2019
October
04
Friday

Today, we offer a look at how impeachment resonates in a Virginia battleground district, an interview with the Ugandan rapper who would be president, a change of tune in the Arab Spring’s birthplace, a conversation between Monitor culture writers about “Joker” and storytelling that’s uncomfortable, and the decline of the hockey goon. 

First, some thoughts on finding joy amid turmoil.

As I sat in the East Room of the White House Wednesday, watching an agitated President Donald Trump battle reporters, my thoughts turned to Juan Soto. The night before, the 20-year-old outfielder for the Washington Nationals hit a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the 8th – sparking a dramatic come-from-behind victory. 

The game started rough for the Nats, as did the season, but they persevered. Their wild-card victory advanced them to the next playoff round, a rare moment of postseason joy. The best moment came after the game, when Mr. Soto’s proud Dominican dad tackled him in celebration. Last night they lost, but it ain’t over. 

Democrats, Republicans, no matter. Washington loves its Nats, and as the city descends into the ugly business of presidential impeachment, it is unifying moments like Tuesday night that make life here tolerable. The late conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer once wrote that God created baseball as a relief from politics. He also observed that he could leave Fox News’ studios after the evening broadcast and be in his seat at Nationals Park “by the bottom of the first, in time to see Bryce Harper’s first at-bat.” 

Mr. Harper is no longer a Nat, but the team is carrying on just fine. And so, we trust, will Washington. 

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1. How impeachment is playing in one swing district

How do voters in politically competitive districts feel about Democrats’ impeachment investigation of the president? Our congressional reporter found it’s a top-tier issue for voters of both parties. 

Linda

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At a town hall meeting in her district this week, Elaine Luria of Virginia heard loudly from both sides of the political spectrum. Many in the crowd of a few hundred applauded when the Democratic congresswoman defended her decision to support an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump. But strong boos rose clearly over the cheers.

The issue of impeachment resonates in this competitive congressional district. In addition to a large military presence, it has the kind of suburban women voters who helped flip many Republican-held congressional seats Democratic in 2018.

And now, places like Virginia’s 2nd District will play an important role in what happens next – both in the 2020 election and perhaps even sooner if House members have to make a politically sensitive vote on impeachment.

“I know that this is an incendiary flashpoint, impeaching, because we’re so polarized,” says Denise Kline, a retired Navy veteran at the town hall, who has sometimes voted Republican. But she supports the Democrats’ investigation. “It doesn’t matter which party you are, because I believe it’s a dereliction of duty if we allow this behavior to continue.”

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How impeachment is playing in one swing district

Denise Kline strolls up the driveway toward the glass doors of the New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, purse looped over her shoulder and notebook in hand. She’s here partly to show her support for Rep. Elaine Luria, who is hosting a town hall inside. 

Mostly Ms. Kline is eager, if anxious, to hear what her fellow voters have to say to Ms. Luria about impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. 

“I know that this is an incendiary flashpoint, impeaching, because we’re so polarized,” Ms. Kline says. But ever since documents surfaced relating to Mr. Trump’s July 25 conversation with the president of Ukraine, she – like her congresswoman – says that an investigation is the only honorable path to take. “I feel as if the Democrats must do this. We all should do this, actually,” Ms. Kline says. “It doesn’t matter which party you are, because I believe it’s a dereliction of duty if we allow this behavior to continue.”

Ms. Kline, in many ways, sums up everything that led to this political moment. Like so many in Virginia Beach, she and her husband are retired military – she from the Navy, he from the Army. She is an old-school Democrat and has always considered Franklin D. Roosevelt a hero, though she’s voted for Republicans in the past. 

Mr. Trump, however, drove her to make politics a personal priority. In 2018, she went canvassing for the first time in her life on behalf of Ms. Luria’s campaign, making her part of the surge of suburban women who turned out in the midterms to help Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Now it’s voters like Ms. Kline, in competitive districts like this one, who will likely influence what happens next – both in the 2020 election and perhaps even sooner if House members have to make a politically sensitive vote on impeachment. 

“This is where everything is flowing together in terms of the trends of the last couple years,” says John McGlennon, who teaches government and public policy at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. “It’s definitely one of those districts that, by virtue of its suburban character and the increasing movement of suburban voters and women toward the Democrats, has become bluer. But it’s still within the range of competition.” 

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Eric Potter, who worked in insurance until he retired, speaks to a reporter at a town hall hosted by Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, Oct. 3, 2019, at the New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His first time at a town hall for Ms. Luria, Mr. Potter says he supports the congresswoman because of her defense of the Affordable Care Act and her position on impeachment.

A high-turnover district

If Virginia’s 2nd District has a defining characteristic, it’s the outsize presence of the U.S. armed forces. The region is home to nine major military centers, including the world’s biggest naval base in Norfolk, and to one of the largest concentrations of combined retired and active military personnel in the country. It’s not unusual to hear aircraft zooming overhead, or come across veteran-owned businesses with names like The Landing Zone or Warriors Taphouse. 

The district is also primarily suburban, with sprawling Virginia Beach, population about 460,000, at its core. One of the truisms of the Trump era is that turnout from suburban voters, especially women, drove the Democratic wave that followed Mr. Trump’s election in 2016. They were the force behind Democrats’ huge gains in the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate in 2017. In 2018, they helped make Ms. Luria one of three Democratic women to flip GOP-held congressional seats in the state.

The combination makes for a swing district in the truest sense. The district’s congressional representation has been mostly Republican over the past two decades, but no member has held the seat longer than three terms in that period. Ms. Luria’s Republican predecessor, Scott Taylor, opposed the transgender ban in the military and co-sponsored both an anti-discrimination bill and a marijuana legalization law. 

Scott Rigell, who held the seat before Mr. Taylor, ended up resigning from the Virginia Beach Republican Party over his strong opposition to Mr. Trump’s candidacy. The last Democrat to represent the district, Glenn Nye, was a member of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition. 

Ms. Luria herself served in the Navy for 20 years, retiring as a commander in 2017. Though progressive on social issues, she’s cast herself as a pragmatist willing to work with Republicans on common sense legislation, particularly around defense and security. 

That strategy was put to the test over the summer, after a city employee fatally shot 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building in May. As the state General Assembly hotly debated next steps, Ms. Luria urged the U.S. Senate to take up a pair of bipartisan background check bills passed by the House. 

She also introduced, and helped pass, one bill that would ensure that donations to families of victims would be tax deductible, and another to rename a local post office after one of the victims, who died saving his co-workers from the shooter. During her listening tour earlier this week in York County – one of the redder areas of her district – Ms. Luria also met privately with about 70 members of the Lafayette Gun Club, one of the biggest such groups in the country, to discuss Second Amendment protections. 

Chad Green, the Republican vice chairman of the York County Board of Supervisors who arranged the meeting, says he appreciated that she took time to sit down with constituents who support gun rights. “We had a very nice conversation,” he says in a phone interview. 

“I have no reason to believe that Ms. Luria is anything but a very honorable and upstanding individual,” he adds, “even though my beliefs and hers might not be exactly the same.” 

Town hall tension

At the town hall Thursday night, the split in opinion was on full display – especially over impeachment. 

