2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

July 16, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

What if #UnverifiedTwitter holds the key to virtual happiness?

Yesterday, Twitter experienced its own version of The Great Pause.

When hackers took over the Twitter accounts of Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Kanye West, Jeff Bezos, Barack Obama, and other luminaries, the social media platform responded by preventing millions of verified users from posting. The account hijackers invited followers to send money to a Bitcoin account in exchange for a handsome return. (If you fell for that, I should introduce you to a Nigerian prince in exile.)

Public figures and celebrities – whose accounts boast a coveted blue check mark – disappeared from Twitter timelines. Ordinary people flooded the online public square to cheer the sudden loss of power by elites.

In my beat as a culture writer, I find Twitter invaluable for tracking ideas trending in thought in real time. But my own Twitter feed looked noticeably different once posts by “normies” filled the vacuum of verified accounts. More humorous memes and photos of cats. Fewer hot takes and less partisan rancor. “What if America got along like #UnverifiedTwitter right now?” tweeted a user with the handle @DanSilverAg. 

Algorithms skew the content we see and, with it, our perceptions. Most of Twitter’s 300 million-plus users don’t enjoy the platform visibility of the relatively small number with blue check marks. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of listening to the perspectives of regular citizens.

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Aid for US economy is expiring – at just the wrong moment

No one likes the idea of an economy propped up by emergency support. But, with a rise in coronavirus cases hindering efforts at reopening and revival, pressure is rising on Congress for a new round of aid.

Kathleen Flynn/Reuters
Donica Johns, shown in her New Orleans home office on June 13, 2020, has a skincare business that she was hoping to expand before the pandemic hit. She hasn’t benefited much from federal aid to small businesses during the crisis, and has struggled to replenish her inventory due to shipping delays.

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Back in May, a surge of federal relief money helped the U.S. economy to partially recover from its coronavirus plunge. The hope was that business reopenings could spur an ongoing revival.

But now, COVID-19 caseloads have been rising across the U.S., prompting consumer wariness and renewed business restrictions by states. And some key elements of federal aid are starting to expire. A $600-per-week supplement to unemployment benefits ends on July 31. 

The rising risk is that legions of businesses can’t wait out the slump, and will close their doors or downsize. In Massachusetts, the nut company Fastachi is pushing for online sales after closing three of its four retail shops. 

What will it take to bring back the economy? Policy experts say the key is beating the pandemic. But since that doesn’t look like a quick task, they also say new rounds of federal support are vital.

“A one-time check helps for that one time, but that’s it,” says Orson Aguilar, economic policy director of UnidosUS, a Latino advocacy organization. The next economic package has to include ongoing benefits, such as for unemployment, he says. 

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1. Aid for US economy is expiring – at just the wrong moment

When the coronavirus hit this spring, Souren and Susan Etyemezian made a sweeping decision to close three of their specialty nut stores – all in high-end locations around Boston – and consolidate around their store in middle-income Watertown. 

It’s a sign of the topsy-turvy nature of the coronavirus recession. The closed Fastachi nut store in posh Wellesley is stripped nearly bare; even the counter is gone, leaving electrical wires sticking out from the base. At a nearby intersection, 4 of 10 shops are either empty or advertising for tenants.

In this downturn, it’s rich people who have cut back spending the most, according to new research. But the threat to businesses and jobs is nationwide, affecting communities of all income levels. And now, the U.S. economy is reaching a critical juncture. 

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

Emergency relief programs, passed by Congress this spring, are about to phase out, potentially undercutting consumer spending still further. And with coronavirus caseloads rising rather than falling across much of the nation, the rising risk is that legions of businesses can’t wait out the slump, and close their doors permanently. The urgent question is: What will it take to bring back the economy?

Beating the pandemic is, increasingly, the obvious necessity. Yet, since that doesn’t look like a quick task, policy experts say new rounds of federal support are also vital, especially as the boost from one-time stimulus checks fades and as $600-per-week supplemental support for jobless Americans is poised to end on July 31.

“A one-time check helps for that one time, but that’s it,” says Orson Aguilar, economic policy director of UnidosUS, a Latino advocacy organization.

“I don’t think anybody is wedded to $600,” he adds. “It could be $400 or $500.” But the economic package has to include ongoing benefits, such as unemployment, he says. 

Hispanics have an unemployment rate that, at 14.5% in June, is second only to African Americans (15.4%) among major ethnic and racial groups.

Inaction carries big risks

As Congress reconvenes to consider a new round of relief and stimulus, policymakers don’t have a lot of time to wait around to see whether the forces of recovery will outweigh the forces of recession, researchers say. If the federal government doesn’t step in soon, the recovery could give way to a new downturn.

The goal of relief, as in the spring, would be twofold: to help millions of people whose incomes have been decimated, and also to prop up the wider economy so as many employers as possible can survive the pandemic.

A month or two ago, many Americans thought it wouldn’t take that long. The White House and its allies pushed the idea that states should reopen early because the United States faced a trade-off between combatting the coronavirus and revving the economy. 

But researchers at Harvard University and elsewhere have found that reopening orders by governors had little impact on employment and that consumers, especially in hard-hit wealthy places, cut back spending because they wanted to avoid high-traffic, high-contact shopping. As of July 8, consumer spending in low-income ZIP codes was down an average 1.9% from the January level before the pandemic; in high-income ZIP codes, it was down 10.8%. 

That doesn’t mean residents of Wellesley, where the average household income exceeds $275,000, are bearing the brunt of the downturn. It’s the town’s small-business owners and, especially, their employees who are.

“In the end, people are paying attention to the risk of COVID,” says Michael Stepner, an economist and Harvard post-doctoral fellow who co-authored the new research. “Those reopenings are ultimately going to be driven by improvements in public health, and that’s the only sustainable way for the economy to recover.” 

As states struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the onus falls on Congress to provide a new round of relief. 

Tom Brenner/Reuters
A sign indicating proper social distancing measures is displayed ahead of an April 23, 2020, vote in the House of Representatives on coronavirus economic relief. Key provisions of federal aid are expiring in the summer, including a $600-per-week expansion of benefits for unemployed people.

Speed versus precision

The bipartisan $2 trillion CARES Act, which in April sent relief checks to families and made loans available to businesses, helped spark an economic rebound in May, but not to pre-pandemic levels.

