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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

June
19
Monday

Before Monday’s attack, London’s Finsbury Park Mosque had known two very different histories. The first was one of extremism and hate. Under the notorious Abu Hamza, Finsbury Park was connected to the 2001 shoe bomber who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner, as well as a 2003 alleged plot to create ricin poison.

Then, everything changed. Mr. Hamza was arrested, and new leadership vowed to preach tolerance. By 2014, the mosque became the third faith organization to receive a prestigious British award for community service, the Visible Quality Mark.

“We feel a strong sense of responsibility,” the mosque’s chairman told The Independent. “We think we should be role models to other mosques and other faith places, to deal with extremism....”

On Monday, a man driving a van injured 10 Muslims leaving Ramadan services at Finsbury Park, killing one. Those who survived apprehended the man, then formed a protective circle around him so no one would take revenge. Often, the question is asked: What are Muslims doing to counter extremism in Islam? The irony of Monday’s attack is that a radicalized Westerner brought to light a powerful answer. 

1. Taking temperature of America's political climate

Is the temperature of today's political rhetoric in the United States too hot? That's a big question at the moment. But history suggests that the fiery rhetoric is not new. What's different is Americans' growing inability to see humanity in the opposition. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadIs American political discourse today too harsh? Many on the right have said that media attacks on Republicans were a big factor in last week’s shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana and three others. Rep. Rodney Davis (R) of Illinois called the shootings “the first political rhetorical terrorist act,” for instance. But consider this: US politicians have been slugging it out since 1776. Leading up to the Civil War, Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts gave a ferocious anti-slavery speech, singling out two colleagues. A vengeful relative caned Sumner over the head at his Senate desk, stopping only when his cane broke into pieces. The attack galvanized the nation and hastened the coming conflict. “There is an intensive focus on the here and now. But we forget we went through a civil war,” says Timothy Patrick McCarthy, a public policy lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Every major political, cultural and social battle has come with a particular kind of rhetoric that has always been heated.” 

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1. Taking temperature of America's political climate

Is American political discourse today too harsh? Maybe it is. Many pundits and officials are calling for more civility in the wake of last week’s shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R) of Louisiana and several others at a GOP baseball team practice.

But consider this: US politicians have been slugging it out, metaphorically speaking, since 1776. The presidential election of 1800, contested by two giants of history, is one rough and tough example. Incumbent President John Adams labeled challenger Thomas Jefferson a weakling and a coward. The Jefferson camp replied with a famous political insult, slamming Adams in print as a “hideous hermaphroditical character.”

Hundreds of years of American experience shows that most political hyperbole doesn’t result in political violence, say political scientists. Citizens realize that it is a symbolic expression of the understandable emotions caused by disagreement over national issues.

Sometimes it does push people over the line, however. Tough words can affect partisans already predisposed to violent action, say experts. That’s a response that’s difficult to prevent. Under the First Amendment, virtually all kinds of political speech, even the roughest, is protected.

“The only way we can really approach this is as individuals and leaders thinking about the kind of language [we] are using ... making a collective choice as a political community,” says Nathan Kalmoe, a political communication professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The suspect in last week’s shooting, James T. Hodgkinson, portrayed himself on social media as a committed Democratic partisan. He posted extensive anti-Trump commentary. He volunteered for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

That’s caused many on the right to say that harsh media attacks on President Trump and other Republicans were a big factor in the attack. Rep. Rodney Davis (R) of Illinois called the shootings “the first political rhetorical terrorist act,” for instance.

But Hodgkinson had some non-political things in common with other mass shooters. He’s been dogged by allegations of domestic violence: court records show he has been arrested at least once for punching a woman and firing a weapon at a young man at the scene of the incident. Neighbors have called police to complain about what they perceive to be his threatening use of firearms.

So what’s to blame here? In general, politics is a rough endeavor. It involves conflict and disagreements. It is fractious and makes people angry, and “rightfully so,” says Professor Kalmoe of Louisiana State, author of “Fueling the Fire: Violent Metaphors, Trait Aggression, and Support for Political Violence.”

“Politics does not lend itself to measured speech,” says Kalmoe.

And this unmeasured speech can have an effect. Kalmoe’s research suggests that it can increase support for actual violence in some people.

“It’s a subset of people who are already predisposed to behave aggressively ... they are more likely to get into arguments or even physical confrontations with their family, friends, coworkers, etc.,” he says.

'We forget we went through civil war'

However, it’s important to remember that the current state of political rhetoric is far from the worst the nation has ever seen. The Civil War shows what happens when partisan rancor escalates to extremes. In the run-up to the war, violent rhetoric sometimes did explode into physical violence.

On May 19, 1856, Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner, a Republican, gave a ferocious anti-slavery speech on the Senate floor. He singled out two Democratic colleagues as principal culprits and supporters of slavery’s crimes, calling one a “brutal, vulgar man” and the other a “noisome, squat and nameless animal.”

