2018
March
02
Friday

Monitor Daily Podcast

March 02, 2018
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TODAY’S INTRO

Monitor Daily Intro for March 2, 2018

Clayton Collins
Director of Editorial Innovation and Outreach

This week you had to squint to see stories that didn’t make you squirm.

On top of the barbarity unfolding in Syria came a report that North Korea might be funneling chemical-weapons know-how to the regime. Russia boasted about having hypersonic and detection-dodging nuclear missiles (also unconfirmed). Temperatures in the Arctic hit 50 degrees F. above normal while Europe shivered.

Pass the magnifying glass. But don’t spin the globe to those cultures where “progressive” benchmarks get notched routinely.

Look to Iraq, a nation that has cherished literacy for decades. Bara’a Abdul Hadi Mudher al-Biyati began as a volunteer on a male-dominated bookshop row in Baghdad. Now, the 29-year-old broadcasts a weekly TV segment on new books and has published half a dozen herself, including titles examining the role of Iraqi women in society.

Look to Russia, where interest and activism are spreading around ecologically stressed Lake Baikal, which holds about one-fifth of the world’s unfrozen fresh water. “First of all,” the longtime director of a nature reserve there told The Economist, “we see that it concerns the kids now.”

Look to Ireland, where Sinn Féin has taken another step in its political evolution with the election of Mary Lou McDonald as president after Gerry Adams’s long and controversial run. She's a different face for the party, a Dubliner with middle-class roots, no connection to the IRA, and a reputation as an effective parliamentary reformer.

All worth watching closely.

Now to our five stories for your Friday, including a special narrative report on the power of forgiveness.

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How 'chaos theory' puts strain on White House

Where is the line between intentional disruption and chaos? It comes down to control. Staff departures – from communications officers to diplomats – are raising questions about the US administration’s ability to focus on governing.

Evan Vucci/AP
White House chief of staff John Kelly listens during a meeting between President Trump and North Korean defectors in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Feb. 2.

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President Abraham Lincoln famously put in place a “team of rivals” as a way to craft solutions amid healthy debate – and keep potential opponents safely inside the tent. President Trump, however, seems to be employing a “chaos theory” of government, with a leadership style that thrives on norm-busting, pitting opposing sides against one another, and breeding turmoil. It’s a tactic he regularly employed in business. But in the White House, where jobs can be stressful and demanding under the best of circumstances, it is leading to record staff turnover, as even some of Mr. Trump’s most loyal aides give up and leave – or find themselves on the losing end of a power struggle and are fired. Barely 13 months into his presidency, Trump has left many longtime students of government at a loss for how this scenario plays out long term. “I think we are in uncharted territory,” says Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. “There comes a point where it’s not just an increase in speed or turnover. We ought to be calling in Stephen Hawking for advice. We seem to be in some kind of parallel worlds.”

How 'chaos theory' puts strain on White House

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From the day Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign nearly two years ago, disruption has been his constant companion.

This week, the turmoil reached new heights. One of President Trump’s longest-serving and closest aides, communications director Hope Hicks, announced her resignation. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and another senior aide, lost his top-secret security clearance amid complications over his FBI background check – a major blow to Mr. Kushner’s ability to oversee key policy areas.

It was White House chief of staff John Kelly who knee-capped Kushner, amid a broader effort to rein in temporary security clearances. But it was Mr. Trump himself who turned those headwinds into a full-force hurricane: He revived his bitter public feud with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over alleged FBI surveillance abuse. He shockingly bucked the National Rifle Association on gun control, only to make nice with the powerful lobby group the next day. And he raised the possibility of a trade war – and even more resignations of top aides – with a surprise announcement of sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs, news that sent the stock market plummeting.

At heart, it was a week of essential Trump – showcasing a leadership style that thrives on norm-busting, pitting opposing sides against one another, and breeding turmoil. It’s a tactic he regularly employed in business, says Trump biographer Gwenda Blair.

“His grandfather, his father, and him – it’s part of their family culture,” says Ms. Blair. “Push the envelope.”

President Lincoln famously put in place a “team of rivals,” a technique other presidents have emulated as a way to keep opponents inside the tent rather than allowing them to disrupt from without. The idea, also, is to craft solutions amid healthy debate.

But Trump has turned the team of rivals concept into a “chaos theory” of government, in which even some of his most loyal aides give up and leave – or find themselves on the losing end of a power struggle and are fired.

Barely 13 months into his presidency, Trump has left Washington and many longtime students of government at a loss for how this scenario plays out long term.

“I think we are in uncharted territory,” says Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University. “There comes a point where it’s not just an increase in speed or turnover. We ought to be calling in Stephen Hawking for advice. We seem to be in some kind of parallel world.”

‘Let Trump be Trump’

Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump friend who briefly served as White House communications director last year, says the answer is simply to “let Trump be Trump.”

“I think the president is being well-served by people that allow him to be the president,” Mr. Scaramucci said Thursday on Fox News. “If the president watches your show, I would say, ‘Go back to being Trump. You don't have to be President Trump. Go back to being Trump.’ "

Scaramucci’s operatic tenure in the communications chair set a land-speed record for brevity when Kelly came in and fired him after just 11 days on the job. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, instituted processes that restricted access to the president, including the information that would reach his desk.

Within weeks Ms. Hicks assumed the top communications job, but that title belied her role as the closest non-family member to the president in the West Wing. She was dubbed “the Trump whisperer,” almost like another daughter. She knew how to read Trump’s moods and could help steer the president away from unwise tweets, say people familiar with the inner workings of the White House.

Unlike most White House communications directors, Hicks was not a highly visible figure, and did not appear on television as a White House surrogate. Instead, she worked messaging strategy from the inside, leaving more outward-facing communications to others. She was also known not to like Washington, and when her relationship with former staff secretary Rob Porter became tabloid fodder, it seemed only a matter of time before she would leave. Mr. Porter’s resignation, amid allegations of domestic abuse of his ex-wives, only made the optics more toxic.

The Trump White House, post-Hicks, will test all who remain. Few of Trump’s original top aides are still there, in an administration that has set records for turnover. Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, identifies 12 “tier one” positions in the White House – the most senior of senior staff. In Trump’s first year, half of those positions turned over, including his national security adviser, chief of staff, and spokesman. With the departure of Porter, the number is up to seven. (Notably, that doesn't even reflect those positions that have turned over more than once – such as communications director, where Trump is now looking to hire his fifth.)

“No president has even come close to that,” says Ms. Tenpas, referring to her comparison of Trump with his five immediate predecessors.

President Barack Obama in his first year lost one tier-one aide, White House counsel Greg Craig, and President George W. Bush lost zero, she reports. Typically, it’s the second year of a presidency when the turnovers begin in earnest, as staff jobs can be highly stressful on aides and their families.

Finding replacements a growing challenge

Filling those openings with top-notch replacements may be a challenge. Many experienced Republicans have not been willing to serve in the Trump administration, or have been rejected by Trump over critical comments made during the campaign or since.

“With each day the turmoil continues, it will be more and more difficult to attract sound, qualified replacements,” says presidential historian David Pietrusza.

What about Republicans who may be willing to serve, for the good of the country, despite reservations about Trump?

“That would be great, if you can find people willing to do that,” says Dr. Tenpas. “But you know, those jobs are really difficult, and they don’t pay the same as the jobs people are in already. Look at all those in the executive branch, with long service in government, taking early retirement and leaving because they are just so frustrated.”

“We’re losing all kinds of expertise,” she adds, “not just in the White House.”

SOURCE: BROOKINGS
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Karen Norris

With tariffs, trade war looms. But is there an endgame?