“Absent those programs, things would have been quite a bit worse,” says Vadim Elenev, an economist at Johns Hopkins University’s business school who studies financial crises. But federal rescue efforts have cost much more than an ideally targeted program, he says, citing his own research with other economists.

Yet crafting cheaper, more targeted programs – such as to help small businesses stay afloat and avoid layoffs – is hard. Experts say it would involve government picking and choosing which industries, and perhaps which businesses, need federal support. 

For example, many say the government shouldn’t be wasting money on businesses that would go bankrupt anyway. So should the government help Wellesley Town Taxi? Having already lost its local business to ride-hailing companies like Uber, the company remade itself into an airport limo service. But when the pandemic slammed the airline business, demand for airport rides evaporated.

For now, the most important thing is to get the relief out speedily, says Dan Sichel, a professor of economics at Wellesley College and former Federal Reserve economist. 

“The more one tries to get things targeted, the more difficult it is to get those checks out quickly,” he says.

Partisan divide in Congress

Getting money to needy individuals is much easier than aid to businesses – and has proved more effective. But here again, big decisions loom for Congress over targeting and total dollars. 

The Democratic-controlled House has already passed a $3 trillion package that would expand relief-check amounts that low- and middle-income families with children would receive. And the Trump administration has signaled support for another round of checks, but it’s unclear if the Republican-controlled Senate will go along with such a generous package when it reconvenes next week.

Another battle is shaping up over extending special unemployment benefits. With an extra $600 a week for the unemployed, researchers found that two-thirds of recipients were earning more from unemployment than when they were working, which has drawn widespread criticism.

“The $600 weekly unemployment bonus has caused a not-insignificant number of businesses to have a hard time getting their employees to return to work,” writes Rachel Greszler, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

Yet many economists see a strong case for some level of expanded benefits, given that the 11.1% unemployment rate as of June remains higher than at any time since the Great Depression.

Whatever Congress does, economic relief is at best a partial plan for reviving the economy. Flattening the pandemic is key, and the survival of businesses hangs in the balance.

The toll on businesses

Even if state and local governments allow businesses to open, the social-distancing restrictions can make it difficult for stores to reopen. That’s one reason the White family closed its popular small bakery and café in Wellesley, which had been in operation less than a year. “With social distancing, we didn’t want to open,” says Brian White, manager of White’s Bakery and Café.  

Fear of the pandemic could suppress demand for some businesses for months to come. “It looks like reopening dates have been pushed out,” says Christopher Stanton, an economist at Harvard Business School who studies entrepreneurship.

Using surveys from Alignable, an online network for small business owners, he says half of small businesses have fully reopened, with the same products and services as before the crisis. But another third have reopened with fewer or different products and services, and 15% remain temporarily closed. When the latter two groups were asked in a survey in late June when they expected to fully reopen, 60% said September or later.

Souren Etyemezian says he and his wife are now pushing to boost online sales for their Fastachi nut company to help make up for the reduced store sales.

“We didn’t feel retail is going to come back as it used to be at least for two years,” he says.

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

In Oklahoma tribal decision, ‘rule of the strong’ falls to rule of law

What would it look like to repair a long-standing racial injustice? It’s a question roiling the U.S., and Native American tribes in Oklahoma say they got a clear example last week from the Supreme Court.

Kevin Wolf/Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian/AP/File
A detail of the 1790 Treaty of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the United States on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington in 2015. The Supreme Court ruled July 9 that state prosecutors lack the authority to pursue criminal cases in a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma that remains reservation land.

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Kevin Washburn never enjoyed teaching his federal Indian law course. It was “basically a history of how the law has failed my people, that the rule of law applies elsewhere in the United States but less so in Indian Country,” says the former assistant secretary of Indian affairs and member of the Chickasaw Nation.

Last week’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that said half the state of Oklahoma is still tribal land stands in marked contrast.

“Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch. “That would be the rule of the strong, not the rule of law.”

In a moment of national reckoning over racial injustice, the decision has added significance, some say, as both an acknowledgment of that injustice and a concrete step toward addressing it.

One might expect such a dramatic change to prompt chaos and confusion, but in Oklahoma the tribal nations and state and local officials have responded with calm cooperation, pledging to work together – as they have for decades – to adapt to the new reality.

“The pressure I feel is to communicate to the public that we know what we’re doing,” says Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. “We’ve done it for a long time.”

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2. In Oklahoma tribal decision, ‘rule of the strong’ falls to rule of law

When he started to read the latest landmark American Indian law ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, Joel Williams needed a few minutes just to get past the first sentence.

“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise,” opened Justice Neil Gorsuch for the majority opinion in McGirt v. Oklahoma, referencing the forced removal, beginning in the 1830s, of Native American tribes from their historical lands in today’s U.S. Southeast to west of the Mississippi River. Estimates vary, but thousands are believed to have died on the roughly 5,000-mile journey, including as many as one-fourth of the Cherokee Nation.

Mr. Williams, a senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), is a member of the Cherokee Nation and a descendant of the Cherokees who negotiated treaties with the federal government. Seeing those treaties, promising them a “permanent home” in the West, referenced throughout the opinion was “quite striking.”

“It’s not often that you read a Supreme Court opinion that is so compelling,” he says.

“Our communities were being torn apart,” he adds. “There was a hope and promise that we would have these homelands in perpetuity, and that’s what Justice Gorsuch is saying in the very first sentence.”

The decision is a momentous one, first, because of the practical consequence that as much as half of the state of Oklahoma may now, legally, be Indian Country. But in a moment of national reckoning over racial injustice, the decision has added significance, some say, as both an acknowledgment of that injustice and a concrete step toward addressing it.

One might expect such a dramatic change to prompt chaos and confusion, but in Oklahoma the tribal nations and state and local officials have responded with calm cooperation, pledging to work together – as they have for decades – to adapt to the new reality.

“Oklahoma has a pretty solid tradition of state-tribal compacts,” says Lindsay Robertson, director of the Center for the Study of American Indian Law and Policy at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

The court’s ruling, he adds, “is like an apology-plus. We’re sorry. There was a wrong done here, and we’re going to make it right to the fullest extent we can.”

The decision was met with jubilation by Native Americans in Oklahoma, including Joy Harjo, the U.S. poet laureate who lives in Tulsa. “Justice is sometimes seven generations away, or even more. And it is inevitable,” Ms. Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed, referencing her ancestor Monahwee, who fought to keep their homeland at the Battle of Horsehoe Bend.

