2019
November
20
Wednesday

Today’s five hand-picked stories offer two views of today’s impeachment testimony, a potential crack in the wall of polarization, questions about Latino political power, Chinese students on U.S. campuses, and a new app for an old tradition in Jordan.

But first, humpback whales had me when I first heard them sing. I remember sitting in my bedroom as a grade schooler perched over the record player as it crackled along the shiny grooves of a floppy black record that came in National Geographic. The unearthly beauty transported me to a place beyond imagination and yet, amazingly, actually real. What a world I lived in!

I think of that today as I read that populations of humpback whales in the South Atlantic have recovered from near extinction to pre-20th-century abundance. The numbers are unfathomable – from 450 in the 1950s to 25,000 now.

The humpbacks’ song spoke to us all in ways words never could. Similarly, author Rachel Carson helped spawn the environmental movement with her 1962 book that spoke of a “Silent Spring” without birdsong. But what of nature that can’t sing for itself? Can we find a song for the planet?

A Monitor Progress Watch story from last year concludes: “Ultimately, the whales’ recovery is a story of a global community coming together.” Amid the tremendous challenges our planet faces, it is vital to remember the good we can do. And that often begins with the awe and humility that allow us to find our own deeper harmonies as the human race.

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Split screen

Two views on a key issue

1. Sondland impeachment testimony: two perspectives

Hyperpartisanship isn’t simply about differences of opinion. In many ways, the right and the left are actually seeing different things. Here’s a look at two perspectives on testimony from a key Trump administration figure.

Mark
U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testifies before the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 20, 2019.

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One week into the public phase of the House impeachment inquiry, it almost seems as if the Democrats and Republicans are witnessing separate events.

To Democrats, testimony Wednesday from the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, amounted to the clearest indictment of President Donald Trump’s attempt to push Ukraine for favors. At the first break in the action in the impeachment inquiry Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff rushed to the hall outside the hearing room to hold an impromptu press conference/spin session.

“This is a very important moment in the history of this investigation,” he told reporters.

For Republicans, however, the focus was on a Sept. 9 call between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump. Mr. Sondland reportedly asked the latter what he wants from Ukraine, and Mr. Trump said “nothing, no quid pro quo, Volodymyr Zelenskiy needs to ‘do the right thing.’”

The president repeated the words of that call over the whine of a Marine helicopter waiting to whisk him to Andrews Air Force Base. “This is the final word from the president of the United States: ‘I want nothing,’” he said before turning to leave on a trip to Austin, Texas.

What follows is a look at the split-screen positions of the two sides as revealed in Mr. Sondland’s public testimony.

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Sondland impeachment testimony: two perspectives

As the public phase of the Democratic-led House impeachment inquiry passes the one-week mark, Democrats and Republicans continue to look at witnesses and testimony through very different lenses. At times it seems almost as if the two parties are taking part in separate events. 

Consider these scenes from Wednesday morning:

At the House, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff seemed pleased with the way things were going. At the first break in the action in the impeachment inquiry, the California Democrat rushed to the hall outside the hearing room to hold an impromptu press conference/spin session.

New testimony from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, implicated senior administration officials – from President Donald Trump on down – in an effort to pressure Ukraine into launching investigations that could damage the president’s political opponents, Representative Schiff said.

“This is a very important moment in the history of this investigation,” he told reporters.

Across town, President Trump was very clear he did not consider it an important moment at all. Over the whine of a Marine helicopter waiting to whisk him to Andrews Air Force Base, President Trump repeated words from a Sept. 9 phone call with Mr. Sondland, in which he said there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine, he wanted nothing from them, and that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy just needed to “do the right thing.”

“This is the final word from the president of the United States: ‘I want nothing,’” said President Trump before turning to leave on a trip to Austin, Texas.

Here is a look at the split-screen positions of the two sides as revealed in Ambassador Sondland’s public testimony:

How Democrats see it

To Democrats the big news of Ambassador Sondland’s testimony, and one of the biggest moments in the impeachment inquiry to date, was simply the witness opening statement.

Mr. Sondland publicly made clearer than previously that in his view the U.S. did indeed push Ukraine for favors, specifically the opening of several investigations that could politically benefit President Trump at home, in exchange for things Ukraine wanted, such as a White House visit for President Zelenskiy.

Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Nov. 20 drew widespread interest across the U.S.

“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo’? ... the answer is yes,” said Ambassador Sondland in his statement. 

Democrats also said the E.U. ambassador’s testimony tied the president more closely to this decision than previously known. Mr. Sondland testified that he, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and former U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker worked with President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine issues at the “express direction” of the president.

“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt,” Ambassador Sondland’s statement said. 

It was Mr. Giuliani who kept pushing for investigations that could benefit President Trump, and Mr. Sondland and others assumed those orders were coming from the Oval Office. At first, it was a desired visit to the White House for the Ukrainian leader that was endangered unless the Ukrainians announced the beginning of investigations. Later, Ambassador Sondland said, he “came to the conclusion” that U.S. military aid was endangered as well, although he was careful to state he never had such an indication from President Trump himself. 

Democrats also felt that Ambassador Sondland’s testimony documented that top officials from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney knew about the alleged quid pro quos and were fully “in the loop,” in Ambassador Sondland’s words, about Mr. Giuliani’s parallel Ukraine policy track.

At one point, for instance, Ambassador Sondland emailed Secretary Pompeo and asked if it would be a good idea for President Trump to take a few minutes on a scheduled trip to Warsaw to break away and speak to President Zelenskiy, to help Mr. Trump to see that his Ukrainian counterpart could be a positive partner.

