2019
October
03
Thursday

In today’s Daily, our five stories offer a broader perspective on President Donald Trump’s Ukraine dealings, Rust Belt puzzlement at talk of an economic slowdown, an examination of what political contrition truly looks like, Canada’s mixed messages on climate change, and the women authors who are changing African history, one book at a time. 

But first, a story so moving we couldn’t ignore it.

The woman in front of Brandt Jean had killed his brother. She had walked into his brother’s apartment, thinking it was her own, and shot the black man as he ate ice cream. Outside the courtroom came chants of “no justice, no peace” over the 10-year sentence given to the off-duty white police officer.

But Mr. Jean asked to give Amber Guyger a hug. “I love you just like anyone else. I’m not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did, but I personally want the best for you,” he said. “I know that’s exactly what [my brother] Botham would want … and the best would be, give your life to Christ.”

The act harked back to the forgiveness shown to a white supremacist who shot nine black congregants of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. And it underlines the extraordinary and unbroken line of grace in the African American church – a tradition rooted in everything African Americans have endured since slavery, historian Jemar Tisby told The Washington Post.

He points to civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who said, “Ain’t no such a thing as I can hate anybody and hope to see God’s face.”

But how often is this grace given in the other direction? Mr. Tisby says it often seems black people are “never extended that same grace in the public mind.”

Yesterday’s scenes point to lessons from the black church that are universal, as well as blessings that are limited only by how often they are bestowed. 

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1. Diplomacy is in part transactional. How is Trump’s different?

Foreign relations are, on one level, fundamentally about getting what a country wants. But President Donald Trump’s patterns of behavior show another motive as well – getting what he wants personally.

Mark

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Pursuing a transactional foreign policy that relegates notions of American values such as human rights and democratic governance to the rear while favoring interests such as security and prosperity is nothing new.

Think Nixon to China – or even President Donald Trump overlooking Kim Jong Un’s extreme human rights violations against his own people in the interest of ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Trump declared his preference for transactional diplomacy before he became president. Candidate Trump spoke of striking better trade deals and getting more bucks for America’s defense alliances. It intensified when he named former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson his first secretary of state.

So why is that approach now a problem?

“All diplomacy in some respects is transactional,” says Bruce Jentleson, a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “But Donald Trump is transactional in a way that is not so much about what’s good for American interests, it’s what’s good for Donald Trump personally and financially – and in the case of Ukraine, what’s good for Donald Trump’s personal political interests.”

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Diplomacy is in part transactional. How is Trump’s different?

At one point in the now-famous July 25 White House phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the young Ukrainian president shares a bit of information that seemed sure to go over well with his interlocutor: When last in the United States, he lodged in one of Mr. Trump’s properties.

“I stayed in New York near Central Park, and I stayed at the Trump Tower,” Mr. Zelenskiy says.

It’s a tidbit in a conversation, as detailed in a summary of the call released by the White House, that in other regards may determine the fortunes of an American president.

It’s Mr. Trump’s response to the Ukrainian leader’s request for additional arms to battle a menacing Russia – “I’d like to ask you a favor, though,” he says, before pressing Mr. Zelenskiy to deliver dirt on potential 2020 political rival Joe Biden – that lies at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the president.

But at the same time, Mr. Zelenskiy’s mention of his use of Trump properties underscores both the transactional nature of Mr. Trump’s personal brand of diplomacy – and how world leaders have learned the ropes of currying favor with the “Art of the Deal” U.S. leader.

It may also suggest how what analysts say is Mr. Trump’s tendency to see America’s relations with the world not just in transactional terms, but about him personally, has gotten his presidency in trouble.

“All diplomacy in some respects is transactional, but Donald Trump is transactional in a way that is not so much about what’s good for American interests, it’s what’s good for Donald Trump personally and financially – and in the case of Ukraine, what’s good for Donald Trump’s personal political interests,” says Bruce Jentleson, a professor of political science and international relations at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

“The presidents I’ve worked for didn’t like the term ‘transactionalism’ because it sounds too values-free,” adds Professor Jentleson, who served in the State Department under presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. “That’s what makes Donald Trump very different from any other president.”

Trade-offs are nothing new

Pursuing a foreign policy that relegates notions of American values such as human rights and democratic governance to the rear while favoring interests such as national security, domestic prosperity, and big-power relations is nothing new. Think Richard Nixon to China – or even Mr. Trump overlooking Kim Jong Un’s extreme human rights violations against his own people in the interest of ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

“Transactional diplomacy is practiced on the basis of ‘I don’t care about human rights abuses, I don’t want to muddy things up by insisting on American values, I just want the deal I want,’” says Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts.

“I think our realpolitik friends would be comfortable with that,” he adds.

For Professor Jentleson, it’s about the pragmatic but often necessary “trade-offs” that diplomats make to get things done.

“Look at Henry Kissinger with China; we agreed to reduce our relations with Taiwan in exchange for formal relations with the bigger and more important global power,” he says.

More recently, President Obama traded sanctions relief for Iran’s entry into a nuclear deal that removed the imminent threat of an Iranian breakout as a nuclear-armed country. (Some would also point out that Mr. Obama – shamefully to some eyes – ignored grassroots anti-regime demonstrations in Iran in 2009 in the interest of reaching a nuclear deal.)

