2020
May
12
Tuesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

May 12, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Why ‘Lord of the Flies’ got it wrong

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Today’s five selected stories cover why President Trump’s support has slipped among older Americans, the resilience of Arab journalists, defining the upper limits of U.S. rule of law, a prosthetic path to hope in Afghanistan, and the online music community that uplifts black Americans during a lockdown.

“Lord of the Flies” is a classic, bestselling 1954 novel about what happens when British boys are shipwrecked on an island. It paints a dark image of humanity – promoted for centuries by politicians, scientists, philosophers, and clerics – that cruelty, selfishness, and violence are instinctive qualities. 

But what if that cynical narrative is just plain wrong? 

In a soon-to-be-released book, Dutch historian and atheist Rutger Bregman directly challenges the William Golding portrait of human nature.

In 1965, six teenage Tongan boys fled their Catholic boarding school, stole a boat, and were soon shipwrecked on a deserted South Pacific island. When they were discovered 15 months later, “the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination,” according to the Australian captain who rescued them.

“Sometimes they quarreled,” writes Mr. Bregman, who interviewed the captain and one of the boys, “but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a timeout. Their days began and ended with song and prayer.”

In an excerpt from “Humankind: A Hopeful History,” Mr. Bregman writes, “The real Lord of the Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty; one that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other.” 

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For some seniors, virus is shifting their views of Trump

A core conservative value is loyalty. Yet many older Americans – a key Republican voting bloc – tell our reporter why they’ve lost faith in President Trump’s leadership.

David
Courtesy of the Johnsons
Rody (left) and Tommye Johnson, from Vero Beach, Florida, say they're disappointed with President Donald Trump's handling of COVID-19. They plan to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden in November – the first time either has backed a Democrat.

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As the debate over lifting lockdowns has intensified, President Donald Trump’s eagerness to get the economy moving again seems to have put him at odds with many older voters. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, by a nearly 6-to-1 margin, seniors said the government should prioritize halting the spread of the virus over focusing on the economy. And President Trump’s approval rating among voters over the age of 65 dropped 20 points between March and the end of April.

While many older adults still support the president and tend to be more conservative in their politics than younger ones, the trend represents a clear warning sign for Mr. Trump. In 2016, he carried seniors by 9 points. Yet several recent national surveys have shown former Vice President Joe Biden leading among older voters.

Some seniors say that Mr. Trump – himself a septuagenarian – doesn’t seem to understand how vulnerable and undervalued this crisis has made them feel.  

“The people my age, we have become dispensable,” says Wendy Penk, a lifelong Republican in her 60s from Charlotte, North Carolina, who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 but now plans to vote for Mr. Biden in November.

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For some seniors, virus is shifting their views of Trump

Tommye and Rody Johnson have been registered Republicans for almost seven decades. So while the couple from Vero Beach, Florida, had some reservations about then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, they just couldn’t imagine voting for Hillary Clinton.

Now, after nearly four years of President Trump’s tweets, the impeachment scandal, and especially, what they see as his disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, they can’t imagine voting for him again.

They’re not the only ones. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, Mr. Trump’s approval rating among voters over the age of 65 dropped 20 points between March and the end of April, making seniors more critical of the president’s performance than any other age group aside from 18- to 29-year-olds. Much of that decline seems directly related to the virus, which so far has posed a far more serious health threat to older people.  

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

As the debate over lifting lockdowns has intensified, the president’s eagerness to get the economy moving again seems to have put him at odds with many older voters – who, as retirees without children at home, may not be as focused on reopening schools or local businesses. In the same Morning Consult poll, by a nearly 6-to-1 margin, seniors said the government should prioritize halting the spread of the virus over focusing on the economy. Some older adults say that Mr. Trump – himself a septuagenarian, as is presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden – doesn’t seem to understand how vulnerable and undervalued this crisis has made them feel.  

“The people my age, we have become dispensable,” says Wendy Penk, a lifelong Republican in her 60s from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ms. Penk, like the Johnsons, voted for Mr. Trump last time around, but is now part of a “Republicans for Biden” Facebook group. She worries about her husband’s health, and says Mr. Trump’s handling of the pandemic cemented her decision to vote a “straight blue” ticket in November. 

“I’ve never seen this level of mishandling my entire life, and I was around during Richard Nixon and Watergate,” says Ms. Penk. “This coronavirus situation has just highlighted how inept [President Trump] is.”

To be sure, many seniors still support the president. Older voters tend to be more conservative in their politics than younger ones, and Republicans have won voters over 65 in the past three presidential elections, even as Democrats have expanded their edge among young voters. In 2016, Mr. Trump carried seniors by 9 points, according to Pew.

Yet several recent national surveys have shown former Vice President Biden leading Mr. Trump among seniors. And while the election is still six months away, the trend represents a clear warning sign for the president. Significantly, many of the most critical battleground states – such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Michigan – also happen to be among the oldest.

Unlike young people, seniors vote consistently. In 2016, more than 70% of older voters participated in the election, compared with 46% of voters under the age of 30. If the president slips even a few percentage points among this bloc of voters, say experts, it would be enough to hand the election to Mr. Biden. 

“Trump can’t win without them,” says Michael Binder, director of the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab. “If he loses a sizable chunk, or even if Biden can get that margin small, Trump is ruined.”

John Raoux/AP
Supporters of President Donald Trump waited in line for a campaign rally June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Florida. Mr. Trump won seniors in Florida by 17 points in 2016, but a recent poll showed him losing them to former Vice President Joe Biden by double digits.

The silent generation

Mr. Trump’s campaign has lately begun making a concerted effort to shore up his support among seniors. Earlier this month, the president proclaimed May 2020 as “Older Americans Month.” The administration announced a new initiative focused on nursing homes, which have struggled with some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks, saying it would send more personal protective equipment to those facilities.

“During this precarious and stressful time, we must remember our treasured older adults and recommit to doing what we can to support and care for them,” Mr. Trump said in his proclamation. “Older Americans know how to overcome. They have done it their whole lives.”

Indeed, voters in their late 70s and 80s are often called the silent generation – a reference to the civic-minded conformity that was forged by the Great Depression and World War II. Yet having lived through numerous presidencies, many older Americans also say they know the difference leadership can make during a crisis.