Though the crowd of a few hundred was largely supportive, applauding when Ms. Luria defended her decision to support House Democrats’ investigation of the president, loud boos rose clearly over the cheers. The Rev. Dr. James Allen, the moderator tasked with reading constituents’ questions from color-coded cards they’d filled in ahead of the event, warned hecklers that he had no qualms about kicking them out if they got too out of hand. One white-haired man left midway through, shaking his head.   

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
A seat is reserved for former congressman Scott Taylor at current Rep. Elaine Luria’s town hall Oct. 3, 2019, at the New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Mr. Taylor, a Republican, lost to Ms. Luria, a Democrat, in the 2018 midterm elections.

A small group of anti-impeachment protesters, wearing red MAGA hats and holding a big “Trump 2020” sign, clustered outside.

“It’s a waste of time,” says Vincent Smith, a Republican and a city of Virginia Beach employee who wanted to hear Ms. Luria talk about her plans to ensure public safety. Mr. Smith says he came away from the meeting unimpressed – by the congresswoman’s response to his question, by what he viewed as the town hall’s overly controlled setup, and by the focus on impeachment. 

“As soon as this topic goes away and is debunked ... they’re going to find another one” against Mr. Trump, he says.

Ms. Luria at first tried to defuse the tension. “I appreciate your enthusiasm,” she told supporters in the audience, “but I truly feel that this is a sad time.” The only reason she’s supporting an impeachment inquiry is that the president’s behavior convinced her she needed to act, she added, repeating an argument that she and six other freshmen with military and intelligence backgrounds laid out in an Op-Ed last month. 

“I didn’t spend 20 years in uniform, defending our country, to watch something like this happen,” Ms. Luria said – to resounding applause.

By the end of the hour-and-a-half meeting, it was clear that the political crosswinds that had gusted last year are still blowing, with an influence that’s especially pivotal in districts like Ms. Luria’s. Political observers expect hints from the results of Virginia’s state and local elections this November, as Democrats try to wrest control of the House of Delegates and state Senate, both of which the GOP narrowly holds. 

“For the Democrats, this’ll be an example of whether the post-Trump energy can still be revved up one more time,” says Bob Holsworth, a veteran political analyst in Richmond. “And for Republicans, have they found a way to win in Virginia in the Trump era?” 

“It’s a very competitive district, and it would remain so,” he adds. 

Ms. Kline, the Navy veteran, knows full well the scales could tip against Ms. Luria and the Democrats next year. She says she plans to stick with her newfound activism, maybe even bring in some friends. “Yeah, I’ll probably do it again,” Ms. Kline says. “I believe in her. I believe in the country.”

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A deeper look

2. A rapper’s quest to be president

Bobi Wine wants to unseat Uganda’s entrenched ruler. Can he stir a youth revolution here and across Africa? 

Linda
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Robert Kyagulanyi (who goes by the stage name Bobi Wine) has seized the imagination of a generation. And he plans to use that energy to propel himself to the presidency of Uganda.

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has kept a grip on power for more than three decades. Can a rapper-turned-politician change that?

Parliamentarian Bobi Wine, with his signature red beret and his “People Power” movement, has seized the young generation’s imagination here. Across Africa, the median age is 19 – but young people generally play little role in politics.

“Young people are standing up” across the continent, proclaims Mr. Wine, who hopes to defeat President Museveni in the 2021 elections. “Africa is shaking.”

That may be stretching things. But a number of long-serving rulers have made way for successors in the past two years, from Zimbabwe to Sudan – though rarely with good grace. 

Today, the once brash Mr. Wine has left behind the strut and swagger of a bad-boy rap star. Over the years, his lyrics addressed social issues, and eventually became overtly critical of the government. During a crackdown last year, he was arrested and charged with treason; he says he was tortured by security officers.

Some worry his populist brand of politics is thin on specific proposals – and, in fact, not unlike Mr. Museveni’s, when he first came to power. But others see him as the man to herald a newly empowered youth movement to reinvigorate democracy.

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A rapper’s quest to be president

The dirt road running through this ramshackle village is packed with a rapturous crowd of cheering young men and women. Car horns shriek. Dance music blares from sound systems. Pandemonium reigns as Bobi Wine, rapper-turned-politician, pushes through the mob.

“People power,” chant his supporters.

“Our power,” echo others.

As security men carve a path for him through the adoring throng, Mr. Wine, in his signature red beret, acknowledges the adulation with a smile and a clenched-fist salute. But today he makes no fiery speeches that might provoke a response from the Ugandan government, with which he has often clashed. He is simply here to plant a small tree in memory of his driver, who was shot dead exactly one year earlier, and his demeanor is as grave as his admirers are boisterous.

On a continent where the median age is 19 but where dispossessed young people generally play little role in politics, Robert Kyagulanyi (who goes by the stage name Bobi Wine) has seized the imagination of a generation. And he plans to use that energy to propel himself to the presidency of Uganda.

His popularity has already swept him into Parliament, where he has been a member since 2017. Now he is preparing an audacious bid to topple Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa’s towering “Big Men” who has been in office for 33 years, in 2021 elections. His fame and appeal have crossed borders, garnering him fans well beyond Uganda.

“Bobi Wine has emerged as a figurehead for a generation of thwarted aspirations,” says Ben Shepherd, an Africa expert at Chatham House, the London-based think tank.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Supporters of Bobi Wine, a leading opposition figure in Uganda, attend a prayer service for his driver, who was shot and killed one year ago.

And as the enduring strongmen blamed for dampening those dreams leave the stage – from Algeria to Zimbabwe – could Mr. Wine be the man to herald a newly empowered youth movement in Africa to reinvigorate democracy?

He would like to think so. “Young people are standing up” from Sudan to South Africa, he proclaims. “Africa is shaking.”

That may be stretching things. But there have certainly been rumblings over the past two years as a number of long-serving African rulers have made way – rarely with good grace – for their successors.

  • In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe (who died in September) was forced from office in 2017, his grip on power finally pried open for the first time in 37 years since the end of the guerrilla war he and his allies had waged successfully.
  • Also in 2017, José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down after 38 years as president of Angola, though he left two of his children in key government posts.
  • That same year, Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia, relinquished power under military pressure from neighboring West African states, which forced him to accept that he had lost an election. He had ruled since leading a military coup 23 years earlier.
  • In April 2019, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir – in power for 30 years – was ousted in a military coup after months of widespread popular protests. The coup leaders have since negotiated the formation of a civilian-military transitional government, which includes opposition figures.
  • Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned as president of Algeria earlier this year as well in the face of sustained demonstrations against his decision to run for a fifth consecutive term. Young people are still protesting in large numbers every Friday, demanding greater democratic freedoms.

Students and other youth were at the forefront of efforts to unseat General Bashir and Mr. Bouteflika, but the ultimate outcomes in Sudan and Algeria are still unclear. And a number of historic Big Men – plus younger leaders apparently attracted to their style of governance and status in office – remain in power. Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema is still ruling 40 years after he headed a military coup. In Rwanda, Paul Kagame shows no sign of leaving office, even 25 years after the rebel army he led ended the Rwandan genocide.

Here in Uganda, President Museveni has used the ruling party’s overwhelming majority in Parliament to eliminate presidential term limits and abolish the age limit of 75 that would have stopped him from contesting the 2021 presidential elections. With the army loyal to him, a tame Electoral Commission, and extensive powers of patronage, Mr. Museveni has kept a firm grip on power for more than three decades.