Two days later, a House member who was a relative of one of the attacked senators beat Sumner over the head with a heavy cane as the Massachusetts man sat at his Senate desk, stopping only when his cane broke into pieces. Sumner was severely injured. The attack galvanized the nation and hastened the coming conflict.

“There is an intensive focus on the here and now. But we forget we went through a civil war,” says Timothy Patrick McCarthy, a public policy lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass.

“Every major political, cultural, and social battle has come with a particular kind of rhetoric that has always been heated,” Dr. McCarthy adds.

He says that today it is the Republican Party that is most prone to inflammatory rhetoric, often involving references to firearms. During the presidential campaign Trump himself said that “second amendment people” might take matters into their own hands if Hillary Clinton won the White House and appointed liberal judges.

From enemies to opponents

Others say the vitriol in today's politics is increasing because the nation's political parties are becoming increasingly divided along demographic lines of race, income, and religion.

Over the past 20 years Republicans and Democrats have become more racially, economically, and culturally separate, says Lilliana Mason, an assistant professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland in College Park. Physical and social differences are making it easy to see opposing party members less as people we disagree with, and more as “inhuman others,” says Professor Mason.

US politics may be losing the ability to differentiate between opponents and enemies.

“I don’t think it is coming from the language itself but the general atmosphere,” says Mason.

In that context, the small steps of reconciliation sparked by the Scalise attack – House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaking together on the House floor, for instance, could be important.

“We move from being enemies back to being opponents once we acknowledge the humanity in each other,” says Mason.

By Peter Grier
Staff writer
( 899 words )
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2. After police shootings, settlements leave big questions unresolved

The Philando Castile case was about more than justice, it was about defining how police should act. Outside the courts, there is significant movement on this front. But the courts themselves are not proving to be a driver of change.

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Protesters gathered Sunday, June 18, in St. Anthony, Minn., to protest against the acquittal of Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was found not guilty of manslaughter for shooting Philando Castile during a traffic stop.
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Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune/AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadAfter a judge found the officer who shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop innocent Friday, his family now appears to be following in the footsteps of other grieving families at the heart of the country’s national debate over police use of force. Police officers are rarely convicted criminally – only one officer involved in a controversial post-Ferguson police shooting has been convicted: Michael Slager, who fatally shot Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., in April 2015. However, families have had much more success with civil rights lawsuits, settling with municipalities for millions of dollars. While such settlements may bring a measure of acknowledgment for grieving families, what these court battles are making increasingly clear, experts say, is that the courts are unequipped to deter police misconduct.

Notable officer-involved fatalities

Henry Gass and Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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2. After police shootings, settlements leave big questions unresolved

For the families who have lost loved ones, it may seem that little has changed in how and when officers exercise lethal force, particularly against African-American men. And increasingly, many experts are concluding that the courts may be ill-equipped to lead the debate in how and whether policy reform is needed.

“My son loved this city, and this city killed my son and let the murderer get away with it,” a tearful Valerie Castile said last week, shortly after a jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minn., police officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges relating to his fatal shooting of her son, Philando. Mr. Yanez left the department under a voluntary separation agreement.

“Let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder,” said Joseph Crutcher last month, shortly after a jury acquitted Officer Shelby, of the Tulsa, Okla., police department, of all charges relating to her fatal shooting of his son, Terence.

The Crutcher and Castile families now appear to be following in the footsteps of other grieving families at the heart of the country’s national debate over police use of force. Police officers are rarely convicted criminally. Only one officer involved in a controversial post-Ferguson police shooting has been convicted: Michael Slager, who fatally shot Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., in April 2015. Families have had much more success with civil rights lawsuits, with many having settled with municipalities for millions of dollars.

But while such settlements may bring a measure of acknowledgment for grieving families, they may not directly change the underlying police behavior.

This may be somewhat ironic, since deterrence “is one of the underlying principles of criminal law,” says Kami Chavis-Simmons, a former assistant United States attorney.

Convicting police officers is challenging, since the law gives them broad latitude in justifying their use of lethal force. And even large civil settlements have little deterring effect because the costs are typically shouldered by municipalities and covered by insurers.

“In some ways we want it to be that way because we don’t want to chill officers in their duties,” says Professor Chavis-Simmons, who now directs the Criminal Justice Program at the Wake Forest University School of Law. “We have to think of different ways of holding officers accountable.”

Activists and reformers could instead focus on pressing for changes to internal policies and procedures within police departments, particularly through using their ballot box power to elect mayors, district attorneys, and other officials willing to implement such policies.

Civil settlements can help engineer some private-sector pressure on police departments to reform, namely from the liability insurers who have to pay out multimillion-dollar settlements.

