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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.

2018
October
23
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

The 2018 World Series opens Tuesday night and there are a host of great narratives.

Both teams have displayed consistent excellence, with the Boston Red Sox posting the best record in baseball (108 wins). The Los Angeles Dodgers are also attempting to rewrite history by winning their first World Series in three decades.

But my favorite World Series story line is the tale of the underdog. Last year, the Dodgers’ first baseman Max Muncy was banished to a Triple-A team in Oklahoma City, a castoff from the Oakland A’s. His career was hanging by a thread. In April, Muncy was called up to the big league and made the most of it. He led the Dodgers in home runs, with 35. All that from a guy who hit just 12 homers in his first five years in and out of the majors. Muncy is “a testament to sticking it out, a shining beacon to all those who follow their dreams...,” writes Scott Miller for the Bleacher Report.

But if you want to see this baseball season’s funniest portrait of persistence, check out 3-year-old Lennox Salcedo’s “dash” to home plate. It’s captured in this now-viral video of the toddler pretending to run in slow motion. His coach (Dad) is trying to hurry him along. But he won’t have it. Lennox is going to savor the moment, ever so sloooooowly.

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Now to our five stories, including paths to progress on women’s rights in Iran, US political polarization, and understanding the Battle of the Alamo in Texas.

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D.C. Decoder

1. ‘Nationalist’: A president takes a mantle, then shows he means it

Is a nationalist simply the opposite of a globalist? Our reporter looks at the term’s various meanings, and what President Trump may be communicating when he uses it.

David
Edgard Garrido/Reuters
A Central American migrant waited at the gate on the bridge that connects Mexico and Guatemala in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Oct. 21.

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Two weeks before a crucial midterm election, the US chief executive has embraced a term that can be benign or hateful depending on context and intent. “Nationalist” is not a tag President Trump has hung on himself before. It may be close in spirit to "America First" and other familiar slogans. But the president generally does not deal in “isms” and “ists” and other precise ideological suffixes. And it’s a word critics say has far-right echoes, a charge Mr. Trump appeared to implicitly acknowledge at the Houston rally Monday night at which he unfurled it. What’s changed? The president’s final approach to the 2018 midterms seems rooted in an attempt to label Democrats as the party of “them” and the GOP as “us.” His rhetorical approach on Monday deftly defined “nationalist” only as the opposite of unnamed “globalists” who put the fortunes of the whole world above those of America. And some observers say that fits with his focus on the alleged danger of a caravan of Central American immigrants moving slowly in the direction of the US-Mexican border from 1,000 miles away.

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‘Nationalist’: A president takes a mantle, then shows he means it

At a rally in Houston on Monday night President Trump used a word he said he wasn’t supposed to utter. It was an old-fashioned sort of label, he said, one he would now gladly apply to himself. The designation? “Nationalist,” Mr. Trump said.

“Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word,” said the president, as the crowd cheered and began to chant, “USA, USA!”

Two weeks before a crucial midterm election, with control of both chambers of Congress possibly at stake, the incumbent US chief executive is suddenly using a descriptive term that can be benign or hateful, uniting or divisive, democratic or authoritarian, depending on its context and the intent of the speaker.

“Nationalist,” per se, is not a tag Trump has much hung on himself before. It may be close in spirit to America First, Make America Great Again, and other familiar Trump slogans. But the president generally does not deal in “isms” and “ists” and other precise ideological suffixes.

Trump instead ascribes his ideas to his own brain and instincts, as opposed to systems of thought dreamed up by others. Plus, “nationalism” is indeed dangerous. It’s a word critics say has far-right, even fascistic echoes, a charge Trump appeared to implicitly acknowledge Monday night.

What’s changed? With days before the vote, the president’s final approach to the 2018 midterms seems rooted in an attempt to label Democrats as the party of “them” and the GOP as “us.” It fits with his focus on the alleged danger of a caravan of Central American immigrants moving slowly towards the US-Mexico border, 1,000 miles away.

And Trump’s rhetorical approach on Monday deftly defined “nationalist” only as the opposite of unnamed “globalists” who put the fortunes of the whole world above those of America. Thus he can adopt the slogan without saying exactly what it means, says Jennifer Mercieca, a historian of American political rhetoric at Texas A&M University.

“It’s very noteworthy that Trump used the word. It’s another data point in this democratic erosion, this democratic backsliding, that political scientists and historians are concerned about,” Dr. Mercieca says.

Nationalist and nationalism are indeed slippery terms. At their most basic they describe those who want independence for their own nation – Scottish nationalists want to split from the United Kingdom, for instance. The next level of definition includes a national consciousness that places one nation above all others and puts an emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to the culture and interests of other countries.

Nationalism can be a positive, even essential force in modern democracies, according to some analysts. The perception of a common national identity is important for unity in countries that depend on the willingness of citizens to pay taxes to support other citizens who they will never encounter, according to John Judis, an author and journalist who has written for Talking Points Memo and The New Republic.

The supranational initiatives of globalism, such as free trade, floating exchange rates, and the expansion of NATO, have been positive forces in the world, wrote Mr. Judis in an October opinion piece in The New York Times. But they have not really delivered as promised. The world economy is not downturn-proof, as the Great Recession painfully showed. Income growth for all but the top 1 percent remains sluggish. Rising immigration brings about a clash of cultures, as it has in centuries past.