“It’s clear he has no intention of leaving and he has all the power, so how are you going to win elections against him?” asks Joachim Buwembo, a political commentator in Kampala, the capital.

“Young people are very frustrated by the president,” says one senior Western diplomat here. “He’s been there forever. They see no future and they wonder how do they get him out. They are frustrated, but they don’t have solutions.”

Mr. Wine says he has a solution: People Power.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Bobi Wine (center, in white) and his supporters walk to a prayer service for his driver, who was killed a year ago.

It took getting beaten up to spark Mr. Wine’s interest in politics.

About 10 years ago, when he was famous only as a rapper, he drove to a nightclub in his new Cadillac Escalade SUV – the only one of its kind in East Africa. As he was leaving the club he was jumped by a young man, he says, “who beat me up so bad, and asked me why I was showing off as if I didn’t know that this country had owners,” referring to its rulers.

“I was the hot boy of the night until I was deflated by that beating,” he says. “That night was a very transformative night for me. Now we want to say that this country has owners and those owners are all of us.”

Today, the once brash Mr. Wine has left behind the strut and swagger of a bad-boy rap star. His heavily tattooed arms recall his past, but the dreadlocks are gone, and during an interview in the garden of his home outside Kampala, he is straightforward, speaking softly, in measured tones.

“I had to grow up much faster than my age,” says the 37-year-old of his political education.

As a rapper, Mr. Wine made a name for himself across eastern and southern Africa and toured European capitals. He also amassed a small fortune: He is reportedly one of the richest musicians in East Africa.

Today he lives behind high gates in Magere, a village 30 miles north of Kampala, in a whitewashed villa whose pillared terrace overlooks a well-watered lawn, immaculately trimmed by a gardener. It is decorated with a flock of plump guinea fowl.

The compound is a long way from the Kampala slum where he grew up, the sixth of 10 children, but he says he is “proud that I came from the ghetto.” To press the point, he sports a vanity plate on his Escalade that says GHETTO, and he has nicknamed himself the Ghetto President.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Clenched-fist supporters of Mr. Wine, acting as his escort on motorcycles, arrive at his home in the village of Magere outside Kampala.

As Mr. Wine became more politically engaged, his lyrics grew more purposeful. In songs he branded “edutainment,” he sang about social issues and promoted personal hygiene and public health. Gradually, he became overtly political and critical of the government.

When, in 2016, Mr. Museveni won elections that international observers found neither free nor fair, “I thought it was high time I stopped being a spectator or only a talker,” Mr. Wine explains. So he ran for Parliament as an independent and won comfortably.

Political success has turned his life upside down. For a start, he complains, the Museveni government has forbidden him to stage concerts and banned his songs from being played on Ugandan radio and TV. That hasn’t kept him out of his studio in Kamwokya, the slum where he was raised. He is currently recording an album to be called “Forbidden Music,” he says, that his fans will all be able to listen to on YouTube, regardless of the broadcast ban.

As we speak, a crowd of those fans and supporters can be heard in the road outside the gates, revving their motorcycle engines and demanding to be let in. They are the escort that will accompany Mr. Wine to the ceremony later that afternoon marking the anniversary of his driver’s death.

The escorts are a motley crew of young men, most of them wearing the red berets that signal their membership in the People Power movement, but they switch their engines off and glide quietly down the drive when they see that their hero is occupied.

Yasin Kawuma, the driver, was shot in the northern town of Arua last year during a crackdown by soldiers after Mr. Museveni’s motorcade was allegedly pelted with stones by opposition supporters following a campaign rally. Mr. Wine, who was in town campaigning with other opposition figures, was arrested along with his colleagues in a hotel far from the disturbance. He says he was beaten severely with iron bars and then tortured in the military vehicle that took him to jail. Detained for two weeks, he was charged with treason (a charge that is still active) before traveling to the United States for medical treatment.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Wearing his trademark white caftan, Mr. Wine and others pay tribute to his late driver.

The violence of the government’s reaction, he says, suggests that the authorities are rattled. (That impression would be strengthened a few weeks after our interview, when the government banned civilians from wearing red berets like Mr. Wine’s trademark headgear, on pain of life imprisonment.) “They are very scared of us and in a very shaky position,” he insists, lapsing – as he occasionally does – into the royal “we.” “As much as they’ve been able to intimidate a few people,” he adds, “they’ve also succeeded in emboldening us.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t fear for his life. “The regime is extremely threatened by the challenge we pose,” he says. “They seek to eliminate us once and for all. The regime in Uganda wants me dead as soon as yesterday.”

But as long as he is alive he can be playful, despite the tension. “Can I just kiss my wife?” he asks as Barbara Itungo Kyagulanyi, a social worker credited with raising Mr. Wine’s political consciousness and polishing his public image, appears from the house.

Why does Mr. Wine think he poses such a threat to the government? “Because we are the energy that seeks to unite all change-seeking forces in Uganda,” he answers. “We are the gum that seeks to bind all those other [opposition forces] so that we can exalt the people.” The strategy is working, he claims, pointing to a string of parliamentary by-elections over the past two years in which candidates he backed were victorious.

People Power, in Mr. Wine’s version of it, does not have the far-left connotations that the slogan carried in 1970s America. Rather, it sets “the people” against an autocratic president. People Power is not a political party, but a movement driven by young people. Its only ideology is embodied in the name itself.

The movement here is not the first of its kind in Africa, nor is this generation of youth the first to have been frustrated by a lack of opportunities. Yet Mr. Wine believes this wave of activism is different, both because of the number of young people involved and their ability to communicate.

“We are many. We are much more informed and connected than we have ever been,” he says. “I am placed in a generation that is unstoppable.”

But first, the young people need to gather momentum, he adds. “They have the power only if they choose to open their eyes to that reality. Our message has always been ‘assert your power, claim your power through your vote.’”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is a throbbing city of 1.6 million people that sprawls among rolling hills.

And that will take organization. Voter registration drives will be key, Mr. Wine says, but mounting such initiatives in Uganda’s rural areas, where the vast majority of voters live, is not easy. The countryside has always been the stronghold of Mr. Museveni’s National Resistance Movement political party and his supporters control much of local government, not to mention the army and police. “The government makes it extremely, extremely complicated for us to organize,” Mr. Wine says. “But we always find a way, clandestine-style.”

The government could certainly manipulate the elections in a way that ensures Mr. Museveni’s victory, as Mr. Wine is well aware. He lays out what he thinks would be the consequences if it did so.

“If he tries to rig the elections, the people of Uganda will make sure it’s not business as usual,” Mr. Wine says. “He is going to lose to the people of Uganda by any ... legal and constitutional means necessary.” He prefers not to specify what that might mean, other than to forswear violence.

Nor is he very specific about what exactly he would do if he were elected, since the People Power movement has no policy platform. Mr. Wine is impatient with efforts to press him on this issue and brushes them off. “We don’t have institutions here; we have Museveni, his family, and his hangers-on,” he says. “In a country where institutions are empowered and allowed to work, solutions will be there.