Attention to a Trump style of transactional diplomacy started during the 2016 campaign, when Mr. Trump the candidate spoke of striking better trade deals and getting more bucks for America’s defense alliances. And it intensified when President Trump named former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson his first secretary of state.

“What Trump wants in return”

But for the Fletcher School’s Professor Drezner, none of that necessarily portended Mr. Trump’s particular brand of transactional diplomacy.

“What’s different under Trump,” says Mr. Drezner, “is not that there’s an asking for something in return, but rather, as the Ukrainian president has learned, that what Trump wants in return has to do with Trump.”

Another example of this surfaced last month when it was revealed that Mr. Trump used a recent phone call with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to press for information that could assist Attorney General William Barr in his probe aimed at discrediting the Mueller investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 elections.

Responding to reports of Mr. Trump’s efforts to enlist Australia’s assistance in Mr. Barr’s investigation, an Australian government spokesman confirmed both the phone call and Mr. Morrison’s “readiness” to “help shed further light on the matters under investigation.”

Those comments resulted in a political firestorm in Australia – and by this week Mr. Morrison appeared to backtrack, saying that providing a foreign government with Australia’s diplomatic communications “would be a very unusual thing to do.”

“Australia would never do anything that would prejudice our national interest,” Mr. Morrison said in a TV interview.

Impact on U.S. diplomats

One question now is how the revelations of Mr. Trump’s personal diplomatic efforts and his pressuring of foreign leaders to deliver for him personally could affect U.S. foreign policy.

For some, the biggest impact is likely to be on the career diplomats whose job it is to develop and implement policy – but who now see their efforts sidelined.

“If you’re an expert in a country or on a particular issue and you prepare briefs that time and again the president never reads, after a while you start wondering, ‘What value am I contributing?’” says Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration who is now a senior fellow in defense and national security policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Seeing the president’s personal priorities crowd out efforts at policymaking based on professional assessments “demoralizes the people who have spent their lives trying to do the right thing for our country,” he says.

At the same time, other countries’ leaders are likely to operate with the U.S. on the assumption that the only guy who really matters is the president himself.

“If I’m country X or Y and I have important issues to take up with the United States, am I going to pay any attention to the [U.S.] ambassador or the chief of mission when I know the president makes up his own policy?” Mr. Korb says.

Pragmatism, and caution

Of course pragmatic world leaders, from Germany’s Angela Merkel to Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador, are going to continue working with the U.S. of President Trump. Even as the impeachment inquiry consumes Washington and embroils the State Department of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in domestic politics, countries still need relations with the world’s largest economy and greatest military power.

But those relations – and any White House phone calls that take place as part of those relations – are likely to be undertaken more carefully now, some foreign policy analysts say.

“While it’s unrealistic to just not deal with Trump and his team, countries will be even more wary about his requests and more resistant to his pressures,” says Duke University’s Professor Jentleson. At the same time, he says, world leaders are going to pursue pragmatic relations with the Trump administration, working under the assumption that Mr. Trump could certainly win his reelection bid next year.

He cites Australia as an example – noting that Prime Minister Morrison happily accepted a state dinner at the White House last month that highlighted the U.S.-Australia alliance, even as he ramped up military relations with China by welcoming a Chinese navy port call in Sydney.

“What we see there is a leader trying to be responsive to the things Trump gets worked up over,” he says, “even as he generally goes about pursuing his country’s interests.”

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2. Wisconsin manufacturing hub asks, ‘what factory recession?’

Economics shapes politics, but as talk of a slowdown grows, people in one Rust Belt state crucial to the presidential election aren’t seeing it.

Mark
Barry Adams/Wisconsin State Journal/AP/File
James Johnson builds a spike-tooth harrow at McFarlane Manufacturing in Sauk City, Wisconsin, on Sept. 27, 2017. Facing a tight labor supply, General Manager Todd Lassanske says he has worked to cultivate loyalty and flexible skills in his staff.

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After two years of strong economic growth, the outlook here in Wisconsin’s Sauk County is softening. Total jobs are down a bit from last year. Some businesses have lost orders due to rising tariffs. Ed White, executive director of the Sauk County Development Corp. in Baraboo, says there’s “a little bit of angst.” 

Yet, amid headlines about a U.S. manufacturing sector essentially in recession – with one key index of factory activity showing two straight months of decline – Sauk County also provides a counterpoint. 

For many companies in this factory hub not far from Madison, the biggest problem isn’t too few orders, it’s too few workers. “Help wanted” signs abound. McFarlane Manufacturing, which makes farm-tillage equipment, is due to receive its first robot soon, to improve the quality and speed of the current workforce. 

“We struggle to get folks,” says Todd Lassanske, general manager. But “that’s a good challenge for us as employers.” 

How things play out will be important politically as well as economically, since factory-oriented states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania could be pivotal in the 2020 election.

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Wisconsin manufacturing hub asks, ‘what factory recession?’

It’s not the worst of times in Sauk County, Wisconsin. It may even be the best of times in this bucolic mix of dairy farms and vacation homes, factory workers and professionals.

But after two years of strong economic growth, the outlook here in this battleground county in a battleground state is softening.

“Plateauing,” says Kurt Muchow, a community development consultant for Wisconsin municipalities. 

“A little bit of angst,” says Ed White, executive director of the Sauk County Development Corp. in Baraboo. 