The new tariffs placed on imports of aluminum and steel by the Trump administration represent a rejection of status-quo trade policies – even of using a multilateral approach to pressuring China. What's less clear is whether the proposed replacement approach has a workable endgame.

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The global reaction was sharply negative this week when President Trump said he plans to place import tariffs on steel and aluminum. The penalties are sizable – 25 percent and 10 percent. Analysts quickly labeled it a “protectionist” effort that will mean higher prices for US consumers on things like cars, and stir anger and possibly retaliatory moves from trade partners. But Mr. Trump and his trade advisers see “protection” through a different lens: a defense of fairness in the global system. They see a pattern of other nations taking advantage of the United States, view China in particular as a rulebreaker, and say manufacturing workers deserve some help after being neglected by elites for years. Efforts to bargain on issues like a steel glut haven’t been working, they say. But the US, by itself, doesn’t have the leverage it used to. Trade expert Katheryn Russ notes that Trump appears ready to rethink his exit from multilateral discussions on new rules for trans-Pacific trade. A completed deal, she says, “would have really injected some muscle into our conversation with China.” 

With tariffs, trade war looms. But is there an endgame?

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Chinatopix/AP
Laborers work in the steel market in Yichang in central China's Hubei province. China, which many blame for the worldwide glut in steel, has expressed concern about possible US efforts to pressure Beijing. A plan for US tariffs on imported steel, announced by President Trump Thursday, could be finalized as soon as next week.

In the United States and overseas, the Trump administration’s new plans to place sizable tariffs on steel and aluminum imports have caused shock and dismay.

Stock markets have reeled. Longtime trade partners are threatening retaliation. Critics say such “protectionism” could spark a trade war.

Yet President Trump has cited protection of industry as a virtue amid a global glut.

“You will have protection for the first time in a long while, and you’re going to regrow your industries,” he told US metals-industry leaders Thursday. The tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum “will be for a long period of time.”

The differing views of protection mark an age-old debate about trade that postwar policymakers in the West thought they had solved. Trade is good; trade wars are self-defeating, they believed. And yet, there’s growing recognition among these policymakers that an era of rapid globalization has been accompanied in many nations by rising inequality and social upheaval, which has hit regions like America’s industrial belt hard.

So while many disparage Mr. Trump’s solution as a return to failed policies of the past, some recognize that the status quo is also untenable.

“What happened today is a symptom and a response to a terrible [problem],” says University of Maryland economist Peter Morici. “It’s very easy to villainize Donald Trump” and to say he “has been disassembling the global international order.” But the trade views of Trump and many who voted for him follow years of “condescension and disinterest and abuse from our foreign trading partners.”

Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic adviser at Allianz, argued in a published commentary this week that the world hasn’t yet come to grips with how to replace the “Washington consensus” – which essentially saw more-open markets as an inexorable driver of rising prosperity and international harmony.

The question at issue is whether the concerns tied to globalization – from worker displacement to China’s aggressive efforts to grab leadership in key industries – will be met. And more narrowly, will Trump’s “protection” effort nudge the world toward greater trade fairness, or backfire?

“The real worry is that this marks a turning point in US trade policy, away from bluster and brinkmanship toward actual protectionist measures,” Andrew Kenningham of Capital Economics wrote Thursday in an analysis for clients.

Why is Trump aggressive?

Defenders of the Trump policy say there’s good reason to take such an aggressive stance, potentially pitting itself against the rest of the world. (Trump could also choose to exempt certain steel-producing nations, such as neighboring Canada and Mexico, from the tariffs.)

For one thing, the current set of trade rules hasn’t protected the US steel industry from devastating losses. Since China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, US steel production had fallen by 13 percent by 2016, while China’s subsidized industry had increased by 433 percent. The US decline is worse than other big producers, such as Germany and Japan. But Canada, France, and especially Britain have seen bigger falls.

And solutions to the problem have been slow in coming. The Obama administration worked for a multilateral approach, which finally led to the creation of the Global Forum on Steel Excess Capacity in 2016. After publishing a report on the problem, it held its first ministerial-level meeting three months ago and published a package of recommendations urging nations to reduce excess steel capacity.

“The time for talk has long since passed,” says Alan Tonelson, founder of the RealityChek blog, which focuses on manufacturing economics and trade. In his view, the only way to get other nations to focus on the problem is to threaten concrete action. “I hope the Trump actions will spur them into multilateral action.”

Most economists say it’s not worth risking a trade war where everyone loses from retaliatory responses. Advocates of more protection, however, see it differently. In their view, the US is a longtime victim of its own free-trade policies, having allowed other countries to champion their own manufacturing industries at the expense of American ones.

“I don't see how you avoid some disruption,” Mr. Tonelson says. “The duration of these policy mistakes has disrupted major pieces of the US economy.”

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has also signaled his impatience with the forum on steel. He was with the Reagan administration in the 1980s when it used aggressive trade threats to convince nations to reduce their exports of cars, steel, and other products to the US.

Tonelson is optimistic that, again, nations will see the wisdom of accommodating the US: “Quite frankly, they need us a lot more than we need them. And I think they all know that.”

A changed economy

Yet the global economy has changed dramatically since the 1980s. Back then, the Soviet bloc was not part of the world trading system and China was an economic weakling. Now, as the No. 2 economy and a huge potential market for consumer goods, China has emerged as a rival that other nations may not be so eager to snub. And while the US still has the largest economy, its share of world GDP has slipped from about a third in the mid-1980s to a little better than a fifth today.

Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro has long argued that America’s persistent trade deficits, with imports far outweighing exports, are damaging the economy as other nations retain trade barriers bigger than those in the US.

The administration is also basing its new tariffs on the rationale that heavy industry is vital to national security and is under threat. While many don’t buy the national-security argument, “Most US CEOs I talk with ... Are on balance supportive of a tougher [government] stance toward China,” said a tweet this week from Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group in Washington, which provides analysis on geopolitical risks.

But business leaders also worry about a budding global pullback from free trade and the economic growth it fuels. It’s a retreat that goes beyond Trump. The new tariffs will impose higher prices on US carmakers, builders, and consumers, even as they anger trade partners and possibly spark a chain reaction of retaliatory moves.

Already, countries including China are implying they may put a squeeze on imports of US soybeans, dairy products, and more.

Katheryn Russ, an economist and former Obama administration adviser, says America should bring cases of trade violations to the WTO, while seeking to build multilateral support for pressure on China. And the US can support its own workers by improving things like education, infrastructure, and the safety net for the unemployed.  

Trump appears to be considering one move that Ms. Russ and others say could help a lot: Rejoining the effort by about a dozen Pacific Rim nations to forge a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to set trade rules that China might ultimately be drawn into compliance with.

Rather than isolating itself by acting unilaterally, “the US needs help,” says Russ, now at the University of California, Davis. “We’re not big enough by ourselves to effect change in the global steel market.”

In Congo crisis, the rise of a ‘spiritual opposition’

As President Kabila's rule has dragged on, the Catholic Church’s role in the political crisis has shifted from moral condemnation to active resistance. That’s even more remarkable in this context: Historically, the church was a state partner. Having a steady presence doesn’t mean standing still.