The result: the base of support for Trump and far-right populist politicians of Europe.

“To achieve their historic objectives, liberals and social democrats will have to respond constructively to, rather than dismiss, the nationalist reaction to globalization,” wrote Judis in October.

But “state” and “nation” aren’t interchangeable terms. The former is a place unified under a government with citizenship and taxes. The latter is a place with a common culture, history, and language. That easily slides into separatist and racial or ethnic divisions.

For these and other reasons George Orwell took a dim view of nationalism. The author of “Animal Farm” and “1984” wrote that it was in part “the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects.”

Patriotism was fine, according to Orwell, and was nothing but devotion to a particular place and way of life, with no wish to force it on somebody else. But nationalism was different and more dangerous. He said that it involved identifying oneself with a single nation or idea, “placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”

On Tuesday, Trump reiterated his embrace of the term. “I’m proud of our country, and I am a nationalist,” he said while meeting with officials from Western states in the Oval Office.

“It’s a word that hasn’t been used too much. People use it. But I’m very proud. I think it should be brought back,” the president added. “I’m somebody who wants to help other countries of the world. But I also have to take care of – we have to take care of our country. We cannot continue to allow ourselves to be duped on military and also duped on trade.”

In the United States and Europe today “nationalist” is a word that far-right and white nationalist groups use to define themselves. Mercieca of Texas A&M notes that fringe right media approved of Trump’s Monday speech.

Alex Jones of Infowars loved it (“Unhinged leftists triggered after POTUS denounces globalists” read the Infowars tag line.) The Daily Stormer, a popular white nationalist publication, said that in using “nationalist” Trump had moved the nation’s Overton Window, changing what topics constitute acceptable political speech. (“He is pushing the edges of the limits,” the Stormer wrote.)

Yet Trump did not say what he believed in, so much as define himself by saying what he did not believe in, Mercieca notes. That allows for ambiguity, gives Trump deniability, and sets up flexibility for his future rhetoric.

Globalists, who put the good of the world as a whole above the good of the US? They don’t care about our country as much, Trump told rally-goers.

“We can’t have that,” the president said.

That’s when “nationalist” appeared. Nothing wrong with using it, Trump said. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK,” he said.

It’s noteworthy the president used such a polarizing word, in a polarized time, with a polarized electorate approaching a polarized vote. It’s a word that he knew has a disreputable connotation for some, which is why he said, “we’re not supposed to use it.”

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2. Flashbacks from 2016 put Democrats on notice – and on edge

Burned in 2016, many Democrats don’t trust the polls and are dogged by doubts. Will their party make big gains in the November elections, or are they misreading the electoral environment?

David

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For Democrats today, the shock of Donald Trump’s election has hardly abated. They remember the feeling of disorientation, the recriminations, the tears. They remember where they were, even what they were wearing, in the way people remember certain details of signal moments in their lives. The 2018 midterms are now two weeks away – the first opportunity since 2016 for Democrats to vote en masse against President Trump, if only by proxy. Historically, the party out of power tends to gain seats in the midterms, and Mr. Trump has a knack for antagonizing large portions of the electorate. And polls show the Democrats are well positioned to retake the House, if not the Senate, and lots of governorships. But then, for Democrats, the flashbacks to 2016 kick in. What if the polls are wrong? What if “their” voters don’t turn out? What if all those big Trump rallies in the home stretch spur massive GOP turnout? “2016 taught Democrats not to take anything for granted – and that even when it looks like it’s going your way, you’ve got to assume it’s not,” says Mo Elleithee, former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

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Flashbacks from 2016 put Democrats on notice – and on edge

Mo Elleithee remembers election night 2016 as if it were yesterday. The Democratic commentator was at Fox News headquarters in New York, watching the numbers come in and going on-air throughout the evening with other political analysts.

“We are all sitting there in the green room, in between hits, hovering around laptops and iPads, looking at returns,” says Mr. Elleithee, the former communications director at the Democratic National Committee (DNC). “There was a lot of confusion and surprise.”

Elleithee’s wife was also in New York – for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s victory party. The election would wrap up by 11:30 or so, and then he would head over and they’d hit the party circuit together. At least that was the plan.

“She was sitting at the party, texting me as the mood was changing there, and I was texting her as the mood was changing over at Fox,” says Elleithee, director of the nonpartisan Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University since 2015. “People thought, the only way we lose is if the bottom falls out. Well, the bottom fell out.”

For Democrats today, the shock of Donald Trump’s election has hardly abated. They remember the feeling of disorientation, the recriminations, the tears. They remember where they were, even what they were wearing, in the way people remember certain details of signal moments in their lives.

The 2018 midterms are now two weeks away – the first opportunity since 2016 for Democrats to vote en masse against President Trump, if only by proxy. Their party should do well. Polls show the Democrats are well-positioned to retake the House, if not the Senate, and lots of governorships. Historically, the party out of power tends to gain seats in the midterms, and Mr. Trump has a knack for antagonizing large portions of the electorate.

But then for Democrats, the flashbacks to 2016 kick in. What if the polls are wrong? What if “their” voters don’t turn out? What if all those big Trump rallies in the home stretch – this time, with the message of “Kavanaugh, caravan, and common sense” – spur massive GOP turnout?

Tightening in the polls at the end of a campaign is natural. So are pre-election jitters. But in 2018, that searing memory of two years ago has many Democrats on extra high alert, wondering if they’ve done everything possible to succeed on Nov. 6.