“Yes”, Mr. Pompeo replied. (The trip to Warsaw was cancelled so the meeting never took place.)

In the end, in the Democratic view, Ambassador Sondland described a situation in which virtually all the important actors in the U.S. government were urging greater American support for Ukraine in the name of national security, via aid and personal contact. Only the president and his personal lawyer differed, for opaque, personal reasons. 

“I really regret that the Ukrainians were placed in that predicament, but I do not regret doing what I could to try to break the log jam,” Mr. Sondland said.

How Republicans see it

To members of the GOP, the Democrats were spiking the football in perceived triumph without having scored a touchdown, or indeed moved the ball at all.

A word they used throughout the day Wednesday was “presumption.” Ambassador Sondland said that a Ukrainian White House visit and U.S. military aid to Ukraine were contingent on investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden; the latter’s job at a Ukrainian energy company; and into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. But Republicans pointed out over and over that he’d never heard that from President Trump himself. He simply presumed that Mr. Giuliani was conveying presidential wishes.

“Did the president ever tell you personally about preconditions for anything?” asked Stephen Castor, a lawyer for the Republican minority, at Wednesday’s hearing. 

“No,” Ambassador Sondland replied.

Republicans also wondered aloud why Mr. Sondland had not included a reference to his Sept. 9 phone call with President Trump in his opening statement.

Ambassador Sondland made that call after other U.S. diplomats questioned whether military aid for Ukraine was being delayed, on purpose, by the president. In previous testimony, Mr. Sondland said that the call was brief and the chief executive was in a poor mood. 

“What do you want from Ukraine?” Ambassador Sondland asked, according to previous testimony.

“I want nothing,” President Trump replied. “I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing.”

It was this call that the president himself talked about Wednesday as he was leaving for Texas.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham added in a statement that this was “one of the few brief phone calls” the pair had engaged in, and that in fact Ukraine has not experienced any sort of penalty in regards to some perceived quid pro quo.

“The U.S. aid to Ukraine flowed, no investigation was launched, and President Trump has met and spoken with President Zelenskiy. Democrats keep chasing ghosts,” said Ms. Grisham’s statement.

In Congress not all Republicans flat out denied a quid pro quo’s existence. Some GOP senators have long felt that President Trump’s best defense would be to acknowledge that a quid pro quo may have been set up, but it never occurred. In any case it was a normal and acceptable way of carrying out foreign policy, which is any president’s prerogative.

“The fact there was, that fact that there may be a quid pro quo is meaningless. Now, if you want to talk about an illegal quid pro quo, that’s relevant,” said Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana.

The GOP has also turned somewhat on Ambassador Sondland and begun to question his recollections per se. From the first, the White House has not seemed sure about how to handle him – a big Trump campaign donor who was a foreign policy novice and didn’t seem entirely committed to defending the president.

Both Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary Perry issued statements Wednesday denying that interactions with Ambassador Sondland described in his testimony ever took place. And in the inquiry hearing, GOP counsel Mr. Castor decried the ambassador’s admitted lack of notes, spotty memory, and occasional reliance on speculation – a “trifecta of unreliability,” in Castor’s words. 

“We’re talking about the impeachment of the president of the United States. The evidence ought to be pretty darn good,” Mr. Castor said.

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A deeper look

2. Cancel culture’s flip side: Gen Zers befriend political foes

In a new study and on campuses, there are the first faint signs that today's students may be willing to pull up the roots of polarization, reaching out to those with other worldviews.

Mark

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Today’s college students are coming of age within a demographic diversity even greater than that of Millennials. But with the country’s seething polarization in the background, they are cultivating friendships outside their own religion and politics. In a new study, researchers found that “students come to college now having had a lot more exposure to inter-worldview friendships beforehand, … a really hopeful sign,” says Professor Alyssa Rockenbach.

Interfaith dialogue is nothing new, and fostering cross-cultural discussions have long been part of campus life. But the study shows students’ willingness to work through clashing differences and maintain these friendships.

It’s essential that members with conservative or traditional theological perspectives feel both heard and included, says Mary Ellen Giess of the nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core. One of the “bedrock premises” of her organization, she says, is to help “the common good” and guide students to develop the skills to create a functioning society.

“That’s not easy, but I think that it’s actually a beautiful thing to be able to affirm the distinctiveness of what individuals and individual communities bring,” Ms. Giess says. “That’s the foundation of our country.”

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Cancel culture’s flip side: Gen Zers befriend political foes

Iyleah Hernandez was slightly hesitant last year when a Muslim student leader asked her to speak at the next interfaith coffeehouse on campus.

A self-described agnostic at the time, Ms. Hernandez wasn’t sure what she’d have to say to interfaith discussion group attendees at Dominican University, a Catholic institution just outside Chicago. Many were devout Roman Catholics, observant Muslims, or others with sincerely held religious beliefs.

What’s more, her political points of view weren’t exactly popular among her peers. “I’m a Republican, and a Republican in very liberal schools? They don’t mix – oil and water,” says Ms. Hernandez. 

She’s had a firsthand view of aspects of what many are calling “cancel culture,” a phenomenon in which mostly left-leaning young people shun or socially isolate their right-leaning peers. Former President Barack Obama and others have decried this emerging trend, even as younger thinkers on the left have defended “canceling” those believed to have oppression-sustaining views.

But a growing number of students like Ms. Hernandez, members of a Generation Z who are coming of age within a burgeoning demographic diversity even greater than that of Millennials, have begun to forge a different sensibility when it comes to forming friendships with those with different points of view, scholars say. It’s the often-unseen flip side of cancel culture and the country’s seething polarizations.