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For decades, the Roman Catholic Church has operated like a kind of parallel government in the fractured Congo, providing services in areas beyond state reach. For decades, too, the church has been adopting another role: as a leading voice of political dissent, starting with former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and now President Joseph Kabila. That might be a surprisingly bold move for the church elsewhere. But it’s also surprising in light of the church’s early history here, as a close ally of the Belgian colonists. For many Congolese, there was little distinction between the white men in suits who filled government buildings and the white men in frocks who ran its churches. Today, as Mr. Kabila overstays his office, most antigovernment protests have begun on the steps of churches – including several last weekend, that saw at least two people killed. “I pray all the time for change,” says one priest now in South Africa, watching the uncertainty back home. “I pray even for Kabila, that he will be a good man, that he will do what is right for the people of Congo and leave office.”

In Congo crisis, the rise of a ‘spiritual opposition’

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Kenny Katombe/Reuters
Riot policemen attempt to block a Catholic priest and demonstrators during a protest against President Joseph Kabila, organized by the Catholic Church in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Jan. 21, 2018.

At first, they asked nicely.

At the end of 2016, as Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s second full term came to an end, leaders from the country’s powerful Roman Catholic Church nudged the president to sign an agreement with his political opposition. Mr. Kabila, they agreed, would call an election to choose his successor in 2017. In exchange, the opposition would let him stay in power till then.

That never happened.

And over the past year, as Kabila’s rule has dragged on, the Catholic Church’s role in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s political crisis has morphed from one of quiet moral condemnation to active resistance. Nearly all of Congo’s recent antigovernment protest marches – including several last weekend that saw at least two people killed – have begun on the steps of a Catholic Church. And the church’s leaders themselves have become among the president’s most outspoken critics.

“We can only denounce, condemn and stigmatize the behavior of our supposedly courageous men in uniform, who, sadly... are channeling barbarism,” Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the archbishop of the capital, Kinshasa, and de facto leader of the Congolese Catholic Church, wrote in a statement earlier this year. “It’s time that truth won out over systematic lies, that mediocre figures stand down and that peace and justice reign in DR Congo.”

In many countries, this would be a surprisingly bold move for a staid and steady institution like the Catholic Church. For Congolese, however, it comes as little surprise – though in the church’s early years in the country, it was hardly dissenting.

“In Congo, the church is our father and our mother,” says Claude Kabemba, director of the Southern Africa Resource Watch and an expert on Congolese politics. “The state has collapsed. It can’t provide services. For many people the church is far more present in their lives than government has ever been.”

From ally to opposition

For decades, indeed, the Catholic Church has operated like a kind of parallel government in Congo, privately providing health care, education, and other social services in areas beyond Kinshasa’s reach. And in the fractured jigsaw of Congo, where rebel groups hold control of large swaths of the country’s east and center and more than 4 million people are displaced from their homes, there are many places that fit that bill.

Meanwhile, as successive Congolese governments have cracked down hard on opposition politicians, the church has repeatedly “filled that vacuum of speaking out against corrupt regimes,” Mr. Kabemba says. “They are our spiritual opposition.”

But it wasn’t always that way.

Before Congo’s independence, the Catholic Church was among the closest allies of the Belgian colonists, spreading the gospel as part of a “civilizing mission” designed to create obedient, Westernized subjects.

“Government servants are not working alone in the task of civilization,” explained a handbook given to early Belgian civil servants sent to Congo. “The religious orders are participating in at least equal measure.”

By the late 1950s, a majority of Congolese schools were run by the Catholic Church, along with thousands of its hospitals, clinics, and businesses. For many Congolese, there was little distinction between the white men in suits who filled the government buildings of Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) and the white men in frocks who ran its churches.

“For our people, the Church was the State, and the State was the Church,” under the Belgians, Joseph Malula, a cardinal in the early post-colonial church, explained after independence. “They considered religion as a matter for the whites.”

But in the early years after Congo’s independence in 1960, the church’s role began to take a sharp turn. After coming to power in 1965, Mobutu Sese Seko, the flamboyant dictator who would rule the country until the mid-1990s, began an aggressive campaign of authenticité to snuff out Western influence in Congo. He changed the names of major cities – and later the country itself – and outlawed Western-style suits. All Congolese were required to abandon their Christian names for African ones, and Christmas was eliminated as a national holiday. By the 1970s, Mobutu had nationalized the country’s best Catholic university, forced Cardinal Malula into exile in the Vatican, and decreed that all religious instruction in schools would be replaced by the teaching of Mobutisme.

This last move was particularly unpalatable to the Catholic Church, which had long run the majority of Congo’s schools. Bishops protested, and as Mobutu’s kleptocratic regime became more and more unpopular, their star as a voice of dissent against the country’s dictator rose.

“At the present hour we are witnessing an internal colonialism: a class of rich people ... whose wealth rests on the misery of millions,” wrote the archbishop of the city of Kananga in 1975, criticizing corruption and a declining economy. (By the late 1970s, staring into near-empty government coffers, Mobutu agreed to return control of most of the country’s schools to religious organizations.)

It didn’t hurt, either, that many Congolese – especially in rural areas – had far more contact with church leaders than government ones.

'I pray even for Kabila'

Today, about half of Congolese are practicing Catholics, but the church’s role as a kind of stand-in welfare state means they have “unusually high social legitimacy and political clout, even among non-churchgoers,” says Ben Payton, head of Africa research at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

But that has not always been enough. In Congo’s 2011 election, which was widely criticized for lack of transparency, the Catholic Church was the only institution in the country with election observers in every constituency – sounded an early alarm about voter suppression and fraud. Buckling to pressure both in and outside the country, however, they eventually chose to let Kabila’s reelection stand, hoping he would honor his term limit and step down in 2016.

When he didn’t, the demonstrations began. Congolese security forces killed at least 53 people in protests between April and October 2017, according to the church. And in a series of major protest marches outside Catholic Churches since December, Congolese security forces have repeatedly used live ammunition and tear gas against protesters, killing several additional demonstrators. At least five people died on a single day – New Year’s Eve – last year. (Protest organizers say 12 marchers were killed.)

The violence drew international condemnation, including from the Vatican. “I … renew my appeal that everyone make all efforts to avoid any form of violence,” Pope Francis pleaded during his weekly general address on Jan. 24. “From its side, the church wants nothing other than to contribute to peace and to the common good of society.”

The government, meanwhile, has repeatedly attacked the church’s involvement in organizing the demonstrations.

"I don’t have my Bible right here with me ... but nowhere in the Bible is it written that Jesus Christ presided over an electoral commission,” said Kabila in a January press conference – the first he had given in five years. “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God. We must not mix the two [religion and politics], because the results will be negative.”

But in Pretoria, South Africa, one Congolese priest says his faith is what gives him hope as he watches the political uncertainty back home.

“I pray all the time for change,” says Father Emile, who asked that his last name not be used out of concern for his ability to return to Congo. “I pray even for Kabila, that he will be a good man, that he will do what is right for the people of Congo and leave office.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Special Report

Two mothers, a son’s death, and the struggle for forgiveness

Writer Harry Bruinius went to Baltimore in January to report on the city’s record-high murder rate. It would become his most wrenching assignment. At a gathering of mothers affected by the violence he heard forgiveness – and gratitude for forgiveness. “In a deeply emotional moment,” Harry says, “there was a jolt of hope.” In a series of conversations, two mothers shared with him their interwoven stories. The result was this remarkable piece about taking steps toward healing.

Ann Hermes/Staff
‘My immediate reaction to her was just being in pain. We’re mothers, and we’re mothers in pain. It was just one mother to another mother. We both lost our sons. The only difference is, her son is still alive,’ says Giselle Mörch (l.), whose son was fatally shot, talking about the mother of one of those accused in the case. ‘I know my boy is incarcerated, but there’s a woman that lost her child, and I’m having a hard time dealing with that,' says Jolyn Hopson (r.), the mother of one of three young men arrested in the shooting.