“Telling people that are enslaved in their own country, asking them for their policy alternatives is like asking a person that has not had a meal for a week whether they’ll have their eggs scrambled or otherwise,” he says. “All they want is to eat. And for starters all we want to be is free. We want to matter. We want our voice to count.”

That’s as much of a policy statement as Timothy Ssimbwa needs to hear.

A 26-year-old who teaches middle school history and religion, Mr. Ssimbwa has taken time off from marking exams to turn out today as a member of Mr. Wine’s motorcycle escort. Resplendent in bright red overalls and green beret, he explains that he likes Mr. Wine simply “because he’s my hope. He’s a youth like me.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Mr. Wine’s SUV bears the vanity plate GHETTO, which is a nod to the rapper’s upbringing in the slums of Kampala.

“He’s ordinary; he grew up in the ghetto,” Mr. Ssimbwa says, as he waits patiently in the shade of a garden awning for Mr. Wine to finish a series of press interviews. “Since he’s ordinary, he’d be a good leader.”

Mr. Wine’s appeal is not unlike Mr. Museveni’s in the days when he was leading a bush rebellion against Uganda’s then-President Milton Obote, suggests Aili Tripp, who teaches African politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s all centered on an individual,” Professor Tripp says, and carries a strong populist message. “That’s hard to escape without a stronger tradition of democratic institutions.”

Yet in order for Mr. Ssimbwa and other members of the youth movement to translate their passion into power, they will have to remain unified and persevere in challenging authorities. Young Africans “haven’t had the organizational capacity or ideological connectedness; they are still scattered,” says Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a professor of history at Makerere University in Kampala. “They are aware, but not conscious,” he says, drawing a distinction noted by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. “Aware of being young people with unmet needs, but not conscious enough to take action.”

Still, Mr. Wine could be crucial in helping Uganda’s youth find their voice. While most young people are simply frustrated but don’t know more than to say they are unhappy with their situation, “Bobi Wine and other younger politicians who are willing to say ‘we don’t agree’ are creating a coherence in what people say” beyond just their desire for jobs, according to the Western diplomat.

That kind of direction will be particularly important given the pervasive power of the government. “Turning anger into consistent mobilization and demonstrations will take a high level of leadership” in the face of official hostility, says Perry Aritua, who runs the Ugandan branch of the Women’s Democracy Network, a nongovernmental organization encouraging young women to run for political office. “In Uganda we’ve yet to see the level of resilience needed to organize civic action.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
“Politicians don’t listen to young people. We are just seen as pawns during election campaigns.” – Julius Kateregga, president of the Makerere University Students Guild, who ran for election as a People Power candidate

A lot is at stake, should leadership falter. “Youth has not always been on the side of good things here,” says Mahmood Mamdani, head of the Makerere Institute of Social Research. “They’ve provided the storm troopers for warlords and for government youth wings.” The nature of any new youth wave “will depend on what kind of leadership emerges,” Professor Mamdani says.

Mr. Wine’s leadership of a national organization has yet to be tested, but he has proved he can be adaptable. Five years ago, the rap star was denied a visa to enter Britain, where he was due to play two concerts, because some of his song lyrics were violently homophobic – matching the prevailing culture in socially conservative Uganda.

Today, in his songs and public statements, Mr. Wine expresses greater tolerance. “He’s a genuinely curious person who wants to learn,” says Jeffrey Smith, founding director of Vanguard Africa, an NGO promoting democracy in Africa, who has hosted Mr. Wine in Washington. “I was skeptical about him; I expected another brash guy who was all talk, but in fact he was here to listen and learn.” While some young African populist political stars, such as Julius Malema in South Africa, have been accused of playing on divisions and fear, “Bobi Wine is all about bringing disparate voices to the table,” Mr. Smith says.

Mr. Malema is not the only young African leader whom Mr. Wine sees as a kindred spirit. He mentions the names of Nelson Chamisa, the opposition leader in Zimbabwe, Saulos Chilima – currently challenging the results of last May’s elections in Malawi – and jailed South Sudanese human rights activist Peter Biar Ajak.

There is little sign, though, that such disparate rising figures could lead a continentwide movement such as the Pan-African wave that swept post-colonial Africa. “There is a concerted effort in different countries to talk to the youth, but the ideological approach of these young leaders, what’s driving them, is not clear,” says Yona Kanyomozi, a former Ugandan government minister. “That makes it difficult for them to work together.”

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
“Bobi Wine started in music; that can really make youth engage in something productive.” – Agili Prisca, a first-year student at Makerere University (center), who sits with students Esther Adeke (left) and Asiimwe Dhurufah

There is certainly a huge potential following for such leaders: 78% of Uganda’s population is under age 30. At current growth rates, those under 24 across Africa will rise by more than 50%, to 945 million, by 2050.

“There is a big structural change in population across the continent,” says Mr. Shepherd of Chatham House. “Young people have very different outlooks and aspirations from their parents – they are globally connected and they do not want to be farmers.

“I see turbulence ahead,” he adds. “The big dynamic of the next two decades is how transformative this will be, whether the old guard will be able to absorb the momentum of this wave of change.”

Riding that wave, and trying to control it, will require different skills than merely stirring young people to action. “Bobi and other young politicians understand that they have to show that they can be disciplined leaders when they may not have all the skills needed to be disciplined leaders,” says the senior Western diplomat.

Mr. Wine says he is working on it. As he readies himself for his Muslim driver’s memorial service, slipping into a white caftan over his jeans and T-shirt, he reflects on his fate. He is not reveling in the moment, he says. How could he enjoy the concert ban, the beatings, and the endless court cases to which he has been subjected?

“But because this is the predicament, this is the destiny, I am trying to learn to enjoy the struggle,” he says. “Because the struggle has become the way of life I’ve had to adjust to. Life is the way it is. Because this is it.”

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3. Dictator: deposed. Democracy: check. But what about jobs?

Is prosperity sufficient to quench the thirst for freedom? Perhaps for a limited time. The converse is similarly unsatisfactory. The triumph of democracy, no matter how heroic, doesn't fill empty bellies. Hence politics.

Linda

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Farmer Mohammed Jamee hoped Tunisia’s revolution in 2010 would open up opportunities for his five children. Instead, times only got tougher. In late 2012, he moved to Tunis to find work, part of a growing urban migration from the struggling outer provinces. Today he earns $8 a day as a laborer and sends the money home.

“What good are freedoms when your daily life is worse and you can barely eat?” he says.

Tunisia’s peaceful democratic revolution in 2010 was led by a cross-section of rights activists, lawyers, Islamists, and leftists, most of whom had been oppressed and jailed by the prior regime. Their singular focus: institutions that prevented the return of a dictatorship. But after ousting a dictator, ratifying a constitution, and holding elections, they’re learning perhaps the toughest lesson in politics: It’s the economy, stupid.

The parties’ neglect of the economy was summed up by Rachid Ghannouchi, a political philosopher and leader of the Islamist party Ennahda who is running for parliament. “For decades we were ... struggling for freedoms and liberty,” he said in September. “Now all of a sudden we have to become economists, something we never even had time to think about.”

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Dictator: deposed. Democracy: check. But what about jobs?

Less than a decade after leading a revolution that rocked the Middle East and inspired democratic uprisings across the Arab world, Tunisia’s revolutionaries are changing their tune.