Some Democrats are trying to turn the temptation to freak out into a motivator.

“Remember that sick feeling the morning after the 2016 election when you second-guessed yourself & asked what else you could’ve done to prevent @realDonaldTrump’s victory?” Miami Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi tweeted last week. “You better be asking yourselves NOW what you’re going to do in these 3 weeks before NOV 6th to #SaveDemocracy.”

Elleithee sees a lot of Democrats around the country with “nervous energy” – and that’s a good thing, he says. It’s the sign of a hard lesson, taken to heart.

Steve Helber/AP
Mo Elleithee (left), shown here with former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine in 2012, was expecting to attend victory parties for Hillary Clinton with his wife in New York City on election night two years ago. He says that night “opened the eyes of a lot of Democrats about the challenges of being complacent and overconfident.”

“2016 taught Democrats not to take anything for granted, and that even when it looks like it’s going your way, you’ve got to assume it’s not,” says Elleithee, who was a spokesman for Clinton in her first presidential campaign. “That is shaking off some of the complacency that Democrats often feel.”

Millennials in tears 

Celinda Lake, a veteran Democratic pollster, has seen her share of electoral agony and ecstasy through the years – the rise of Ronald Reagan, then the turn to Bill Clinton, followed by the heartbreaking Bush v. Gore loss of 2000 and the thrill of seeing the United States elect its first African-American president.

As Election Day 2016 neared, Ms. Lake grew increasingly concerned.

“I thought Hillary would win, but I also thought it would be a lot closer than people thought,” says Lake, whose firm worked for a pro-Clinton outside group funded by independent expenditures. “I thought we were making a big mistake ignoring places like Michigan.”

On election night, Lake decided at the last minute not to travel to New York, and stayed with her staff in Washington. She’s glad she did. When Michigan went to Trump, that signaled the Democrats’ “blue wall” of the upper Midwest was crumbling. Lake knew it was over.

The Millennials were all “just so bereft,” she says. The young women, in particular, were in tears. It was especially difficult, too, for the people of color on staff.

“The Millennials were formed by the victories of the Obama years,” Lake says. “They’re not used to losing – and not used to losing to someone so horrific, by their values.”

Lake’s staff was also devastated by the media critique of pre-election polls, which had shown Clinton ahead. In fact, most of the polls were close to right: On election eve, Clinton led in national polls by an average of three percentage points, and her margin of victory in the popular vote was two percent. But for 77,744 votes cast for Trump in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, handing him victory in the Electoral College, Clinton would indeed have won.

It was some statewide polling that proved problematic in 2016, especially in key states. In Wisconsin, the final polls showed Clinton winning by an average 6.5 percent; in Michigan, Clinton was up on election eve by 3.6 points; and in Pennsylvania, she led by 2.1 points.

As even pollsters will tell you, polling is both an art and a science. There’s always a margin of error – and the possibility of an “outlier” result. Which means candidates, strategists, and the voters themselves can’t rely on polls with absolute certainty.

In recent weeks, some of the national polls pitting a generic Democrat against a generic Republican for the House have been tightening, while others show the Democratic lead comfortably within the necessary margin to retake the House. But nobody’s comfortable.

Some Democrats, like national party chair Tom Perez, have stopped using the phrase “blue wave” if only to lower expectations. A majority is a majority, no matter the margin.

“We should remember that the average wave in a midterm election is 24 seats” in the House, one seat more than Democrats need to retake the lower chamber, Lake says. “It’s definitely moving back more toward the average. I still think we’ll end up taking the House, but not with the number of seats that we were once predicting.”

Lake shares the worry of Democratic strategists everywhere – that young and minority voters won’t turn out in high enough numbers, the party’s Achilles’ Heel, especially in midterms.

“There are groups of our voters, like Millennials, that are as interested in the next protest as they are in the next election,” she warns.

But while Lake is worried, she’s not panicking. The key, she says, is to turn that nervous energy into votes.

Outside the Beltway 

Don Fowler, a former DNC chair, is watching the final weeks of the midterms unfold from his home base in Columbia, S.C. – and feeling “alarmed.” His word.

Two years ago, Mr. Fowler says, the campaign was “short on passion and emotion and pride, on pointing the way for people who were looking for inspiration.” He was worried then, but was “not as alarmed as I am now.”

Today, he says, the Democrats have no clear message – despite a president whom he describes as “an absolute profligate, paranoid liar.”

“He does things that betray a gross ignorance in foreign policy and fiscal policy and much of domestic policy, and we’ve got a whole field to attack him on, but nobody does,” says Fowler, who served as DNC chair during the Clinton administration, from 1995 to 1997. “I don’t know if they’re afraid of him, or what.”

Still, he’s hopeful about Democrats’ prospects in individual races, such as Florida’s gubernatorial and Senate races, and the governor’s race in neighboring Georgia. He even professes optimism about his native South Carolina, where he says the Democrat running to unseat Gov. Henry McMaster (R) could pull off an upset.

“We’re behind a bit now, but we have a good candidate,” says Fowler of state Rep. James Smith, in a race the Cook Political Report ranks as likely to go Republican.

Maybe the answer, then, for anxious Democrats is to focus on races close to home – races where they can have an impact on the ground. Or at least keep busy.