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It takes Giselle Mörch about an hour to drive from her home in Silver Spring, Md., to West Baltimore, one of the most violent neighborhoods in the country. Yet, of all the places to seek solace, Ms. Mörch felt compelled to make that drive after the murder of her son last July. She hadn’t been interested in standard grief counseling, she says. How could anyone understand, really understand, what she was going through? Mörch discovered she was looking for the fellowship of other mothers, and she found a “beautiful” community meeting here. “We have the same emotions,” she says of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United. “We’re looking for justice.” But the group’s primary focus disturbed Mörch, even though it had always been at the center of her own Christian faith: the power of forgiveness. Almost by chance, she met Jolyn Hopson, the mother of a young man accused of murdering her son. In the midst of her grief and longing, above all else, to preserve the memory of her son, Mörch describes being suddenly confronted with the call to forgive in a way she could never have imagined. And for both mothers, the paths that brought them together have been both unlikely and poignant.

Two mothers, a son’s death, and the struggle for forgiveness

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It was the woman’s voice Jolyn Hopson heard on the news that Thursday back in July. A wail, a piercing pang of anguish, the kind only a mother could make, perhaps, during the first or last moments of a life.

My son! My son! He’s gone, because of some lowdown dirty dog!

Ms. Hopson first heard the voice in the morning. She had stayed home from work that day and was organizing her kitchen when a cry on TV made her body suddenly freeze. She took a breath and turned to watch. It was a crime report. The woman had lost her only son, shot to death the day before in their home. 

Distraught, defiant, the woman was looking directly into the camera, addressing the young men she saw fleeing, before they were arrested by police.

I ran after you and I chased you. You did something to my son, who was innocent, so now you’re going to have to come after me. And may God get you!

“Wow. I saw her hurt. I saw her anger,” says Hopson, a budget analyst with the US Fish and Wildlife Service who lives in Arlington, Va. “And I was like, me? As a mother? You just naturally put yourself in that situation. How would I react? What would I do?”

Ann Hermes/Staff
Giselle Mörch, holding a portrait of her son who was killed.

The second of her two sons was the same age as the son of the woman on TV.

The woman’s voice stayed with her throughout the day, says Hopson. Then, about six hours later, a friend she was expecting to visit called. He couldn’t get to Hopson’s house, he said: The police had blocked her street.

Hopson went to look outside while still holding the phone to her ear. As she opened the door, she saw her home surrounded by an armed SWAT team. “Put your hands up! Put your hands up!” someone shouted.

“I couldn’t even understand the commands. I was in a state of shock,” she says. “I heard somebody say, ‘Ma’am, we don’t want to shoot you.’ ” Their weapons raised, police ordered her to walk slowly toward them. They handcuffed her and placed her in the back of a squad car.

They had a warrant to search the house, they told her. Her son was already in custody, soon to be charged with murder.

Hopson knew almost immediately.

It was the son of the woman she’d heard on TV.

***

It takes Giselle Mörch about an hour to drive from her home in Silver Spring, Md., to St. John Alpha and Omega Pentecostal Church in West Baltimore, one of the most violent neighborhoods in the United States.

The old stone church lies just a few blocks from where the sparks that kindled the riots of 2015 first erupted. The death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of injuries suffered while in the custody of Baltimore police officers, still hangs heavy here. 

Since then, the city has only experienced more violence: three straight years of 300-plus murders, including last year, which ended with the highest homicide rate in Baltimore history.

Yet, of all the places to seek solace and purpose, Ms. Mörch felt compelled to make the drive to West Baltimore. She hadn’t been interested in standard grief counseling or any of that after her son was killed last July, she says. How could anyone understand, really understand, what she was going through? Mörch, who has worked for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union for 20 years, was looking for the fellowship of mothers like her, she realized.

A friend had told her about an annual Mother’s Day event in Boston where families who have lost children to violence march to keep their memories alive. So she went online to search for something similar. Marveling at the coincidence, she noticed that a friend had “liked” a page on Facebook for an organization called Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United (MOMS) in Baltimore.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Members of Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United, a group that is trying to stem violence and promote healing among families who have suffered from it, meet in West Baltimore.

The first meeting in the group’s office near the church was a beautiful experience, she says. The mothers shared an intimate bond, rooted in this singular and nearly indescribable malaise of grief.

“We have the same emotions,” she says of the mothers she met. “We’re looking for the same things. We’re looking for justice, and we want our sons and daughters remembered.”

She shared her story and listened to those of other mothers. She wept with them. She talked about ways to preserve her son’s memory.

But creating a space for these intimate bonds, as she soon discovered, was not the only mission of this community of MOMS. The group is also an active part of a wide-ranging and interconnected network of grass-roots organizations. They work on crime prevention and anti-recidivism issues, they work with social services and other victim advocacy groups, and they work closely with the Baltimore Police Department. They’re also connected to political advocacy organizations, especially those battling easy access to guns.

But the primary focus of MOMS at these early meetings was something that disturbed Mörch, even though it had always been at the center of her own Christian faith: the power of forgiveness.

“Without forgiveness, there cannot be healing,” says Daphne Alston, president and founder of MOMS. “I think it’s important that we move forward together, because the only way we’re going to heal, the only way we’re going to reconcile, [is by bringing] everybody together – the murderers, the perpetrators, the victims, the community. This is how we’re going to heal.”

Forgiveness. Mörch realized how much the concept had always been an abstraction for her, never something so painful and radical. Forgive as you have been forgiven. It’s a religious catechism. A duty, even. But now, confronted with the call to forgive in a way she could never have imagined, it has become something more wrenching and tumultuous, she says.

Police say two suspects entered her home in Silver Spring last July to see her 20-year-old son, Jaycee. She was there, along with other family members. The authorities say a marijuana sale turned deadly. Shots were fired, striking and killing her son.

Though she cannot discuss the case now, Mörch told TV reporters that day how she chased the suspects out of the house. She saw one scramble into a car, where another young man was waiting to drive away. Later that evening, as she met with her son’s friends at a candlelight vigil covered by local news, she mourned. My son! My son!

“If you’re a parent, you’re always in protective mode,” she says of that moment. “You protect your loved ones, and when this happens, you are crushed. This happened on my watch? No! You are supposed to be the protector. And that’s how I’m still feeling.” 

“My son wasn’t out in the streets,” she says. “He was in the protection of the sanctuary. Your residence is your sanctuary, and when that is violated, when that is violated, where can you feel safe then? Where? If you can’t feel safe and protected in your own residence, where can you?”

No. She wasn’t sure she could really find it in her to forgive those who killed her son. Not now. Maybe not ever.

***

Hopson knew she needed help soon. 

She’d lost more than 50 pounds after her son was arrested. She’d taken time off work to stay with her family in South Carolina, not knowing what else to do. She wrote a prayer for strength, and woke up every morning at 6 to recite it and perhaps find a way to heal.

Her family was worried. “Baby, you’re in so much pain,” she recalls her aunt telling her. “I know,” Hopson replied. “I know my boy is incarcerated, but there’s a woman that lost her child, and I’m having a hard time dealing with that.”

Her sister had a suggestion. “You know what, Jo? You already have that prayer you wrote down. Why don’t you write another prayer for their family? Read your prayer, and then read the prayer [for them].” Hopson did, making it part of her morning routine.

After she returned from South Carolina, she traveled to New York to stay with other family members. She still felt a quiet desperation.

Ann Hermes/Staff
An empty building in West Baltimore displays a sign calling for an end to the violence gripping the city. With 343 homicides last year, Baltimore set a record for killings per capita.