“This could have been an opportunity to unite the country,” says Mr. Johnson. “We were children in World War II, and if we had that kind of leadership today, this crisis would be a different thing.”

Ken Holmes, a Republican from the ruby-red state of Mississippi, notes that seniors aren’t expecting everything to be easy: “As adults who have been through Vietnam, and as adults with parents who have been through World War II, we know what sacrifice is,” he says. But “we need an adult in the room.”

Mr. Holmes, who works as a receptionist at a local hospital outside Jackson, recently had a friend die from the virus. He says he knows he’s not the only 2016 Trump voter souring on the president. 

The crisis “has just confirmed how incompetent [President Trump] is – and how uncaring he is for others,” says Mr. Holmes. He’s planning to vote for Mr. Biden in November, the first time he’s ever voted for a Democrat, he says.  

The view from The Villages

In 2016, in the all-important state of Florida, Mr. Trump won seniors by 17 points. So it raised some eyebrows when a Quinnipiac poll taken in late April found him 10 points behind Mr. Biden among voters over 65.

Still, in The Villages, the world’s largest 55-plus retirement community, located in Sumter County, Florida, Chris Stanley isn’t sure opinions of Mr. Trump have really shifted all that much.

“The lines are drawn here in The Villages, and they have been drawn since early 2016,” says Ms. Stanley, president of The Villages’ Democratic Club. “If you come as a Trump supporter who is no longer going to support him in November – you’ve just lost your social group.” 

Ms. Stanley does say she sees fewer “Trump 2020” flags flying lately – the only visible form of political support permitted in the community. Similarly, Cathy Hardy, chair of the Sumter County Democratic Party, says that anecdotally, she’s heard a handful of locals say Mr. Trump’s handling of COVID-19 was “the nail in the coffin.” 

“The health concerns people have nationwide are intensified here,” she says.

Last month, Ms. Hardy’s committee ran a virtual fundraiser to raise money for buying stamps, since so much campaign information must now be delivered by mail. Usually in a good month, she says, they will have 15 to 20 first-time donors. But for this event in April, they had 85. 

“It was happening before the coronavirus, but that has only further dwindled down his base,” says Ms. Hardy. “People are not happy with the way he’s been handling it.”

One question is whether the pandemic could have a dampening effect on seniors’ top-notch turnout rates. To avoid facing crowds and long lines on Election Day – and after hearing about the COVID-19 cases that were directly traced to Wisconsin’s in-person primary – many campaign strategists are wondering if some older voters may choose not to vote at all. 

On the other hand, counties like Sumter are seeing more voters signing up to vote by mail. The most vote-by-mail registrations Ms. Hardy’s team had seen in one month before the pandemic was around 330, but they have almost tripled that record in the last five weeks. 

And voters like the Johnsons say Mr. Trump’s lack of leadership during COVID-19 has made them more politically motivated than ever. They say when and if circumstances permit, they’re planning to canvass for Mr. Biden – the first time they’ve done anything besides simply vote for a candidate since Barry Goldwater. 

“There are a few of us out there,” says Ms. Johnson from her condo overlooking palm trees and the Indian River. “Every now and then I hear of more, and it makes me feel better.” 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Navigating uncertainty

The search for global bearings

Facing down jail and wealthy foes, Arab rights defenders soldier on

As support for democratic norms and institutions erodes in the West, our reporter examines where that leaves human rights activists and journalists in the Arab world. Seventh in our global series “Navigating Uncertainty.”

David
Hasan Jamali/AP/File
Bahraini anti-government protesters hold up images of jailed human rights activist Nabeel Rajab during a demonstration outside his home in Bani Jamra, Bahrain, in May 2015. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy said in September 2019 that a court in Bahrain had refused to release Mr. Rajab and allow him to serve at home the remainder of his five-year prison sentence for tweets.

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If today the world order is shaking, the Arab world has been feeling the foreshocks for nearly a decade. In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring has come an anti-democratic counterrevolution that rages on. In November, Egyptian police arrested three journalists at a Cairo coffee shop. The raid received no media coverage. They remain in prison, like hundreds of rights defenders and journalists across the region.

Western governments rarely talk about Arab human rights these days. Consumed by political divisions at home, they are more likely to praise autocratic regimes than challenge them. And the United States and Europe enable the regimes’ crackdowns with money, weapons, and technology.

“These regimes have the support of the West, they have money, they have armies, and they have the latest technology,” says Khalid Ibrahim, director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights. “We only have the word. And it is our duty to get the message out.”

Yet Arab democrats say their struggle remains winnable. “You must never feel broken or powerless,” says Sayed Alwadaei, a Bahraini rights activist, “because that is the entire aim of repression and intimidation; to make you overlook your own power to hold people to account.”

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Facing down jail and wealthy foes, Arab rights defenders soldier on

On a December Thursday in a nondescript Cairo apartment building, a table is spread with plastic containers of Egyptian morning mainstays – fava beans, taamiya, scrambled eggs, and falafel. And a box of Dunkin' donuts.

Reporters at the online newspaper Mada Masr are gathering for a tradition observed in newsrooms across the world: the end-of-week staff breakfast.

As they break bread, laughter and gossip fill the air. There are no obvious signs of the police raid a few weeks earlier that led to the brief detention of the paper’s top editors – except, that is, the bolted front door.

At Egypt’s last independent media outlet, which reports in a country that jails more journalists than almost any other, displaying normalcy is not just a coping mechanism, it’s a moral code.

“We live and work like any other news organization. We won’t let repression change us,” says Sharif Abdel Kouddous, an editor.

That sort of stubborn determination is common to reporters and human rights defenders throughout the Middle East who are fighting – and sometimes defeating – a wave of repression.

As Europe, Latin America, and even the United States witness a steady erosion of democratic norms and institutions, Arab activists and journalists are embroiled in an all-out war in defense of those values, facing arrest, sham trials, even torture.

If today the world order is shaking, the Arab world, in tectonic terms, has been feeling the foreshocks for nearly a decade.

In much of the region, which less than 10 years ago experienced an awakening of political and personal freedoms, culture, and the media, activism has become a matter of life or death. For in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring protests to end autocratic rule and foster democracy has come an anti-democratic counterrevolution that rages to this day.