In Scranton, Pa., Evie Rafalko McNulty, the county recorder of deeds and a national Democratic committee-woman, is a ball of energy focused on getting out the vote on Nov. 6. She doesn’t believe 2018 will be a repeat of the previous election.

“In 2016, people were hurting, and believed Trump was change,” says Ms. McNulty. But many of the people who voted for Trump back then are unhappy with the “tax cuts for the wealthy,” she says. “They are the people I see and work with every day.”

Ask McNulty about election night two years ago, and the first thing she says is, “I even remember what I was wearing.” (For the record, she had on jeans, a white crew neck shirt, blue vest, and blue scarf. The Republican county commissioner, standing next to her at the county voter registration department, wore red – making for a patriotic combo.)

Then came the tears, when it hit her that Trump had won. “I was not crying because I was sad,” she recalls. “I was crying because, oh my God, what’s going to happen to us?”

In retrospect, the signs of lackluster enthusiasm were evident to McNulty on election eve. Even native son Joe Biden, the former vice president, wasn’t inspiring the crowds.

“Well, we see him a lot – the scrappy kid from Scranton,” she says. “It was a Sunday morning, and people were like, ‘Yeah, can’t do it.’ ”  

In Wisconsin, another critical battleground both then and now, Democratic Party chair Martha Laning says her party is doing everything it can to get its voters to turn out – and has been reaching out to voters since last year.

On election night two years ago, she was at former Sen. Russ Feingold’s watch party, where Democrats hoped to celebrate the progressive leader’s recapture of the seat he had lost six years earlier to a conservative Republican, Ron Johnson.

But “pretty early on, we knew something was really wrong,” Ms. Laning says. Senator Johnson won reelection.  

Now, she says, “We’re really committed here to running right through the finish line. Nobody will stop till 8 p.m. on Nov. 6.”

Wisconsin was also key to the 2016 election night memory of Elleithee, the former Democratic official. When Johnson was declared the winner in his Senate race, Elleithee knew the presidential election was also over. Not enough Democrats had turned out, plain and simple.

“You can’t draw a direct parallel with 2016, but I do think 2016 opened the eyes of a lot of Democrats about the challenges of being complacent and overconfident,” Elleithee says.

But, he adds, it also “awoke a positive energy – toward making sure you never take your foot off the gas.”

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Perception Gaps

Comparing what’s ‘known’ to what’s true

3. A reality check on reports of America’s partisan divide

The portrait of political division we may hold in our heads often doesn’t reflect reality. In this podcast, we explore why that perception persists and how some folks overcome it.

David

Americans aren’t as politically polarized as they think – or the media portray. Yes, the Pew Research Center found Republicans and Democrats are more divided along party lines than in any time in the past two decades. Today, 8 in 10 Democrats, as well as 8 in 10 Republicans, express an unfavorable view of the other party. But what Pew also found is that in the midst of this division and dislike of “the other side,” millions of Americans don’t hold uniformly conservative or liberal views. What’s often overlooked is that we have much more in common with the other party than we realize. Suzanne Degges-White, a professor at Northern Illinois University, says that in many ways, our allegiance to our own party comes down to a sense of belonging. “Human beings, we seek connection. That is what drives us,” she says. “We conflate political identity with certain qualities that really may not be a part of that person at all.”

To listen to “Episode 2: The Other Side,” visit our "Perception Gaps" landing page.

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4. For Iran’s women’s movement, progress is slow. But it’s progress.

Observer or participant? When assessing change, frame of reference matters. So it is with the progress of women’s rights in Iran. As one woman told us, “You don’t change a patriarchal society overnight.”

David
Vahid Salemi/AP
Iranian spectators wave the national flag at a men’s soccer game between Iran and Bolivia, at the Azadi (Freedom) Stadium, in Tehran, Oct. 16. In a rare move, authorities allowed a select group of women in.

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When Iran allowed a select group of women into Tehran’s Freedom Stadium to watch the men’s national soccer team play, some Iranian women abroad dismissed it as an inconsequential “trick.” But inside Iran, where women activists have struggled for decades for equal social rights in the face of a tradition of patriarchy, it was a sign of real, albeit slow, progress. President Hassan Rouhani has made loosening social restrictions a part of his agenda since first being elected in 2013. But political setbacks have lessened his ability to push for social changes. “There are many, many sad stories around the country, but in general women are more in power, more in charge of their lives,” says the owner of a Tehran art gallery. Sometimes the sad stories can be turned on their heads. When a gymnast was arrested for posting online videos of herself dancing, she was forced to make a televised confession of immorality. That was too far, for most. “In a society that is thirsty for heroes,” wrote the moderate son of a top cleric, “you managed to transform a once-simple dancer into a social activist, a civil campaigner, a cultural warrior, and a heroine of the new generation.”

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For Iran’s women’s movement, progress is slow. But it’s progress.

For Iran’s ever-striving women’s movement, it was a small but significant step forward: 150 female soccer fans were allowed into Tehran’s Freedom Stadium last Tuesday to watch the men’s national team beat Bolivia, 2-1.

Excited by the historic import of their presence after years of campaigning, the women draped themselves in Iranian flags and flooded social media with exuberant selfies.

The Islamic Republic has banned women from live male sporting events such as soccer and volleyball for most of its 40-year existence.

But this time, the women were provided separate seats, entrances, and bathroom facilities. Most were handpicked national-level soccer players themselves, or worked for the Iranian soccer federation.   