Because individual officers are paid very little, the municipalities they work for are often the target in civil suits. Police departments themselves rarely see a financial hit – from 2006 through 2011, governments paid 99.98 percent of what plaintiffs recovered in civil rights lawsuits against the country’s 44 largest law enforcement agencies, according to a 2014 study in the New York University Law Review. Most departments likely “view these lawsuits as the cost of doing business,” says Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who has been tracking police arrests and prosecutions for over a decade.

A settlement “doesn’t have a direct deterrent effect on an officer because it doesn’t come out of their pockets,” he adds.

Settlements could be provoking a form of private sector oversight on police departments, however – namely through the pressures liability insurers could impose on the departments they’re covering.

Insurers have been pressuring smaller police departments around the country, The Atlantic reported earlier this month, threatening to withdraw coverage if reforms aren’t made. Such a development could be of added significance under a Trump administration that has expressed a desire to minimize federal oversight of police.

“Insurers have a much bigger role to play in a world where the DOJ is not going to be aggressive, and we’re going to have to rely on private plaintiffs to bring lawsuits and seek money damages,” Michael Rappaport, a University of Chicago law professor who has researched the dynamic, told The Atlantic.

Such innovative mechanisms for police reform may be necessary in the future, says Tod Burke, a criminal justice professor at Radford University in Virginia and a former Maryland police officer, especially since criminal cases against officers will continue to be difficult to prove.

“It’ll happen through policy more than anything,” he adds. “Officers are reacting based on their training, they should not be thinking at the time: ‘Are my actions going to get me fired? Or get me into a lawsuit?’ ”

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect the nature of Yanez's separation agreement with the St. Anthony Police Department in Minnesota.

By Henry Gass
Staff writer
( 779 words )
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3. Two countries, two elections: same message

Elections in France and Italy last weekend appeared to send two different messages, validating an up-and-coming reformer in France and undermining one in Italy. But beneath the surface, the message is actually the same: a deep lack of trust in politics.  

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The 30 Sec. ReadFew parties in Europe have experienced so much success so quickly as French President Emmanuel Macron's La République en Marche! (Republic on the Move!), or REM. Nonexistent just a year ago, Mr. Macron's bloc has won 350 of the French Assembly's seats, giving him a comfortable margin for enacting the reform he promises. But electoral success does not necessarily mean governmental success. As REM goes stratospheric, the highly popular (and populist) Five Star Movement next door in Italy is coming back down to earth – despite the REM-like enthusiasm it enjoyed just a few years ago. In the first round of Italy's local elections last week, the party performed much worse than expected in dozens of key towns and cities, losing out to a resurgence of the traditional parties of the center-left and center-right. To be sure, REM and Five Star are very different parties, and even in decline the latter's support remains strong. But if REM encounters similar difficulties in promoting its agenda, Italy's present political revanchist mood could hint at REM's political future.

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3. Two countries, two elections: same message

When elected a year ago this month, she was hailed as a youthful breath of fresh air, a powerful force for change who would shake up the ossified establishment.

Virginia Raggi, an up-and-coming poster child of the populist Five Star Movement, became Rome’s first ever female leader, after 2,500 years of Etruscan kings, Roman emperors, powerful popes, and the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

“This is a historic moment and a turning point,” she said in her victory speech. “For the first time Rome has a woman mayor. I will be a mayor for all Romans. We will work to bring back to the city legality and transparency. We’re going to change everything.”

Her words sound familiar in France, where President Emmanuel Macron rode a wave of anti-establishment sentiment to clinch victory May 7, a year after starting a social movement from scratch. Defying expectations just a few months ago, he followed his presidential win with an absolute majority in the second round of parliamentary elections Sunday night. His La République en Marche! (Republic on the Move!, or REM) party and its allies won 350 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly.

But Five Star, which similarly came into office under a desire for fresh faces, may also show that even the most impressive political triumphs by newcomers do not guarantee success. In the first round of Italy's local elections last week, the party performed much worse than expected in dozens of key towns and cities, including Verona, Parma, Palermo, L’Aquila and – humiliatingly for Beppe Grillo, the stand-up comedian who founded the party in 2009 – Genoa, his home town. Ms. Raggi herself is under mounting pressure, as Rome's longstanding problems continue to dog the city.

Could Five Star’s plight stand as a cautionary tale for Macron’s REM?

Popular reform

En Marche and Five Star are, of course, not on an allied path. Mr. Grillo had harsh words after Macron’s victory in France. “Europe will see another government coming out of the banks,” he wrote in a blog post. “More precious time will be wasted to benefit this plastic formation, these dummies who are slaves of an impossible currency,” he said.