In the belief that democracy in one Arab state is a threat to all, regimes flush with petrodollars have cracked down mercilessly on political activity and media. One of the fiercest campaigns continues under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt, funded by Gulf allies, who has jailed 60,000 political prisoners and dozens of journalists, according to Human Rights Watch.

SOURCE: Committee to Protect Journalists
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Karen Norris/Staff

Goliath with a rocket launcher

Western governments rarely talk about human rights in the Arab world these days. Consumed by political divisions at home, and lately by the coronavirus pandemic, they are more likely to praise autocratic regimes than challenge them.

The silence has an impact.

In late November, Egyptian police raided a Cairo coffee shop and arrested three independent journalists: Solafa Magdy, Hossam al-Sayyad, and Mohamed Saleh. Their detentions received no domestic or international media coverage. Today they remain in prison in cramped conditions and denied medical care, like hundreds of rights defenders and journalists across the region.

Meanwhile, America and Europe continue to enable Arab regimes’ crackdowns with money, weapons, and technology. Canadian and French firms have sold software to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt that those governments have used to block the websites of human rights organizations and media outlets, internet watchdogs say. Former U.S. National Security Agency employees have been widely reported as saying they worked with the UAE to monitor and spy on journalists and rights defenders.

The technology has aided regimes’ use of anti-terror laws that criminalize as “terrorism” Facebook posts that are merely critical of the government.

Amr Nabil/AP/File
Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known by his nickname Shawkan, gestures in a soundproof glass cage inside a makeshift courtroom in Tora prison in Cairo, July 28, 2018. He was arrested in August 2013 while taking photographs of the government's violent dispersal of a sit-in by supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. Shawkan was released March 4, 2019.

In the words of one veteran Arab activist, “it is as if in the battle between David and Goliath, Goliath was given a rocket-launcher.”

“These regimes have the support of the West, they have money, they have armies, and they have the latest technology. What do we have?” asks Khalid Ibrahim, co-founder and director of the Beirut-based Gulf Center for Human Rights. “We only have the word. And it is our duty to get the message out any way we can.”

Activists as “terrorists”

One person fighting to get the word out is Gamal Eid, among the last human rights defenders operating in Egypt.

His Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which once worked to reform police practices, is now consumed with defending the growing number of Egyptians jailed for “terrorism.”

From 2013-17, ANHRI dealt with around 300 cases a year, but in 2018 and 2019 its caseload surpassed 500 a year.

Today few organizations or lawyers are willing to defend the increasingly varied range of Egyptians brought before the courts as “terrorists.” Many who dare to defend activists, such as human rights lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer, end up being arrested themselves.

Mr. Eid and his staff fear that if they shutter their doors, Egyptians being held in pretrial detention will go undefended, undocumented, and unseen.

“If it wasn’t for us, these people would be lost to the system forever,” says an ANHRI lawyer who requested anonymity. “We are their last, and only, hope.”

ANHRI defends suspected members of the former Muslim Brotherhood, which backed the government that General Sisi overthrew in a 2013 coup. It also defends a growing number of young liberal Egyptians who once supported Mr. Sisi but are now persecuted for failing to toe the regime’s line.

“We cannot turn our backs on each other because of ideological differences,” says Mr. Eid. “That is how the regime wins,” he sighs.

Taylor Luck
Gamal Eid, veteran Egyptian rights activist and director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, on the balcony of his Cairo office, December 19, 2019.

ANHRI has paid a heavy price. Its lawyers have been arrested, and Mr. Eid says he has been attacked by suspected regime agents twice in recent months, leaving him with cracked ribs.

He now carries pepper spray, constantly glancing over his shoulder in public. But, he says, looking out from his balcony onto the bustling Cairo street below, “The people are with me, they thank me every day for our work. That is my motivation and my protection.”

Gulf citizens step up

Activism endures, too, even in the oil-rich Gulf, where citizens must maneuver under the iron grip of monarchs who repress political life and speech with more impunity and brutality than governments anywhere else in the region.

On paper, the Gulf Arab governments seem unstoppable, thanks to their enormous wealth and decades of shared military and economic interests with Western countries that do not dare risk the sheikhs’ stability with any criticism, let alone action.

With rights organizations shuttered and traditional activists in jail, democracy and social justice have one last champion: individual Gulf citizens.

Concerned citizens are now on the front lines for human right in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and elsewhere, using social media to stand up for their communities and challenge official narratives.

They are being assisted by activists and exiles abroad providing organization, advocacy, and communications and cybersecurity knowhow.

“Mobilization on social media has been key to raise awareness and lobby on certain issues,” says Mr. Ibrahim of the Gulf Center for Human Rights in Beirut.

The end result: even with rights defenders in jail and the press muzzled, the truth is getting out, sustaining international scrutiny of the image-conscious monarchies. 

SOURCE: Freedom House
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

In Saudi Arabia, the death in prison last month of leading rights defender Abdullah al-Hamid, reportedly for lack of medical care, triggered international condemnation.

Last year, public pressure forced the reversal of a death sentence imposed on peaceful activist Israa al-Ghomgham. And Western media repeatedly reference jailed Saudi women activists like Loujain Halhoul, tarnishing the image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Such is the work of Sayed Alwadaei.

After taking part in pro-democracy protests in Bahrain during the Arab Spring, Mr. Alwadaei was assaulted by government agents, tortured, and imprisoned for six months; he still bears scars on his forehead. In 2012, he fled to the U.K.

From London, Mr. Alwadaei founded the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD), a network of citizens and activists in his home country and abroad working to pressure Bahrain’s rulers to release activists, improve prisoner conditions, and challenge Western governments’ unwavering support for Manama.

BIRD carries the voice of prisoners and survivors to the international media and to the United Nations, sharing recordings of prisoner phone calls and firsthand testimonies of torture, abuse, and prison conditions. It has swayed public opinion at home and in the U.K., a key Bahrain supporter.

Mr. Alwadaei has changed the conversation, linking the monarchy to rights abuses, and inspiring people to question Western backing for the king. During a 2018 U.K. parliamentary debate calling attention to “continuing human rights abuses in Bahrain,” MPs criticized London’s “failed” policies and singled out Mr. Alwadaei for his “bravery and tenacity.”

“The moment they see their names mentioned in a report on torture or their image portrayed as torturers, they will think twice before they commit an abuse again,” Mr. Alwadaei says from London.