And a little bit of mystery, too. After strong job growth in President Donald Trump’s first two years, 2019 is proving to be the year of the slowdown nationally, due to the trade war with China and the fading of the stimulus from tax cuts. The weak employment growth is particularly noticeable in the blue-collar industries in the states most hotly contested in the 2016 presidential election. Of the 10 states with the tightest election margins, four states are on track to lose goods-producing jobs this year if current trends continue and two others will see growth in those industries cut by 75% or more.

Such losses are not a big deal in, say, North Carolina, because growth in service jobs is so strong. In the factory-oriented states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the loss of goods-producing jobs should be setting off alarm bells for a president who won office by appealing to many of those blue-collar workers, winning these states by razor-thin margins.

Nationwide now, the manufacturing sector is essentially in recession. Factory activity dropped to 47.8 last month from 49.1 the prior month, the sharpest drop in the index of the Institute for Supply Management in a decade. Any reading under 50 signifies a contraction in manufacturing. 

The mystery is that in Sauk County, at least, economic alarm bells don’t seem to be ringing.

Located near Madison, the state capital, and about a two-hour drive west of Milwaukee, this county has for the past year seen its overall job count stagnate at a level a few hundred jobs below prior-year figures. (The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t break down county data by industry.) Out of an employment base of some 34,000 that’s not much. And the preliminary figure for August shows a jump of 300 jobs over the previous August. 

Normally, shrinking or stagnant employment signals economic distress. But here in Sauk County, business is still so good that statistics of decline come as a shock to local leaders. “There must be some anomaly,” says Peter Vedro, chairman of the county board of supervisors. “Sauk County is doing exceptionally well.”

“Now hiring”

There are some chinks in the armor: A foundry in Reedsburg is being bought out. Chinese tariffs have hurt sales for a local specialty hardwood mill and dairy processors. But for many companies in Wisconsin, the biggest problem isn’t too few orders, it’s too few workers.

“We have pretty much tapped out the labor market,” says Steve Deller, an economist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We have companies that are saying that that’s causing part of the slowdown. It’s a bottleneck.”

“Now hiring” signs are everywhere. In Reedsburg, the county’s fastest-growing community, the AAM foundry has posted three at a busy intersection at the corner of its plant, offering starting pay of $16 an hour and a $100 bonus for workers who sign up for the second or third shift. In the industrial park nearby, Primex Plastics has a big hiring sign at an intersection 100 yards before one reaches its plant. In an empty lot of the park, Hartje Tire & Service Center has put up a bright green sign for a farm and truck tire technician, even though its shop is nine miles away in LaValle, Wisconsin.

The labor market is getting tighter and changing tires is hard work, says the company’s co-CEO, Connie Hartje. “That’s why we put the sign out there [by factories]. Not everyone wants to work that hard.” The company is so stretched servicing current customers, it can’t drum up new business, she adds.

Companies are finding various ways to cope. In the past year, Seats Inc. in Reedsburg, which makes seating for everything from fire trucks and boats to locomotives, has opened facilities in Iowa and Kansas, avoiding the local labor crunch. “Our colleagues and I were a little bit stunned,” says Mr. Vedro of the county board, “because this seemed to be a done deal before it got to me.”

McFarlane Manufacturing, which makes farm-tillage equipment, is due to receive its first robot on Halloween. “We struggle to get folks,” says Todd Lassanske, general manager. But “that’s a good challenge for us as employers.” He has worked to make the workforce more flexible and the company more transparent about its financial situation to increase company loyalty. The robot, he adds, won’t take away jobs, but instead improve the quality and speed of the current workforce.

A robot to brush their backs

The move to robotics isn’t confined to manufacturing.

Farmer Greg Lohr has a new steel barn, where one hired man supervises four robots that milk 230 cows a day. He says he had to make the debt-financed switch because good help was hard to find and keep. It was either sell the farm or move to robots.

The new facility is something of a shock. Cows lie in stalls covered with sand worthy of a California beach. They choose when they get milked, and even have a robot to brush their backs on demand. And Mr. Lohr says they produce 10% to 15% more milk than they did under the old system.

It’s hard to say how all this plays out for Wisconsin in next year’s presidential race. 

“We’ve had exceptionally low unemployment for several years now, so that’s a good reason for people to feel positive about the economy,” says Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, a closely watched survey of public opinion in Wisconsin. But “when we look at the future expectations, the drop in 2019 is extremely striking.”

Coming out of the Great Recession, more Wisconsin residents felt positive about the future than negative. And under President Trump, they grew even more optimistic – in all, 42 straight Marquette polls with no net negatives. That changed this year with the latest August poll showing 26% of residents think things will get better; 37% expect they’ll get worse.

If Wisconsin loses manufacturing jobs this year – some 8,000, if current trends continue – it could hurt the president next year, because that would undercut one of his key campaign promises in 2016, says Mr. Franklin.

But if the job losses remain small, overworked and understaffed companies in places like Sauk County might not even notice.

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3. Why Virginia isn't writing off Northam. Forgiveness is ‘part of our DNA.’

This next story touches on grace, too. In Virginia, a governor’s racist mistake has brought to light what really matters: Is he sincere, and is he honestly trying to make African Americans’ lives better?

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The discovery of a racist photo in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook last February caused a nationwide uproar. Two men were pictured – one in blackface, the other in Ku Klux Klan robes.