While Five Star, like En Marche, refuses to classify itself as right or left, it embraces policies on the far-right and far-left, from its anti-euro to its anti-immigration stances. Macron says his post-ideological party is not a rejection of the right or left but a plan to take the best policies of both to move France forward. In an age of anti-establishment sentiment, REM candidates say the party can reboot confidence in mainstream politics at the center.

Leading up to the race, the hype around both shared similarities, underlined by a viral comment by political analyst Christophe Barbier: “You could take a goat and give it Macron’s endorsement and it would have a good chance of being elected.”

In the end, despite its clear victory in Sunday's elections, REM did not get the overwhelming majority that the French worried would lead to an unhealthy hegemony. But it did see something as worrisome: turnout at just below 44 percent, a record low for the Fifth Republic.

Voter abstention has led to concerns that Macron, while facing a friendly parliament, could run into questions of legitimacy on the streets as he turns to making promises into policy.

It also shows that while Macron has emerged as an international sensation, the French are much more cautious – and low voting rates reveal a degree of indifference.

“All along his stupefying path to the Elysee, Emmanuel Macron has benefited from mistrust of existing structures,” argues Le Monde in its editorial today. “But these legislative elections show that neither he nor his candidates have yet begun to rebuild the trust that would engender real support beyond his circle of enthusiasts.”

'The initial fizz has gone'

Five Star, meanwhile, remains a clear protest party, even as they come under fire like the establishment before them. Nowhere is that clearer than in Rome, where Raggi’s pledges to tackle the capital’s multiple crises – poor public transport, gridlocked traffic, potholed roads, official corruption, and chaotic garbage collection – have remained unfulfilled. Much has in fact worsened. Shopkeepers resort to buying sacks of bitumen and filling in the potholes outside their premises themselves. Rubbish spills out onto the streets from uncollected plastic sacks, providing a feast for rats, pigeons, and seagulls.

In the first round of voting, Five Star lost out to a resurgence of the traditional parties of the center-left and center-right: the Democratic Party of former prime minister Matteo Renzi and a center-right coalition consisting of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party and the anti-immigrant Northern League. A second vote is scheduled for June 25.

“It’s fair to say that some of the initial fizz and excitement has gone out of the party,” says Roberto D’Alimonte, a political scientist from Luiss University in Rome.

Still, he warns the movement is not finished. Indeed, Five Star in recent Pew polling enjoyed the highest rating of any party in Italy, at 41 percent.

And while REM faces challenges in France, no other party came close to them last night. The center-left Socialist party lost more than 250 seats, winning just 29. The center-right Republicains, once aiming for a majority, landed in a distant second with 113 seats.

Yet the problems that have befuddled the mainstream parties remain in place. In Italy, that is slow growth and its position at the front lines of the migration crisis. In France, it’s the labor reform that Macron needs to boost employment and revitalize the economy – and its role in Europe. Such unpopular reform long eluded his predecessors.

REM "has drawn from a very large spectrum of candidates, from both the left and right, and it remains to be seen if they can stay united when voting on things like labor reform or taxing France’s wealthiest earners,” Jerome Fourquet of the polling firm IFOP told the Anglo-American Press Association ahead of the National Assembly vote. “Their biggest challenges are yet to come.”

By Nick Squires
Correspondent
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4. Why fewer African-Americans are going to the polls

Elections are all about excitement. But with the departure of President Obama, the rise of President Trump, and a slew of new voter laws, many black voters are feeling disillusioned.

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Democrat Jon Ossoff greets supporters outside the East Roswell Library in Roswell, Ga., May 30. Early voting has begun in the nationally watched special congressional race in Georgia. Mr. Ossoff is trying for an upset over Republican Karen Handel in the GOP-leaning Sixth Congressional District that stretches across Greater Atlanta's northern suburbs.
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Alex Sanz/AP
 

The 30 Sec. ReadElvira Robinson grew up having to wait for white students to board the school bus first. “Black people I talk to say it’s just not worth it anymore to vote, that it doesn’t matter,” says the health-care worker. “That’s hard to hear.” Observers say there’s an excitement gap among black voters in the June 20 special election for Georgia’s Sixth District. Now, in the closing days, both Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel are rushing to convince black voters that their ballots do, in fact, matter. “The real question for [Democrats in Georgia and elsewhere] is: Have they been knocking on doors in [black] communities in the same way they’re knocking on doors in other communities?” says Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie. “If you’re not out talking to these people and engaging them, they’re not going to show up to vote.” But voting rights experts say it’s not just that fewer black voters are interested in casting a ballot. There’s evidence that more stringent voting requirements in a growing number of GOP-led states have, in fact, dampened black turnout. “The question is not whether or not [it has an impact], but how big it is,” says political scientist Ken Mayer. 

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4. Why fewer African-Americans are going to the polls

John Mohammad likes to say, “I’ve been around since Jim Crow was a little-itty boy.”