Meli Petersson Ellafi /TT News Agency/Reuters/File
Omar al-Qahtani (L) and Saudi human rights advocate Yahya Assiri hold up the Right Livelihood Awards for imprisoned Saudi human rights defenders Abdullah al-Hamid, Waleed Abu al-Khair, and Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani at a ceremony at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, November 23, 2018.

Covid-19 raises the stakes

The coronavirus pandemic has only highlighted the urgent need for independent voices in the Arab world.

As Arab regimes struggle to confront the virus and invoke emergency powers to suppress information contradicting their claims of “victory,” journalists and activists are seeking to provide dependable information.

In Cairo, Mada Masr is a lone dissenting voice challenging the pro-regime media chorus that at first downplayed the virus and now only praises the government’s response.

Its journalists have reported on the limited availability of tests, explored life under quarantine lockdown in rural villages, described how doctors and nurses are braving the front lines without protective gear, and chronicled an outbreak at the National Cancer Institute.

Meanwhile, Gulf activists have reported on the dangers Asian laborers face in crowded housing, and are mounting campaigns pressuring Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain to release political prisoners amid concerns the virus will spread in crammed jails.

Bearing witness

Despite lamenting Western indifference to their fate, Arab democrats and rights defenders say their struggle remains winnable. In fact, they like their odds. For if they can keep the flame of democracy and freedoms alive in the darkest of times, they say, the future bodes well.

“You must never feel broken or powerless, because that is the entire aim of repression and intimidation; to make you overlook your own power to hold people to account,” says Mr. Alwadaei. “Sometimes vulnerability means opportunity, and you can turn it to your favor.”

At Mada Masr, the young journalists say they have a simple strategy to survive a regime that bullies the press, blurs the lines between fact and fiction, denounces the media as “enemies,” and polarizes the nation using a with-us-or-against-us narrative: Stay above the fray.

The publication embodies classic journalistic principles: to analyze events and publish “a record of life in Egypt at a time of great social and political change” without taking sides, says managing editor Mohammed Hamama.

“We are not activists; we are witnesses,” he insists. “What we deem deserves to be witnessed, documented, and commented on for the Egyptian people and future generations – we report it.”

At the Mada Masr office, you would be hard-pressed to hear insults or complaints directed toward President Sisi or his government. The newspaper’s reports carefully weigh what the government does and says, always willing to give credit where it’s due.

The same edition might carry praise for the regime’s “ingenious” universal health care plan and a report on a corruption scandal involving Mr. Sisi’s inner circle.

Mada Masr reporters say the need for solid journalism is more important than their own personal feelings, no matter how great their outrage.

Mr. Hamama and the Mada Masr staff were drawn to journalism during the heady days of the Arab Spring. But while the turbulent post-revolutionary period and 2013 military coup led others to give up or emigrate, the Mada Masr staff became convinced that Egypt needed independent journalism more than ever.

To survive amid widespread arrests of journalists and the nationalization of most private media, they adapt.

When the government blocked their site, they provided readers with work-arounds. When authorities pressured advertisers to withdraw funding, they offered “memberships” to readers, inviting them to support the news while forging a community of concerned Egyptians.

Catch and release

Mada Masr journalists held to the belief that they were too small to be worth jailing. But in late November, police stormed the paper and drove off with chief editor Lina Atallah, Mr. Hamama, and reporter Rana Mamdouh.

The three were convinced they would not see the light of day for a year, if ever. Since 2014, authorities have routinely subjected detainees to months or years of pretrial detentions. And due to crowding and poor conditions, a prison term can be a death sentence in Egypt.

Mada’s readers alerted Western reporters in Cairo. They called their embassies, and diplomats queried the Interior Ministry. After 90 minutes, a “miracle,” in Mr. Hamama’s word: The police car returned and dropped the reporters at the office. They were released without charge.

Two days later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the raid in a rare public rebuke of the Sisi regime.

The cost-benefit for the government shifted; arresting Mada’s reporters and subjecting them to years in prison is more trouble than it’s worth for now.

But what if the government’s thinking changes again?

“That is what we are all wondering,” Mr. Hamama says, sitting on the iron balcony of Mada’s office. “We don’t know if or when the regime will change its calculations and we will be arrested for good.”

He shrugs. “So we might as well continue.”

SOURCE: Freedom House
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Do US laws apply to US presidents? Supreme Court to decide.

Here’s a question that implicates the Supreme Court itself, and the balance of American democracy: Is a sitting president above the law?

David

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On Tuesday, the high court examined one of America’s toughest, most fundamental, questions: Do the laws that apply to everyone else also apply to the president?

Any case involving a sitting president is complicated and polarizing.

But at a time when the court has grown increasingly deferential to the executive branch, and when this court in particular has a track record of siding with President Donald Trump, these cases carry the potential to rebalance the country’s three branches of government in dramatic ways.

Specifically, Mr. Trump is seeking to block subpoenas from the New York County district attorney and the U.S. House of Representatives for personal and Trump Organization financial records held by an accounting firm and a bank he used before entering office.

The high court usually seeks to rule as narrowly as possible, but here even a narrow ruling could be seismic. By removing the judiciary from federal subpoena fights, or broadening presidential immunity in some way, the three branches of government would still be separate, but they might also be less equal.

“Democracy is tremendously undercut when one or more branches is able to hide or keep damaging information from coming to light,” says Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor. The three branches are designed “to check each other, not for one branch to check out, or one branch to dominate the others. The point of the separation of powers is accountability.”

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Do US laws apply to US presidents? Supreme Court to decide.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
The Supreme Court is seen at sunset in Washington on Jan. 24, 2019.

In a way, the U.S. Supreme Court is due.

In the 1974 case U.S. v. Nixon, the court decided unanimously that President Richard Nixon couldn’t block the release of the Watergate tapes to investigators. Twenty-three years later, it ruled unanimously that President Bill Clinton wasn’t immune from a civil lawsuit because of his office.

On Tuesday, another 23 years later, the high court again examined one of the toughest, but most fundamental, questions the nation’s highest court can hear: Do the laws that apply to everyone else also apply to the president?

They are questions that implicate the Supreme Court itself, and the balance of American democracy writ large. At a time when the court has grown increasingly deferential to the executive branch, and when this court in particular has a track record of siding with President Donald Trump, these cases carry the potential to rebalance the country’s three branches of government in dramatic ways.