“It is important to stop here, in the moment, and to recognize all that it has taken to arrive at this act of justice,” she added. “At last, on the far end of the Trail of Tears, a promise has been kept.”

“Everybody wants public safety”

Specifically, the high court’s 5-4 ruling on July 9 held that the historical boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation in eastern Oklahoma remained in effect because Congress hadn’t formally ended them.

As a result, the criminal convictions by the state of two Native men – Jimcy McGirt and Patrick Murphy, who is on death row for murder – are voided, and they must be retried in federal court. An unknown number of other tribal members convicted in state court may also ask for federal retrials.

While the ruling concerned the jurisdiction of the Creek Nation, four other tribes in eastern Oklahoma have similar treaties with Congress. Their combined reservations span roughly 11 million acres, including portions of the city of Tulsa, whose Muscogee name, Tulasi, means Old Town. As many as 1.8 million people live in the area, only 10% to 15% of whom are Native.

The court should have considered these realities in its decision, said Chief Justice John Roberts in dissent.

“The Court has profoundly destabilized the governance of eastern Oklahoma,” he wrote, hobbled the state’s ability to prosecute serious crimes, and created “significant uncertainty for the State’s continuing authority over any area that touches Indian affairs.”

Oklahoma has more Native residents than any other state besides California, and tribes have developed a strong and cooperative relationship with the state.

They have negotiated compacts around gambling, taxation, hunting, and fishing, among other things, that resolve jurisdictional issues between the two governments. Tribes also have “cross-deputization” agreements that allow state and tribal law enforcement agencies to operate on and off reservation land.

Last week the five tribal nations and the state government were quick to announce that they are already working together on these new changes. Hours after the McGirt decision came out, a joint statement said they “have made substantial progress toward an agreement to present to Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice.”

The statement is a sign that the six governments were likely already planning for that possible outcome, says Kevin Washburn, former assistant secretary of Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior and a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.

“That’s what you expect governments to do, to plan properly,” he adds. “It shows cooperation. Everybody wants public safety.”

With certain major crimes now subject to federal, not state, prosecution, U.S. attorney offices may have to expand to manage the heavier caseload.

The tribal nations themselves are facing similar issues, having only the law enforcement capacity for a pre-McGirt workload. Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation – the largest tribe in the U.S. – says that while he is “elated” with the decision, he isn’t sure if the tribe should expand its law enforcement and justice system to handle the changes.

“I have to seriously consider if it’s in our best interests,” he says, to in coming decades “be building prisons, creating a criminal justice system, and sapping resources from our elders and children and our economic prosperity.”

Ann Hermes/Staff/File
A flag with the seal of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation flies outside the MCN Supreme Court on June 18, 2018, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

Treaties and textualism

Professor Washburn, now dean at the University of Iowa College of Law, never enjoyed teaching his federal Indian law course. The entire semester, he says, was “basically a history of how the law has failed my people, that the rule of law applies elsewhere in the United States but less so in Indian Country.”

And between 1990 and 2015 the court ruled against tribal interests in 76.5% of cases, according to Bethany Berger at the University of Connecticut School of Law. But that has changed in recent years, particularly since Justice Gorsuch joined the court. Last term, he hired the court’s first-ever Native American clerk.

He’s considered a reliable member of the court’s conservative wing, but on Native issues, “there’s just a sense that Justice Gorsuch gets it,” says Professor Washburn.

His opinion in McGirt combines these two features of his jurisprudence, using textualism – a method, popular with conservatives, of interpreting laws by focusing strictly on their text – to analyze the history of the Creek Nation’s treaties with the U.S. While Congress has the power to unilaterally break treaties with tribes, he explained, the legislature has never explicitly done that with the Creek.

“If Congress wishes to break the promise of a reservation, it must say so,” he wrote.

This analysis trumped the argument from Oklahoma – and, in an amicus brief, the federal government – that a series of hostile federal policies over a century amounted to an effective “disestablishment” of the Creek reservation. Congress “broke up the Creek Nation’s lands, abolished its courts, circumscribed its governmental authority, applied federal and state law to Indians and non-Indians alike in its territory ... and set a timetable for the dissolution of the tribe,” the federal government wrote in its brief.

But “unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law,” wrote Justice Gorsuch. “That would be the rule of the strong, not the rule of law.”

As to the argument that declaring a vast swath of eastern Oklahoma tribal land would create far more problems than it solves, he concluded that “dire warnings are just that, and not a license for us to disregard the law.”

Many of Oklahoma’s arguments “follow a sadly familiar pattern. Yes, promises were made, but the price of keeping them has become too great, so now we should just cast a blind eye,” he wrote. “We reject that thinking.”

The court’s most recent case in this area of American Indian law reached a similar holding, in a unanimous decision, that “only the clear intent of Congress can determine when tribal land is diminished.”

If anything, the new ruling brings Oklahoma’s tribal nations more in line with the status of most other tribes around the country, says Mr. Williams at NARF. In most states, if a tribal member commits a serious crime on tribal land, they are prosecuted in federal court.

What made this case unusual, says Professor Washburn, is how significant the potential ramifications are. But that is also what makes the case “the high-water mark for the court’s respect for the rule of law in Indian Country,” he says.

“The bottom line is this decision applies the rule of law even when it’s difficult to do so because of the ramifications,” he adds.

“That’s the America we all want to live in,” he continues. “That’s what we say is great about the United States, but we often fail to live up to that.”

And at a time when the U.S. is wrestling with racial injustices past and present, Chief Hoskin thinks the decision is “good for the country.”

“It doesn’t just identify an issue; it does something about it,” he says. “Maybe it creates more space in communities, in Congress, and in state legislatures to look at these issues and do more than talk about them.”

It’s unclear if that will be the case, but as one of the leaders now tasked with adapting to this dramatic legal change, Chief Hoskin admits he feels some pressure to show that such a dramatic change can happen without dramatic negative consequences. And he’s feeling confident.

“The pressure I feel is to communicate to the public that we know what we’re doing,” he says. “We’ve done it for a long time.”

Staff writer Simon Montlake contributed to this report.

A deeper look

Why libertarians are joining BLM calls to defund police

In 1969, the November issue of the libertarian magazine Reason ran a cover story titled, “The Cops: Heroes or Villains?” Now that police reform is dominating national conversation, can libertarians forge an unusual alliance with a movement like Black Lives Matter?