Throughout her career, she had been exposed to many different aspects of criminal and social behavior, and certainly had seen people at their best and worst. She had served for 10 years in the military, including as a military police officer, a corrections officer at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, and a criminal investigator at Fort Myer in Virginia. She later worked as a parole officer in Washington, D.C., before getting a Master of Business Administration through a veterans program that led to the job with the Fish and Wildlife Service. 

But none of it, nothing, had prepared her for the piercing experience of having her own son in jail, accused of murder.

So she decided to look for groups of mothers who might be going through similar turmoil in their lives. She actually found an organization called Mothers of Incarcerated Sons Society. But she also came across a group called MOMS. She decided to click on one of its videos.

She saw Ms. Alston, the founder, talking about the organization’s yearly theme of forgiveness. But then some of the mothers spoke on the video, expressing their pain and the rage they were still feeling toward those who murdered their children.

“Oh, this is not for me,” Hopson recalls thinking. 

Then another woman shared some thoughts on the video. It was Mörch, the woman she’d been praying for.

***

When the judge presiding over the case walked into the courtroom last December, Mörch and Hopson were sitting on the traditional opposite sides of the court. Everyone rose.

The judge turned to talk for a few seconds to one of the guards. Then, looking out over the courtroom, Hopson recalls him quipping: “There’s too many people standing in this courtroom.” 

“Well, you never told us to sit,” joked back Hopson’s older son, Eric, not quite under his breath. Guffaws rippled through the courtroom, and Hopson nervously looked around the room. 

Her eyes met Mörch’s. The mother of the dead man wasn’t quite smiling, but Hopson thought she saw a twinkle of mirth.

Hopson cupped her hands over her heart, and mouthed the words, “I’m so sorry.” Mörch looked confused; she couldn’t understand. Hopson repeated the gesture and mouthed the words again. Mörch waved to her to come out into the hall, and they found an empty room.

“I always wanted to tell you this, but I’m so sorry for your loss. I really am,” Hopson recalls saying, telling Mörch that she was the mother of one of the accused, the young man Re’quan, who police say was driving the getaway car. (All three have been charged with murder.) “And I wanted you to know that I’ve been praying for you and your family.”

Mörch was stunned. Both began to weep. They embraced.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Giselle Mörch (l.) hugs Jolyn Hopson at a Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United meeting in West Baltimore.

“My immediate reaction to her was just being in pain,” recalls Mörch. “We’re mothers, and we’re mothers in pain. It was just one mother to another mother. We both lost our sons. The only difference is, her son is still alive.” (He has also not been convicted of the crime, for which he will stand trial this summer.) 

They went back into the courtroom and returned to their seats on opposite sides. But Mörch says her mind was racing after the experience. Almost immediately she began to feel waves of conflicting emotions.

“At first, you know, there was a struggle in me about the praying part,” she recalls. “First it was like, well, I thank you for praying for me. But then it was like, well, this is what your son did to my son. What right do you have to pray? And then I went back, well, God wants us to forgive so we can heal.”

She couldn’t shake her ambivalence about the call to forgive. “You don’t want to hear the words, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ Because the word ‘sorry’ is just thrown out there to cover stuff,” Mörch says. “Are you really sorry? Or are you saying sorry because you’re caught, and by saying sorry, that might lessen your guilt, or lessen what punishment happens to you?”

But after the court hearing, she decided to wait for Hopson outside. She gave her a handwritten invitation with an address in Baltimore. She was part of a group of mothers that was going to have a “forgiveness banquet” on the following evening. Would she attend?

Hopson said she would try, but she knew she probably couldn’t. She was planning to visit her son, who was being held in the county jail, that day.

“My son is incarcerated, and I’m his mother, and I’m going to be there every step of the way,” she says of her thinking at the time. 

***

Hopson didn’t make it to the banquet, but Mörch was there, and what she heard that night was deeply personal in ways she wasn’t expecting.

The featured speaker was Darryl Green, who described a moment in which a person upended his family’s life forever, a moment that Mörch, too, now knows all too well. In 1988, a 14-year-old named Kinyom Marshall stabbed to death Mr. Green’s younger brother in a dispute over sneakers. Green, who had a master’s degree in criminal justice and wanted to become an FBI agent at the time, nearly spiraled out of control. 

“I was angry for a long time,” says Green. “I didn’t run from trouble, I ran to it.... And I was so angry, angry every minute of the day. I would just pray and say, ‘Get this off me somehow, and give me something else.’ ”

Over time, he decided not to pursue a career in criminal justice but to work in social services instead. By 2012, Green had already been thinking about “deep forgiveness,” a mental state that he believes can require a lifetime to achieve but is essential for healing. 

Along with his father, he made a conscious decision to forgive Mr. Marshall and then testify in court in support of his release. Marshall was serving a life sentence without parole, but in part because of Green’s and his father’s testimonies, the judge resentenced Marshall to a 30-year term, which made him eligible for parole.

“In the courtroom, [Green] was there, and his family was there, before I even knew that I was coming home,” Marshall says. “They spoke up for me.”

“For him to say that he forgives me? I mean, this is something big,” says Marshall, who now works as a forklift driver in Baltimore. “You’re talking about a life. You’re not talking about something of material value that can be replaced. You’re not talking about money. You’re talking about life.”

Green has since started an organization called Deep Forgiveness that promotes
reconciliation and healing, and Marshall often appears at talks with him. Green admits that it is still not easy to work closely with his brother’s killer at times.

“I’m only human,” he says. “Not every day is a good day. I think about the fact that, hey, my brother will never get to meet his nieces. He’ll never get the chance to get married and be a father. And all those other things you think about that bring you to a not-so-good place.”

Marshall wasn’t present at the MOMS banquet, but Green recounted their story and talked in his own street-hardened way about a subject that academics call “restorative justice”: ground-level efforts by communities to mend the deep ruptures that crime and violence can cause. Restorative justice is less about the power of the state and the criminal justice system than about individuals seeking to restore their lives together.

“How many of you feel like you are dying inside?” Green recalls asking the group. “How many of you are carrying this huge weight around?”

“Forgiveness is not about the other person,” says Green, who has sought to address Baltimore’s crime problems by working mostly with men released from prison or those struggling with homelessness or substance abuse. “It’s about having difficult conversations and just telling our stories and being willing to listen. Sometimes it is a spirit of unforgiveness that will kill you.”

Mörch listened intently that night. “Wow, just by how he involved the man who murdered his own brother in his own forgiveness journey? That was amazing,” she says. “For me, OK, you killed my brother? You killed my son? To me, I don’t want nothing to do with you. To me, you don’t exist.”

Afterward she recalls asking Green how long it took him to reach that point of forgiveness.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Green recalls responding. “It took me about two decades to reach that. You get to a point of being OK, and then I would go backwards. But hurt people hurt people. On your journey to healing, you may not even get to forgiveness, but you don’t have to put any parameters around how long it’s supposed to take.” 

***

Alston, the founder of MOMS, began January’s monthly meeting at the Pentecostal church by acknowledging that many members were still struggling with last year’s theme.

“Towards the end of last year our focus was on forgiveness,” said Alston, whose son was killed in 2008, a homicide that still hasn’t been solved. “It’s not been going well with a lot of people, because there’s been so much trauma in the city, so much homicide. People are not ready to forgive the person who has killed their child.”

She invited people to speak, noting there was a lot to get through that evening. Groups such as Moms Demand Action and Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence were updating the mothers on gun control efforts coming up in the state legislature.