Specifically, Mr. Trump is seeking to block subpoenas from the New York County district attorney and the U.S. House of Representatives for personal and Trump Organization financial records held by an accounting firm and a bank he used before entering office.

The involvement of third parties here makes the cases distinct from previous presidential immunity decisions – and perhaps harder for Mr. Trump to win than past presidents – experts say. But with some justices on the court having expressed an interest in broadening presidential power and immunity, and with some hints that the court may avoid the merits of the cases entirely, the unanimous rulings of the past may not foreshadow the same result here.

“These cases are of tremendous concern not just for what happens with this president, but what happens with the balance of power and the separation of powers,” says Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill.

“It’s not his political power that’s at stake, but it’s nonetheless about an individual whose accountability is very important in our system of governance,” he adds. “Democracy is at stake in all these cases. Democracy relies on information flowing and coming to light.”

AP/File
Spectators file into the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., to hear arguments involving President Nixon, July 8, 1974.

A political question?

In two of the cases, the justices may consider whether three House committees have the authority to issue subpoenas to Mazars USA and Deutsche Bank, which did work for Mr. Trump and some of his businesses.

But in late April the court signaled that it may avoid that question, asking the parties in the two cases to file briefs on whether the case is a “political question” that would be inappropriate for the judicial branch to address. The court invoked the “political question doctrine” as recently as last term, when it ruled that federal courts could not hear claims related to partisan gerrymandering, and at least one current justice has suggested that it could be relevant here.

During a roundtable discussion in 1999, Justice Brett Kavanaugh – a Trump appointee and the newest addition to the court – said that Nixon may have been wrongly decided.

“Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision,” he said. “Should [it] be overruled on the ground that the case was a nonjusticiable intrabranch dispute? Maybe so.”

He has since said on several occasions, including during his confirmation hearing, that Nixon should not be revisited. But there could be lower court precedent for the justices to say they can’t weigh in, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruling in February that it couldn’t resolve a lawsuit from the U.S. House seeking to subpoena former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Since the subpoenas at issue here are not to Mr. Trump himself, however, and since Mazars has said it’s ready and willing to comply, a ruling that the case is a nonjusticiable political question would be a loss for the president – in the short term, at least. In the long term, such a ruling could give a president broad immunity from congressional investigations.

“There’s a real cost if the courts are not available to enforce proper subpoenas in proper investigations, and that’s what you have here,” says David Cole, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed amicus briefs opposing Mr. Trump.

“If a president just ignores Congress what are they supposed to do?” he adds. “And if a president thinks Congress is violating their prerogative, what are they supposed to do?”

Presidential immunity

Whether it’s a political question or not, Mr. Trump is making the same broad arguments that past presidents have: that the duties and sensitivities of the office, as the country’s chief executive, top diplomat, and commander in chief, means he should have immunity from legal actions and be able to protect information within the executive branch.

In an amicus brief, the U.S. Department of Justice noted that the Supreme Court has “long understood” that the U.S. Constitution gives the president immunity from civil and criminal proceedings.

“The President’s immunity from state judicial process must be even broader” than federal judicial process, the department writes.

State and local prosecutors could use subpoenas to harass or retaliate against a president, and as local officials they have no “incentives to consider the effects of their subpoenas on the Nation as a whole.” The House subpoenas, meanwhile, represent a “law enforcement effort” that House committees are not empowered to perform under the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution, Mr. Trump argues.

For many legal scholars, however, the questions raised in these cases should be relatively easy to answer, and they should not come out in Mr. Trump’s favor.

With no prosecutorial powers, the House committees argue that the subpoenas are a routine exercise of their oversight and lawmaking powers that the Supreme Court has long recognized. The records being subpoenaed don’t pertain to official executive branch activities, and so should fall outside executive privilege. And while a sitting president may merit immunity from prosecution, that doesn’t mean he should be immune from investigation – particularly when it concerns his private, unofficial conduct.

“If states can’t [subpoena] people who happen to become federal officials, that cuts off a significant avenue for holding people accountable for what they’ve done,” says Professor Gerhardt, a constitutional conflicts expert who testified in both Mr. Clinton’s and Mr. Trump’s impeachment hearings.

Striking a balance

As straightforward as these cases may appear, however, any case involving a sitting president is complicated and polarizing. Most Supreme Court cases involving Mr. Trump and his administration have been decided in his favor, and in partisan 5-to-4 rulings. In that context Chief Justice John Roberts, the ideological center of the court, could hold the pivotal vote.

When he cast the majority opinion that upheld the Trump administration’s travel ban, he added a formal repudiation of the court’s infamous 1944 ruling in Korematsu v. United States, which permitted the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. Last term, he joined his four liberal colleagues and wrote the majority opinion that blocked the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, though his opinion acknowledged, with the support of his four conservative colleagues, that the administration had the authority to add such a question.

“Both purely jurisprudential factors and broadly reputational factors will be on his mind,” says Ilya Somin, a professor at the George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law.

Few cases put the reputation of the court as front and center as cases of presidential power and immunity. Supreme Court cases almost always involve tough, complex questions of statutory and constitutional interpretation. These cases in particular strike at the purpose of the court itself and the balance of power across the three branches of government.

The high court usually seeks to rule as narrowly as possible, but here even a narrow ruling could be seismic. By removing the judiciary from federal subpoena fights, or broadening presidential immunity in some way, the three branches of government would still be separate, but they might also be less equal.

“Democracy is tremendously undercut when one or more branches is able to hide or keep damaging information from coming to light,” says Professor Gerhardt.

The three branches, he adds, are designed “to check each other, not for one branch to check out, or one branch to dominate the others. The point of the separation of powers is accountability.”

Difference-maker

His Afghan mission: to restore lives and limbs

In Afghanistan, a soft-spoken former lawyer has dedicated himself to helping those wounded in war walk a path from despair to hope. Watching that progression, he says, is a “privilege.”

David
Farzana Wahidy/Courtesy of ICRC
Alberto Cairo (second from left), for decades the head of a Red Cross orthopedic project in Afghanistan, gives a tour to International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer.