“It appears that students come to college now having had a lot more exposure to inter-worldview friendships beforehand, so I think that’s a really hopeful sign,” says Alyssa Rockenbach, professor of higher education at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who studies the attitudes of incoming college students and charts how they change over time. “That suggests that they are primed to hopefully maintain some of those friendships and make more during the college years.”

Make no mistake, the climate on many campuses is tense, as seen this week at Syracuse University in New York, where a series of racist incidents has roiled students and administrators and drawn intervention from the governor. But for scholars like Professor Rockenbach, this only adds urgency to their work to foster inter-worldview relationships she and others are now studying.

Making the effort

Even when she attended her high school for gifted STEM students, Ms. Hernandez says she experienced microaggressions and outright hostility from other students because of her conservative views. But she had a longing to talk about the conflicting political ideas, and attempted to form an “inter-political discussion group,” she says. She tried to form a similar group as a freshman at Dominican.

Now a double major in mathematics and computer science, Ms. Hernandez found herself becoming outspoken in religious classes like Love and Faith, where she began to defend the religious perspectives of students after a “militant atheist” in class reduced faith to violence-causing nonsense.

“So a lot of people would approach me after class saying, like, ‘Hey, why? Why are you defending us? You’re an agnostic, you’re an atheist. So, like, what’s up with that?’” Ms. Hernandez says. “People saw me in a certain way, and I was, like, no, that’s not me. So let’s have conversations about this, because that’s not OK.” So a few of her peers invited her to the interfaith coffeehouse. 

One of the Catholic students challenged the purple rosary Ms. Hernandez wore every day. It was a gift from her grandfather, whom she adored, she says, and she wore it to honor him, not as something sacred used for prayer.  

The exchange could have been tense. But “we started having a really good conversation,” she says. “That was when I first started thinking about, you know, how is the way in which I kind of express myself, how could that be harmful to somebody who is of a different faith?

One friend leads to another

Such interfaith dialogue is nothing new, and efforts to foster cross-cultural discussions have long been part of campus life. But Dr. Rockenbach and her colleague Matthew Mayhew, professor of educational administration at The Ohio State University in Columbus, decided to study and track the kinds of friendships students make during this formative time of their lives – and how these friendships shape them. 

In October, they released some of the results of their long-range study called the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS), which surveyed some 7,000 students from an array of 122 U.S. colleges and universities, tracking how their experiences within inter-worldview relationships shaped their attitudes toward others.

Laura Greene/The High Point Enterprise/AP
Community members and families enjoy traditional dishes served at the 5th Annual Interfaith Ramadan Iftar held at Hayworth Chapel Fellowship Hall on the campus of High Point University, May 17, 2018.

Instead of a rampant cancel culture rooted in rancor, one of their reports, titled “Friendships Matter,” found many students were beginning to cultivate inter-worldview friendships, not shun them. Even more important, many showed a willingness to work through some of their clashing differences and make an effort to maintain those friendships afterward.  

“And what’s really interesting to me is the fact that gaining a friend from a different worldview doesn’t just make you more appreciative ... toward people in your new friend’s group in general,” Dr. Rockenbach says. “There is kind of an exciting effect that extends beyond that friendship to other worldviews.”

An openness to different beliefs

Kevin Singer never had the slightest inkling that he would embrace this kind of interfaith work. A theologically conservative evangelical Christian, he spent five years helping plant Southern Baptist churches in the suburbs of Chicago. 

When he and his wife were expecting their first child, he asked a community college if he could teach a New Testament course, since he needed the extra income. “And they said, well, how about you teach world religions? You could teach that, right? I was like, yeah, sure,” Mr. Singer says.  

It changed his life. His experience teaching didn’t change his theological perspectives, but it did change his sensibilities, he says.

“I loved interacting with students and seeing their minds open up to, you know, their neighbors of different beliefs,” says Mr. Singer, who gave up his plan to study theology and is now a Ph.D. candidate in higher education at North Carolina State. “That’s the payoff for me, seeing these students say they’ve never met a Muslim or a Hindu, or they’ve never even heard of Zoroastrianism or Taoism, but now they’re really curious.”

There certainly can be tensions while maintaining an exclusive religious point of view. “You know, seeing that a lot of my evangelical brethren weren’t necessarily super excited about engaging with their neighbors of other faiths, I realized, I can really make an impact on how my faith, my own faith community, is perceived,” he says.

He sees his interfaith work as part of the evangelical commitment to “the Great Commission,” Jesus’ command to spread the gospel throughout the world.

“I always tell people I’m a pragmatist,” Mr. Singer says. “If I want to obey Jesus’ commands to make disciples of all nations to the most efficient degree, it’s going to be through being someone who radiates the love of Christ in such a way that it draws people’s curiosity.”

“Common good”

It’s essential that members of traditional theological perspectives feel both heard and included in these discussions, says Mary Ellen Giess, senior director of strategic partnerships for Interfaith Youth Core, the national nonprofit that works with the IDEALS project.

Interfaith Youth Core
The Interfaith Youth Core's annual Leadership Institute brought together students and educators last August in Chicago. For three days participants learn to bridge divides and forge friendships across lines of religious and worldview differences.

One of her organization’s “bedrock premises”, she says, is to foster “the common good” by guiding students to develop the skills necessary to create a functioning pluralistic society and training them to be leaders who help bridge differences and find common values.

“That’s not easy, but I think that it’s actually a beautiful thing to be able to affirm the distinctiveness of what individuals and individual communities bring to society,” Ms. Giess says. “That’s the foundation of our country. You should be able to say, this is who we are, so we can bring our fullest selves, our genuine understandings of our traditions, our commitments and our beliefs, and then create this common space together.”