Two advocates with the Baltimore Police Department, James Dixon and Falema Graham, were also there. The department hired both of them within the past year as part of a new program to help the families of victims navigate the impersonal and harsh edges of the criminal justice system.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Nathaniel Powell at his family's home in Baltimore. Powell, who served 21 years in prison for shooting a police officer, is making a documentary to reach out to young men about the consequences of crime.

A man named Nathaniel Powell wanted to address the mothers, too. When he was 17, he shot a Baltimore police officer and served 21 years in prison. Now 39 and released just a few months ago, he’s making a documentary to show young men the consequences of criminal behavior, including the lifelong effects on victims. 

“I’m sitting here, fighting back tears listening to y’all,” he says later. “I’m feeling emotional because I really haven’t done nothin’ to be able to deserve this.”

But as she always does, Alston first asked whether any of the mothers would like to share any thoughts. Alice Oaks stood up.

“I lost both of my sons to murder, my only two children,” she told the group of around 35 people gathered in the church’s smaller sanctuary. “We spoke about forgiveness – I lost my first son in 2008. I prayed to God to put forgiveness in my heart for the person who killed my son, and I don’t want that person to have a strong hold on me. So I forgave him.”

“But in March I have to go to court, go through the trauma all over again,” Ms. Oaks said of the fatal shooting of her second son, in 2015. “Another double whammy. So I’m like a fickle person right now. I forgave him, and I still forgive him, and I still ... but this second murder – I just keep praying to God to keep strengthening me to press forward.”

A woman unfamiliar to the members rose. She introduced herself as Jolyn Hopson. “My son has not been murdered. He’s incarcerated,” she told the group. “He’s incarcerated for an incident with Miss Giselle’s son.”

The room fell silent. Mörch was sitting at a table, looking down, a few feet away.

Hopson told the story of her malaise, how she was looking for help, and how she found MOMS. “I saw Miss Daphne speak about forgiveness, and how we can’t point fingers, but in order to solve this we all have to come together.” She looked over. “So thank you, Miss Giselle, for the forgiveness.”

“Immediately after I first saw Miss Giselle, and I saw her pain, and her hurt – and we’re in a legal issue, of course – so when I was in court, and I looked at her, I had to tell her that my heart hurt,” she said to the mothers. 

Sitting at the table, still looking down, Mörch began to sob quietly. 

The room was transfixed. Mörch stood and she and Hopson, for a second time, embraced. Others in the room began to weep.

“I’m the mother of a murdered daughter,” one woman said. “This is a meeting I’ve never seen before. This isn’t easy. I call you courage, miss,” she added, looking over at Hopson. 

“This is so big for me,” said Alston. “Because every time I say, ‘I quit. I’m not doing this,’ God keeps blowing my mind. He answers our prayers, and that means He has an answer for homicide as well. We’re on our way to making a big change. This is what helps bring all of us together.”

***

For Mörch, however, the moment was more complex. “That was a learning experience – that was an awesome experience,” she says later, adding that it was even “mind-blowing.” “But I had mixed emotions. I’m not going to lie.” 

“I was kind of shocked that she was there, and part of me was just annoyed that she was there,” she continues. “It was like, well, the reason why I’m here is because of what your son did. I invited you to the forgiveness banquet, but I didn’t know you were going to come to the community meeting.” It even crossed her mind that Hopson might want to pick up information and use it in the trial. “This may be me being selfish, but it’s a form of, you’re not really part of the community.”

Hopson says one reason she came was simply to pay Mörch her respects after missing the banquet. “I didn’t want her to think I just blew her off after the moment we shared in court,” she says.

Hopson called the director of MOMS afterward, expressing her eagerness to contribute, perhaps organizing a memorial basketball tournament, with jerseys emblazoned with the names of murder victims.

In the end, however, most of the MOMS members thought it would be better if she did not return.

“I didn’t even realize that wall, that boundary, was up,” Hopson says. “But I see the hurt behind it, the pain. So I would never sit back and judge the situation.”

Still, Hopson feels she was led to MOMS in a way she couldn’t quite understand. The voice of Mörch seemed to just burst into her life, she says.

“Was it God’s will that I be there? I don’t know,” she says. Oaks, the woman who lost both of her sons to violence, reached out and offered to help Hopson find another group where she could try to heal. And a number of people came up to her afterward, saying they admired her courage.

For Mörch and others, Hopson’s presence would have disrupted the intimate bonds they’d formed through their shared experiences. Besides, the trial of the three men accused of Mörch’s son’s fatal shooting is set to start soon, and they remain on opposite sides in the retributive side of justice.

“I will say that I respect her, and I’m hoping that she and I can work together and we can do something for the youth,” Mörch says. “I don’t mind getting together with her, get tea, sit down and talk – I don’t mind. She did not do anything to me. It was her son.”

But the experience has impressed upon her the difficult journey toward both forgiveness and justice. And truth be told, she’s hoping more for retribution rather than restoration for the death of her son.

“For me to forgive the one person, yes it’s hard, it’s a struggle, but that’s nothing,” Mörch says of her encounters with Hopson. “I mean, if I forgave all of [those charged with the shooting], then that’s a big wow. Wow, they’re all forgiven.” 

“Right now I’ve only made a baby step to forgive once,” she says. “I’ve not made the big steps to forgive the others. You know, I still want justice for my son, and whether I get it here on this earth or I don’t, I will have to live with that, and so will they, as God is the final judge.”

Italian vote: Nativist sentiment tests a model of openness

The apparent reversal of progress merits attention, too, so that signs of its replication can be addressed. This last piece is really “a canary in a coal mine story,” our Europe editor says, about how xenophobia has crept into the area around Schio, Italy – a place where the integration of “outsiders” has been working for decades.

Catarina Fernandes Martins
Shoppers walk the Saturday market earlier this month in Schio, Italy. Immigrants make up 12 percent of Schio’s population of 40,000. For decades they have enjoyed a high level of integration in the town. But Italy’s 2018 parliamentary election, and the ascendant, anti-immigrant Northern League, which calls the Schio region home, is threatening that.

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Schio, an Italian town of 40,000, almost 5,000 of whom are immigrants, has long been a model of integration – all the more remarkable considering it is located in the heartland of the anti-immigrant Northern League party. “I think the fact that we don’t have parts of towns specifically for foreigners helped,” says Annalisa Bressan, president of integration organization Mondo nella Città. “They live with Italian grandmothers who rent them rooms in exchange for help with groceries; Italian teachers help the children of migrants after school for free.” But migration is a hot-button issue in this year's Italian parliamentary elections, set for March 4. Growing anti-immigrant sentiment across the country has allowed the league to take its message nationwide. It now looks likely to enter government as part of a right-wing coalition. Even in Schio, locals feel the shift. “I’ve noticed people are more prone to repeating the negative and sometimes fake information they read about migrants in the newspaper. I’ve also felt ignored on purpose by some people working in the police, for instance,” says one immigrant. “It’s still mostly good here in Schio, but things are changing.”

Italian vote: Nativist sentiment tests a model of openness

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Mr. Sindy doesn't take his eyes off the sewing machine he is operating, as news plays on his smartphone of the Turkish bombing of the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city of Afrin, close to where he has family. He has grown accustomed to bad news coming from the Kurdish territories.

To protect his family in the Middle East, Sindy doesn’t want to use his first name. He left his hometown of Zakho in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2006, crossed the Mediterranean, and, after traveling around Europe, settled in Schio, a town of 40,000 in northeast Italy. He has lived here for 10 years now, one of the immigrants from all over the world who make up 12 percent of Schio's population.