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It may sound surprising that Republican Carla Gericke, in seeking a state Senate seat in New Hampshire, is campaigning for reduced police budgets. The current “defund the police” movement in America, after all, has been kindled since the 1980s by left-wing scholar activists, notably women of color such as Angela Davis.

But now, “you do have this strange alliance, or at least a potential alliance between libertarians – ‘classical liberals,’ who do tend to be mostly white men – and a movement like Black Lives Matter,” says Tyler Parry, an African American studies professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  

Still, he says Black Americans, from their less privileged position in U.S. society, put more emphasis on the idea “that some system of government needs to remain in place for the protection of people, but in an equal and respectful fashion.”

Libertarians trace their wariness of unchecked police powers back to Enlightenment Age thinkers. Clark Neily of the libertarian Cato Institute says, “In America, I would say the most basic right we have is to be free from state interference, and certainly state violence, absent a legally sufficient reason.”

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3. Why libertarians are joining BLM calls to defund police

Sometimes, people have a hard time trying to peg the protest politics of Carla Gericke.

As a Republican candidate for the New Hampshire Senate and a “hardcore libertarian,” she has been an outspoken activist against the stay-at-home orders handed down by Gov. Chris Sununu during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s a position many people may equate with Trump-style conservatism.

At the same time, however, Ms. Gericke has also been a longtime activist against what she sees as the troubling militarization of American police forces, and she’s been mostly supportive of Black Lives Matter efforts to defund the police.

“I am all for taking part of the budget and moving it away from escalating policing, and maybe move it more toward mental health, community development, and that kind of stuff,” says Ms. Gericke, who has run against the powerful Democratic incumbent in her district for the past three election cycles. “That wouldn’t really reduce a line item in terms of the budget and wouldn’t really be shrinking the government, so for me, that isn’t the ideal solution. But I’m willing to say I think that would be a step towards a healthier, more peaceful society.”

She’s gotten hate mail for her efforts from both sides of the political spectrum. But like most libertarians, Ms. Gericke’s principled opposition to what she sees as ever-expanding and far-reaching state powers – especially the lethal power given to police along with their “qualified immunities” from legal accountability – has been a core plank of her political philosophy from the start.

The Republican candidate joined other community activists on the left in 2013 to help lead efforts to keep the city of Concord from purchasing a new Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck, or BEARCAT, which city officials said was necessary because of “frequent demonstrations by officially organized groups which have the potential of becoming volatile.”

It is the kind of language she finds chilling. “Concord at the time had had like, two murders in a decade,” she says. “But of course they ended up getting their BEARCAT anyway.”

After what prosecutors have called the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, the decades-old movement to defund or even abolish municipal police gained public momentum that few had ever seen before. Rooted primarily in the work of left-wing scholar activists since the 1970s and 1980s, especially women of color such as Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who helped formulate the concept of the “prison industrial complex” through the grassroots coalition Critical Resistance, the movement began to describe how the U.S. criminal justice system incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world by far. It argued that, with its massive array of tax-funded prisons and jails, overwhelmingly filled with Black and Latino men, the United States had become one of the world’s most violent police states. 

Shared concern about rights

“There are a lot of parallels” with libertarian views, says Edward Stringham, president of the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian think tank. “In many cases, the police are assigned to do things that they don’t have training or capacity to do, even while being trained in a more violent style when dealing with any kind of conflict.” 

“At least for me, I don’t see any justification for this heavily armed group of people, financed by the taxpayers, to be dealing with situations that are, at most, a $20 problem for a convenience store,” says Mr. Stringham, alluding to the complaint that ended in what he, too, calls the police murder of Mr. Floyd.

But there are a lot of differences, too, says Tyler Parry, professor of African American and African diaspora studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  

“On the one hand, you do have this strange alliance, or at least a potential alliance between libertarians – ‘classical liberals,’ who do tend to be mostly white men – and a movement like Black Lives Matter, which also calls for the defunding of the heavy hand of militarized police forces.”

Indeed, over 70% of self-identified libertarians are white and 63% percent are male, according to the Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think tank. By contrast, only 5% of libertarians identify as Black and 14% as Latino, the institute found in a 2015 survey with the London-based public opinion data agency YouGov.

“[Although] libertarians and progressives do share a lot, a lot of libertarians are much more willing to be more extreme, and take government defunding to its logical conclusion, rejecting any type of governmental structure, particularly looking at taxation as a form of theft, as well as [being against] the notion that the government can send in armed police forces or military units to essentially force its citizens to comply with its laws and regulations.” 

Libertarians often identify with the limited-government philosophies that animate many wings of the Republican Party. They point out that the European traditions of liberal democracy had their early roots in efforts to limit the crown's enormous power to use lethal force in the name of law and order.

As “classical liberals,” many libertarians point out that early thinkers developing ideas of human rights in the 16th and 17th centuries first fought against the criminal justice system. Locating their intellectual roots in the Enlightenment, they often see the first “activists” questioning the scope of government authority, especially the crown’s use of torture to exact confessions, its declarations of martial law during peacetime, and rejections of the right to habeas corpus.

“In America, I would say the most basic right we have is to be free from state interference, and certainly state violence, absent a legally sufficient reason,” says Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute.

“When you clothe state actors, particularly police officers, with the incredible power and discretion to choose which laws to enforce and then the power to take somebody’s liberty and even their life, and then give them the equipment with which to do that, it matters tremendously what forms of accountability are available to citizens,” says Mr. Neily, who wrote a recent essay assessing Black Lives Matter protests, titling it “America’s Criminal Justice System Is Rotten to the Core.” 

Doug Brown/AP
Agents from different components of the Department of Homeland Security are deployed to protect a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, on July 5, 2020. Protesters also faced off against city police in Portland.

Where the groups differ

But for scholars like Professor Parry, a consistent libertarian position is often rooted in privilege. Those promoting laissez-faire economics, light-touch government regulations, and a bare minimal police state tend to already have their built-in competitive advantages and see almost all rungs of society in terms of robust competition.

“My own assumption in terms of where libertarians may go wrong is that I think many people see it as a movement of predominantly white males, and that they already have many of the privileges within society, so they have an assumption that the government is not necessary in directing their lives,” he says. “Whereas I think Black people or people of color who are protesting against governmental police forces, they do still recognize that some system of government needs to remain in place for the protection of people, but in an equal and respectful fashion.”