In U.S., religious liberties

When Musbah Shaheen came to the United States from Syria in 2013, he expected to find some relief from what he felt were the stifling confines of his Muslim upbringing. A gay man in a traditional religious culture, he was eager to experience a new kind of freedom at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

“But mostly I found the opposite,” says Mr. Shaheen, now a graduate associate at The Ohio State University. “I encountered religion or signs of faith every place I went to, starting from the campus and beyond. And, you know, I just started meeting people.”

There were some Christians in his hometown in Syria, but he had never met a Jewish person – or anyone else from a different faith. During his freshman year at Vanderbilt, he just happened to stop to have ice cream at an interfaith social. 

One of the members was a Hindu and another was a Sikh – two religions he knew nothing about. But he found himself drawn to their discussion group, in part because he was seeking fellowship with people of color during a lonely time in his life. 

“It sounds cliché, but I learned to appreciate the diversity of the perspectives that exist within this crazy diversity of religions that are in the States,” Mr. Shaheen says. “And I began to challenge some of the things that I had internalized about people from other religions, especially those that I had never encountered. I thought, wow, there’s so much that I can learn from the lived experiences of these people.”

Finding religious diversity, in fact, helped him rediscover his own identity, and drew him back to Islam.

“I never thought I would miss the Friday routine, the Friday prayers, jumah,” he says. “I experienced the dissonance between my rejection [of my religion] and things that meant a lot to me. I had to ask myself, who is it that I am?”

As a gay Muslim man in the South, he’s experienced his share of microaggressions and outright hostility, too. “It’s OK for folks to experience anger sometimes, or to experience pain or experience misunderstanding,” he continues. “These are all things that I went through, but I found people with other views to help process all of this, to work through these things, to challenge and be challenged and talk through my worldviews.”

To a new depth of faith

Ms. Hernandez had a similar experience after she shared her experiences and agnostic views at that first coffeehouse, she saw herself begin to change profoundly.

“I never felt the deepness to which people that I encountered here felt for their faith,” says Ms. Hernandez, who is now a leader in Dominican’s interfaith group. “Seeing their passion made me realize that I’m not really passionate about being an agnostic,” she says.

Her new friendships, as well as deep conversations with the Dominican sisters who help administer her university, led her to embrace Catholicism – a hope her grandfather had always had for her. She’s now in the process to be baptized next spring.

“It’s been a little bit of a bumpy road because I don’t want to convert anybody, but at the same time, I don’t want it to feel like I am hiding what I believe in now, and who I am, you know?” she says. “Like, you’re not a stereotype. You’re your own unique person, created from your own unique experiences, and who has this long complicated background in your life.”

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3. As Latinos’ political clout grows, could U.S. follow path of California?

Latinos have turned their political potential into power in California. Now, other areas of the country are wondering if that shift is drawing closer for them, too.

Mark
Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star/AP
Candidate Regina Romero hugs U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva at an election night party at Hotel Congress shortly before she was announced the winner and the city's next mayor, in Tucson, Arizona, Nov. 5, 2019.

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The number of Latino voters nationwide nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018, and Latinos turned out in droves in both 2018 and 2019’s off-year elections. And while Latinos are not monolithic in their political preferences – in states like Texas and Florida, larger percentages back Republicans than in states like California and New York – a majority of Latinos vote Democratic. 

Some experts see a national shift taking place that mirrors what began happening in California more than two decades ago. The 1994 passage of Proposition 187, a ballot measure denying social services to unauthorized immigrants, galvanized California’s Latinos. Political and civic leaders began mobilizing voters and systematically running for office at the state and local level, helping to turn the state a deep blue.

President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 “did something similar,” says Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions. “It was through winning and governing on an anti-immigrant strategy that [Mr. Trump] has started to get a reaction. He’s worked people up.” The question, he adds, is whether the motivation will continue for the next 12 months.

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As Latinos’ political clout grows, could U.S. follow path of California?

When Mayra Macías looks at the recent off-year elections in Arizona, she sees shades of California. For the first time, voters in Tucson put a Latina – Regina Romero – in the mayor’s office. The last time voters there elected a Latino mayor was in 1875. 

The election of Ms. Romero, a Democrat who served three terms on the city council, “is a harbinger of what’s possible when you engage communities of color,” says Ms. Macías, executive director of Latino Victory, a progressive organization that recruits and supports Latino candidates across the country.

To her, that means more Latinos in office, from federal to local government, as well as more Latino voters at polling places – potentially flipping states like Arizona and even Texas from red to blue.

And she sees clear parallels to a shift that took place in California more than two decades ago. In November 1994, a watershed moment galvanized the state’s Latinos, motivating them to organize and pushing them overwhelmingly into the Democratic camp. That moment was the passage of Proposition 187, a ballot measure that sought to deny social services such as education and health care to unauthorized immigrants. It was backed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who rode it to reelection.

The measure was found unconstitutional, but it – along with other targeted measures in the state – alarmed and angered many Latinos. Their political and civic leaders began systematically running for office at the state and local level, and mobilizing voters. Now the largest ethnic group in the state, Latinos played a huge role in turning California deep blue and steering its policy.

Similarly, says Ms. Macías, the Trump presidency is proving to be a watershed moment for Latinos on a national scale. “President Trump launched his campaign denigrating [immigrants] and spewing the same rhetoric as for Proposition 187,” she says. “Latinos are paying attention.”

Ms. Macías and others on the front lines of organizing say the road to the White House runs through their community. But over the years, turnout has been a consistent challenge. In California, Latino turnout spiked after Proposition 187, then fell back again.