Years of inflation and joblessness have led many Tunisians to begin losing their faith in politics, even the revolution itself. To win them over, liberals, Islamists, and human rights activists are preaching jobs, investment, and economic growth in private, on the airwaves, and on the campaign trail.

After ousting a dictator, ratifying a constitution, holding elections, and overcoming Islamic State, Tunisia’s freedom fighters are learning perhaps the toughest lesson in politics: It’s the economy, stupid.

Tunisia’s peaceful democratic revolution in 2010 was led by a cross-section of human rights activists, lawyers, Islamists, liberals, leftists, and socialists, most of whom had been oppressed and jailed by the regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Their singular focus was a constitution and institutions that prevented the return of a dictatorship and guaranteed individual rights such as freedom of speech, housing, and a living wage.

Yet while the democracy they built withstood political infighting, interference by Gulf Arab powers, and security crises brought by ISIS and civil war in neighboring Libya, Tunisia’s economy never got back on track under their watch.

Since 2016 alone, the Tunisian dinar has depreciated 40% against the euro (the currency of Tunisia’s major trading partners France and Italy), inflation has been at 8% annually, and the cost of living has increased by over 30%.

Joblessness – the cause that led a young Tunisian man to set himself on fire and sparked the 2010 revolution – persists, with unemployment at 15.4%. Hundreds of young Tunisians risk their lives annually, setting out to Europe by boat.

With dissatisfaction rising and an increasing drift toward populism, political parties have brought in Western-educated economists and talked up jobs for both rounds of this year’s presidential campaign as well as the parliamentary elections this weekend.

The parties’ neglect of the economy was perhaps best summed up by Rachid Ghannouchi, the 78-year-old political philosopher and leader of the Islamist party Ennahda who returned from exile to help lead the democratic revolution.

“For decades we were in the opposition to a dictatorship, struggling for freedoms and liberty,” Mr. Ghannouchi, who is running for parliament, said in a meeting with foreign press in September.

“Now all of a sudden, we have to become economists, something we never even had time to think about.”

Pitch to voters

This shift can be seen in Sidi Hassine, one of the working-class Tunis neighborhoods that were the heartland of the revolution and where marginalization drove residents to revolt against Mr. Ben Ali.

On Wednesday, days ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, parties crisscrossed the neighborhood’s street markets and winding alleyways, canvassing with their new economic pitch.  

Much of the time, they were on the defense.

Taylor Luck
Other Tunisia candidate Tharaya Hamrouni (right) defends her party’s track record and promotes their new economic vision to Kamal Sini (left) and his wife, Fatma, in the Sidi Hassine neighborhood of Tunis, Tunisia, Oct. 2, 2019.

At a rally in a neglected park of sand and rusted swing sets, Ennahda pumped revolutionary pop songs through loudspeakers and then opened by citing stats about their short stint as the sole party in power from 2011 to 2013. 

“I know what you say: What have you politicians done for us?” a speaker said to a few dozen supporters and 100-odd passersby.

“Let me tell you, when we were in government, the Tunisian economy was never better post-revolution; unemployment was at its lowest, and economic growth was 3.6%,” he told the crowd. “Remember those days?”

Urban migration

Across from the park, a dozen men and women sat on the curb for their nightly gathering to gossip and escape the heat in their windowless apartments, unmoved by the campaigners’ outreach to voters such as Mohammed Jamee.

A farmer who lived off his modest, several-acre plot of land in a village outside Kairouan, 100 miles south of Tunis, Mr. Jamee had hoped the revolution would open up opportunities for his five children.

Instead, times only got tougher. With inflation and the decline of the dinar, he could no longer afford to rent the farm equipment and tractors he used to sow and harvest his wheat.

In late 2012, he moved to Tunis to find work, leaving his family behind, part of a growing urban migration from the struggling outer provinces.

He now lugs sacks of cement and brick on his bony shoulders as a day-laborer, earning $8 for 12-hour days, sending the money home.

“Before the revolution, in Ben Ali’s days, lamb cost 7 dinars ($1.50) a kilogram. Now it is so expensive we only meat on the holidays,” he says.

“What good are freedoms when your daily life is worse and you can barely eat?”

Structural problems

Frustrations on the street reveal deep structural problems in Tunisia’s economy, masked for decades by the former dictatorship and pushed aside by revolutionaries consumed with forging their new democracy.

As part of the socialist legacy of modern Tunisia’s founding father Habib Bourguiba, the government is burdened with dozens of state-owned companies saddled with debt and bleeding millions of dollars each year, such as a tobacco company, paper mill, and railways.

The government employs more than 650,000 workers and spends 15.5% of its annual budget on employees – one of the highest rates in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Due to the dominance of French and Italian companies, Tunisia long neglected or ignored trade ties with the rest of Africa, Asia, and North America. There are not even direct flights to America, Asia, or much of Africa.

Islamist Ennahda proposes a Scandinavian-style model by opening state companies for private investment to “run them like private companies,” with the state retaining a share, and transforming Tunisia into a logistics hub and gateway to Africa.

The Democratic Current, the party of Mohammed Abbou, a human rights activist and a drafter of the constitution, focuses on boosting regional investment in marginalized towns and provinces and local small businesses.

Other Tunisia, led by Moncef Marzouki, the human rights activist who served as Tunisia’s post-revolution interim president, proposes tackling mismanagement, corruption, and “government waste” to free up funds for a social safety net and vocational training for young Tunisians.

But any attempts to reform the economy must run through Tunisia’s powerful unions, which provided the legwork for the 2010 revolution and resist any attempts to touch state-owned companies.

Just in January, the unions brought the nation to a standstill by disrupting airports, rail, and schools when the government earmarked $400 million for employee raises in 2019 – half of the unions’ demand of $800 million.

“We need to have a national discussion on what our economy should look like,” says Khalil Amiri, Ennahda economic adviser and deputy minister of scientific research. “After the revolution, we were building institutions from the ground up. Now everyone is ready for that long overdue debate.”

Kitchen-table issues

As Tharaya Hamrouni, an Other Tunisia candidate, went door to door in the alleyways in Sidi Hassine, residents were almost accusatory as they listed other kitchen-table issues: combating drugs, climate change, and violence in Tunisia’s schools. 

“Our schools aren’t safe anymore!” shouted Kamal Sini, recounting a recent knifing at a nearby high school that killed a student. “You send your children to school and you pray to God they come home safe.”

His wife, Fatma, pushed a leaflet back into the candidate’s hand. “We revolted for a better and dignified life, and the only people who have a better life are you lot.”

“This is a political transition, and yes, we focused at first on freedoms,” Ms. Hamrouni appealed, calmly.

“But now the real work begins, and if we don’t work together, our revolution is lost.”

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The Chat

4. Do disturbing stories have a place in today’s unsettling world?

Does backlash over the new “Joker” movie indicate a shift in thought about storytelling that is uncomfortable? The Monitor’s culture writer and its film critic sit down to discuss the movie and others with similar controversies.

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Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
Joaquin Phoenix stars in the film "Joker," opening in theaters Oct. 4, 2019.

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The origin story “Joker” opens this weekend amid backlash about its content and concern that it might incite violence. Americans will see the movie and decide for themselves. But the early reaction to it – from movie critics and theater chains, among others – raises questions about how tolerant society is now when it comes to stories that push boundaries. 