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For 30 years, Italian physiotherapist Alberto Cairo has shepherded a comprehensive program in Afghanistan run by the International Committee of the Red Cross. At seven orthopedic centers around the country, the former lawyer reverentially called “Mr. Alberto” has overseen an expansion of the ICRC’s work fitting disabled Afghans with artificial limbs.

The holistic rehabilitation program has broadened to include home visits, job training, social integration, and even wheelchair sports teams. Last year alone those centers helped more than 160,000 Afghan patients. Their workshops created some 27,000 artificial limbs, put to use in nearly 350,000 physiotherapy sessions.

“The person who comes the very first time, who has lost one or two legs ... they are people in an awful situation,” Mr. Cairo explains. But as the patients make tangible progress, he sees despair turn to hope, every day.

“You can see these kinds of miracles, people that, when you looked at them the very first time, you see them totally lost,” he says. “In front of you, you really see day by day people are growing, people are changing. There is a transformation. It’s fantastic.”

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His Afghan mission: to restore lives and limbs

When a rocket tore through the roof of Ahmad Zubair’s house in Afghanistan’s Parwan province, the boy lost his right leg – and with it, his family thought, any chance of a decent future.

That was last September, on election day, north of Kabul. Taliban insurgents had vowed to disrupt the presidential vote, and so the rocket attack added the young boy to the near-endless list of wounded civilians from decades of war in Afghanistan.

But these days the 10-year-old is in Kabul, steadying himself on a newly fitted prosthesis at an orthopedic center run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“I am so very happy to walk,” says Ahmad, moving forward confidently with his right shoe strapped to the plastic and metal foot.

“It’s too important to have the [prosthetic] leg,” concurs Ahmad’s father, Ghanem Gul Hojat, as he watches his son test the new device. “He is top in school. It’s far from home,” says the father of the 25-minute walk.

Ahmad’s story represents another devastating war casualty in Afghanistan, but also another life transformed for the better by a comprehensive ICRC program that, for 30 years, has been shepherded by Italian physiotherapist Alberto Cairo.

Revered by Afghans as “Mr. Alberto,” and respected by colleagues for devoting his life to helping disabled Afghans, Mr. Cairo has overseen an expansion of the ICRC’s work with limb-
fitting and physical rehabilitation to seven orthopedic centers around the country.

Last year alone those centers helped more than 160,000 Afghan patients, including nearly 15,000 new ones – Ahmad among them. Their workshops created some 27,000 artificial limbs, put to use in nearly 350,000 physiotherapy sessions.

At the heart of the program, and its holistic broadening to include home visits, job training, social integration, and even wheelchair sports teams, is a soft-spoken former lawyer who found his calling far from his native Turin, Italy.

Of the tangible progress that has motivated him to help Afghans over the course of multiple wars and social upheavals, Mr. Cairo says, “I have only one word for that: It’s a privilege.” He says he sees despair turn to hope, every day.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
Ahmad Zubair, who lost his leg in a rocket attack that struck his house on election day in September 2019, practices with a new prosthesis beside his father, Ghanem Gul Hojat, as physiotherapists care for victims of war and disease at the ICRC's Orthopedic Center, March 3, 2020, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“The person who comes the very first time, who has lost one or two legs ... there is no hope at all,” he says. Patients feel their life is over, that they have no chance of finding a job or getting married. “They are people in an awful situation,” he says.

“You can see these kinds of miracles, people that, when you looked at them the very first time, you see them totally lost,” he says. “In front of you, you really see day by day people are growing, people are changing. There is a transformation. It’s fantastic.”

Beyond the sheer numbers, the proof is in the ICRC centers and prosthesis workshops, where the combined staff of 750 are almost exclusively disabled former patients.

“There are some excellent physiotherapists, men and women, some excellent orthopedic technicians, making prosthetics,” says Mr. Cairo. “And I tell you, at the beginning they were looking at me as if I were coming from another planet. Self-esteem was so low. Self-confidence was minus 20. And now look at them, they are there, teaching other people and helping them, and very proud.”

As much of the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Cairo exemplifies the impact that one individual can have during a lifetime of devotion as a committed humanitarian.

“Even within the institution, [Mr. Cairo] has really become an icon,” says Benjamin Wahren, the ICRC deputy head of delegation in Kabul. Foreign staff are usually rotated frequently in dangerous and grim postings like Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, and Iraq. An internal joke is that Mr. Cairo is still on the longest-ever “first mission.”

“The impact that he as a person has had is in a way much more tangible, at least in terms of humanitarian work, because [for others] a lot of it tends to shift. People shift, programs shift,” says Mr. Wahren. “It’s very, very rare to have a single person building from zero to where it is today, a program like this.”

That program has been built with sustainability in mind. And it has survived setbacks. In 2017 the Spanish ICRC physiotherapist Lorena Enebral Perez was shot dead by one of her own polio patients inside the orthopedic center in Mazar-e-Sharif.

ICRC operations in Afghanistan since 1979 have also weathered dramatic political change, including the Soviet pullout, the civil war of the 1990s, the U.S. ousting of the Taliban in 2001, and the subsequent insurgency, which has at times resulted in the ICRC being targeted and forced to curtail its work..

Through much of it has been Mr. Cairo, who arrived here in 1990 after the Soviet occupation. But the path was circuitous for someone who became captivated by physiotherapy at age 16 during his first visit to a care home, with classmates.

“There was a man helping these elderly people to walk and move around,” recalls Mr. Cairo. “I remember that he was doing very simple things, but very useful, because people that I could never imagine would be able to stand. He was able to help them.”

Scott Peterson/Getty Images/The Christian Science Monitor
An Afghan orthopedic technician for the International Committee of the Red Cross builds prostheses at the ICRC's Orthopedic Center in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 3, 2020. The Kabul center is one of seven around the country that have provided new limbs, training, and social support under the directorship of Italian physiotherapist Alberto Cairo.

Mr. Cairo started reading about physiotherapy as a hobby and every so often returned to the care home. He studied law but finally, in his late 20s, asked himself if he wanted to be a lawyer for the rest of his life – or something else.

So he went back to school. His first mission, to southern Sudan for an Italian relief group, ended after three years, when the team was evacuated. He joined the ICRC and was sent to Afghanistan, where he fell in love with the place and its people.

“For a while, nobody wanted to come and replace me, so it was very easy to stay,” says Mr. Cairo. “It was during the civil war, and nobody wanted to come to Afghanistan. Later on, I asked to stay, and they allowed me. And now I think they forgot me.”