Savoring the moment, few left immediately after the game, and not before voluntarily cleaning up trash from their section of the stands.

“For years I passed by you [Freedom Stadium] and you were just a big question mark,” wrote the actress Nafiseh Roshan on her Instagram page. “What a special feeling to watch football in your country’s best stadium!”

Outside Iran, that benchmark may appear inconsequential, and has even been dismissed by some Iranian women abroad as a “trick” orchestrated by officials to give the appearance of loosening of social rules, while a crackdown and arrests continue.

Slow but deliberate progress

But inside Iran, where women activists have struggled for decades for equal social rights and respect in the face of a tradition of patriarchy – never mind strict social rules since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which require women to cover their hair and mask the shape of their bodies, among other restrictions – entry to the stadium for a live game was the latest sign of slow but deliberate progress.

“There are many, many sad stories around the country, but in general women are more in power, more in charge of their lives,” says Nazila Noebashari, an art gallery owner in central Tehran.

“It hasn’t been easy for Iranian women. But we have also done extraordinary things, all of us,” says Ms. Noebashari. She notes relative progress on laws, on the number of women now serving as local and district officials and in parliament, and how female university students far outnumber males.

“You don’t change a patriarchal society overnight; it’s been centuries of women in dark corners, abused and abandoned even,” says Noebashari. “But now everything has changed and there is no going back. More and more we see independent women ... pushing ahead and all kinds of good stories – and also bad ones.”

President Hassan Rouhani has made loosening social restrictions a popular part of his declared agenda since first being elected in 2013. He has criticized over-zealous gasht-e ershad morality police patrols, for example, for “holding onto people’s collars on the streets,” stating that is “not the right way of instructing virtue.”

But in Iran social change is inextricably tied to the vertiginous oscillations of politics, which often pit hard-line officials and clerics against reform-minded politicians and activists. Mr. Rouhani is already under siege by political opponents for failing to improve the economy as he promised after Iran agreed to the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and one result is that many social changes have barely been tangible.

‘Your skin becomes thicker’

“Many taboos are being broken, but we’re far from ideal,” says Shahrzad Hemmati, a journalist from the reformist Shargh newspaper who writes about women’s issues.

“We should not depend on [Rouhani’s] government, because government is involved in a fight themselves,” she says. “This is part of it, to be arrested, detained. This is part of history to stand, to be strong. There is a saying in Persian that ‘your skin becomes thicker,’ like a rhinoceros.”

Still, women’s activists have had the support of several female members of Parliament. The MPs joined the activists in June, sitting on the track at Freedom Stadium to ensure that women – after a noisy public fight – were allowed in to watch on video screens as Iran’s national soccer team played World Cup matches in Russia.

“This is progress, but we can’t say a huge circle is opening before us,” says Ms. Hemmati. “Everything we do with civil rights is political in Iran. They treat us like these are anti-man, anti-religious things. Even when you see good and positive steps are taken, other roads are closed.”

Lawmaker Parvaneh Salahshouri, from the president’s “Hope” faction, speaks proudly of her role producing the “empowering women” elements of Iran’s 6th five-year development plan, put forward in March 2017, which dealt with family issues and promoted women in the workforce. She notes a doubling of women in official positions across the board, from local and municipal posts to national office in recent years and says change should be “constant and steady.”

“Women are not that limited or under pressure as [outsiders] say,” says Ms. Salahshouri. “They can go anywhere they want. They can study. There are women entrepreneurs. They can express their demands more explicitly and freely. The image they try to create of an Iranian woman [abroad] is totally different from one who comes to Iran and witnesses it with their own eyes.”

From dancer to cultural warrior

Still, there is no shortage of bad-news headlines for the women’s movement. A young Iranian gymnast, Maedeh Hojabri, was arrested over the summer for posting online videos of herself dancing, for example. She was forced to confess to creating “immoral” videos on state-run television, in an episode that was widely condemned, even by hard-liners.

The arrest and confession ended up backfiring.

“That was such a miracle!” wrote Mohsen Bayat Zanjani, the moderate son of a top cleric, in an online post. “In a society that is thirsty for heroes, you managed to transform a once-simple dancer into a social activist, a civil campaigner, a cultural warrior, and a heroine of the new generation.”

Since mid-2017, women protesting mandatory hijab rules by taking part in a so-called #WhiteWednesday campaign – in which they take off their head coverings and hold white headscarves on sticks above their heads – have been arrested one after another.

“The regime is okay with these [protest] campaigns because it is easy to identify people, detain them, and make them afraid to protest again,” says a veteran male journalist who asked not to be named. “You see some campaigns born, then they are no more.”

But videotape of those incidents, as well as footage of morality police squads aggressively challenging reasonably clothed Iranian women, sparked outrage. One event last April went viral.

Actress Taraneh Alidoosti, star of the Oscar-winning film “The Salesman” who has 5.3 million followers on Twitter, echoed many when she wrote of the incident: “Clawing on a woman’s hair and headscarf is not ‘guidance,’ holding the necks of girls for your values is not guidance, it is savagery. This is the ‘patrol of stifling, bullying and barbarism.’ ”

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
A shop owner in Tehran works beneath a yellow sign created by the @HarassWatch campaign by Iranian women activists to tell men that harassing women is a "crime" under Islamic law, and that women should be respected, Sept. 21, 2018.

