2020
September
02
Wednesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

September 02, 2020
Loading the player...

TODAY’S INTRO

Lessons in joy from a North Carolina highway flagman

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Steven Patterson could be quite grumpy. 

As a highway flagman, he stands all day in the North Carolina summer heat and shirt-soaking humidity. It’s not the most interesting job or the best paying. 

But for the past few months, as part of the rehabbing of the Dallas-Cherryville Highway, Mr. Patterson has done his job with joy. Not with a simple smile, but with genuine delight. He energetically waves, shouts, and urges drivers to toot their horns. 

“We’re all different, but we all go through the same things,” Mr. Patterson told the Gaston Gazette. “We got to be kind to each other.

Gaston County commuters have noticed. “I love waiting in that construction now because I know I will see him!” one motorist posted on Facebook.

“I too love to see this guy! He makes my day,” added another.

But some drivers aren’t happy with the delays. Some hurl racial slurs at him. His response? “That ain’t the way we’re born,” Mr. Patterson said. “You put little kids together, they’ll play together no matter their color. Racism is something you learn, it’s something you’re taught.”

The late Nelson Mandela made a similar observation in his book “Long Walk to Freedom”: “If they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Wearing a fluorescent yellow safety vest and a wide smile, Mr. Patterson teaches love.

Share this article

From Goldwater to Trump, the long history of ‘Law and Order’ politics

A government’s most basic role is to provide stability and safety. But ‘law and order’ can mean more than that when invoked in political campaigns. Often, it’s an implicit defense of the status quo against change.

David
Noah Berger/AP
Police officers stand watch as fellow officers extinguish a fire lit by protesters behind the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, Aug. 2, 2020, in Portland, Oregon.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

With the presidential election barely two months away, President Donald Trump appears to have settled on a defining theme for his campaign, one that has a deep and controversial history in American political life: law and order.

“I am your president of law and order,” the president said in June, as law enforcement used chemical sprays to clear Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. “LAW AND ORDER!” has been a staple all-caps tweet for Mr. Trump for months.

The slogan is an appeal to voters unsettled by images of looting and arson in some cities rocked by protest-related violence. But an approach that has paid off for generations of primarily Republican politicians may resonate differently now. The protesters of today, so far, are viewed more favorably than the protesters of the 1960s and ’70s were in their time. And the tactic is so well-worn that many voters may view it as explicitly divisive and inflammatory.

“That it’s a pretty transparently racially coded move, and a pretty obvious attempt to both heighten and tap into racial tensions, may make it less effective this time around,” says Katherine Beckett, a professor at the University of Washington. “But time will tell.”

Collapse

1. From Goldwater to Trump, the long history of ‘Law and Order’ politics

President Donald Trump is fond of blunt campaign slogans. In 2016, it was “Make America Great Again,” “Build the Wall,” “Lock her up!”

In 2020, it’s “Law and Order.”

With the presidential election barely two months away, President Trump appears to have settled on a defining theme for his campaign – one that has a deep and controversial history in American politics.

“I am your president of law and order,” the president said in June, as law enforcement used chemical sprays and flash grenades to clear Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. “LAW AND ORDER!” has been a staple all-caps tweet for Mr. Trump for months.

On its face the slogan is an appeal to voters unsettled by images of looting and arson in some cities rocked by protest-related violence. It’s hardly a new stance for the president, who has used law-and-order rhetoric since he was a young real estate developer in the crime-ridden New York of the 1970s.

But 2020 isn’t 1972. An approach that has paid off for generations of primarily Republican politicians may resonate differently now. The protesters of today, so far, are viewed more favorably than the protesters of the 1960s and ’70s were in their time. And the tactic is so well-worn that many voters may view it as explicitly divisive and inflammatory.

“That it’s a pretty transparently racially-coded move, and a pretty obvious attempt to both heighten and tap into racial tensions, may make it less effective this time around,” says Katherine Beckett, a professor in the departments of sociology and law, society, and justice at the University of Washington. “But time will tell.”

Susan Walsh/AP
President Donald Trump speaks at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Aug. 14, 2020, with members of the City of New York Police Department Benevolent Association. The union endorsed Mr. Trump's bid for reelection, saying that police officers have been "under attack" across the country.

An appeal to emotion

Throughout the Republican National Convention and in the days that followed, Mr. Trump and his campaign have talked a lot about how dangerous America would be under a President Joe Biden. They’ve largely elided the fact that it is Mr. Trump who is the nation’s chief executive at a time when the United States is being roiled by protests against police brutality – and the violence that has followed these protests after dark in some cities.

The point is to present Mr. Trump as a strong leader who can stop the unrest. The president’s repetition of “law and order” is meant to convey that, as is his insistence that Mr. Biden will “totally destroy the beautiful suburbs.”

All of this rhetoric about invasion, rioting, and crime is part of a broader appeal to fear, an emotion to which conservatives have historically responded, says Ted Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“That is a scare tactic used to incite people’s fears and anxieties against others,” Dr. Johnson says.

In many ways, Mr. Trump employed a similar tactic in his 2016 campaign – it’s just that the “others” have changed. Four years ago, his harshest rhetoric was aimed at immigrants, and the alleged crime and economic damage they would cause. He revived the approach in 2018 with dire warnings about a migrant caravan from Central America. This time, the attacks are aimed at ‘radical socialists’ and Black Lives Matter protesters. 