Monitor film critic Peter Rainer and culture writer Stephen Humphries recently discussed the movie and some of its prerelease reception. Among the ideas they raised: How this film compares to others in terms of its violence, what it does to make the Joker a sympathetic character, and how it might have been different had a hero, even a flawed one, been included.

They also considered what the reaction to “Joker” portends for other films that tell difficult stories. “I think unsettling movies have as much right to exist as any other film,” notes Peter, “and have proved to be no more predictive of violence in or out of theaters than any other kind of film.”

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1. Do disturbing stories have a place in today’s unsettling world?

This weekend, movie theaters are doing everything short of sending up the bat signal for the release of “Joker.” Security is heightened to thwart any attempts to copy the 2012 mass shooting at “The Dark Knight Rises,” in Aurora, Colorado. The U.S. Army has issued a warning to its service members that didn’t cite a specific threat, but advised caution at screenings based on an FBI tip. The Landmark theater chain has banned costumes at screenings. And members of the New York Police Department will be wearing an entirely different kind of costume to screenings – they’ll be undercover. 

The furor stems, in part, from some movie critics who’ve decried the sympathetic depiction of the clown-faced comic book villain whose demented grin is as deep and wide as a hammock. Some have wondered if the R-rated, violent origin story – starring Joaquin Phoenix – will have a dangerous resonance for disaffected loners and “incels” (involuntary celibates). Some family members of the Aurora victims have also expressed those concerns. 

The Monitor’s culture writer and its movie critic sat down for a phone discussion about the controversy and the movie’s handling of its subject matter. The following conversation includes a few mild spoilers, and has been edited for length and clarity. 

Stephen Humphries (culture writer): Why is this particular movie stirring up so much consternation? 

Peter Rainer (film critic): I think that the reason why this movie may be touching a nerve is partly its connection to the Aurora shooting in 2012 where “The Dark Knight Rises” was shown, and where it was incorrectly rumored that the shooter was dressed as the Joker. The shooter was not explicitly dressed up as the Joker, but it was close enough. And I think that just really strikes a nerve with people on a very personal, practical level. And I think the other reason is that this movie is an origin story without any superhero in it, or a hero like Batman. 

It’s interesting that you weren’t hearing this kind of a backlash against a film like “John Wick: Chapter 3,” for instance, a recent example of a movie where the body count is much higher and the violence is much more graphic than in “Joker.” But it’s in a comic-book style alternate reality, so it doesn’t strike home the way “Joker” does with its gritty realism and its somewhat nuanced depiction of mental illness.

Stephen: What does the furor portend for future movies with storytelling that is unsettling? Some critics have labeled the “Joker” movie “irresponsible” and “reckless.” They’re worried one or more disaffected loners will be inspired to act out their rage. Other critics, and also star Joaquin Phoenix, have pushed back on that narrative by saying it's condescending to assume audience members aren’t able to distinguish between right and wrong.

Peter: I very much agree with what Phoenix says. I think it is real elitism to say, “We critics can see the difference. You know we can see this for what it is. But the great unwashed out there, the hoi polloi, are just waiting to be manipulated.”

The fear that “average audiences” are going to see this movie and feel compelled to act out what’s in the movie is a time-honored fear that’s existed from the beginning of movies. The Brad Pitt film “Fight Club” and “Do the Right Thing” were two large examples of films that were predicted to cause violence. And there was, you know, basically nothing. People are projecting their fears onto a film and to the reaction of the film. And it had no real basis in reality. There’s a specific reason why those families who are grieving over Aurora would feel antagonistic toward this film, and I fully understand that.

But I think unsettling movies have as much right to exist as any other film and have proved to be no more predictive of violence in or out of theaters than any other kind of film. 

Stephen: I agree. If one starts to single out movies as supposedly causing violence, that’s not just a slippery slope, it’s more like a black diamond slope coated with ice. Unsettling films have every right to exist and they have the potential to illumine our awareness of desperate conditions – mental or physical – that require attention and remedy. But I’m always mindful of the underlying expression. Does it offer a nihilistic vision, one that wallows in bleakness? Or does it elevate our view toward an understanding that allows for change? So, when it comes to “Joker,” I felt it trafficked in familiar tropes. Because ultimately what you’re left with is a movie explaining all the bad things that happened to this character that made him turn out bad. And then you think, “And so what?” A failing with a movie is that I don’t think it offers any new insight into villainous behavior. It doesn’t make me view the world differently afterward.

Peter: I don’t think that it’s necessarily a requirement of any movie, of any work of entertainment or work of art, to come to conclusions that we can point to as the message. I don’t think that’s necessarily the responsibility or the job of filmmakers. I think it’s OK to put stuff out there that you haven’t resolved yourself as an artist. It’s just that in this case, I think they are trying to say something, but despite all the highfalutin stylistics, it’s not new stuff. It’s pretty much the same old, same old. You know, the rich against the poor and the unjust society and those who rise up against it. 

Stephen: During a recent interview, the movie’s director Todd Phillips, said, “The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world.” The movie seems to attempt to get the audience to sympathize by stacking the deck against the character – from the opening scene onward, he suffers one indignity after another. Apart from a single mother who lives in the same building as the protagonist, most of the people in the story are pretty unsympathetic characters. The second time Joker is beaten up during Act 1, the bullies are Wall Street types who make Gordon Gecko seem as warm and fuzzy as Fozzie Bear the Muppet by comparison. I found it to be very heavy-handed, manipulative storytelling. Do you think the movie veers too close to excusing the way the Joker turns to violence by making us think he had no other choice? 

Peter: I think it veers close to that, yes. All of these people who get it in the neck are people who we feel on some level deserved it. The fact that he spares the mother and child was, I thought, indicative of the game plan of this movie, which is basically to put all of the violence that he perpetuates in a sympathetic context. If the film had really wanted to go all the way out, they would have had him go after her as well. Similarly, when Frankenstein sort of accidentally murdered a little girl in “Frankenstein,” that scene was cut out of a lot of showings.  

It’s very much closer to a film like “Taxi Driver,” which it references continually, in that it’s a psychological film. The Joker is someone who we can try to understand from a psychological standpoint.  

Stephen:  I feel as if the movie would have been stronger if the Joker had a foil. Perhaps someone who also suffers and yet chooses a different path in spite of it. Someone like, oh I don’t know, a certain man in Gotham City whose parents are murdered in front of him during a robbery when he was a child. I think there was a missed opportunity perhaps to delve into these themes in a more nuanced and interesting way. What’s your take on that? 

Peter: That was clearly a conscious choice because they wanted the Joker to be the whole show. I don’t object in principle to this movie being as dark as it is. But one of the problems that I have with the film is that there isn’t some countervailing lightness. In other words, it doesn’t show you what could have been or might have been or was there and it’s been snuffed out. If it’s just all dark all the time, then you end up with what you get here, which was a kind of muddiness, a sameness. I mean as powerful and as well-made as a lot of the movie is, it’s almost generic darkness that runs out of steam after awhile. And that’s one reason why I think the film kicks up to this big apocalyptic eruption at the end. It’s because they feel like they have to do something to out-dark the dark. And I think that doesn’t even work for the film’s agenda of showing how dark things are. I think that the darkness would have been more strongly played up if we had seen the light.

