and middle-income countries. 

“While the world has achieved massive growth in school participation in recent years, many systems have struggled to ensure that students learn and acquire relevant skills,...” the bank stated. It warned of “schooling without learning.”

On June 28, the United Nations General Assembly holds a special event on education while many international groups are trying to increase funding for schools in the world’s poorest nations. Foreign aid for education has declined for six years even as total development aid has risen. 

Last year, the UN began to implement its Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 with a key goal being improvements in the quality of education. The UN’s previous target in education, which was part of the 2000-15 Millennium Development Goals, was mainly aimed at increasing the number of children completing primary school. While that goal achieved remarkable success, it may have helped weaken a focus on learning outcomes.

As the World Bank notes: “In Malawi and Zambia, over 80 percent of students at the end of the second grade could not read a single word; in India only 75 percent of grade 3 students could not do two-digit subtraction.”

The UN’s new goals on education come with dozens of themes, many of them related to quality, such as proficiency in math. This has led to calls for countries to better measure results that can serve as a barometer of progress.

Only about one-half of countries now participate in regional and international testing, or “learning assessments.” Yet, as the bank points out, education is a foundational building block for achieving nearly every other goal in a country’s development. For every year of schooling, a person’s earnings rises some 6 to 12 percent. People with better education are more engaged citizens.

Just as democracy is not only participation in elections, education is not just attendance at school. The title of the bank’s coming report is “Learning to Realize Education’s Promise.” Let’s hope all nations keep the promise of quality learning for their young people.


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.

Unity in the face of terror

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In a Spanish castle that was historically a point of contention between Christians and Muslims, contributor Robin Harragin Hussey found this quote attributed to the Quran: “Two religions, one God.” This idea gave her comfort and hope in the wake of a recent attack in a part of London her family frequents. She related it to a statement by the Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy: “One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ ... leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 340). When we hear of or witness acts of terror, we can draw hope from this powerful promise.


Unity in the face of terror

Last week I visited Lorca Castle in central Spain. In medieval times it was the flashpoint between Islamic and Christian territories. In the beautifully structured ancient cistern, the castle curators have created a simple display about the two religions. Across the floor are sayings attributed to the Islamic sacred text, the Quran. One of them simply states, “Two religions, one God.”

I was deeply moved because I live very near the two bridges over the River Thames in London where twice in the past two months terrorists created mayhem by deliberately driving into pedestrians. In the most recent attack, three Islamists also stabbed many people in the popular area of Borough Market, where my daughters and I go often. So this has added poignancy for me, and the idea of one God has brought me particular comfort.

The terrorists believe that there is good and bad religion, but both the Bible and the Quran tell us that there is one God. No matter what is going on, the spiritual fact remains that there is only one God, one cause and creator of man – of all of us – and the universe. There is deep, healing meaning in this, especially when we consider what Christian Science explains of the nature of God as entirely good.

As we come to understand our God-derived common goodness, divisions, hatred, and fear can begin to melt away. Such transformation has been described in a marvelous way by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, who said: “One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ ...” and, she goes on, “leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 340).

In the Bible’s book of Genesis, there is a story about two boys, Isaac and Ishmael, who became the progenitors of two great peoples – Jews and Arabs (see chapter 22). They were Abraham’s sons, and he had to choose between them. Crying out to God in consternation about having to send Ishmael away, Abraham was assured by God, “Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad,” and God added the promise that both sons would achieve their destiny. In God’s eyes, both were loved. One was not better than the other.

This is what it means to have one God. All of us are equally loved and valued by the Divine, who created us purely spiritual and good. When we’re expressing love and caring, we’re living in line with our true, God-given identity.

Therefore our role, when we witness these acts of terror, is not to despair. It is to consciously live according to the First Commandment acknowledging only one God, and to draw hope from the powerful promise that this God’s ever-active love for us all does preserve and unify us.



A view with a ‘room’

Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
The first guests to book it posed in the 'bedroom' piece of a land art installation at the Null-Stern-Hotel near Gonten, Switzerland. Swiss artists Frank and Patrik Riklin created the alpine sleeping perch. Guests pay $335 a night to stay at the installation – which has no walls or roof and sits at an altitude of about 3,900 feet in the eastern Swiss Alps. (A bathroom, in case you’re wondering, is just a 10 minute hike away.)
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

In Our Next Issue

( June 12th, 2017 )

Thank you for spending some time with us. Come back next week. Besides unpacking the outcome of Britain’s vote – still unfolding today – we’ll be taking a look at the current state of ISIS as its strongholds face mounting military pressure.

Monitor Daily Podcast

June 09, 2017
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