In fact, as many scholars have pointed out, Black voters as a whole tend to be far more pragmatic and moderate than white liberals, and make up a small part of the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Black voters overwhelmingly chose Hillary Clinton in 2016 primaries, and then overwhelmingly backed former Vice President Joe Biden at a moment when his candidacy was teetering on collapse.  

“The protest movements of the civil rights era were largely in response to what they conceived of as unjust governmental structures,” Professor Parry says. “So I think maybe the distinction here is that, on the one hand, you will probably find libertarians and even Marxist activists in some form of agreement that police forces can reflect the tyranny of an unlawful government. But at the same time, the agenda and the goals of what ultimately replaces that government might be very different.” 

Still, amid the current Black Lives Matter protests, a number of progressives, libertarians, and even some religious conservatives have joined forces to oppose the “qualified immunity” that courts, including the Supreme Court, have granted police officers. In the decades since judges introduced this legal doctrine through their rulings, shielding officers from being held personally liable for violating certain constitutional rights or using excessive force, qualified immunity has drawn fire from groups across the political spectrum.

In a legal campaign to take on qualified immunity over two years ago, the Cato Institute worked to build a “cross ideological bridge” to combat the legally entrenched doctrine, says Mr. Neily. And one of his proudest accomplishments, he says, was to put together an amicus brief for the Supreme Court that included a diverse array of groups, from the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union on the left to the Alliance Defending Freedom and Americans for Prosperity Foundation on the right.

“A rash of high-profile, sanction free incidents of police misconduct has sent Americans to the streets in protest,” these groups contend together. “[Qualified] immunity shields a wide range of official misconduct. The diversity of the signatories reflects how qualified immunity abets and exacerbates the violation of constitutional rights of every sort.”

Private security forces?

Libertarian thinkers don’t often use the term “defund the police” like their left-leaning counterparts do, however. And Mr. Stringham at the American Institute for Economic Research is part of an ideological subsection of libertarians who argue that much of the work of police departments today would be better served by localized private security. 

“If you look around the country in various jurisdictions, you can see plenty of alternatives to government police,” says Mr. Stringham, noting a topic he explores in his book “Private Governance.” “Universities like Harvard, Duke, and MIT each have fully deputized private police forces.”

“And in general, I would say that’s going to create incentives for those police to be acting on the behalf of the students,” he says. “Whereas, if you have government police, there’s that disconnect where they can pursue an agenda which is independent of the well-being of the population.”

Like many libertarians across the country, he sees powerful police unions as an obstacle to fiscal and structural reforms that could unburden taxpayers and incentivize police to make “serve and protect” more than a clichéd slogan.

Yet others, like Mr. Neily, worry about outsourcing police work to private entities.

“I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of trying to privatize the core function of the police, which is to act as an agent of the state to ensure that necessary laws really are obeyed,” he says. “That would necessarily entail at least the potential use of violence, as well as the exercise of substantial discretion.”

“You still have to have some understanding of the legitimate functions of a criminal justice system run by government entities,” Mr. Neily continues. “And that is, to prevent and when necessary punish conduct that threatens the very fabric of civil society.”

“It feels like progress”

As a libertarian activist and president emeritus of the Free State Project in New Hampshire, Ms. Gericke, too, has long fought for transparency and accountability in municipal police forces. 

“I do think there is definitely a lot of overlap with these more liberal groups,” says Ms. Gericke, who grew up under the apartheid regime in South Africa and thus remains suspicious of government power. “And one of the problems all of us see, in part, is this notion of ‘law and order.’ ... It is the fearmongering from the war on drugs. And it is, I believe, partly the institutionalized racism inherent in the prison system – the whole school-to-prison pipeline we can so easily see.”

More recently, Ms. Gericke joined with the ACLU and New Hampshire news organizations to demand the public release of the names of police officers who have been accused of misconduct, known as the “Laurie List.”  New Hampshire law exempts this list from the state’s existing freedom-of-information laws.

Last year a state judge ordered the release of the list, which includes the names of some 260 cops, but Republican Governor Sununu and law enforcement officials appealed the ruling at the time. In the past month, however, each appears to be rethinking this opposition, and the governor announced the formation of a commission to recommend reforms “to enhance transparency, accountability, and community relations in law enforcement.”

As Ms. Gericke woos voters in her district – her campaign slogan is “Protecting the smallest minority, the individual ... YOU!” – she has been heartened to see police accountability finally become a national issue supported by an array of political perspectives. 

“As a libertarian and as someone who’s worked against the expanding police state for such a long time, it’s sort of a ‘let’s see if it happens’ kind of thing,” she says. “But at least it feels like progress.” 

‘Break the silence’: In Tunisia, rappers keep revolution alive

Across the world, hip-hop artists enjoy the playful sparring of rap battles. In Tunisia – where hip-hop has become the dominant form of music – emcees verbally joust over political issues such as racism and revolution. Call it a flow of ideas.

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From hip-hop studios to outdoor festivals and the streets, in Tunisia you’re never far from rap. It's not only the dominant music, but the political language of the people. A decade after serving as the soundtrack to Tunisia’s revolution, rappers are expressing Tunisians’ hopes and anxieties as they rebuild their society. Their new focus has a familiar refrain: poverty, inequality, police brutality, and racism.

“We still do not have decent schools or proper hospitals; some regions do not even have access to drinkable water,” says DJ Costa, whose two-decade rap career has spanned Tunisia’s transformation. “The main causes of poverty, disenfranchisement, and discrimination have not changed in any tangible way since the revolution,” he says. “We are staying on message to keep progress alive.”

Mohamed Kekli, who goes by the name Trappa, spent several years learning the hip-hop industry in the United States. “What I learned in the U.S. is that hip-hop can change minds,” he says. “In Tunisia we are trying to keep our unfinished revolution alive to address social issues. It’s not that you rid yourself of a dictator and everything is fine.”

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4. ‘Break the silence’: In Tunisia, rappers keep revolution alive

“Break the silence, stop the violence,” DJ Costa says as he bops his head left and right to the beat, sweat beading on his brow. “Break the silence, stop the violence,” he leans into the microphone and utters: “Police.”

But this is not an American studio.

A decade after serving as the soundtrack to Tunisia’s revolution, rappers today are expressing Tunisians’ hopes and anxieties as they continue to rebuild their society.

Freed from a dictator, Tunisia’s rappers have moved on from toppling oppressors to exploring how music can be used to empower the marginalized in the young democracy. Their new focus has an all-too familiar refrain: poverty, inequality, police brutality, and racism. 