Like the majority of African-Americans in their 70s, Mr. Mohammad, a retired math professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, saw the Democrats as liberators for striking a deal on civil rights in the mid-1960s. He’s been a staunch Democratic voter ever since – until, he says, now.

“I’m done voting," he says, because it doesn’t do any good. Then adds: “Maybe you gotta be black to understand.”

Disillusioned by what he calls unmet promises of the Obama era, evidence of state-sponsored disenfranchisement at the polls, and the rise of a new ethno-nationalist vanguard in Washington, he has joined the ranks of what some have called the vanishing black voter.

By one measure, 14 percent fewer African-Americans than expected voted in a Georgia primary in April, with men being more unlikely than women to cast a ballot. That dip happened even as Asians and Latinos voted in surprising numbers for Democrat Jon Ossoff, a political neophyte on the threshold of flipping a deeply red district to blue. Mr. Ossoff faces Republican Karen Handel in a June 20 runoff to replace Tom Price, the new Health and Human Services secretary.

African-American voters interviewed cite a range of reasons: from a sense of disillusionment as the Trump administration works to undo the policies of the Obama White House to a feeling that the candidates aren't talking to them, or about the issues they most care about. Beyond the race for the Sixth, voting experts say, is the dampening effect of voter-ID laws and other measures passed in GOP-led states such as North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin – fueling a sense among black voters that the game is rigged.

“The idea that fewer African-Americans show up to vote [in the post-Obama era] is not shocking,” says David Lublin, a political scientist who studies voter behavior at American University in Washington. “It is interesting, however, that this Georgia campaign – where Jon Ossoff is a white Democrat – does not seem to be exciting the black Democratic turnout quite as high as [Democrats] would like. … [W]hat’s telling is that if black Democrats were as excited as others in the Democratic coalition, Ossoff would probably walk away with it easy.”

The excitement gap among black voters may partly have to do with the fact that – as national interest in the race built – candidates were distracted from talking about local issues dear to middle class and working class black voters: from jobs and housing to health care, from crime to education.

Now, in the closing days of the election, both sides are rushing to convince black voters that their ballots do, in fact, matter.

“The real question for [Democrats in Georgia and elsewhere] is: Have they been knocking on doors in [black] communities in the same way they’re knocking on doors in other communities?” says Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie. “If you’re not out talking to these people and engaging them, they’re not going to show up to vote. If you want them to turn out at higher rates, you have to personally ask.”

Mr. Ossoff shows a slim lead in polls for the June 20 election, which is already the most expensive of its kind in House history. Ossoff won the April primary handily, but failed to clear the 50 percent threshold for an outright win.

Laws have decreased turnout

Elvira Robinson, a health-care worker, grew up in the South having to wait for white students to board the school bus first. She is a lifelong voter, a staunch Democrat, and sees Trump as an “inappropriate president,” though she agreed with some of the things he said on the campaign trail.

“Black people I talk to say it’s just not worth it anymore to vote, that it doesn’t matter,” she says. “That's hard to hear.”

Some in the GOP see an opportunity to attract disillusioned African-American voters to their cause. Thirteen percent of black men, after all, voted for President Trump. But Republicans have their own problems: The only demographic that showed up at lower-than-expected rates than African-Americans in the April primary were Republicans, according to the Five-Thirty-Eight data analysis site, which also found the dip in black voters to be larger than expected.

But voting rights experts say it’s not just that fewer black voters are interested in casting a ballot. There’s evidence that more stringent voting requirements in a growing number of largely conservative states – seen by critics as efforts to make it harder for minorities to vote – has, in fact, dampened black turnout.

Precinct level surveys of voter behavior show that strict voter ID laws “have demonstrably decreased turnout among vulnerable populations,” says Ken Mayer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin and author of “With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power.” Professor Mayer is doing a deep-dive study on the impact of Wisconsin’s tough voter ID law on the 2016 election, which Mr. Trump won narrowly. “The question is not whether or not [it has an impact], but how big it is.”

Xavier Jones, a 20-something voter in the Georgia Sixth, voted for Obama in 2012, but isn't planning to go to the polls Tuesday. He, too, describes a new kind of Trump-era apathy, a sense of displacement and powerlessness. “For a lot of us black people, it’s like watching the world go by through a window,” he says.

Plight of black workers

But if Trump’s plans to dismantle many of Mr. Obama’s key achievements, including health-care reform, are discouraging, Democrats, too, may be playing a role in waning black voter participation. 

The “dump Trump” wing of the Democratic Party has sparked record turnout for other special elections, though Republicans have so far won every contest. But as Mr. Lublin notes, post-election women’s marches that espoused diversity weren’t particularly diverse. “Alienation doesn’t promote turnout,” he says.

And African-American workers – particularly blue-collar ones – are often more focused on their families’ futures than ideological squabbles that seem only to ensure cultural gridlock. 