Yet Mr. Northam weathered the storm, and has spent the months since with his head down, focusing on his job. His political survival speaks in part to his willingness to learn and his constituents’ capacity to forgive. As politicians such as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ask forgiveness for their own blackface scandals, some say Mr. Northam’s path offers a model to follow.

After promising to spend his two remaining years in office promoting racial equity, he has created advisory boards on racial issues and taken steps to remove Confederate monuments. He has also spent time meeting with black leaders on a statewide reconciliation tour. Skeptics questioned his motives, but many African Americans say they find his reforms authentic.

“That’s a part of our DNA,” says Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck. “We talk about forgiveness. We took it all in stride, because that’s who we are.”

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Why Virginia isn't writing off Northam. Forgiveness is ‘part of our DNA.’

Virginia state Del. Delores McQuinn was with Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam the night the racist photo surfaced last February. A member of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, she was shocked that the man she had helped elect two years earlier once wore blackface. But while she expected him to resign, she advised against it.

“It is not time to retreat,” Ms. McQuinn says she told him. “It is time to teach. This is a moment to turn this pain for all of us into something different.”

Her words must have stuck.

Six months later, the white governor received standing ovations from a mostly black crowd, including some who had called for him to step down. As he marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves in August, Governor Northam addressed Virginia’s contradictory history with racism – and by extension, his own. 

“I’ve had to confront some painful truths,” he said at Fort Monroe, the landing site for the country’s first African slaves. “Among those truths was my own incomplete understanding regarding race and equity. ... But I also learned that the more I know, the more I can do.”

Mr. Northam’s political survival has been aided in part by unusual circumstances, including the fact that his potential successors were embroiled in scandals of their own, and that Virginia law already prevented him from running again when his term ends in January 2022. Certainly, not everyone has given him a pass.

Still, his ability to recover even partially from what seemed to many a career-ending incident speaks to both his constituents’ capacity to forgive and his own willingness to learn. As other politicians from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grapple with their own blackface scandals, Mr. Northam’s experience presents a possible model for moving forward.

‘The right decision’ to forgive

The February release of a photo from Mr. Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook caused nationwide uproar. Two men were pictured – one in blackface, the other in Ku Klux Klan robes.

Mr. Northam initially apologized and said he was in the photo. Then in a bizarre press conference the next day, he said he wasn’t, but had worn blackface another time. An independent investigation three months later could not identify the individuals in the photo. 

After meeting with the governor, the state’s Legislative Black Caucus demanded he resign, as did many prominent Democrats nationwide. But from the night the scandal broke, he refused to step down. Virginia governors can’t succeed themselves, and Mr. Northam has made clear this will be his last elected office. “He had absolutely nothing to lose by staying in office, and everything to gain,” says Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Northam was able to remain in office in part due to separate scandals with his potential successors (his lieutenant governor has been accused of sexual assault, a charge he denies, while the state’s attorney general admitted to wearing blackface in college). But he also had support from most black Virginians. February polls showed that almost 60% of African Americans in the state didn’t think he should resign; a similar share didn’t consider him racist.

Today, many African Americans – especially in older generations – say they are willing to forgive him, as long as there’s evident repentance. 

“That’s a part of our DNA,” says Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck. “We talk about forgiveness. We took it all in stride, because that’s who we are.”

Mr. Northam promised he would spend his two remaining years in office promoting racial equity. And while skeptics questioned his motives, many African Americans say they find his efforts sincere. A fifth of the state’s electorate, many black Virginians felt they had more to gain from Mr. Northam staying in office than leaving, says Mr. Johnson.

The governor’s equity-based reforms since February have included creating advisory boards on racial issues and removing Confederate monuments. Mr. Northam has also spent months meeting with black leaders on a statewide reconciliation tour – leaders like Danville Mayor Alonzo Jones. 

Danville is a low-income, heavily African American city on the North Carolina border. When the governor visited, Mr. Jones was concerned about tokenism. “What is it that you want from us?” Mr. Jones says he asked. The governor responded by asking what he could do for Danville. Since then, Mr. Northam has returned several times, and the mayor says their offices have been in constant contact.

“I think we made the right decision [to forgive],” says Mr. Jones. “No, we made the right decision.” 

To James “J.J.” Minor, a community advocate, president of the Richmond NAACP, and Delegate McQuinn’s son, the scandal showed the extent of Virginia’s racist past – not that Mr. Northam is a racist today.

“I don’t see racism in him,” he says. “I don’t see it because of the work that he’s doing now, which African Americans are benefiting from.” 

“People can continue to talk about yesterday,” says Mr. Minor. “I want to talk about tomorrow.” 

More work ahead

Still, as the governor serves out his term, scrutiny remains. Former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder – who was the nation’s first black governor – says the scandal continues to cast a shadow over Mr. Northam’s time in office, including any reforms. 

“If he’s doing these things as a result of some degree of atonement or an apology, it has a different ring to it,” says Mr. Wilder, who is facing an allegation of sexual harassment from a former student, which he denies. 

Younger generations in particular are less forgiving. 

“I don’t think that politicians should be considered robots. They’re going to make mistakes and they’re human,” says Mikaili Lee, a senior at Norfolk State University, a historically black university. “But for certain things, where [there’s] an obvious lack of judgment, there’s a lack of accountability.”