“We still do not have decent schools or proper hospitals; some regions do not even have access to drinkable water,” says Mehdi Akkari, known as DJ Costa, whose two-decade rap career has spanned Tunisia’s transformation.

“The main causes of poverty, disenfranchisement, and discrimination have not changed in any tangible way since the revolution,” he says. “We are staying on message to keep progress alive.”

Lessons from America

From hip-hop studios to outdoor festivals and the streets, in Tunisia you’re never far from rap, which has become not only the dominant music in the North African country, but the political language of the people.

The Debo Collective serves as rap’s public library.

Here in its graffiti- and paint-splattered studio on the third floor above a central Tunis cafe, artists, DJs, rappers, dancers, and musicians come to collaborate, explore, and use recording equipment for free.

Mohamed Kekli, who goes by the name Trappa, was inspired to form the collective in 2013 after spending several years learning the hip-hop industry in Chicago and Connecticut. He was particularly impressed by the use of hip-hop to get out the vote in the 2004 presidential election and tackle community violence, he says in an interview late last year.

“What I learned in the U.S. is that hip-hop can change minds,” Trappa says as a group of clarinet players walks in to record at the Debo studio. “In Tunisia we are trying to keep our unfinished revolution alive to address social issues. It’s not that you rid yourself of a dictator and everything is fine.”

With different musical flourishes, styles, and a diverse array of topics, the dozens of Tunisian rappers and hip-hop artists share the same mission: to keep pressure on post-revolution politicians.

Despite different political parties peacefully transferring power since 2011, Tunisian rappers are quick to remind them little has been done to address poverty and soaring inequality, or even to reform the feared security services.

Songs chide squabbling MPs and criticize government ministers for their response to a deadly building collapse in a rural town and the government’s indifference to the plight of the homeless.

Connected to reality

With many rappers themselves unemployed or skirting the poverty line, their connection to the people’s plight is real; authenticity and anguish pumps through their lyrics. DJ Costa rummages for used automobile parts and odd jobs; other unemployed rappers sit for hours in cafes.

So strong is the political commentary in their songs, Tunisians can listen to a track and immediately remember the year and month of the song from the topical lyrics.

DJ Costa, Balti, and others rappers have rap about harraqa, or migrating to Europe by boat, highlighting the dangers, the factors pushing young men to risk their lives, those who never live to reach land, and the families they leave behind.

Another frequent topic has been the dangers of extremism and the Islamic State group, which recruited thousands of young vulnerable Tunisians facing economic despair and social marginalization.

It is a topic close to many rappers who lived in marginalized neighborhoods where ISIS recruiters once prowled; Mr. Akkari’s brother Yusuf was recruited by ISIS to travel to Syria and was later killed in an airstrike on Kobani, scene of a pivotal battle between Kurdish fighters and ISIS.

“I tried to reach him and young Tunisians through my music,” Mr. Akkari says. “Now I sing so it never happens again.”

Ya Lili, Tunisia’s biggest rap hit yet, overtook Arab airwaves in 2018. It’s a song by rapper Balti about domestic violence and a young boy’s feelings of helplessness and being trapped.

Since the revolution, Hamza Ben Achour, a Black Tunisian, has used rap to address Tunisia’s underlying racism against dark-skinned citizens and those of sub-Saharan African heritage, challenging Tunisian society’s “denial.”

His song, Manash racist, or “I’m not racist,” depicts a debate-turned-rap-off between Mr. Ben Achour and a white Tunisian rapper; the white rapper insists there is no racism in the country, while Mr. Ben Achour lists issues faced by Black Tunisians one by one, concluding with, “I have not gotten my rights.”

At the end, they shake hands and hug.

“Tunisian rappers are part of the society and face the same daily economic and social issues as the rest of the country. Even as the music has become professional, they have not abandoned these social causes,” says Mohamed Jouili, a Tunisian sociologist.

“The spirit of the music remains underground,” he says, “and that has given a popular legitimacy to the music that resonates today.”

Revolutionary history

Tunisian rap and hip-hop’s focus on social justice dates back to its introduction to the country.

Rap became popular in Tunisia in the late 1990s with the smuggling of cassettes and CDs of French rappers such as I AM and American artists like Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and Snoop Dogg.

What made Tunisians latch on to rap were lyrics against police brutality, poverty, persecution, and substance abuse – real-life issues facing Tunisians under the dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, but never discussed or reported in the news.

“Hip-hop came talking about different messages – social issues we faced but never expressed in music,” says Trappa. “People in Tunisia connected with it, and the music got bigger and bigger.”

Aspiring young rappers would use multiple cassette recorders, recording their lyrics on one tape, then adding the beat on the other to make a crude mix.

With the internet censored, rappers would then distribute their cassettes to friends and neighbors. To escape the watchful eye of the police, some would leave a batch of cassettes in a bag at a drop-off point at a deserted lot like contraband or a ransom pickup.

The secret to the enduring success of Tunisian rap, they say, is its use of local dialects to reach a large sub-section of Tunisian society – particularly the working class and rural citizens who do not understand the classical Arabic used in newspapers and by newscasters.

 “We were singing to people who didn’t understand the news on TV or read a newspaper. We were telling them the country’s story in under three minutes,” Mr. Akkari says from his makeshift home studio. “We are expressing our feeling as a people.”

Rappers also used different names to fill in for Mr. Ben Ali, ministers, mayors, and the police, using slang familiar to average Tunisians but alien to the political elite that ruled them, occasionally running afoul of the regime.

It was only natural, then, when Tunisians rose up in 2010, that rappers released songs on a near-daily basis calling for the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali, becoming the revolution’s soundtrack.

Rapping forward

Today dozens of young women and men rappers and hip-hop artists are exploring the boundaries of music free of censorship, intertwining Tunisian musical heritage with 21st century beats, complete with slick YouTube music videos garnering millions of views.

Yet they insist on focusing on local causes rather than “going commercial” or “selling out.”

Mohamed Guitoni, 28, part of the younger generation of rappers that came of age during the revolution, says as Tunisia continues to find its footing, rappers have another message under their calls for political action: Don’t give up hope.

“Many Tunisians have doubts over the direction of the country, but I want to tell Tunisians to remain positive about our revolution,” says Mr. Guitoni, who raps under the name Guito’n.