Already by 2008, The New York Times referred to Mr. Cairo as the “most celebrated Western relief official” in the country, and in 2010 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Last August he was made an honorary citizen of Afghanistan.

Mr. Cairo now says that his time in the country flies by too quickly, so he just agreed to extend his Afghanistan tour through 2022.

Do any cases stand out to the man credited with helping more than 100,000 Afghans walk again?

Mr. Cairo ponders a moment and mentions a man in his mid-20s who now works as an administrator at the Kabul center but who arrived as a boy.

Ashraf came at the age of 7, he says, paralyzed from the chest down due to shrapnel in his back. “At the very beginning, he was so, so afraid of everything. He could not do anything. He was never, ever, leaving his house without being escorted by one or two people,” he recounts. Ashraf felt he couldn’t even propel his own wheelchair outside.

“It took some time to convince him, and we sent pictures home to teach him,” says Mr. Cairo. Now, on top of his ICRC job, Ashraf studies at university, speaks fluent English, is writing a novel, and recently traveled – insisting on doing so alone – to India and Moscow.

“This is a person who, believe me, was scared to look around; he was so, so afraid,” adds Mr. Cairo, with a hint of pride in his voice. “And now he’s a new person. This is one of the thousands.”

Voices on Culture

Club Quarantine and beat battles: How black musicians raise spirits, money

How are communities hardest hit by the coronavirus finding hope? For some people of color, our columnist explains, the connection provided by black musicians and artists has helped. 

David

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Less reported on amid the news about the effect of the coronavirus on African Americans is what has been done to create a much needed sense of community. Black music has not only raised spirits during this time, but also reaffirmed its necessity in mainstream culture. 

From rapper Tory Lanez’s energetic “Quarantine Radio” to sessions with R&B singers like H.E.R. and Instagram Live dance parties with DJ D-Nice, the avenues of intimacy created between artists and their fans have been both surprising and refreshing. 

The “Verzuz” beat battles, founded by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, also on Instagram Live, have become another entertainment staple. In the battles, two artists (typically songwriters or producers) go toe-to-toe performing their lengthy catalogs in an effort to be named victorious. 

The deep nostalgia and fellowship from all these online gatherings have fostered a sense of cultural pride and creative appreciation. Music has always been about more than joy for people of color: It’s about our heritage, our resilience, and our strength.

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Club Quarantine and beat battles: How black musicians raise spirits, money

Donald Traill/Invision/AP/File
DJ D-Nice, whose real name is Derrick Jones, at the 13th Annual Apollo Theater Spring Gala After Party in New York June 4, 2018. D-Nice started playing music live on Instagram amid the pandemic lockdown, attracting tens of thousands of listeners.

People of color are overrepresented among the front-line workers deemed essential right now, and also among the homeless and prison populations that are especially vulnerable amid the coronavirus crisis. Now more than ever, it is vital for these groups to experience community – and for African Americans to know that we are not alone in our plight.

Less reported on is what has been done to create that sense of community. Black music has not only raised spirits during this time, but also reaffirmed its necessity in mainstream culture. Utilizing social media, artists continue to raise the bar when it comes to creative output. 

From rapper Tory Lanez’s energetic “Quarantine Radio” to special music sessions with R&B singers like H.E.R. and Carl Thomas, the avenues of intimacy created between artists and their fans have been both surprising and refreshing. Beyoncé has spoken up about how black Americans are disproportionately affected by the outbreak, and has partnered with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey via her BeyGOOD charitable organization to donate $6 million to relief efforts. 

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

Moments of both visibility and togetherness are tremendously needed. Derrick Jones, known as D-Nice, achieved a recent surge in popularity for that very reason. 

The DJ, photographer, producer, and veteran rapper took to Instagram Live starting in March to spin some of his favorite records for hours on end and share the stories behind them. Dubbed “Club Quarantine” by the DJ, the sessions – featuring hip-hop, R&B classics, and Top 40 hits – immediately gained traction. Not only did his followers grow exponentially on Instagram (from under 200,000 to more than 2 million); “Club Quarantine” boasted viewership from Rihanna, Michelle Obama, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Oprah Winfrey, and Jennifer Lopez. 

“Personally, I think a lot of it had to do with the music. I played sets that you wouldn’t normally hear in a club if you were actually out,” D-Nice told GQ in April. “Me, being that I’m isolated, I don’t see [anyone’s reactions]. That means I’m going to play a set that’s straight from my heart. I think it resonated with people – and it felt good. It felt different. It felt like a celebration.”

The “Verzuz” beat battles, founded by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, also on Instagram Live, have become another entertainment staple during this trying time. In the battles, two artists (typically songwriters or producers) go toe-to-toe performing their lengthy catalogs in an effort to be named victorious. Highlighting the work of those crafting soundtracks in the hip-hop and R&B realms, “Verzuz” has consisted of headliners: Babyface vs. Teddy Riley, Erykah Badu vs. Jill Scott, RZA vs. DJ Premier, Swizz Beatz vs. Timbaland, and T-Pain vs. Lil Jon. Hundreds of thousands of people tuned in to see who would come out on top.

Also in March, TikTok user @keke.janajah – whose real name is Keara Wilson – posted a video of her playful choreography to rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” (explicit lyrics) and dubbed it the #SavageChallenge. After five days of doing the dance and sharing it on the app, it went viral with celebrities like Normani, Ryan Destiny, Justin Bieber, and even Megan herself getting in on the fun. (Beyoncé made a fun cameo on the remix to it.)

The deep nostalgia and fellowship of these online gatherings not only broke records (the Babyface vs. Teddy Riley battle is the biggest Instagram Live battle ever), but also fostered a sense of cultural pride and creative appreciation. Not to be left out of the quarantine conversation, Drake’s hit “Toosie Slide” – accompanied by a music video showing the masked superstar executing the dance inside his Toronto mansion – also broke records. The #ToosieSlide hashtag reportedly hit 1 billion views in two days on TikTok, a first for the app. 

Music has always been about more than joy for people of color: It’s about our heritage, our resilience, and our strength.

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Iraq’s generational shift begins

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Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has been in office less than a week and he’s already turned one of the world’s youngest democracies into a model for listening to young people. He ordered the release of protesters, reinstated a popular general, started to rein in Iraq’s many militias, and vowed to hold early elections.