Mr. Lee doesn’t think Mr. Northam should have resigned, but he says there should have been consequences. He prefers the governor’s policies to those of Republicans, but says Virginia politics sometimes feels like a choice “between two evils.”  

recent poll by the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg found that 47% of Virginians today approve of Mr. Northam’s performance in office, while 35% disapprove. That’s an improvement from February, when his approval fell to 32%. It’s also better than President Donald Trump’s approval rating in the state, which is at 39%.   

For many African Americans in the state, the face of racism today isn’t Mr. Northam, but President Trump. The Legislative Black Caucus boycotted the president’s visit for America’s 400th anniversary of representative government. Not so for the governor’s appearance at the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves.

“[Governor Northam’s] incident just revealed the fact that racism was real,” says Ms. McQuinn. “Donald Trump continues to perpetuate it.”

She thinks the scandal will stain the governor’s legacy, but won’t become the legacy itself. If he was willing to learn, she was willing to forgive. 

True progress requires all sides at the table, says Soji Akomolafe, chair of the political science department at Norfolk State University. As long as they think their interests lie with him today, many African Americans are willing to work with Mr. Northam, Dr. Akomolafe says – even if he admitted to wearing blackface, his ancestors owned slaves, and he lives in the capital of the Confederacy.

Dr. Akomolafe is launching a university think tank for African American public policy and has invited the governor to the opening.

“I don’t see any reason why I have to throw out the baby with the bathwater,” he says. “He who has not committed a sin, let him cast the first stone.”

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4. Climate is a top issue in Canada. Why aren’t the Greens doing better?

The intersection of climate and politics in Canada shows how idealism still needs healthy dollops of practicality.

Mark
Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press/AP
Members of the Clay and Paper Theatre take part in the climate strike in Toronto on Sept. 27, 2019.

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Canada’s Green Party is poised to do better than it ever has in this month’s federal elections. Led by the popular Elizabeth May, the Greens currently enjoy support of 10.1%, three times what they got in 2015.

But that still leaves them in fourth place overall, despite the environment recently being ranked the top unprompted issue of concern in Canada, according to polling this summer by Nanos Research. For all the urgency about climate change, it doesn’t seem to have a proportional effect at the ballot box.

Pollster Nik Nanos explains that not all of those who list the environment as their top concern care about global warming. Some are against climate policy like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax. “This doesn’t mean Canadians are becoming more environmentalist. What it means is that the environment is increasingly becoming an important battleground,” Mr. Nanos says.

And for some, the Greens’ position needs to be moderated by practical realities. “People can’t vote for something that’s going to destroy their economic existence,” says John Wojewoda, an entrepreneur who once worked at Greenpeace, but plans to vote Liberal. “I can’t stop driving my car right now, because I have to go to work.”

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Climate is a top issue in Canada. Why aren’t the Greens doing better?

John Wojewoda thinks about global warming in the same stark terms as does Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen activist.

At the recent climate strikes in Toronto, some of the dozens held around Canada (Ms. Thunberg led one in Montreal herself), he painted the situation as an “existential crisis” over which society is in “denial.”

But when it comes time to vote in Canada’s October federal election, he is not voting Green, the party that goes the furthest in its pledge to tackle greenhouse emissions, even though he thinks drastic action is urgently required.

“People can’t vote for something that’s going to destroy their economic existence,” says Mr. Wojewoda, an entrepreneur who once worked at Greenpeace. “I can’t stop driving my car right now, because I have to go to work. With the kind of economy that we’ve created, people have a very small margin of freedom.”

What he’d like to see is an ambitious plan coming from the main parties – he cites the U.S. Democrats’ Green New Deal – to effect long-term change. For the moment, he explains, in a country that scientists say is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, “the only change that can happen is within the two main parties.”

His views go a long way to explain the disconnect between the pressing urgency that people have placed on climate action since the 2015 election cycle and the reason the Green Party is not experiencing the “green wave” that might be expected.

A Green wave

Canada’s Green Party is certainly seeing momentum, and is poised to do better than it ever has. Led by the popular Elizabeth May, the Greens currently enjoy support of 10.1%, three times what they got in 2015, according to the latest CBC poll tracker. That gives them a chance to take over third place from the leftist New Democratic Party (NDP), polling at 13.9%.

The Greens, whose base has long been British Columbia where Ms. May holds her seat (one of two they currently occupy at the federal level), have grown swiftly. They became the official opposition in Prince Edward Island in this year’s provincial elections. They have also won provincial seats in British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Ontario.

Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press/AP
Green Party candidate Michael Kalmanovitch holds up a placard in front of "I love Canadian Oil and Gas" signs in the legislature windows during the climate strike in Edmonton, Alberta, on Sept. 27, 2019.

But part of their appeal has nothing to do with the climate. The Green Party “is no longer a single issue party. And that’s why it’s able to attract the progressive vote: feminists, labor, community activists,” says Donald Wright, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick. “They might be environmentalists, they might not be.”

Even in a place like Prince Edward Island – where “they’re not measuring the erosion of the shoreline in inches or in centimeters but in feet,” says Don Desserud, a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island – the environment wasn’t the issue that drove 30.6% of voters to the party. Rather it was health care and rural economic development. “They didn’t downplay the environment,” Dr. Desserud says, “but they did not make that their No. 1 priority.”

Like in Europe, the Green Party here sees itself as something of a protest vote for disillusioned Canadians today. “There’s a deep desire for a new way of doing politics, and the Green Party’s approach of being more cooperative and collaborative and less toxic and confrontational is very appealing to people,” says Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner. In 2018, he became the first Green elected to Ontario’s provincial legislature.