Still, such popular reactions are progress for Iran’s women’s movement. As is one anti-harassment campaign that has taken root, concurrent with the #MeToo movement in the West.

Yellow posters are taped to the walls of restaurants, clothes shops, juice bars, and in underground train stations and in taxis, reminding men that harassing women is a “crime” under Islamic law, and that they should “respect other citizens’ rights.”

Don't be an onlooker

The @harasswatch webpage includes a map of Iran, with each incident of reported harassment marked. These “shared wounds indicate that we should move together” to improve sensitivity, it says.

One poster even shows morality police trying to detain a woman, with the words: “When a lady is being abused, don’t only be an onlooker.”

“People’s views have changed ... and the way people fight has changed; they have the media in their hands,” says journalist Hemmati, who says the poster campaign is especially effective at raising awareness.

“If the morality police arrested you before, girls were so worried that their parents would find out. Now if they are arrested, the parents take flowers to their daughters,” she says. People on the street also actively try to intervene, to prevent arrests – and cheer when people are let go.

Hard-line officials “can’t stop people from thinking and becoming enlightened,” says Hemmati. “The change is cutting through the heart of society, and nobody can stop it.”

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5. In Alamo redesign, renewed battles over who gets to tell the stories of Texas

The Alamo is a potent symbol and historic battleground. But in redesigning the famous Texas fortress and mission, there’s a controversial push to tell a more nuanced truth.

David
Eric Gay/AP/File
Participants wait to reenact the delivery of Alamo Cmdr. William Travis’s 1836 'Victory or Death' letter in San Antonio in 2016. Today, a redevelopment project aims to make the area more 'reverent': closing the area to traffic, and re-creating the original mission footprint.

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Since it was built 300 years ago, the Alamo has been a study in change. A Catholic mission that became a fort, then a ruin, then a military depot, and then a grocery store, before eventually becoming the museum the world knows today, the site is about to enter another period of profound change. After a years-long public debate, officials in San Antonio are forging ahead with a multimillion-dollar plan to redesign the site. The aim is to restore the original mission footprint, replacing vehicle traffic and garish businesses with a new museum and a more “reverent” space that details the history of the area beyond the legendary 1836 battle. “This is a complex story. Even our heroes are flawed,” says Roberto Treviño, a San Antonio city councilor. “I think it’s a time to show that.” The plan has been fiercely criticized, however, provoking accusations of a lack of transparency and larger concerns that the story of the battle will be marginalized. The Alamo “was the only mission that witnessed an epic battle. Why discount that? Why downplay the battle? And why rob the Alamo of its distinctiveness?” says Stephen Hardin, a historian.

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In Alamo redesign, renewed battles over who gets to tell the stories of Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas, they say. Everything except the Alamo, that is.

The Spanish Mission-turned-fort was about three times its current size when “Texian” revolutionaries died defending it in 1836. All that remains is a chapel, the first floor of a long barrack, and gardens full of live oak trees. 

As the ruins were repurposed to a military depot, then a grocery store, and now a museum, San Antonio has filled the vacant space. The Alamo Plaza is now a place where history and modernity battle for attention. Souvenir t-shirts are sold next to 18th century Native American lodgings. William Travis, the commander of the Alamo, died near what is now a Guinness World Records museum. The Texians mounted their biggest cannon near a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. 

But that could soon change as well, as local and state government officials are forging ahead with a sweeping redesign of the Alamo Plaza that was approved last week.

An overarching goal of the redevelopment, known formally as the Alamo Master Plan, is to display the history of the site beyond the legendary siege and battle. The plan also aims to make the area more “reverent” – it wants to close the area to traffic, build a new museum, and recreate the original mission footprint, among other things. 

But given the scope of the changes – and the historical, cultural, and emotional weight of the Alamo itself – the multimillion-dollar Master Plan has ignited an impassioned debate over how the story of Texas’s creation myth should be told, and what (and how) other stories should be told with it. The plan’s proponents hope the redesigned Alamo will provide a broader history that better encapsulates the state’s diversity and complexity. Critics are hoping that certain stories don’t get buried in the process.

A century ago, the debate was over whether to preserve the Alamo at all. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) won that “second battle of the Alamo.” Now the third battle of the Alamo is being fought, says Frank de la Teja, a history professor at Texas State University in San Marcos.

“What does the place represent? We’ve decided it’s worth salvaging, but what do we salvage it for?” he adds. “It’s an ongoing process of resolving these cultural conflicts, and the Alamo represents that at this moment.”

History overlooked

One thing practically everyone agrees on is that Alamo Plaza as it’s composed right now distracts from the Alamo itself. Even on a cold, rainy afternoon last week there was some evidence of that. 

A steady stream of cars and buses drove by as tourists walked around, taking selfies and reading plaques. A few suited businessmen passed through as well. Three Jehovah’s Witnesses stood near a bandstand as “You Can’t Hurry Love” by Phil Collins drifted out of the Odditorium. At one section, tourists and locals walk between the Plaza and the popular San Antonio River Walk. 

Few notice that the area doubles as an exhibit for the small quarters Native Americans lived in during the 18th century Mission era, with small stacks of adobe bricks from the original buildings surrounding a sign describing the history. Around the Plaza are several white-paint markings highlighting the original Mission footprint and its history. Outside the iconic Alamo chapel, near a cart renting audio tour guides, are the words “Known Burial Grounds.”