“It’s an extremely important point: Black folks are also workers,” says Michael Fortner, author of “Black Silent Majority." “The Democratic Party, in many ways, has ignored the white working class because of identity politics, but a lot of [especially black men] feel that [Democrats] have also ignored the plight of black workers because of identity politics.”

In that way, he adds, “a lot of working class black folks are looking for increases in the minimum wage, looking for jobs to return back to the country, looking for that American dream that they actually believe in, and that they haven’t yet become too cynical about – and the party that speaks to that will have the stronger coalition.”

For her part, Ms. Robinson argues that it’s incumbent on candidates to craft “a new kind of message.” She adds: “Until they begin to talk about what we can do together, to do what we all know is right, some people are going to tune out.”

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5. Can Amazon change how people buy veggies?

Amazon has bought Whole Foods, meaning the race to move grocery shopping online has truly begun. At its heart, the move is really about guessing when customers will be mentally ready to buy apples on an iPad. Evidence suggests that moment could be near. 

Mark
 

The 30 Sec. ReadOne statistic shows why retailers are eager to crack the code of online food sales: Just in the past year the share of Millennials who say they sometimes buy groceries online has jumped from 28 percent to 43 percent. Often it’s for staples like canned goods. But increasingly it’s also the part of the market that’s tougher to penetrate: freshly prepared foods. This shift in consumer behavior – and it’s not limited to Millennials – is the backdrop for the stunning news on June 16 that online retailer Amazon is buying Whole Foods. Amazon’s skills at tracking consumers’ digital habits could be used to boost in-store sales, but also to test new modes of online ordering and delivery. Other grocery giants like Wal-Mart and Kroger are eager not to be left behind as online food buying goes mainstream. They need to learn to please people like Patty McGuire of Marlborough, Mass., who tried some online buying 10 years ago. “You couldn’t pick out your vegetables,” she says. And home delivery “got a little expensive.”

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5. Can Amazon change how people buy veggies?

On hearing that Internet retailer Amazon was buying her employer, grocery chain Whole Foods, cashier Belle Sequeira laughed.

“I’m the first of the robots to infiltrate the system!” she quipped, a huge smile under her dyed, white-blonde hair. “I do buy groceries online actually.”

In five years, says this Boston Whole Foods worker, she could be buying all of her groceries online.

And so could you.

Amazon, as well as competitors such as Walmart and Kroger, are all rapidly positioning themselves to be America’s online grocer. Already, they’re succeeding in convincing a growing number of shoppers to go online to buy the boxed, bagged, canned, and bottled groceries in the center of the store.

But this most basic of consumer needs and wants ​– food ​– is also one of the last to be upended by the online retail revolution. The tricky task of selling fresh meat, dairy, and produce online will involve a mix of online efficiency and bricks-and-mortar convenience and value that stores haven’t quite figured out yet. What Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods signals, though, is that this next step in the revolution is coming.

And it’s coming quickly, not just because of Amazon’s hunger to penetrate new markets, but for a broader demographic reason: Young consumers are suddenly shopping online for food. This year appears to be a  tipping point, as the share of Millennials saying they buy groceries online at least occasionally has surged to 43 percent, up from 28 percent in 2016, according to the Food Marketing Institute, an industry group based in Arlington, Va.

The buyout of Whole Foods, announced June 16, marries Amazon’s online tracking technology and deep knowledge of its customers’ behavior with Whole Foods’ physical stores, which are particularly attractive to urban Millennials who put a premium on quality fresh food. By targeting the audience most comfortable with online grocery shopping – which might be willing to pay a little extra for time-saving delivery – Amazon may be poised to become a dominant force in food retailing.

“This is obviously going to change the dynamics of the industry going forward,” says John Brick, an analyst with Morningstar. “The online component of grocery is going to be growing at some 20 percent a year.”

And it’s not just busy Millennials who are getting comfortable with the idea of online food buying. Monitor interviews ​– including with customers of Amazon archrival Walmart ​– suggest many kinds of shoppers are open to the idea that they might be buying groceries online in five years.

'It would be very handy'

“I think it’s crazy, but you never know,” says Cheryl Simeone, packing her trunk with groceries outside a Walmart supercenter in Hudson, Mass., on a Saturday morning. As someone who works all the time, as a food-service employee at a local school and a ceramics worker, she says she could see herself buying groceries online in five years: “I think it would be very handy.”

“In five years, I will be 63,” says Patty McGuire, a Walmart shopper from neighboring Marlborough, Mass. “So I might do it because of that.”

Some shoppers are already there.

“I shop for groceries online,” says Nicholle Cyr, a young lab technician who just moved from Las Vegas to Hudson. “It’s just that Walmart has the brand of kitty litter I like.”