In a sense the Greens have been forced to differentiate themselves from the mainstream. Climate change, once a secondary issue, has become top policy for all political parties amid dire climate warnings, not to mention increasing attention to wildfires, floods, and heat waves.

Major party leaders were at the climate protests last week, except for Conservative candidate Andrew Scheer. And that gives rise to another Green challenge: the strategic vote. Liz Miller, protesting in Toronto, says she’s voted Green her entire life. But this year the stakes are too high, so she is voting Liberal – ideally swapping her vote with someone else who can vote Green in another riding, or electoral district – to ensure the Conservatives don’t win. That’s despite the Liberals’ polarizing move last year to purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline to bring more crude oil to market.

Electoral fears of vote-splitting come election day is an old story for the Greens. So are systematic issues: Without proportional representation, smaller parties suffer. In the first leaders’ debate that included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last night, Ms. May was controversially excluded because the party doesn’t hold seats in Quebec.

But given the mood and how much the Greens have grown, party leaders are optimistic about a breakthrough this year. “Climate change is happening now, and it’s hurting people now,” says deputy Green leader Daniel Green.

Not yet ready for the limelight?

Yet despite the global climate protests and all the media attention on Ms. Thunberg, it’s easy to overstate how important climate issues really are to people. In polling this summer by Nanos Research, the environment became the top unprompted national issue of concern for the first time, says pollster Nik Nanos. The finding has been widely cited.

But Mr. Nanos explains that not all of those who list the environment as their top concern care about global warming. Some are against climate policy like Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax. “This doesn’t mean Canadians are becoming more environmentalist. What it means is that the environment is increasingly becoming an important battleground,” Mr. Nanos says.

Or as Dr. Wright puts it, “At the end of the day, a voter is also a taxpayer and a pensioner.”

Some Canadians worry deeply about the environment, but also wonder if the Greens are ready to lead. The party has stumbled in recent weeks on some of the nation’s most contentious issues, from abortion to Quebec separatism. The Greens of New Brunswick made national news in September after they misreported that 14 local NDP members had defected to their party; the real number was half that. The Greens were embarrassed again last month when the party admitted to altering an image to place a reusable straw and cup in the hands of Ms. May, who’d been carrying single-use items.

At Toronto’s climate march, Cat Doncaster says she believes Ms. May would make an excellent leader. But Ms. Doncaster says for the moment she is leaning Liberal, and hopes that the show of support at climate marches helps other parties realize they can up their environmental game without political fallout. “[The Green Party] probably needs a few more candidates to win ridings,” she says, “so that we can judge what they’re like financially and on so many other fronts before a federal leader is elected.”

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Books

5. Rewriting the historical epic: African women writers go big

A new wave of African fiction, driven by women authors, speaks to an expanding sense of what history is worth telling – and Africans’ compelling place in it.

Mark
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/File
Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean writer whose most recent novel is “Out of Darkness, Shining Light,” poses for a portrait in New York on May 7, 2009.

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Ayesha Harruna Attah, a Ghanaian writer, uses her fiction to discuss the complicated role that Africans played in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“The Hundred Wells of Salaga” centers on the lives of two women – one princess, one slave – whose lives tangle against the backdrop of a struggle for power between local kingdoms and newly arrived European traders. 

“What I set out to do was to tell us something we’ve forgotten about ourselves, something we don’t want to go back and consider,” Ms. Attah says.

In recent years, African literature has been reinvented by a new generation of women writers. Their books are unapologetically ambitious, sprawling across hundreds of years.

“This is a generation [of African writers] that isn’t just writing about colonialism and postcolonialism, or just looking at African governance and its failures,” says Petina Gappah, a Zimbabwean writer. “We write history. We write romance. We write science fiction. In this generation we have gained the freedom to write about the things that American and European authors write about, which is to say anything we choose.”

For Ms. Attah, while her novel was meant to prod at Ghanaian history, like any novelist, she also had a simpler objective.

“I also just wanted to tell a good story.”

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Rewriting the historical epic: African women writers go big

For more than two decades, wherever the Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah went, the colonial explorer David Livingstone seemed to follow.

She found Livingstone – his papers, his diaries, his biographies – in Melbourne and Cape Town and London. She discovered Livingstonia wedged into boxes at Zimbabwean flea markets and tucked onto high shelves in Irish bookshops. Livingstone followed her to estate sales and book fairs and antique shops splayed across nearly every continent.

She couldn’t shake her fascination with his story – a “heroic failure,” she called him, searching in vain for the source of the Nile River. But more than that, she was struck by the faceless Africans who swirled around him in every account of his journeys: cooks and porters, translators and assistants. Who were they? she wondered. And what did they make of Livingstone and his world?  

Ms. Gappah’s newest novel, “Out of Darkness, Shining Light,” published in the United States in September, is an attempt to answer that question through fiction. Told in the voices of two of Livingstone’s African companions, the book recounts the real-life journey of 69 of his workers as they transported his body across central and eastern Africa so that it could be put on a ship bound for Europe.  

“Though he tried enough to explain to me why he was looking for this Nile beginning, I could never quite understand it,” explains one of Ms. Gappah’s narrators, a cook named Halima, of Livingstone’s erstwhile quest. “I said to him … the Nile won’t care about whether you know where it begins. It will flow on as it always has whether you find it or not.” 