“People know the Alamo before they know San Antonio,” says Roberto Treviño, a city councilor who has been working on the redesign process since 2014. “But there are generations of people who don’t fully know the stories at the Alamo. That’s at heart of what we’re trying to do.”

Some pivotal historical events aren’t mentioned anywhere. Two businessmen used the Plaza in 1876 for the first ever demonstration of barbed wire, which would go on to transform the American West. In 1960, the Woolworth’s lunch counter across from the Alamo became one of the first businesses in the city to desegregate.

“What happened [at the Woolworth] had more impact on my generation than what happened at the battle of the Alamo,” says Sarah Gould, a historian and director of the planned Museo del Westside in San Antonio.

A battle ‘diluted’?

Broadening the views and perspectives in Texas history is something officials and academics in the state have been working on for a while, and the Alamo is no exception. Details of the pre-colonial and Mission history of the site, as well as some of its 20th century history and the DRT’s restoration work, have been added in recent years.

But the Master Plan aims to broaden Alamo history to a degree that makes many people uncomfortable. More inclusive, equitable history is good, some argue, but an exception should be made for a site as popular and iconic as the Alamo.

Specifically, people are concerned that the redesigned Alamo will downplay the 1836 battle. Those fears have coalesced into vociferous opposition to one feature of the plan: moving the Cenotaph – a 60-foot-tall concrete and marble monument erected in 1940 to memorialize the defenders – 500 feet south and outside the mission footprint. 

Descendants have said that moving the Cenotaph would be like digging up their ancestors. But some see something more.

The Alamo “was the only mission that witnessed an epic battle. Why discount that? Why downplay the battle? And why rob the Alamo of its distinctiveness?” says Stephen Hardin, a history professor at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.“They are not trying to reimagine the Alamo,” he adds. “What they want to do is redefine the Alamo.”

Lee Spencer White – founder and president of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, who opposes moving the Cenotaph – says she supports telling a more diverse story at the Alamo, but that she wants the story of the 1836 battle to receive the greatest emphasis.

“The 1836 battle is the defining moment in that site, whether you like it or not, whether you think it’s fair or not,” she adds.“You don’t need to take away the [1836] defenders in order to tell the other stories,” she continues. “I don’t want that diluted.”

‘Cultural memory’

To be sure, it is because of the 1836 battle that the Alamo is a world-famous tourist destination. But scholars argue that visitors are likely more familiar with the romantic myth of the Alamo than the actual history.

In his 2002 book, Richard Flores, a University of Texas anthropologist, writes that the Alamo is seen in “cultural memory … those aspects of memory that exist outside of official historical discourse, yet are ‘entangled’ with them.” 

In 1905, the DRT began to restore the Alamo site, making it a shrine to the 1836 defenders. Since then the story of the siege has predominated. Dime novels and films like John Wayne’s “The Alamo” reinforced the narrative of heroic white frontiersmen like Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett falling to a Mexican horde.

But while that narrative has inspired and empowered some, it has alienated and disturbed others, much like other conflicts over controversial histories.

Several critics of moving the Cenotaph, for example, pointed out that Councilman Treviño led a successful effort to remove a Confederate statue in the city. Others note that the mother of former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro told The New York Times Magazine that as a Mexican-American child “I got the message – we were losers,” and that “I hate [the Alamo] and everything it stands for.”

That sentiment is not uncommon among Mexican-Americans in Texas. Dr. Flores opens his book with the story of his third-grade field trip to the Alamo, where a classmate taunted him “and the other ‘mes’kins’ ” for killing the 1836 defenders.

“Stories of the past,” he writes, “inscribe our present and shape our future.”

“As a myth of origin,” he adds, the Alamo “construes social actors in the present through a story that assures clear divisions between winners and losers, Anglos and Mexicans, Self and Other.”

Telling more stories that help break down those divisions created by the Alamo myth is “exactly what we need right now,” says Treviño.

“We can tell stories without making any one group of people feel like they’re villains,” he adds. “This is a complex story. Even our heroes are flawed, and I think it’s a time to show that humanity is complex.” 

The prospect of telling those stories in a redeveloped Alamo Plaza took a big step forward with the city council vote last week – moving the Cenotaph was one of the sections approved – but the criticisms and controversies are unlikely to go away.

 “How do you recognize that all of these issues are at play even while you’re recognizing the [battle] that happened there?” says Dr. de la Teja, from Texas State University.

“Hopefully,” he adds, “it can be done to the acceptance, maybe not the satisfaction, of the parties concerned.”

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Keeping Italy in Europe’s nest

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This week, for the first time, European Union leaders had to demand that a member state cut its spending or face severe fines. Italy said no. The standoff spooked the markets. As Europe’s fourth-largest economy, Italy has the potential to bring down the 19-nation currency, the euro, and to trigger a new financial crisis in Europe. The contest of wills (and economic theories) could play out further. It may influence European elections in May. Yet the political head-knocking between Brussels and Rome has some powerful examples of solutions that could help end it. Four other EU members – Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain – suffered greatly between 2010 and 2015 but are now on the road to recovery. Each mustered the patience and stamina to accept austerity, new taxes, and other measures. Each came to appreciate the stabilizing support of the EU’s single market and the euro. The EU’s unprecedented rebuke of Italy shows a confidence learned from the relative success of those nations. Europe’s increasing unity, although frayed by tensions with Britain, Poland, and others, relies on members learning from the best practices of others. 