Rene Macura/AP/File
Esperanza Diaz of Chicanos Unidos, a group made up of statewide Latino groups, shouts against Proposition 187 during a small demonstration in front of the Vons grocery store in East Los Angeles, Oct. 29, 1994. The group was also protesting Vons' political contributions to Gov. Pete Wilson's campaign.

Still, Latinos came out in droves in the 2018 midterm elections, as well as in this year’s off-year elections, says Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, which specializes in public opinion research. It is a direct reaction to President Donald Trump, he says.

According to Pew Research Center, the number of Latino voters nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018. And Mr. Barreto notes “extremely high voter turnout” in Latino precincts in Virginia earlier this month, calling it “consequential” in flipping the statehouse to Democratic control. With a Democratic governor, Virginia is now completely blue for the first time in 26 years.

Just as then-Governor Wilson’s reelection in California in 1994 set off a wave of voter engagement, President Trump’s election in 2016 “did something similar,” says Mr. Barreto. “Trump still won, much like Pete Wilson did. But it was through winning, and governing on an anti-immigrant strategy, that [Trump] has started to get a reaction. He’s worked people up.”

The question, says Mr. Barreto, is whether the motivation will continue for the next 12 months. 

Mr. Barreto notes the considerable growth in Latino political organizing, with groups such as Latino Victory, Mi Familia Vota, Voto Latino, and the Dreamer youth activists making their voices heard. “No longer do you just have LULAC and La Raza [now UnidosUS],” two core groups that go back decades.

“Formal organizing is so much stronger,” he says. For instance, Latino Victory went from endorsing 15 Latino candidates in 2016, to 58 in 2018 – at all levels, from governor to city council. It is being inundated with requests from potential candidates.

And Mr. Barreto points to something else: self-mobilizing. “We picked this up in our polling in 2018,” he says. “A record number of voters were telling us they were doing micro-mobilizing among friends and family. People are realizing how high the stakes are.”

He also credits Latino leaders such as Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, who last year headed up the Democratic campaign arm in the U.S. House as it ushered in a Democratic majority in a blue wave. “They had a whole lot of folks involved who knew they had to do that outreach.”

Case in point: Texas. In last year’s midterms, 800,000 more Latinos voted than in 2014, according to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez at a recent Monitor Breakfast. But more than 3 million Latinos who were eligible to vote stayed home. Given that former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas lost his challenge to incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz by just over 200,000 votes, the opportunity for Democratic victories in 2020 seem tantalizingly close.

“Texas is a remarkable potential opportunity,” said Mr. Perez, the DNC’s first Latino chair, citing at least six pickup possibilities for Democrats in the U.S. House, as well as the possibility of flipping the Texas House of Representatives.

Still, Latinos are not monolithic in their political preferences. A new study by the University of Houston points out that in some states – like Texas and Florida – larger percentages of Hispanics back Republicans than in states like California and New York, though a majority still votes Democratic. 

“Is it fair to say that an Anglo in Texas votes the same as an Anglo in New York? No. They have different upbringings, different backgrounds,” says Ivan Andarza, a board member of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas. The story of California’s Latinos will not be repeated in the Lone Star State for the simple reason that “they’re much more conservative in Texas.”

Mr. Andarza, an immigration attorney in Austin, admits that President Trump’s immigration rhetoric “does have an effect on Hispanics.” He also says the surge in Latino voting in 2018 means “we gotta work harder on the Republican side.”

However, he calls 2018 a “special circumstance” in Texas. Mr. O’Rourke ran as a moderate against a weakened Senator Cruz, but tacked much further to the left as a presidential candidate in 2019. Conservative voters won’t be fooled next time, he predicts – citing the strong showing of the state’s Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who won a second term with 42% of the Hispanic vote last year.

Mr. Andarza praises Governor Abbott and previous Republican governors in the state for their extensive outreach to Hispanic voters. Democrats have taken Hispanics for granted in the past, he says, though that’s changing.

Indeed, candidates can’t count on opposition to President Trump alone to energize Latino voters. “I think it’s a mistake to only use Trump as a rallying cry,” says Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project, which is based in Sacramento and affiliated with the University of Southern California. “The messages we know that work are messages that connect back to your community, your family, the issues.”

Ms. Macías agrees.

“We need to give the Latino community entry points, and ask them to engage,” she says, with campaigns and candidates reaching out early and often. “It is not enough for folks to be angry.”

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4. Colleges, officials try to thaw effects of the US-China chill

President Trump says Chinese students enrich American universities, yet the trade war is causing tensions. Colleges across the U.S. are struggling to figure out: What now?

Mark
Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Li Yiyang, from China’s Sichuan province, is a graduate student in statistics at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she hopes to work after graduation. The number of Chinese students in the U.S. has reached an all-time high, although the rate of growth continues to slow.

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Over the past decade, the number of Chinese students on U.S. campuses has more than tripled. But with U.S.-China relations chilly, and heightened concerns about espionage, what’s ahead for that trend?

This year, Chinese students in the U.S. reached an all-time high, according to data released this week by the Institute of International Education. But growth in enrollment continues to slow, from 29.9% a decade ago to just 1.7% today. 

To some extent, that reflects better opportunities for Chinese students at home. But it could spell trouble for cash-strapped U.S. campuses – and schools, along with the U.S. government, are making a push to broaden their appeal abroad. Seventy percent of foreign students in this country are concentrated at just 200 institutions, and 1 out of 3 is in California, Texas, or New York.

One part of that campaign? Making Chinese students feel welcomed, despite the frosty diplomacy. At the University of Washington, which has more than 4,000 students from China, a few students suggested tensions had led them to keep a low profile – but not most.