African historical fiction is far from a new genre – is there a more globally known work of African fiction, after all, than Chinua Achebe’s 1958 classic story of Nigeria at the moment of British colonization, “Things Fall Apart”?

But in recent years, the genre has been reinvented by a new generation of African writers. And this time around, most of them are women. Like Ms. Gappah’s, their books are unapologetically ambitious, sprawling across hundreds of years of the past and recasting the lead characters in major events in modern world history.

“Before, the space to write big grand historical narratives was mostly a man’s space. Women were expected to focus on smaller, more domestic stories,” says Ainehi Edoro Glines, an assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the editor of the African literature blog Brittle Paper. “Now you’re seeing African women writers reconfigure their national histories around women’s lives – their bodies, their desires, their capacities. To me that’s a revolutionary thing.”  

And these writers are also, Dr. Glines says, redefining the idea of what history is worth telling.

“Older African historical fiction tends to obsess about that colonial moment, this era when African history became legible to the Western world in a certain way,” she says. “But many of the writers working now are moving the clock further back. They’re saying, this is just one of many things that defines the African past, a footnote in a much longer history.”

Take, for example, “Kintu,” Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s 450-page epic about three centuries in the life of a cursed Ugandan family. As she trails the family across generations, British colonialism, the original sin of much of African historical fiction, is merely tucked into the folds of a bigger, more sprawling, more dramatic story of a family’s history, and a country’s.   

After the initial publication of “Kintu” in Kenya in 2014, Ms. Makumbi struggled to find a Western publisher for a book full of long African names and long African stories, which agents worried would be “too difficult” for British readers.

In fact, it wasn’t. And when “Kintu” was finally published in the U.K. and the U.S., critics effused that it was, perhaps, “the great Ugandan novel,” and compared its energetic and lyrical sweep of history to those of Charles Dickens and Gabriel García Márquez. 

“This is a generation [of African writers] that isn’t just writing about colonialism and postcolonialism, or just looking at African governance and its failures,” says Ms. Gappah. “We write history. We write romance. We write science fiction. In this generation we have gained the freedom to write about the things that American and European authors write about, which is to say anything we choose.”

And what they have chosen, even within the confines of historical fiction, is vast. For Ms. Gappah, it was the figures in the shadows of David Livingstone’s historical glow. For Liberian American writer Wayétu Moore, in her 2018 novel “She Would Be King,” it was her country’s founding days shot through the prism of magical realism. For Moroccan novelist Laila Lalami, it was the story of one of the earliest European conquests of the new world, narrated by one of the expedition’s North African slaves. (That novel, “The Moor’s Account,” was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.)

And for Ayesha Harruna Attah, a Ghanaian writer, the choice was to use fiction to discuss the complicated role that Africans played in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Her novel, “The Hundred Wells of Salaga,” centers on the lives of two women – one princess, one slave – whose lives tangle against the backdrop of a struggle for power between local kingdoms and newly arrived European traders and explorers.  

“What I set out to do was to tell us something we’ve forgotten about ourselves, something we don’t want to go back and consider,” Ms. Attah says. 

But if the novel was meant to prod at Ghanaian history and change the way readers related to their own past, Ms. Attah, like any novelist, also had a far simpler objective.

“I also just wanted to tell a good story,” she says.

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The Monitor's View

Law and forgiveness in a Texas courtroom

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In a new book, a former dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, opens with this observation on today’s society: “Ours is an unforgiving age, an age of resentment. The supply of forgiveness is deficient.” The book is well timed. On Wednesday in a Dallas County courthouse, a TV camera caught yet another public example of a unilateral act of personal forgiveness to an individual who had committed a heinous crime.

It came from Brandt Jean, the brother of a black man murdered in 2018 by an off-duty white policewoman, Amber Guyger, who just on Tuesday had been convicted of the crime.

At the sentencing hearing, Mr. Jean told the weeping woman that he loved her, did not want her to go to jail, and wanted the best for her. “If you truly are sorry ... I forgive,” he said. The judge then granted his wish to hug the killer of his brother.

Ms. Minow describes offers of forgiveness as the “human efforts to follow divine example.” In the adversarial setting of a judicial process, Mr. Jean injected forgiveness. In the midst of impersonal punishment, he offered personal restoration.

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Law and forgiveness in a Texas courtroom

In a new book, a former dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, opens with this observation on today’s society: “Ours is an unforgiving age, an age of resentment. The supply of forgiveness is deficient.” She wrote the book – “When Should Law Forgive?” – because of what she sees as the limits of the law in dealing with the worst of crimes, such as murder, as well as the difficulty in forgiving crimes “that defy conception.”

The book is well timed. On Wednesday in a Dallas County courthouse, a TV camera caught yet another public example of a unilateral act of personal forgiveness to an individual who had committed a heinous crime.

It came from Brandt Jean, the brother of a black man murdered in 2018 by an off-duty white policewoman, Amber Guyger, who just on Tuesday had been convicted of the crime.

At the sentencing hearing, Mr. Jean told the weeping woman that he loved her, did not want her to go to jail, and wanted the best for her. “If you truly are sorry ... I forgive. I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you,” he said.