“We have overcome a lot the last nine years and learned a lot about ourselves. It may be cloudy now, but we have brighter days ahead.”

When the world stood still, they found freedom on roller skates

During the pandemic, the pastime of roller skating has made a comeback. Or perhaps it never really went out of fashion since its disco-derby heyday. For many, strapping on skates means freedom and inclusion. 

Paula Munoz/AP
Protesters on roller skates attend the All Black Lives Matter march, organized by Black LGBTQ leaders, on June 14, 2020, in Los Angeles.

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Roller-skating is spilling into the streets and online as young people look for outdoor activities to fill the lockdown void. The pastime translates easily to video, and viral clips – including from some influential celebrities – have flooded social media. There are now more than 1.2 million posts in the #rollerskating tag on Instagram and 2.2 billion views on the tag on TikTok.

The newfound interest belies a thriving contemporary subculture that carries with it nearly a century of history and includes ties to African American culture and the civil rights movement. Though skating has cycled in and out of style, its enduring appeal has captured generations of skaters. 

Veterans of the scene agree that the current wave of interest is not so much a revival of a dead sport but the latest iteration of an established discipline. “Skating goes through its phases,” says Darius Stroud, an influential roller skater who is better known by his skate name D-Breez. “It’s basically an art form and a sport. And any time a sport gets some popularity and traction, it’s good because it brings eyes to that sport, and it makes people understand it.”

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5. When the world stood still, they found freedom on roller skates

A 10-second TikTok video was all it took for actress Ana Coto to ignite a summer trend – that, and a pair of turquoise roller skates. 

The video, posted in May, features Ms. Coto effortlessly skate-dancing down a road while lip-syncing to the Jennifer Lopez song “Jenny from the Block.” More than 15 million views later, some pinpoint her video as the reason why it’s currently almost impossible to find a quality pair of skates for sale online. There are now more than 1.2 million posts in the #rollerskating tag on Instagram and 2.2 billion views on the tag on TikTok. On YouTube, viewers can find tutorials and trick videos, accompanied by vlogs with titles like “Learning to Roller Skate in 5 Days.”

Roller-skating, which is easily done in the open air and translates well to video, fills the lockdown void perfectly for many young adults. Even so, the newfound interest belies a thriving contemporary subculture that carries with it nearly a century of history and includes ties to African American culture and the civil rights movement. Though the sport has cycled in and out of style, its enduring appeal has captured generations of skaters. 

“It gives you a sense of freedom,” says Darius Stroud, an influential roller skater who has been on the scene for decades and is better known by his skate name D-Breez, in a phone interview. “You don’t have to align with what somebody else does. ... It allows you free creation and expression of the self.”

The latest spike of online attention is tied, in part, to the fresh image the sport has gained since brands like Moxi (started in 2010) and Impala (started in 2017) began selling bright, trendy roller skates that can be easily coordinated with stylish outfits. Flashier than the black-and-white binary of rental skates, they’re marketed as high-performance gear suitable for rough outdoor skating and high-impact tricks.

For the most part, contemporary American skate culture is also diverse and welcoming, though atmosphere and skate style can vary wildly depending on locale. Women are at the forefront of both bowl skating and the competitive team sport roller derby. Roller dancing has been closely tied to trends in music since disco took off in the 1970s; today, there are dozens of regional dance styles, most originating from Black culture.

Michael M. Santiago/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/AP/File
Brittany McNeill of Homewood, Pennsylvania, skates during the Pittsburgh Steel City Rollers annual Spring Bling Skate Jam, at Youngstown Skate in Youngstown, Ohio, on May 18, 2019. The annual skate jam attracts skaters from various parts of the country.

“What is wonderful about the roller-skating community is that it’s so inclusive,” says Rebel Mang, a roller skater who creates tutorials on her YouTube channel Queer Girl Straight Skates, in a phone interview. “It’s inclusive, it’s forward-thinking. ... There’s something about the intersection of roller-skating and queerness that makes me feel more me and more represented within my identity.”

The sport’s popularity has waxed and waned constantly since it began. In the “golden age” of skating from the 1930s into the 1960s as many as 18 million Americans regularly skated. Beginning in the 1970s, rinks were packed with a generation infatuated with disco music. And the sport is inextricably tied to African American culture, from civil rights movements to desegregate roller rinks to the origins of music and dance styles – like disco – that tend to accompany spikes in skating’s popularity. Today, skaters continue to innovate within contemporary variations on the sport including roller derby, park or bowl skating, and adult-night events.

AP/AE/File
Women roller skaters dart from the starting line at the beginning of the roller derby in Detroit, July 11, 1950.

D-Breez, for example, currently organizes the Independence Roll, a national skating convention held annually in Chicago. His event is one of dozens of similar national-level roller rink events attended in large part by members of the Black skating community, the first of which was organized by a skater named Vanessa Poindexter in the early 1990s – the same decade when rink skating became associated with burgeoning genres of hip-hop and rap. (The 2018 documentary “United Skates” covered the underground scene, as well as the fact that rinks across the nation are being rezoned and permanently closed, and that Black roller events are often heavily policed.) 

Ms. Mang notes that today’s skate world is not without its shortcomings. “It has glaring faults,” she says. The history of segregation in roller rinks is still felt today, where coded anti-Black language – “No saggy pants” – is not uncommon. On some sites including TikTok, algorithms can boost white creators over those of other races, potentially minimizing the spread of content from nonwhite skaters. What’s popular online “is just not an accurate representation of what the skate community is,” says Ms. Mang. “It’s not what you see on social media.”

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Kaitlyn Saunders poses in front of Black Lives Matter protest signs in Washington, June 10, 2020. The figure skater donned in-line skates and performed a routine on Black Lives Matter Plaza in her hometown.

Veterans of the scene agree that the current wave of interest is not so much a revival of a dead sport but the latest iteration of an established discipline. “Skating goes through its phases,” says D-Breez. “It’s basically an art form and a sport. And any time a sport gets some popularity and traction, it’s good because it brings eyes to that sport, and it makes people understand it. ... Which, of course, can help the rinks stay open.”

Ms. Mang says that her participation in skating “has helped me to love my body in a way that I’ve never loved my body before.” But it’s more than that, she adds. “It feels like you understand where somebody is coming from when you know that they’re roller-skating.”  