Stephen: Phillips has said that the movie isn’t political. During the movie itself, the character of the Joker says he isn’t political. But both statements struck me as disingenuous. There’s a subplot about the 1% – including Bruce Wayne’s father, who is running for mayor – ruling the city of Gotham while a vast underclass suffers. At one point, the city cuts social services, which means no more therapy sessions for Joker. At the end of the movie, the Joker blames the system in a speech and he incites an uprising

Peter: It’s a movie that ultimately culminates in a dark apocalypse of the have-nots versus the haves. It’s a movie about class warfare in a very literal sense. I don’t mean to read too much into this, or turn this into an Op-Ed announcement, but I do think that’s clearly an aspect of this film which again may be one reason why some people are nervous. They think that with everything that’s going on in the country, that this is just going to be another way to ignite the furor that’s happening. 

If we’re talking about Joker being a populist antihero, what would have made the film much stronger is if there had been some level of irony in his leading the charge. You know you can lead the charge in a righteous cause and still do more harm than good. I think that the damage that this character is poised to do, and has done, in the end is really not acknowledged. That’s one reason why I think we both feel that the ending of the film is ultimately a bit hollow, because it comes out with the same old grievances, just tricked up in very dark apocalyptic duds.

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5. Decline of the enforcers: How hockey skated away from fights

As hockey has promoted speed and skill over grappling, goals are up and fights are down. It’s a remarkable cessation of hostilities that reflects society’s increasing wariness over violence in sports.

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Chris Szagola/AP
Chris Stewart (left) of the Philadelphia Flyers gets into a fight with Michael Haley of the New York Rangers during a preseason NHL game Sept. 21, 2019, in Philadelphia. Fights on the ice have dropped 70% since 2008.

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From the cult classic “Slapshot” to the old Blackhawks arena, fighting is sewn into the fabric of hockey. It remains the only major professional sport where coming to blows doesn’t bring an automatic ejection. Crowds inevitably still give a Roman Colosseum roar of approval.

But in the new NHL fighting is no longer a common spectacle, with the fight-per-game rate dropping 70% since 2008. It’s a remarkable cessation of hostilities that, experts say, reflects society’s increasing wariness over violence in sports. The nature of hockey has also changed. The game today puts a premium on speed and quick transitions. Many teams don’t want to waste a roster spot on the equivalent of a George Foreman on skates.

Marc Boxer has watched the evolution of the sport – first as a player, then as a coach, and now as the junior hockey director of USA Hockey. “Listen, I was no angel when I played,” says Mr. Boxer. “There was a lot of fighting. The rules were different ... every inch was a battle.”

“Some people will say that we have made it a softer game,” he says. “I disagree. Guys still hit hard. But no one is saying, ‘Gee, we need more [fights].’”

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Decline of the enforcers: How hockey skated away from fights

As a lifelong fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bill Cameron has seen his share of hockey fights. And not just on the ice. When he would attend games at the old Chicago stadium, the pugnaciousness was evident everywhere.

“There were often more fights in the stands than on the ice,” says Mr. Cameron, now a salesman for a design firm in Woodstock, Georgia. “Even the goalies would fight.”

No longer. As the National Hockey League kicks off its new season this week, there is one thing you are likely to see less of: gloves dropped in pursuit of pummeling an opponent.

Hockey, in one sense the most gladiator-like of all major sports, is changing. Long an integral and celebrated part of hockey, fighting is rapidly diminishing on the rinks of North America as injuries, rule changes, and cultural shifts around player welfare make the spectacle of settling scores by fist increasingly an anachronism.

True, hockey at the big-league level remains the only major team sport where fighting doesn’t bring an almost automatic ejection. It remains a strategic part of the game: something players do to “enforce” order on the ice or to buoy their teammates. Crowds inevitably still give a Roman Colosseum roar of approval.

But in the new NHL fighting is no longer the common spectacle it once was. For proof of this look no further than the decline of the “goon.” Most teams have always had at least one player, usually someone with a Bunyanesque build and fists like ham hocks, whose job description included getting in fights.

One of the baddest and most beloved fighters of all time was Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson, who played in the NHL from 1989 to 2002. During those years he was involved in 268 fights in 729 games. He scored only 39 points (goals plus assists). In 2019, the most willing NHL fighter, according to hockeyfights.com, was Brendan Lemieux with the New York Rangers. He had a total of six fights in 72 games.

The fight-per-game rate has gone from .60 in 2008 to .18 last season – a 70% drop. It’s a remarkable cessation of hostilities that, experts say, reflects society’s increasing wariness over violence in sports.

“There are still people like [Canadian hockey analyst] Don Cherry who think that hockey needs its fights,” says L. Syd Johnson, a philosopher at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York. “But hockey is moving toward being more like other professional sports – even football – where fighting is not intrinsic to the game.”

From the cult classic movie “Slapshot” to the old Blackhawks arena, fighting is sewn into the fabric of the sport. Its roots lie in 19th-century Canada where a relative lack of rules necessitated force and intimidation. Even until fairly recently, the rules did little to discourage fighting. 

Marc Boxer has watched the evolution of the sport for decades – first as a player, then as a coach, and now as the junior hockey director of USA Hockey in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a major feeder organization to the NHL. “Listen, I was no angel when I played,” says Mr. Boxer, who was in the American Hockey League. “There was a lot of fighting. The rules were different, a lot of clutching, hooking, and holding – every inch was a battle.”

NHL teams built a reputation on toughness – hard checking and, yes, fighting. This included teams like the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers (the “Broad Street Bullies”) of the 1970s and ’80s. Flashing a missing-tooth grin was a badge of honor. Many teams also had “protectors” who made sure no one touched their superstars, like Wayne Gretzky. A high-water mark for fighting in the NHL came in 2008, when there were 734 on-ice altercations. 

Since then, the numbers have been declining dramatically. One reason is the sheer toll of the violence. In 2011, three young NHL enforcers – Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, and Rick Rypien – died. Though not tied directly to fighting, their deaths were a sober reminder of the physical and psychological dangers inherent in a rough sport. “It does a lot of damage, let’s just leave it at that,” retired Blackhawks bruiser Dan Carcillo has said.

Those deaths, along with advancements in brain research and player lawsuits, caused the NHL to increase its focus on “player welfare” on and off the ice. But more fundamental changes were coming from the lower leagues.

In 2014, USA Hockey and its junior league stiffened its fighting rule to a minimum 15 minute penalty. The following year, the Canadian Junior Hockey League adopted a “one-fight” rule that ejected fighters.

The Ontario Hockey League, meanwhile, used to have a 10-fight rule to identify serial fighters. In 2016, the league dropped that to three, after which a player is suspended. Fighting has dropped dramatically in all three leagues. All these changes have had a “trickle up” effect on the NHL, according to Professor Johnson: If players aren’t fighting in the minor leagues, they likely aren’t going to when they get to the NHL.

The nature of hockey has also changed. The game today puts a premium on speed and quick transitions. Many teams don’t want to waste a precious roster spot on the equivalent of a George Foreman on skates. 