“We rely on Amazon for most of our household purchases,” says Lauren Brewer, a thirtysomething from Nacogdoches, a rural community of 33,000 in East Texas. “We also have very little access to fresh, high-quality, organic foods, so I'm optimistic that this acquisition will mean more great foods for my family.”

A few are skeptical.

“Why would I shop online?” asks Ruben, a septuagenarian and Whole Foods shopper in Boston who doesn’t give his last name. “I live around the corner and can get everything right here. [But] my kids buy everything on Amazon.”

Walmart vs. Amazon

But it’s not just Amazon that’s urgently seeking the right blend of online convenience and physical-store tangibility for the new era. Walmart is coming at Amazon from the opposite end of the demographic universe. Whereas Amazon started in 1994, nearing the end of the Millennials' birth years, to become the world’s largest online merchant, Walmart started in 1962, the tail end of the boomer generation, to become the world’s largest retailer. While Amazon is targeting upscale urban Millennials and hopes to branch out to suburbia with its bricks-and-mortar grocery strategy, Walmart targeted value-conscious rural shoppers with its stores and worked its way into suburbia and cities.  

In its digital ramp-up, Walmart has been aggressive in nonfood arenas, acquiring specialty online retailers like ModCloth, Moosejaw, and ShoeBuy.com. The same day Amazon announced the Whole Foods deal, Walmart said it was buying online menswear retailer Bonobos. The number of products Walmart offers online has soared to 50 million, a five-fold increase in just a year.

With roughly a fifth of the US grocery business, the company is now encouraging customers to order online and pick up curbside by offering discounts on certain goods. To boost sales, Walmart is offering free two-day shipping on orders of $35 or more (quicker than the free shipping Amazon offers). It also has an Oklahoma City test of letting shoppers pick up their own online orders from an automated kiosk.   

Trouble for traditional chains

Big grocery chains have their own experiments under way, but generally saw their stock prices fall on June 16, as the Amazon news heralded stepped-up competition. Kroger, which had announced disappointing quarterly earnings a day earlier, lost a quarter of its market value in just two days.

Amazon still has lots of work to do in its own efforts to get the digital-physical shopping experience just right. It is testing deals for one- and two-hour delivery in dozens of cities. And it’s trying Amazon Go, an experimental Seattle store with no check-out required. When shoppers (currently just Amazon employees) walk out with their purchases, the store automatically bills their account.

In fact, what’s dawning appears to be some hybrid blend of physical and digital food buying.

The rise of online apps for ordering ready-to-cook meals ​– companies like Blue Apron and Plated ​– is one sign of how Americans, especially Millennials, are changing their habits. But the Food Marketing Institute reports that fewer than a third of online shoppers buy fresh bakery items, fresh meat or seafood, fresh produce, or refrigerated dairy goods. (More than half buy things like baby food, pet food, household cleaners, and snacks online.)

One trick for the online food purveyors is to win and retain value shoppers like Ms. McGuire of Marlborough.

“I used Peapod [a grocery delivery service] 10 years ago,” she says. “But you couldn’t pick out your vegetables…. And [delivery] got a little expensive.”

By Laurent Belsie
Staff writer
( 1096 words )
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The Monitor's View

What refugees might say on World Refugee Day

 

The 30 Sec. ReadIn 2000, when the United Nations designated every June 20 to be World Refugee Day, little did it know that new conflicts would create the highest levels of displacement on record. In recent years, about 66 million people have fled their homes. Yet even as these numbers have grown, so too has fresh thinking about how to include refugees and other forcibly displaced persons in the humanitarian response to their situation – not only as victims but as participants able to reclaim their inherent dignity. A good reflection of the new thinking is the UN’s latest goodwill ambassador to refugees, Yusra Mardini, a young woman who fled Syria in 2015. When the engine on the boat carrying her and other refugees failed near Greece, she jumped into the sea and towed the boat for hours to safety. She went on to swim in the 2016 Summer Olympics on a special refugee team. “There is no shame in being a refugee if we remember who we are,” she says. “I am a refugee and I’m proud to stand for peace, for decency and dignity for all those fleeing violence.”

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What refugees might say on World Refugee Day

In 2000, when the United Nations designated every June 20 to be World Refugee Day, little did it know that new conflicts would create the highest levels of displacement on record. In recent years, about 66 million people, or 1 percent of the world population, have fled their homes. More than 22 million are refugees, or those forced to live in a foreign land.

Yet even as these numbers have grown, so too has fresh thinking about how to include refugees and other forcibly displaced persons in the humanitarian response to their situation – not only as victims but as participants able to reclaim their inherent dignity. World Refugee Day, in other words, should not simply be a pity party.

“We must ensure that refugees are included not just as beneficiaries but as real actors,” said Filippo Grandi, UN high commissioner for refugees, at a conference last week that brought together groups working on behalf of refugees. The focus of the conference was on ways to assist refugees to become self-reliant and contribute to their host countries. 