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Next up for national dialogue: Environmental justice

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With Americans taking a fresh look at justice for minorities, they can now add some urgency to a related issue: the need for fresh air and water in low-income neighborhoods. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump weakened a law requiring public input for federal infrastructure projects, such as power plants and roads. The impact of his action on Black Americans, who constitute a high percentage of residents in U.S. cities with a host of environmental hazards ranging from climate-driven “heat islands” to polluted drinking water, could be high.

Mr. Trump’s action, however, is bound to run into stiff resistance from young people. That demographic group is concerned about environment issues “unlike any that I’ve seen on this earth in over 70 years,” says Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University who’s been called “The Father of Environmental Justice.” Also, cities are more serious than ever about solving local environmental problems.

The U.S. needs a holistic approach to discussing and ending environmental injustice, says Dr. Bullard. As the national dialogue on race keeps widening beyond police reform, it will naturally challenge the disproportionate impact of pollution on the poorest people. Justice demands all communities be clean and green.

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Next up for national dialogue: Environmental justice

With Americans taking a fresh look at justice for minorities, they can now add some urgency to a related issue: the need for fresh air and water in low-income neighborhoods. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump weakened a law requiring public input for federal infrastructure projects, such as power plants and roads. The impact of his action on Black Americans, who constitute a high percentage of residents in U.S. cities with a host of environmental hazards ranging from climate-driven “heat islands” to polluted drinking water, could be high.

Mr. Trump’s action, however, is bound to run into stiff resistance from young people. That demographic group is concerned about environment issues “unlike any that I’ve seen on this earth in over 70 years,” says Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University who’s been called “The Father of Environmental Justice.” 

Also, cities are more serious than ever about solving local environmental problems. In Philadelphia, home to nearly 700,000 Black residents, the city has pledged to increase the tree canopy cover to at least 30%. Tree cover not only reduces temperatures, but also provides places for people to meet, increasing the sense of community. A recent study has suggested the move could save 400 lives each year. In the Edison-Eastlake neighborhood of Phoenix, America’s hottest big city, a plan there would repave sidewalks using materials that reflect sunlight and would erect shading structures over public places, such as bus stops. 

Issues of environmental justice are hardly new. The hazardous water quality in Flint, Michigan, where 56% of the residents are African Americans has received considerable attention in recent years. But lesser known are the brownfield contaminants in the largely African American Rubbertown district of Louisville, Kentucky, and the noxious air pollution near Baton Rouge and New Orleans caused by Louisiana’s petrochemical plants.

The U.S. needs a holistic approach to discussing and ending environmental injustice, says Dr. Bullard. As the national dialogue on race keeps widening beyond police reform, it will naturally challenge the disproportionate impact of pollution on the poorest people. Justice demands all communities be clean and green.

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.

When an in-person visit isn’t an option

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Sometimes, especially in light of pandemic-related restrictions, we’re not able to care for loved ones in person. But no matter where we are, God’s healing light is here to comfort and guide all of us in tangible ways.

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1. When an in-person visit isn’t an option

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This would be a good time to visit my mom. She’s needing a lot of TLC right now. Gratefully, she’s with my sister and her family. But because of travel restrictions, I can’t just pack my things and visit them.

So I’ve been asking God for some guidance and a more spiritual perspective on the situation. I’ve been grateful over the years for the wise guidance I’ve found in the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science. These teachings have expanded and deepened my understanding of what prayer can be and of how much honest, humble prayer can do to help.

An essay Mrs. Eddy wrote titled “Angels” talks about that comforting contact that we long for. She writes: “When angels visit us, we do not hear the rustle of wings, nor feel the feathery touch of the breast of a dove; but we know their presence by the love they create in our hearts. Oh, may you feel this touch, – it is not the clasping of hands, nor a loved person present; it is more than this: it is a spiritual idea that lights your path!” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 306).

“A loved person present” would be pretty wonderful right now. And yet, Christian Science has helped me understand more clearly that because God is Spirit and we are made in God’s image, as the Bible tells us, the actual identity of each of us is 100% spiritual, not physical. Something that is spiritual isn’t confined to time or space. It is here and recognizable wherever we are.

So when I think of the true, spiritual identity of my mom (or anyone), and love that individual with a pure, spiritual affection, doesn’t this mean that I could actually be quite “present” with that individual?

I have been thinking about the qualities my mom expresses. There is her calm. Her deep trust that God loves her and that come what may, everything will work out all right. She has always lived simply but felt satisfied and blessed with her life. I could go on.

Thinking on such qualities is one way of being aware of “a loved person present” – in thought, if not physically. And such qualities are more than just nice thoughts. Contentment, simplicity, and trust are spiritual qualities that we each derive from God.

In an address to members of her church, Mrs. Eddy said, “Where God is we can meet, and where God is we can never part” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 131). When I read that, I think of rays of sunlight shining out from the sun. As you follow a ray back to its source, you get closer to the sun and to the other rays. Each of us, understood spiritually, is like a ray of light, and God is like the sun, our source.

This isn’t referring to physical closeness, but to a clearer comprehension of our inseparability from God, who is infinite, ever-present Love. The more fully we realize this, the more tangibly we feel our unity with God and with everything and everyone, everywhere.

While this might sound like a grandiose notion meant to distract us from our needs, I’ve actually found that opening my eyes to our oneness with God helps me experience that oneness right here and now. This has been a comfort to me and has helped me feel closer to my mom.

But, you may ask, what about my mom? What’s in it for her?

The first few lines of that essay, “Angels,” in addition to offering reassuring guidance, can also be a form of prayer: “Oh, may you feel this touch”! God’s love is universal and impartial. Jesus alluded to how this becomes tangible when he told his listeners that God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good” (Matthew 5:45). God’s love just shines, all the time, on everyone. And so the same Love that is comforting me with “a spiritual idea that lights your path” is also present with my mom and comforting her.

This comfort is real. It is felt. It only needs to be acknowledged for it to be felt by us and by those we love.

Perhaps there is someone you know (or don’t know) who needs to feel this touch right now. You could be the very one whose prayers help to light their path today.

Adapted from an article published in the July 20, 2020, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.

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 global pandemic. There is no paywall for any of this coverage.

Viewfinder

Taking a victory lap

Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters
Chile's opposition congresswoman Pamela Jiles celebrates the vote during a congressional session to reject a constitutional reform on pensions proposed by opposition lawmakers, in Valparaíso, Chile, July 15, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow, when we’ll meet some athletes who are choosing to go to historically Black colleges this fall instead of institutions dominated by white people.

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