The judge then granted his wish to hug the killer of his brother. With what seemed like a contrite heart, Ms. Guyger welcomed the hug. It was an extraordinary scene of reconciliation that defies what Ms. Minow calls “an unforgiving age.”

In her book, Ms. Minow asks when legal officials can and should promote forgiveness between individuals. A good example was the Texas judge joining Mr. Jean in advising the convicted woman on steps toward repentance and redemption. In addition, the Dallas County district attorney, who was pleased with the 10-year sentence given for the crime, described the courtroom embrace as an “amazing act of healing.”

Ms. Minow describes offers of forgiveness as the “human efforts to follow divine example.” Such offers are given with an expectation of “breaking the cycle of vengeances” by forgoing the rightful grounds for grievance against those who committed harm. They involve “ceasing to let the wrongdoing count in one’s feelings toward the wrongdoer, even while maintaining recognition of the wrong.”

In the adversarial setting of a judicial process, Mr. Jean injected forgiveness. In the midst of impersonal punishment, he offered personal restoration. He invited Ms. Guyger to show the care and connection she failed to show during the murder. He offered her spiritual freedom during her years of human imprisonment.

To answer the book’s titled question, yes, there are times when law should forgive. As Ms. Minow writes, forgiveness encourages people to “prioritize creating a shared future over holding on to resentments of the past.” The supply of forgiveness is not “deficient.” It only needs to be brought out in everyone.

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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.

Planting seeds of love and reformation

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It can seem all too easy to return hate with hate in our views of those we feel are fostering hatred. But the world needs the opposite from us. When we mentally yield to the presence of God, Love, this chips away at hatred’s appearance of solidity.

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Planting seeds of love and reformation

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Here’s a hypothetical question I asked myself recently: If I could be transported back to the inauguration rally at which George Wallace promised “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” would I simply write off the former Alabama governor as racist, or would I behold an individual capable of being transformed?

The question was prompted by learning how the first African American woman to run for the American presidency, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, suspended her campaign when Wallace was gunned down while running in the same presidential race. She wanted to visit Wallace in the hospital “to help him regain his humanity.” She told one of her aides that “one act of kindness may make all the difference in the world.”

Wallace’s daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, said Chisholm’s visit to the hospital “planted a seed of new beginnings in my father’s heart.” Over time, that seed bore fruit when Wallace publicly renounced racism, sought the black community’s forgiveness, and appointed a record number of African Americans to fill state positions in his final term as governor.

Chisholm’s example prompted me to question my own attitude and to consider: Am I following the example of Jesus in how I think about those who I feel are excusing and fostering hatred?

In healing after healing, Jesus brought to light the nature of God as divine Love, knowing only His own flawless creation. In this true, spiritual creation, each individual is Deity’s loved offspring, expressing God’s boundless goodness.

But on a journey to Jerusalem, Christ Jesus also showed that one needs to exemplify this nature by rising above emotional reactions to bigoted behavior. He had sent some of his followers to Samaria to arrange a place to stay, but the Samaritans – a Jewish sect at loggerheads with Jews who worshipped in Jerusalem – bluntly refused their request (see Luke 9:51-56). Two of Jesus’ disciples reacted by asking if they should “command fire to come down from heaven” to destroy those who rejected him. But Jesus responded that he had come to liberate people, not destroy their lives.

The snub experienced by Jesus and his followers may seem dwarfed by issues of hatred dividing nations today. But Jesus responded in this way even when facing dire threats, consistently exemplifying his own unequivocal counsel to love one’s enemies (see Matthew 5:44, 45).

Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered the divine Science of Christ, saw Jesus’ instruction not as a demand to love wrong behavior or ignore it, but as a way to help change it. Her deep understanding of Jesus’ counsel and example, and her own experience of sustaining that Christly love in the face of systematic attacks by those opposing her ideas, gave her authority to write, “Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” pp. 210-211).

A reforming, Christly love includes doing good – if the opportunity arises – to anyone we feel is an enemy, as Congresswoman Chisholm did. But to help awaken in others a desire to turn in the direction of reform takes a turnaround of our own, from either resigning or reacting to hatred to glimpsing divine Love’s universal reality.

Mrs. Eddy’s primary work on Christian Science, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” describes both the boundless scope of this Love and the significance of Love being so unbounded: “Divine Love is infinite. Therefore all that really exists is in and of God, and manifests His love” (p. 340). This means that all that’s spiritually true about politicians, activists, or others we might feel deeply at odds with is that their real nature is “in and of God” and manifests God’s love.

Rather than hating, or returning hatred, the world needs the opposite from us: a yielding to Love’s infinite presence, which chips away at the appearance of solidity that human hatred presents. As we more consistently, humbly, and prayerfully yield to such glimpses of what divine Love is seeing, we can increasingly say, as Mary Baker Eddy once said, “Each day I pray: ‘God bless my enemies; make them Thy friends; give them to know the joy and the peace of love’ ” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 220). This will help to plant those seeds of new beginnings in their hearts.

Adapted from an editorial published in the Sept. 23, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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Viewfinder

Karate kids, Gaza style

Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Palestinian girls take part in a karate training session in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, Oct. 3, 2019.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 4th, 2019 )

Thank you for making the Monitor a part of your day today. Tomorrow, we’ll have something a little different for you – a conversation between our chief culture writer and film critic about the ethics and art of “Joker.” The movie’s unsettling themes have been met with both praise and alarm.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 03, 2019
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