“Some people will say that we have made it a softer game,” says Mr. Boxer. “I disagree. Guys still hit hard. But no one is saying, ‘Gee, we need more [fights].’ No one is saying that.”

Some would like to see the NHL stiffen the rules more against fighting. But active players still overwhelmingly support leaving them where they are.

For Mr. Cameron in Woodstock, fisticuffs are a necessary deterrent, if, increasingly, a last resort. “I like some of the fighting and that could be just the way I grew up with it,” he says. “I don’t know if I’d ever want to see it go away.”

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The Monitor's View

Young Iraqis looking for clean leaders

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Since its liberation from a dictator in 2003, Iraq has seen popular upwellings against polluted water, political influence from Iran, lack of jobs, aggression by Islamic State, and electricity blackouts. One thing stood out. They were largely organized by political or religious leaders. Since Oct. 1, however, Iraq has seen massive daily demonstrations in a number of cities that are largely spontaneous and leaderless.

The main demand this time: clean governance, or an end to corruption among the political elite. In a sign of a maturing democracy, young Iraqis see corruption as a greater threat than anything else.

Finding a solution may not be easy. The Abdul-Mahdi government could collapse, leading to months of political chaos. The quickest path to a resolution might be a suggestion made Oct. 4 by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for a committee of technocrats to make the government more transparent and accountable with its money.

Arab countries have few models of honest – and elected – leaders who serve the public interest. Young Iraqis are trying to provide one. They’ve tasted freedom and basic democratic rights. Now their bottom-up rebellion is looking for honest leaders who reflect their values of clean governance.

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Young Iraqis looking for clean leaders

Since its liberation from a dictator in 2003 by U.S. forces, Iraq has seen popular upwellings against polluted water, political influence from Iran, lack of jobs, aggression by Islamic State, and electricity blackouts. One thing stood out. They were largely organized by political or religious leaders. Since Oct. 1, however, Iraq has seen massive daily demonstrations in a number of cities that are largely spontaneous and leaderless.

The main demand this time: clean governance, or an end to corruption among a political elite that siphons off the country’s vast oil wealth and bickers in partisan posturing.

In a sign of a maturing democracy, young Iraqis see corruption as a greater threat than anything else. With the aid of social media, they have taken to the streets by the tens of thousands, rallying around an Arabic hashtag that means “I’m protesting for my rights.” The government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, which took power a year ago, has responded by killing dozens of protesters.

About 40% of Iraqis were born after 2003. They have enjoyed four peaceful changes in power by democratic means and now expect more of their leaders. Youth unemployment is around 25%, a result largely of a corrupt economic system. “The parties have robbed us of all our dreams,” says one woman who is protesting.

Finding a solution may not be easy. The Abdul-Mahdi government could collapse, leading to months of political chaos. The quickest path to a resolution might be a suggestion made Oct. 4 by Iraq’s most revered religious figure. Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani asked political leaders to take “practical and clear steps” toward combating corruption or the protesters will “simply come back even stronger.” The highly influential Ayatollah Sistani wants a committee of technocrats to make the government more transparent and accountable with its money.

Arab countries have few models of honest – and elected – leaders who serve the public interest. Young Iraqis are trying to provide one. They’ve tasted freedom and basic democratic rights. Now their bottom-up rebellion is looking for honest leaders who reflect their values of clean governance.

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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.

What do you believe?

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Positive thinking, “mind over matter,” or blind faith can only get us so far. Prayer that affirms and accepts our heavenly Father, God, as the one true Mind has a healing effect.

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What do you believe?

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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“You’re not just what you eat, or do, or think; you are what you believe.” This line from the cover story in the December 2016 National Geographic Magazine, titled “Mind over Matter: The Healing Power of Faith,” has stuck with me. It brings attention to the idea of the power of belief to alter one’s health and well-being.

It reminded me of a passage in a book that takes the idea of the influence of thought to a whole new level. “The time for thinkers has come. Truth, independent of doctrines and time-honored systems, knocks at the portal of humanity,” says the opening page of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science (p. vii). This book explains the Science of the Christ, also referred to as the Science of mental healing.

This Science goes beyond a positive thinking or “mind over matter” approach. Science and Health notes, “The medicine of Science is divine Mind” (p. 104). The human brain or blind faith can only get us so far. But true consciousness – the one divine Mind, or God – is an ever active, universal Principle, the underlying fabric of being. It is in this divine Mind that true power lies.

Mrs. Eddy discovered this Science of Christ when she was near death and doctors couldn’t help her. She turned to the Bible, which she had always studied and loved, including the teachings of Jesus, who used no material methods in healing. Rather, his healings were the result of his understanding of the simple yet profound idea of our oneness with our creator, God.

As Mrs. Eddy understood what she described as “Life in and of Spirit; this Life being the sole reality of existence” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 24), she not only recovered from the injury, but also came into better health than she had ever enjoyed previously. As she learned more about this spiritual idea, she went on to heal countless others through understanding and proving this same divine truth about God and man.

This scientific healing power is still here today, as I found when I chose to apply this Science in a dire situation. A serious hereditary disease had developed in one of my legs, which manifested itself in hives, swelling, and infection. It needed to be treated immediately.

Because I knew from experience that Christian Science is effective in healing all kinds of situations, I turned to it in this instance, too. Through studying divine Science I had learned that our real identity is not material; in fact, “there is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter” (Science and Health, p. 468). This is predicated on the Bible’s explanation that man is created in the image of God, and that nothing can alter or change what a supreme God has done. It was on the foundation of this great truth – our irrevocable inheritance as children of God, good – that Jesus healed disease and sin.

I realized that God, eternal Mind, is my true source of being, so my real identity could only include qualities from God, such as health, strength, purity, joy, and freedom. I found comforting assurance in a passage from “Unity of Good,” another of Mrs. Eddy’s writings. Referring to the material sense that cannot see God, it says, “This false sense of substance must yield to His eternal presence, and so dissolve” (p. 60).

This helped me to not be moved by the condition of my leg. I understood the symptoms to be false evidence about my real substance, or identity, as the expression of God’s goodness. I chose to be one of those “thinkers” Mrs. Eddy mentioned in the opening of Science and Health and to reason spiritually, not materially, about my health. To let God, good, tell me what was true about me as His beloved child.

Holding to the spiritual truth about my being, rather than focusing on the material picture, brought me to a realization that my perfection as a child of God was intact. Within a month the condition completely disappeared and has never returned.

Jesus proved that prayer is effective when based on an understanding of the allness of God, the divine Mind, as did Mrs. Eddy, following in the path he pointed out. We each have the privilege of proving this too.

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Viewfinder

Off the beaten path

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
In just the last five years, the number of visitors to national parks in the United States has grown 35%. On a random day last summer, Zion’s magical main canyon was overwhelmed. And yet. Only a mile away, using a different entrance, you could walk a Zion trail without seeing another human being. And farther afield, at the other four famous national parks dotting southern Utah (Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands), you could wander not far from a parking area and suddenly find yourself alone, and in silence – and agog at the beauty surrounding you. You just need to know where to look. – Michael S. Hopkins/Contributor
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( October 7th, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us. Our next issue will be on the first Monday in October, the traditional opening day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new term. Staff writer Henry Gass will explore the “culture war” issues that are front and center.

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 04, 2019
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