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Keeping Italy in Europe’s nest

Financial markets took a dive on Tuesday, in part because of investor worries that the world’s largest economy, the European Union, may sink if it fails to deal with red ink. For the first time in its history, EU leaders had to demand that a member state, Italy, cut its spending or face severe fines. Rome replied no.

The standoff spooked the markets. As Europe’s fourth-largest economy, Italy has the potential to bring down the 19-nation single currency, the euro. Its public debt is the third highest in the world. And its banks, shaky from owning too many government bonds, could trigger a new financial crisis in Europe.

On one side, a new left-right populist coalition in Rome insists on trying to revive a weak economy by hiking spending, such as a plan to give about $900 a month to poor families. The EU along with investors insists on spending cuts to show Italy can pay off its debts and not jeopardize the rest of Europe.

The contest of wills (and economic theories) could play out into December and perhaps influence European elections in May. Yet solutions offered by powerful examples could help end the political head-knocking between Brussels and Rome.  Four other EU members that suffered greatly during the 2010-2014 eurozone crisis are now on the road to recovery and have a handle on their high debt.

The four are known as the “PIGS” – Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain. Each had to muster the patience and stamina to accept austerity, new taxes, and other measures to achieve economic growth. They also came to appreciate the support of the EU’s single market and the euro, two achievements in postwar Europe that provide stability and prosperity.

The EU’s unprecedented rebuke of Italy’s budget and its demand for fiscal discipline show a confidence learned from the relative success of the PIGS. Europe’s increasing unity, although frayed by tensions with Britain, Poland, and others, relies on members learning from the best practices of others. A continent once at war must learn to keep the peace by sharing the highest ideals.

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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.

A Soul-filled life

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Today’s contributor, a lifelong Aretha Franklin fan, shares how a deeper look at what it means to express Soul freed her from recurring bouts of stage fright.

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A Soul-filled life

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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As a lifelong fan of Aretha Franklin, I’ve spent some time the past couple of months reflecting on her large body of work. One of my favorite moments was when she graciously served as a last-minute substitute for her friend Luciano Pavarotti in a performance at the 1998 Grammy Awards. She sang one of his signature performance pieces: “Nessun Dorma,” from Puccini’s opera “Turandot.” Part of what touched me about that performance was that Ms. Franklin unapologetically sang it her way – she made it her own.

Each day we are presented with opportunities to approach challenges and even the mundane in a way that expresses our individuality. As I strive to learn more about how to express myself, I’ve appreciated something I’ve learned in Christian Science: that we all have something specific and valuable to contribute, and that the basis for this is our relation to God.

Christian Science uses “Soul” as a synonym for God, the source of everyone’s identity. This identity is not based on a physical body or limited by genetic predisposition, but rather is spiritual: We are the expression of Soul itself, made to express qualities such as beauty, harmony, and joy.

I also like to think of identity in the way that Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science and founder of this newspaper, writes about it in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal” (p. 70). She also writes in her work “Retrospection and Introspection,” “Each individual must fill his own niche in time and eternity” (p. 70).

Understanding our unique identity as the spiritual expression of divine Soul can set us free from limitations we may face. Several years ago, I was in Italy preparing to sing in an evening concert of sacred music. Just before the start of the concert, the power went out all over town. Only half of the singers had arrived, and the other half were now unable to get there in time. Also, the organ, which was to accompany us, required electricity to work. Even though we had a full house, it looked as though we might not be able to proceed with the concert.

Since I didn’t have as much experience as some of the other singers, I had felt insecure and had experienced bouts of stage fright in previous performances. Sometimes during these episodes my voice would barely manage to eke out the melody! I’d been left feeling embarrassed and frustrated, and it would make it harder to sing the next time. So imagine my surprise when I found myself telling the concert organizer that I could sing my piece a cappella and lead the other singers present in an impromptu song in order to buy some time!

She gratefully accepted my offer. Now I had to make good on it!

I took a moment to cherish and mentally affirm the presence and goodness of infinite Soul, God. I thought about how I, and everyone else, could never be separated from divine Soul. I felt enveloped in a sense of God’s love for me and everyone, instead of feeling nervous or anxious.

When I opened my mouth to sing, I wasn’t thinking of the mechanics of singing, but simply pouring out my love and gratitude for God, Soul. Gone were the thoughts of fear that had seemed to overshadow and restrict my expression of my true identity as God’s beloved daughter. My voice was strong and pure, and the singing felt effortless. I was so grateful, and deeply moved.

I then invited the other singers present to join me in the famous gospel piece “This Little Light of Mine.” As we were singing the last verse, the power came back on! The other singers were able to get to the venue, and the concert continued uninterrupted.

I was tempted to feel stage fright again only one other time during that trip to Italy. Instead of feeling powerless, though, I mentally expressed gratitude to God for the opportunity to express Him with joy and freedom. That crippling sense of stage fright has never returned. The experience continues to be an important touchstone in my life for understanding more about God as Soul, and my identity as Soul’s spiritual reflection.

Everyone can be free to express their spiritual individuality as Soul’s beloved child in any endeavor, and live a Soul-filled life.

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Viewfinder

Skyward

Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
Children fly a kite along the dry bed of Lyari River in Karachi, Pakistan.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 24th, 2018 )

David Clark Scott
Editor & product manager

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow: We’re working on a story about the large caravan of Central American immigrants traveling north.

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