Eddie Chen, a lanky freshman from the northeast Heilongjiang province, says he would recommend studying abroad. “You have to solve problems for yourself,” he says. “You have to be independent.”

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Colleges, officials try to thaw effects of the US-China chill

Fan Rong crosses the University of Washington’s red-brick central plaza and steps into a lively lounge filled with students working on fall-quarter projects. A graduate student in civil engineering from China, she’s happy studying in the United States, and recommends it to all her friends back home.

Ms. Fan says she’s planning to stay on after graduating in 2021, joining tens of thousands of her fellow students from China. “I’d like to find an internship or job in Seattle,” she says, noting that “Seattle has a lot of tech companies and we can collaborate with them.”

Chinese students such as Ms. Fan are still flowing to the U.S. in record numbers, despite tensions in U.S.-China relations that have hampered exchanges and raised fears of visa restrictions. Chinese students in U.S. colleges, universities, and professional training reached 369,548 this year, an all-time high, according to data on the 2018-19 academic year released Monday by the Institute of International Education (IIE) nonprofit in New York. The overall number of Chinese students in the country has more than tripled over the past decade.

But as the two countries’ relations chill, and the rate of growth in enrollment continues to steadily slow – from 29.9% in 2009-10 to just 1.7% in 2018-19 – officials and campuses are giving new attention to recruiting and welcoming foreign students, who are now a significant source of tuition for cash-strapped schools.

“There are pressures in both positive and negative directions. When factored together the result has been a softening of demand” for U.S. education among Chinese students in the past five years, says Brad Farnsworth, vice president of the American Council on Education. Faced with slower increases in enrollments, some U.S. schools are struggling, particularly community colleges and regional public universities, says Mr. Farnsworth, whose organization is launching a public survey aimed at building community support for international students, and thereby strengthening the U.S. position as their top global destination.

SOURCE: Open Doors: Report on International Educational Exchange and is published by IIE
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Karen Norris/Staff

Competition from other English-speaking countries, as well as from China’s own elite schools, has eroded the U.S lead. “Chinese universities continue to climb in the rankings. ... Some are really world class,” says Mr. Farnsworth, who has taught in China.

Political rhetoric casting China as an enemy has also hurt student exchanges, Mr. Farnsworth believes, although he notes the slower growth began before the Trump administration. Beijing, for its part, this summer warned Chinese youths of the risks of studying and living in the U.S.

But with continued economic growth, China’s rising middle class can still afford the costly U.S. tuition, and many parents want their children to develop critical thinking skills that they view as lacking under China’s traditional system. Li Yiyang, a graduate student in statistics from Sichuan Province, says her family pushed her to study in the U.S. “My parents were educated in China and didn’t feel it’s an energetic environment” for learning, she says.

Ms. Fan, who graduated from China’s prestigious Tsinghua University, said she was drawn to study in the U.S. in part because of the real-world opportunities. At Tsinghua, she says “all the students and teachers respect academics more than industry experience. But here students find internships at an early stage and are thinking of entrepreneurial careers.”                

Ann Scott Tyson/The Christian Science Monitor
Fan Rong (left), from China's region of Inner Mongolia, and Li Yiyang, from China's Sichuan province, are both graduate students in STEM fields at the University of Washington in Seattle, and hope to work or intern in Seattle after graduation.

Broadening appeal

Chinese students remain by far the largest contingent of the more than 1 million international students in the U.S. for the 2018-19 academic year – totaling more than those from the next six countries combined.   

Trump administration officials now say they seek to recruit even more top students from China – as well as India, Brazil, and other countries – as part of a global marketing campaign to broaden the international student presence at America’s 4,700 colleges and universities.

“We have significant capacity to host many more students from around the world,” said Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce in a conference call last week with journalists about the data from IIE, noting that 70% of foreign students are concentrated at only 200 institutions, and 1 out of 3 is in California, Texas, or New York.

A major part of that campaign is an effort by Washington to ensure Chinese students feel welcomed, despite heightened concerns over Chinese espionage. In recent months, U.S. officials have warned that Chinese intelligence services have abused the visa process and co-opted scholars to try to gain access to sensitive research and intellectual property. But only a tiny fraction of Chinese student visa applicants – .0001% – have been rejected on these grounds, Secretary Royce said in a July speech. 

Asked about overall student visa approval rates, a State Department official wrote in an email that “We do not provide specific statistics on denial rates for particular groups of students.” The official reiterated that “national security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications.”

President Donald Trump emphasized that Chinese students are an asset during an Oval Office appearance with China’s Vice Premier Liu He last month. “We have the greatest university system in the world, and we’re going to keep it that way. And one of the reasons it’s great is we have a lot of students from China,” he said.

Apart from their academic strengths, Chinese students accounted for nearly $15 billion of the $45 billion that international students contributed to the U.S. economy in 2018, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data.

Beyond the classroom

Both Chinese and U.S. officials have stressed the importance of student exchanges to the bilateral relationship. “People-to-people [exchanges] are the core,” says Qian Jin, deputy Chinese consul general in New York. “We want more exchanges and interactions between the two peoples. We don’t want obstructions.”

One way to promote bridge-building, U.S. officials say, is to encourage Chinese students here to break out of the social and information “bubble” created when they primarily interact with other Chinese students and mainland media.

At the University of Washington, which has more than 4,000 students from China enrolled on a campus of 54,000, a few students suggested the tensions in U.S.-China relations had led them to keep a low profile and avoid conflict, and one said he feared a new cold war would break out. But most indicate they are engaging with Americans and soaking up U.S. culture.