A good reflection of the new thinking is the UN’s latest goodwill ambassador to refugees, Yusra Mardini, a young woman who fled Syria in 2015. When the engine on the boat carrying her and other refugees failed near Greece, she jumped into the sea and towed the boat for hours to safety. She went on to swim in the 2016 Summer Olympics on a special refugee team.

“There is no shame in being a refugee if we remember who we are,” she says. “I am a refugee and I’m proud to stand for peace, for decency and dignity for all those fleeing violence.”

Another example is the world’s largest refugee settlement, located in Uganda and called Bidi Bidi. Its more than 270,000 refugees, mainly from South Sudan, have been given land and supplies to integrate quickly into Ugandan society. As in many of the less-developed countries that host most of the world’s refugees, the newcomers are encouraged to become assets to the economy.

President Trump, even though he seeks cuts in American foreign aid, may have captured the spirit of the new thinking in a speech last month in the Middle East. He praised Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon for their role in hosting some 4 million refugees. And he added: “This region should not be a place from which refugees flee, but to which newcomers flock.”

The World Bank has joined the bandwagon by financing a special economic zone in Jordan to employ Syrian refugees and teach them new skills. The goods produced in the zones will be given special trade preferences by Britain and Europe. In the long run, the project will grow Jordan’s economy. Most of all, says bank president Jim Yong Kim, it will “allow refugees to actually have some hope in their lives.”

It remains important not to see refugees as people simply in a temporary plight. Refugees, says UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “never lose ... their desire to better our world.”

By The Monitor's Editorial Board
( 495 words )
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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.

Celebrating Fatherhood

 

There’s something comforting about a father who cares for, loves, and inspires us. And whether or not we’ve found this caring with our own dads, all of us can look to God as a loving Father who created us spiritually and to whom we can turn for healing and comfort. Contributor Wendy Wylie Winegar shares how a growing understanding of God as Father helped her when her parents split up and she went to live with her mom, and in adulthood, too. Christ Jesus said, “Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Children and adults have a right to know they can call on God for help at any time. We can all gain a clearer view of God as Love itself, as ever present good, guiding us and answering our prayers. Our heavenly Father blesses us at every moment.

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Celebrating Fatherhood

My dad’s office was off limits. But one day he ushered me in to have a talk. I climbed into the chair directly opposite his commanding high-backed seat, where he sat upright, poised, and businesslike. He looked at me intently across what seemed like miles of his imposing desk.

My 4-1/2-year-old legs and feet flopped about on the chair. I was a little dirty from playing in the garden and not comfortable with this formal feel. I had never seen this serious, reserved view of my dad – a big contrast to the dad who would pick me up and waltz me around the kitchen to a few bars of Bing Crosby on the radio as I giggled with delight.

I was wondering what I had done wrong. He caught my gaze, knew I was desperate to get out of there, and said with utter sincerity, “God is your Father; I am your dad.”

“I know.” My legs were still flopping.

“You know?” He seemed so relieved. I asked if I could go play, and that was that.

My Christian Science Sunday School teacher had talked about God as our Father-Mother, who created us spiritually. And even at that young age I had found that I could call on God for help at any time, even at night, because He is always with us. God had comforted me when I felt afraid and healed me when I needed healing.

A few months after that moment with my dad, my mom moved out. A sister and I went to live with her, while my older siblings stayed with my dad.

My growing understanding of God as Father helped me during this tough time. I felt His divine presence with me. I felt safe, courageous, loved, confident, capable. I long for every child to feel that comfort as I did. According to Christ Jesus, they have a right to. He said, “Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).

Commenting on Jesus’ statement, Mary Baker Eddy, the Monitor’s founder, wrote, “He recognized Spirit, God, as the only creator, and therefore as the Father of all” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 31).

As I grew up, my childhood trust in my dad’s wisdom grew into a clearer spiritual understanding of God, Spirit, as the Father who helped me through challenges I encountered as an adult. Over the years, my appreciation for my dad grew, too. His love and support were constant. I knew that he, too, saw my true, spiritual identity as a perfectly wonderful daughter of God. No matter what my sister and I were going through, he guided and prayed for us.

Through prayer we can all gain a clearer view of God as Love itself, as ever present good, guiding us and answering our prayers. Our Father blesses us at every moment.

So today and every day I’m thanking God not just for my dad, but for being Father to all of us.

By Wendy Wylie Winegar
( 497 words )
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Viewfinder

Yardarm query: Where's Waldo?

Sailors man the rigging on the Peruvian Navy tall ship Union during Sail Boston's Parade of Sail on Saturday, June 17.
Caption
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Michael Dwyer/AP
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( June 20th, 2017 )

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow. We're working on a story about science and engineering labs on wheels, so-called mobile makerspaces in refurbished school buses.

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