These initial actions reflect a generational shift in Iraq. More than 40% of Iraqis were born after the 2003 war that ousted Saddam Hussein. Many demand a national identity as Iraqis rather than being exploited by politicians as solely Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd.

As a rare democracy in the Middle East, Iraq needs to show that it is possible to have a secular and sovereign state that respects civic rights. So far, Mr. al-Kadhimi is helping to pass the baton from one generation to the next.

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Iraq’s generational shift begins

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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kahdimi

Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has been in office less than a week and he’s already turned one of the world’s youngest democracies into a model for listening to young people. Here’s what the former journalist, human rights advocate, and intelligence chief has done so far:

He ordered the release of all protesters not involved in lethal violence who had been detained since October, when young people began mass demonstrations against a corrupt political elite.

He pledged compensation to the relatives of the more than 550 people who were killed during the five months of protests. He also plans to identify and prosecute militias involved in the violent attacks. In fact, after one protester was killed in the city of Basra on Sunday, the new government quickly arrested at least five men from a local militia held responsible for the shooting.

He reinstated a popular general, Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, to lead the counterterrorism service. Famous for his role in defeating Islamic State in 2017 and inspiring Iraqi unity, Mr. al-Saadi was removed by a previous government last year, helping trigger the protests.

He started to bring Iraq’s many militias – known as popular mobilization units – under government control. Some of the militias are beholden to Iran or corrupt politicians.

He vowed to implement electoral reforms and hold early elections to give voters a chance to end a system of governance that now allocates power – and spoils – among religious and ethnic groups, breeding corruption.

These initial actions by Mr. al-Kadhimi reflect a generational shift in Iraq. More than 40% of Iraqis were born after the 2003 war that ousted Saddam Hussein. Many demand a national identity as Iraqis rather than being exploited by politicians as solely Sunni, Shiite, or Kurd. Those divisions were responsible for the rise of Islamic State, which controlled one-third of Iraq from 2014-17.

The protesters, who have been quiet during the coronavirus outbreak, are still unsure whether to trust the new prime minister. He is a product of a compromise among Iraq’s parties. He is also supported by both the United States and Iran. Distrust runs high among young people toward traditional parties and foreign powers.

The mass demonstrations, marked by their nonviolence and calls for clean government, have changed Iraq for the better. As COVID-19 fades, the protests are starting to resume. They have already forced politicians to select a prime minister who might end the country’s divisions. In just a few days, he has begun to win back Iraq’s idealistic youth.

As a rare democracy in the Middle East, Iraq needs to show that it is possible to have a secular and sovereign state that respects civic rights. So far, Mr. al-Kadhimi is helping to pass the baton from one generation to the next.

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.

God’s ageless, healing Word

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It can sometimes seem that our health, vitality, and joy are age-dependent. This article explores a different perspective: the promise of God’s constant love and care for all His children.

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God’s ageless, healing Word

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

A friend and I were touring one of London’s beautiful centuries-old cathedrals when an announcement came over the intercom: “Would everyone please join together in a moment of silent prayer, followed by saying aloud the Lord’s Prayer? Feel free to say the words in your language.”

As I closed my eyes to pray, I felt such a sense of unity – not only with those around me, but with the countless generations who had prayed in that cathedral across the centuries. Perhaps they, too, had experienced the healing power behind the Lord’s Prayer! I imagined we shared a deep love and respect for God and a desire to feel God’s profound love.

Above all, I remember being struck with a sense of the timelessness and agelessness of God – of His Word, His truth, and His love.

My thoughts went a step further. I reasoned that if God is ageless, then so are we as God’s children. The Bible tells us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3). And the first chapter of Genesis explains that we are made in God’s image, “very good.”

There’s great value in recognizing this as our true, spiritual identity. I had a chance to put these ageless ideas into practice this past winter. The family was sledding in our backyard. My son insisted that I try some sort of “trick.” I did. But it wasn’t pretty! Partway down I fell headfirst into the snow.

It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but the next day I couldn’t bend one of my knees – not even a little. It was extremely painful to walk and sometimes to even stand.

One of the many things that ran through my head was that recovery might be hampered by my age. Not wanting to be controlled by fearful thoughts, I quickly turned to God in prayer.

The first idea that came to me was a phrase from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science: “… joy cannot be turned into sorrow, for sorrow is not the master of joy” (p. 304). This helped me realize that joy is a spiritual quality; its source is God, who is infinite Life. Divine joy could not be overturned because there is no legitimate power besides God. It seemed inconceivable to me that such a love-filled activity as sledding with my son could somehow turn painful.

The Lord’s Prayer also came to thought, reminding me of the timelessness of God’s healing power and love for me, my son, my family, and all. And I knew there are beautiful references in the Bible that convey the agelessness of God’s spiritual offspring. For instance: “Thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning” (Job 11:17), and “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Science and Health also has a lot of helpful ideas on the subject. One of my favorite lines is this: “Man, governed by immortal Mind, is always beautiful and grand. Each succeeding year unfolds wisdom, beauty, and holiness” (p. 246).

These are not just nice thoughts, but rather concrete promises of the constancy of God’s care, which upholds the continuity of vitality and goodness throughout His creation – through eternity. These promises brought me peace and gratitude for God’s endless love, and they proved true in this experience. When the start of ski season arrived some time later, I was going down the trail like a pro, completely free!

We can stand up to the notion that age determines our vulnerability. Our health, our vitality, our joy, are God-dependent. God’s Word, God’s children, and God’s love for us as His children, are ageless – and we can experience this, step by step, in our lives.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all the Monitor’s coronavirus coverage is free, including articles from this column. There’s also a special free section of JSH-Online.com on a healing response to the coronavirus. There is no paywall for any of this coverage.

Viewfinder

Take the plunge

Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP
Thai children joyfully jump into a canal under an expressway in Bangkok, May 12, 2020. The Thai government continues to ease restrictions that were imposed weeks ago to combat the spread of COVID-19.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris and Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’re working on a story about a new strain of generosity: Americans sharing their stimulus checks with those in need.

We’re also working on a project highlighting personal stories for Memorial Day. Tell us about your loved one who served in the armed forces by filling out our form or emailing us at engage@csps.com. We’d love to hear from you.

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