Josh Jiang, who earned an MBA and is working on a second master’s degree in information systems, says he “loves Seattle.” “American people treat me very well, and I have a bunch of friends here,” he says. “If my parents did not live in China, I would definitely want to live here.”

Other students said they were embracing the U.S. style of education.

Eddie Chen, a lanky freshman from the northeast Heilongjiang province, says studying in the U.S. has helped him grow up, and he would recommend it. “You have to solve problems for yourself,” he says. “You have to be independent.”

Mr. Chen’s friend Yiyi Zheng nods in agreement, saying she would advise U.S. study for “people who want to get out of their comfort zone and see the diversity of the world and different cultures.” 

SOURCE: Open Doors: Report on International Educational Exchange and is published by IIE
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Karen Norris/Staff
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5. In Jordan, mourning matters. This app keeps funeral-goers on task.

Technology helps us call cabs and have takeout food delivered to our door. Now, Jordan is using it to help maintain a meaningful tradition that keeps community ties strong.

Mark

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Many Jordanians read their morning newspaper from back to front, starting with the obituary section. It’s not a morbid obsession, but rather an attempt to make sure they don’t neglect a vital social obligation.

Here in tribal Jordan, even as other aspects of society have transformed dramatically, the importance of communal mourning has changed very little. If anything, the obligation to pay your respects during the azza, the three-day mourning period after someone dies, has been elevated to a matter of honor.

If a relative of an in-law, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance dies – no matter if it is a parent, cousin, or a distant aunt thrice removed – it is a duty to demonstrate support and show up during the azza, however briefly.

“We go to azzas more often than Americans go to the gym,” jokes Mohammed Shadi, an Amman lawyer who had just attended four wakes in three days.

Not showing up is just not an option. That makes for an awful lot of wakes to attend. How to weave them into an already hectic schedule and get to the funeral tent in time is a real challenge. So now there’s an app.

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In Jordan, mourning matters. This app keeps funeral-goers on task.

In much of the Arab world, among Muslims and Christians alike, paying your respects in person is part of a communal approach to mourning that is a cornerstone of social solidarity.

A practice begun centuries ago as a form of social support for the bereaving family, the azza is a three-day mourning period and public wake immediately following burial.

Here in tribal Jordan, even as other aspects of society have transformed dramatically in recent decades, the importance of communal mourning has changed very little. If anything, this social obligation has been elevated to a matter of honor and personal duty, and a funeral is a call to action.

If a relative of an in-law, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or acquaintance dies – no matter if it is a parent, cousin, or a distant aunt thrice removed – it is a duty to demonstrate support and show up during the azza, even if just to express your condolences, sit for a few minutes, eat a date, and leave.

No person’s word has worth if they do not show up at an azza: After work, stop by an azza. Get a call in the middle of grocery shopping, stop everything and go straight to an azza. Drop the children off at taekwondo practice, and head to an azza.

“We go to azzas more often than Americans go to the gym,” jokes Mohammed Shadi, an Amman lawyer who had just gone to four wakes in three days.

Such is the frequency of paying condolences in daily life in Jordan, it is the azza – not the wedding or any other social event – that is the main center for gossip, networking, matchmaking, and political debates.

But what happens if, by some unforeseen circumstances, you miss a memorial service?

“Unbearable social awkwardness,” says Zaid Bassam, an industrial manager and IT expert from the town of Salt. “It reflects badly on you.”

“Because you will always run into that person a few weeks later and you won’t know what to do. Do you apologize? Do you offer your condolences one month after their mother died?”

In Jordan, where hard feelings cut deep, such misunderstandings can turn into long-running unspoken feuds and social blacklisting.

Don’t invite Mohammed to the wedding; he didn’t show up to our mother’s funeral last year is not uncommon to hear, or Why should we visit Sara to congratulate her on the new baby? She didn’t even offer her condolences when my uncle died.

A lot of work to keep up

With personal honor and social pressures riding on condolences, keeping up with death notices among the various vast and intertwined tribes, clans, and families can be a full-time job in this tiny kingdom.

If all that sounds unmanageable in today’s tightly scheduled world, well, now there’s an app for that.

Jordanians long relied on newspapers, many starting their mornings by flipping the paper over and starting from the obituaries section, not moving on to news until they were assured there were no surprise funerals they would have to suddenly rearrange their schedule to attend.

With the advent of Facebook, many families have turned to the social media platform to post death notices and funeral information.

Open the Facebook account of the average Jordanian and you will find post after post of a black background with the white Arabic script “to God we belong and to God we will return,” and the name of the deceased, burial, and funeral times.

But the haphazard manner made missing a funeral all too likely; unclear obituaries would leave out the location of the azza or when the final day of the wake was. If you are not friends with the right people, you may miss the Facebook notice.

Mr. Bassam ran into this dilemma one morning in 2017 when he heard that a family friend’s relative had died. He stopped by his parent’s home to find out the time and location of the funeral, only to discover that the day’s paper had yet to be delivered. Panic set in.

“It was 6 a.m. and we had no newspaper and there were no copies in the shops,” Mr. Bassam says.

“I was calling people left and right throughout the day to try to figure out where this funeral was and I couldn’t get a clear answer. I kept thinking – there has to be an easier way for this.”

With apps in Jordan to order taxis, meals, groceries, cooking gas, plumbers, carpenters, cleaners, and to check the weather, there was no smart solution for azzas

So he created one himself: Wafiyat (Obituaries) app.

The first app of its kind in the Arab world, Wafiyat is a free directory and noticeboard that allows users to post and read obituaries to make sure you never miss a funeral again.

People anywhere in the world can search the latest obituaries in Jordan by family or tribal name, home province, town, or date, allowing them to determine how many days are left to express their condolences in person.