Today, he has a job in this sewing workshop, Atelier Nuele, and a comfortable life.

“When I came here I was told I would be treated as a member of a family. Schio reminds me of my town, which was also surrounded by mountains. There are so many foreigners, and we never had problems. Life is good, and I like it very much,” he says.

This would seem unremarkable but for the fact that Schio sits in the heart of the Veneto region, a stronghold of the Lega Nord, or Northern League – a far-right political party founded in 1991 to promote greater autonomy for, and even the secession of, the Italian North. This electoral season, the League has dropped the word “Northern” and campaigned as a national party on the back of the anti-immigration sentiment that has grown across Italian society and placed migration as the central issue ahead of the ballot on March 4.

Now, the League, as part of a larger coalition, is a leading candidate to enter government on Italy's hardening attitudes against immigration. And even in places like Schio, which had long resisted xenophobic rhetoric despite its surroundings, the tide seems to be shifting, Sindy says – suggesting the magnitude of what's happening in Italian politics and society.

“It’s still mostly good here in Schio, but things are changing," he says. "I’ve noticed people are more prone to repeating the negative and sometimes fake information they read about migrants in the newspaper. I’ve also felt ignored on purpose by some people working in the police, for instance.

"I’m afraid, to be honest. If they are targeting migrants in Macerata,” he says, referring to a mass shooting of African migrants carried out by a former League candidate in the central Italian town in early February, “I mean, that [kind of violence] is why I left my country.”

Integration among intolerance

Even before this election, as a regional party, the Northern League has a history of playing on cultural and economic fears regarding immigration, and has been accused of racism. In 2003, then party leader Umberto Bossi said immigrants arriving in Italy by boat should be stopped by a cannon that “blows everyone out of the water.” Such rhetoric has only grown with anti-immigration sentiments across Italy.

At a League gathering in the town of Caserta, current League leader Matteo Salvini said that he didn't see Syrian women with children in the streets, only nicely dressed African men who complained that they ate too much pasta. The first group deserves the help of Italians, Salvini said, but the second doesn't.

But the League is no longer the also-ran it once was, where such political speech often blew over. Immigration is the key issue in this election, especially after the Macerata attack. According to a nationwide poll in La Repubblica a week afterward, 71 percent of Italians think the number of foreigners living in Italy is too high. The same survey found 63 percent believe crime rates have increased because of migrants (though crime rates have dropped by 17 percent in the last two years according to Interior Ministry figures).

Mr. Salvini condemned the shooting, but suggested migration is increasing violence and chaos. And he stands to benefit from the electoral mood. The right-wing coalition that includes the League and Forza Italia, the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, currently is the the only group with a chance of securing a parliamentary majority on Sunday.

Despite the far-right influences of its region, Schio has had a different history. It was here that Alessandro Rossi, one of the pioneers of Italian industrialization in the mid-1800s, built schools, nurseries, and quarters for his factory workers; and where Bakhita, a Sudanese woman who was kidnapped and trafficked before becoming a nun, lived and died – eventually being recognized as a patron saint for the victims of slavery and human trafficking. In Schio, people refer to Bakhita as “our black mother.”

“Schio is a beautiful experience in terms of integration. It’s a town that differs from its surroundings because it was one of the first territories in Italy to address the concerns of workers and to mobilize in their behalf.  I think the fact that we don’t have parts of towns specifically for foreigners helped,” says Annalisa Bressan, a first grade teacher and president of the nongovernmental organization Mondo nella Città, which coordinates with the government's efforts to integrate asylum seekers.

“They live with Italian grandmothers who rent them rooms in exchange for help with groceries, Italian teachers help the children of migrants after school for free,” she says. “This sort of informal integration cannot be tracked with numbers or studies, but it creates the spirit of a place and that’s what has made the welcoming here so positive.”

Located in the province of Vicenza, a manufacturing stronghold and one of richest territories in Italy, Schio's economy has generally been strong, which meant that for years it was very easy for foreigners to find jobs.

“Almost 20 years ago, migrants would find a job even before they learned Italian. Factory owners needed someone who would do the work Italians no longer wanted to do, and that allowed migrants to integrate easily,” says Chiara Ragni, a psychologist and caseworker with Mondo nella Città. “That’s also why the League’s speech never really resonated in this territory. It was very common to hear people who didn’t support immigration say, ‘migrants should stay away, but Mohamed isn’t dangerous because he’s a neighbor and a friend.’”

With the financial crisis of 2008, it became more difficult for both locals and foreigners to find jobs, and many migrants left the town for other countries in Europe or roamed south where the underground economy made it easier to find means to survive.

Making migrants visible

But even then, Bressan and Ms. Ragni say, attitudes toward migrants remained relatively unaltered until four years ago.

For two decades, Schio had remained loyal to the center-left Democratic Party.

But in 2014, long-time Lega Nord member Valter Orsi ran for mayor of Schio as an independent candidate, with no official connection to a national political party, and won. And although he publicly distances himself from the far-right party, as a mayor he has been singing the same tune as the party led by League leader Salvini, echoing his justification of the shooting in Macerata. The shooting came shortly after the body of an 18-year-old Italian woman was found near Macerata. A Nigerian man with an expired residence permit was arrested but accused only of concealing the body, not of murder. But Orsi and Salvini both blame the man – and more broadly, Italy's migration policy – for the woman's death.

The staff with Mondo nella Città refuses to discuss their relationship with Orsi, suggesting they don’t get along well. But they say that his leadership has not yet changed the politics of integration in Schio. Recently, far-right, anti-immigration group PrimaNoi attempted to petition the local government to force Mondo nella Città to end its project here, but it failed to gather enough signatures to be taken into consideration.

Aware of a tide turning, though, Ragni and others decided to change their strategy regarding the visibility of refugees in Schio’s society.

“We used to protect asylum seekers from telling their stories of suffering in public. Now we think it’s absolutely necessary for them to go out and talk to children in school, for instance,” Ragni says. “We also decided to open Atelier Nuele, that functions as a clothing shop and a sewing workshop for refugees. When locals enter the store, they see them working and they know who makes the dresses and bags they buy. It’s important that refugees and migrants are seen as humans with skills and agency, instead of people begging for pity.”

Despite the rise of support in surveys for the right alliance that includes Mr. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the League – now at 37 percent – Bressan believes “far-right propaganda” won’t change the minds of people in Schio.

“What drives a society forward are the ideas in people’s minds, not the empty words of politicians. The minds of the people in Schio are focused on solidarity,” she says.

Sindy, who on top of displaying his work at Atelier Nuele also talks to children in schools, is more cautious. In order for migrants and refugees to be truly protected, he says, an extra step in terms of their visibility in Italian society is needed.

“I wish I could vote, but I can’t. Since I can’t vote I’m not so interested. I can only hope Italians chose someone who roots for all Italy. When Italy works for Italians, it works for me as well,” he says.

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The moral question behind Trump’s plan on metal tariffs

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In proposing high tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, President Trump cites several reasons (political, economic, and security) but one in particular – reciprocity in trade – might open a door for negotiations with opponents. Mr. Trump believes the tariffs will restore some reciprocity in trade relations. He cites “cheating” by China and other nations accused of selling steel abroad at below the cost of making it. He also cites past trade agreements that allow countries to block competition from American companies. Trump is hardly alone in demanding reciprocity. Humans have a deep desire for reciprocity in all relationships. It underlies notions of justice, equality, and the social contract. In trade agreements between nations, reciprocity is the moral foundation that helps decide how to reward each country’s abilities to produce goods and services. In demanding a new norm of fairness in trade, Trump is expressing a moral value. The probable practical effects of his proposal should be disputed. But the starting point of any negotiations needs to be a broader understanding of the intrinsic value of reciprocity. Commercial trade is not a zero-sum game in which some lose, some win. It is as much a social contract as an economic deal.