Gone are the days of driving in circles in an unfamiliar neighborhood asking for the location of a funeral: Users uploading funeral details are required to provide a GPS location of the men’s and women’s mourning halls.

Your presence is still required

The app even provides a directory of caterers, restaurants, and other services nearby the azza if someone wanted to pay for a meal, coffee, dates, or other items for the funeral – a common practice in Jordan designed to lessen the burden on the grieving family.

With Wafiyat, you can even place a watch notification for a certain family name so that if a relative in that tribe or family dies, you will immediately get a notification.

It may sound macabre, but for Jordanians it is a vital way of maintaining this ancient social duty amid hectic 21st-century life.

In less than two years, Wafiyat has become one of the fastest growing apps in Jordan, with entire tribes and tens of thousands of users in Jordan, the United States, Germany, and as far away as China keeping up with social obligations that know no borders.

Perhaps crucially, the app even allows users to post condolences so they can pay their respects before even stepping foot in the funeral hall. 

Although this will never be a substitute for showing up in person, this could go far in avoiding any unintended social slight.

“Our daily life may be becoming digital, but the way we respect people in the afterlife will always be traditional,” says Mr. Shadi, the Amman lawyer, who just downloaded the app.

“No tweet, Facebook post, or WhatsApp message will do; we need to see you in person.”

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The Monitor's View

Iraq’s trailblazing protesters

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In recent weeks, the so-called ancient hatreds of Iraq – between people of different faiths – have largely gone missing in a 14-story abandoned building in downtown Baghdad. It is there in central Tahrir Square that tens of thousands of young Iraqis have not only organized nationwide protests against the government, but also created a model “ministate” for a new Iraq – and perhaps much of the Middle East. Protest organizers in the building are working across faiths, a sharp contrast from Iraq’s sectarian power structure and its inherently corrupt system of patronage that has led to mass joblessness.

“Yazidis, Sunnis, Christians, we are all here to just be real Iraqis and support each other for freedom and for a good life,” said one organizer.

The protests are a cathartic moment for Iraq, one born of economic desperation but now demonstrating the virtues of true democracy in a 14-story building and beyond. The guns of Iran-backed militias may try to end this alternative system. But after seven weeks, the blaze of gunfire is still losing to Iraq’s trailblazers.

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Iraq’s trailblazing protesters

In recent weeks, the so-called ancient hatreds of Iraq – between people of different faiths – have largely gone missing in a 14-story abandoned building in downtown Baghdad. It is there in central Tahrir Square that tens of thousands of young Iraqis have not only organized nationwide protests against the government, but also created a model “ministate” for a new Iraq – and perhaps much of the Middle East.

According to journalist Pesha Magid, protest organizers in the building are working across faiths, a sharp contrast from Iraq’s sectarian power structure and its inherently corrupt system of patronage that has led to mass joblessness.

“Yazidis, Sunnis, Christians, we are all here to just be real Iraqis and support each other for freedom and for a good life,” said one organizer.

To counter the regime’s shutdown of the internet, protesters are publishing two newspapers. People of many different backgrounds are working together to offer food, legal advice, medical services, and even artworks, books, and music. Women and men share the tasks equally. Their most popular slogan: We want a homeland.

“This building will become a symbol for the world to see how the protesters operate, despite the violence and suppression they face,” another protester said.

Iraq watchers say the protests, which show unusual durability as well as a jubilant mood, are the largest grassroots movement in the country’s modern history.

More than 300 people have been killed since the protests began, mainly by militias backed by Iran. Inside Iraq’s government, elected officials are fumbling to offer concessions but falling short in meeting the protesters’ key demand: a change in governance away from the divvying up of power by ethnic or religious groups.

The young Iraqis use words like citizenship, social justice, and civil society to frame a different national identity than those in power or the clerics who command influence behind them. They are applying lessons learned from the failures of the 2011 Arab Spring. One big lesson: Show a new style of governance; don’t just demand one.

These protests are a cathartic moment for Iraq, one born of economic desperation but now demonstrating the virtues of true democracy in a 14-story building and beyond. The guns of Iran-backed militias may try to end this alternative system. But after seven weeks, the blaze of gunfire is still losing to Iraq’s trailblazers.

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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.

Prayer for the world’s children

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Today is World Children’s Day and the 30th anniversary of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. Here’s a heartfelt poem that takes a stand for the innocence, purity, and strength inherent in all.

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Prayer for the world’s children

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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It makes me reel, the news
of child as soldier, as object of
some underworld, as sitting duck,
all of it unasked for, no,
this isn’t right –

when suddenly spiritual inspiration
streams in, steadies and lifts me to
Jesus’ love for children, for the child
whose greatness lies in purity and
freedom from wrong, in innocence
that knows no evil – the child who
gently reminds us of everyone’s
real identity as Spirit’s own child,
undividedly spiritual.

I pray that this truth mantle our world’s
children, carrying them on the wings
of God’s tenderness, divine Love’s
comfort and control, until tyranny,
cowardice, deception are ripped
from hiding – faceless and baseless –
no legitimacy, and the child wrapped
in Love’s care is seen as the child
within us all.

Beloved children, the world has need of you, – and more as children than as men and women: it needs your innocence, unselfishness, faithful affection, uncontaminated lives.
Mary Baker Eddy, “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 110

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Viewfinder

Wave catcher

Rafael Marchante/Reuters
A surfer drops in on a large wave at Praia do Norte in Nazaré, Portugal, Nov. 20, 2019.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( November 21st, 2019 )

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow for our review of the new film about Mr. Rogers, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 20, 2019
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