The moral question behind Trump’s plan on metal tariffs

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In this 2005 photo, a steel worker takes a sample at the blast furnace of ThyssenKrupp steel company in Duisburg, western Germany. Ordering combative action on foreign trade, President Donald Trump has declared that the U.S. will impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, escalating tensions with China and other trading partners and raising the prospect of higher prices for American consumers and companies.

In proposing high tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, President Trump has cited three reasons for his trade protectionism. One is political: It would fulfill a campaign promise to bring back metal-factory jobs. Another is economic: It would revive a lost piece of the total economy in the Rust Belt. A third is strategic: It would help retain a material supply for national defense.

All three reasons are widely disputed by many experts, including some in his own administration. More jobs will be lost than gained, they say. Metalmaking is not as vital to the economy as in the past. And, they add, such an arbitrary rule would damage national security by offending both allies and adversaries as well as ignite a global trade war.

So far, none of the arguments have turned Mr. Trump away from his plan. In fact, he responded by saying he welcomes a trade war because it would be “easy to win.” He threatened more import tariffs against any country that imposes a duty on United States goods or services.

Yet the president also offered a fourth reason for his proposal, one that might open a door for negotiations and a way to find common ground.

By his own moral sense, Trump believes the tariffs will restore some reciprocity in trade relations. He cites “cheating” by China and other nations that are accused of selling steel abroad below the cost of making it and of stealing key technologies. He also cites past trade agreements that allow countries to effectively block competition from American companies.

Trump is hardly alone in demanding reciprocity. “We are committed to free trade, but it must be reciprocal,” says German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Britain is in the throes of negotiations with the European Union over its trade relations as it prepares to exit the EU.

People have a deep desire for reciprocity in all relationships. It underlies notions of justice, equality, and the social contract. In trade agreements between nations, reciprocity is the moral foundation that helps determine how to reward each country’s abilities to produce goods and services. A society, wrote Plato in The Republic, “will be more abundant and the products more easily produced and of better quality if each does the work nature has equipped him to do....”

In demanding a new norm of fairness in trade, Trump is expressing a moral value as well as his economic, political, and strategic justifications for the tariffs. The probable practical effects of his proposal should be disputed. But the starting point of any negotiation needs to be a broader understanding of the intrinsic value of reciprocity.

Such a discussion goes beyond defining tit-for-tat fairness. It involves the greater good available when all sides accept reciprocity as a moral foundation, one that requires each side to acknowledge the other’s interests. Commercial trade is not always a zero-sum game in which some lose, some win. It is as much a social contract as an economic deal. At the least, the president deserves a hearing on his moral concern.

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.

Not powerless

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Today’s column explores the idea that men and women have the inherent ability to overcome moral weakness and live more in line with our genuine selfhood as God’s good and complete children.

Not powerless

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

“What do you think about this?” my brother asked me, referring to recent news of sexual harassment committed in the entertainment and media spheres. We were on our weekly walk around a nearby reservoir, catching up on each other’s lives.

“Surprised, disgusted … and saddened,” I responded.

Comparatively speaking, I’ve experienced minimal harassment; but like many people, I know enough of what it feels like to be put in an intimidating and unjust situation to be grateful that society is rising up to take the issue seriously.

Is sexual harassment really inevitable? I wondered. How can I make a contribution to alleviating the problem – and dignifying others?

Whenever I need to gain clarity on a course of action, I consider whether I am seeing the situation as intractable or reformable. It’s important to me to strive to see a person or situation from a spiritual perspective, and not be clouded or depressed by a negative viewpoint, which can hamper progress. Clearly, I had work to do in this case!

Michael Kimmel, founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University in New York, consults with companies to combat the problem of sexual harassment. The Monitor reported this statement he shared: “I use the idea of, what does it mean to be a good man? Most men already have ideals and values about what that means, and I try to help men to live up to those ideals” (“In the #MeToo era, what does it mean to be a ‘real man’?” Dec. 26, 2017).

This approach is encouraging, and prompts me to think more deeply about why wrongdoing isn’t inevitable. I’ve found that the Bible provides helpful perspective in this regard. For instance, I love the idea that goodness is inherent within each one of us because we are made in the “image,” or manifestation, of a wholly good divine creator (see Genesis 1:27).

Spiritual thinker, author, and Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy refers to this creator as a loving Father-Mother that creates each one of us whole – that is, spiritual and complete. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she writes, “Union of the masculine and feminine qualities constitutes completeness.” Later in that paragraph, we read, “Both sexes should be loving, pure, tender, and strong” (p. 57).

We (myself included) don’t always see ourselves as we truly are – spiritual, good, and whole. In facing life’s challenges, we may develop behaviors that we think will serve us, but ultimately turn out to be counterproductive. Such behaviors aren’t irreversibly binding. In fact, we have the inherent ability to overcome these weaknesses and reclaim our true individuality, our genuine self.

As Professor Kimmel and other thinkers through the ages have indicated, one way to support each other is to shine a light on and magnify everyone’s innate goodness. In particular, just as the darkness of a material view of our individuality disappears in the light of understanding ourselves as spiritually formed, so habits that hide what we really are lose their grip as our true self is more clearly seen.

Following the conversation with my brother, I committed to fan the flame of goodness by actively watching for and appreciating it. Not surprisingly, the more I look, the more I notice men and women alike expressing strength and sensitivity, confidence and tenderness, courage and compassion. This is real power, because such qualities stem from the all-powerful Spirit that made us to reflect its infinite goodness, and knowing this has opened my heart to sweet instances of thoughtfulness, kindness, and cheer.

But while such instances are easy to appreciate, seeing someone’s inherent goodness right when they’re acting disrespectfully (or worse) can be demanding. However, what makes it compelling and powerful is the transformative effect acknowledging everyone’s real, spiritual identity can have.

I remember one time when a manager was exerting power in a demeaning way, and I felt this urgent prayer well up in my thought: “I know you are better than this.” Affirming this individual’s true self as a manifestation of the divine helped me avoid a knee-jerk reaction that wouldn’t have helped anybody. Even better, within moments the manager’s behavior changed to one of calm respect.

Better discerning and appreciating everyone’s real identity and dignity as a child of God is an ongoing process. In the meantime, as a result of my desire and efforts to be more conscious of our divinely innate, wholesome qualities – both masculine and feminine – here’s a surprising added bonus: I’m more able to live in line with my own best and true self.

Through understanding everyone’s relation to God, I know that I have the power to do this, and so do we all!

Viewfinder

Cutie and 'the Beast'

Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
A ski-shod child gets pulled along by her parents after schools closed because of adverse weather conditions in Dublin, Ireland, March 2. Ireland and the United Kingdom were blanketed in snow from Siberian weather dubbed 'the Beast from the East' that has plunged temperatures in Europe to sub-normal levels this week, closing airports, schools, and offices.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Clayton Collins
Director of Editorial Innovation and Outreach

Enjoy the weekend, and come back around on Monday. In his "Patterns" column, Ned Temko will be looking at issues of immigration, asylum, and nativism in Western politics – a confluence of forces that could undermine the post-1945 consensus about the benefits of international cooperation and integration.

Also, as film fans wonder what to expect at Sunday’s Academy Awards – including any statements on racial- and gender-diversity issues – here’s a short Oscars briefing. It also looks at the chatter around best picture. 

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