“The message has been consistent. It’s just the target of the messaging that is slightly different,” says Dr. Johnson.

For weeks, Trump campaign officials have believed the images of police grappling with angry protesters in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere would play to their advantage. Some Democrats have begun worrying about the same thing, and implored Mr. Biden to take a stronger stance against the looting and burning of stores and other businesses.

Mr. Trump’s poll numbers have indeed improved somewhat. Since August 17, the first day of the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Biden’s lead over Mr. Trump in a head-to-head match-up has fallen from 8.4 percentage points to 7, according to the FiveThirtyEight average of major surveys.

Support for Black Lives Matter appears to have fallen as well. Favorable views of BLM have dropped by 9 points since June – and by 13 points among Republicans, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

But that POLITICO survey also showed voters preferred Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump to handle public safety by 47 to 39%. And a recent YouGov survey found that 56% of respondents felt violence at protests would get worse if Mr. Trump were reelected, while a plurality of 43% felt it would get better if Mr. Biden won.

Like motherhood and apple pie

Law and order as concepts are broadly popular, of course. They’re the opposite of anarchy. A government’s most basic role is to provide stability and safety for its citizens. Political appeals to “law and order” are meant to tap into that atavistic need.

As a phrase, it’s been used for centuries around the world. The 17th century political philosopher John Locke even spoke about it, says Malcolm Feeley, a professor of law emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.

“‘Law and Order’ is a phrase that’s a bit like motherhood and apple pie. It’s been around forever,” he says.

In America, it’s been used by Southerners to oppose abolitionists prior to the Civil War, by the NAACP and its supporters to oppose racist violence in the early 20th century, by supporters of Prohibition, and by a number of small “Law and Order” political parties over time. The phrase itself has spin-offs, says Dr. Feeley – like “tough on crime.” But “law and order” has a certain connotation and flexibility that has made it durable. 

In the U.S. in the 1960s, it found a resonance with conservatives that it has maintained ever since. The phrase is a political Rorschach test, appealing to whatever it is that voters are most anxious about at the time. It conjures up the kind of society most people would like to live in, one of stability, decency, and security.

It is also an implicit defense of the status quo against change – whether that change takes the form of hippies, feminists, racial equality, gay rights, or the general counterculture, says Michael Flamm, a professor of history at Ohio Wesleyan University and author of “Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s.”

“It’s very much an emotional appeal and a way of rallying supporters against an assortment of causes or concerns,” says Dr. Flamm.

That was the case in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for president, says Keith Gaddie, chair of the political science department at the University of Oklahoma. Senator Goldwater’s law and order rhetoric sounded familiar to Southerners used to repressive “Black codes” and Jim Crow laws.

“A lot of the rhetoric Goldwater would use wasn’t invested in racism, but it resonated with a conservative, Southern, white ear,” says Dr. Gaddie. “When he would say ‘law and order,’ that was interpreted in some Southern precincts as meaning, ‘I’ll keep Black people in line.’”

Coded language 

In 1968, George Wallace had a substantial impact on the presidential race running as a third-party candidate, winning several Southern states while using more overtly racist rhetoric. Richard Nixon, an adroit politician, had to balance between Mr. Wallace’s appeals and Democrat Hubert Humphrey’s more liberal language.

He won the peripheral Southern states and the overall election by targeting “polite racist” voters – the sort of people who abhor lynching and overt prejudice but also don’t want changes to the status quo, says Angie Maxwell, the director of the Diane Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas. In the post-Civil Rights era, openly racist appeals such as those used by Governor Wallace were no longer defensible, so coded language became the norm.

Mr. Trump’s approach has in some ways been less subtle than even that used by such hard-nosed GOP strategists as Lee Atwater. The president has drawn sharp criticism for saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists had marched with flaming torches. He has defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with intentional homicide for shooting three aggressive protesters, two fatally, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

It’s possible that the greater political polarization of 2020 America gives Mr. Trump more leeway to use blunter language, says Dr. Maxwell. In some ways the return of law-and-order politics is a reflection of where the Republican Party is, as much as the president.

Or it could simply be an instance of a party and a presidential candidate repeating strategies that have worked in the past.

“If Trump does this and he loses, it’s going to be a big ‘come to Jesus’ moment, with the Republicans wringing their hands and asking what happened,” says Dr. Maxwell.

US offers a way off terrorism list. Is price right for Sudanese?

Here’s a moral question: Should civilians pay for the sins of a dictator they overthrew? For Sudan to get off the U.S. list of terrorist nations, the U.S. is asking the country to pay $330 million. But many Sudanese have other priorities.

David
Mohamed Nureldin/Reuters
Sudanese citizens chant outside the court during a new trial against ousted President Omar al-Bashir and some of his former allies on charges of leading a military coup that brought the autocrat to power in 1989, in Khartoum, Sudan, Sept. 1, 2020.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

During his recent swing through the Middle East, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered to lift the U.S. terrorism label off post-revolution Sudan. The price: $330 million to compensate for Al Qaeda attacks from over two decades ago.

Sudan’s transitional government reportedly favors the U.S. offer. But among Sudanese citizens mired in recession and lingering poverty, a legacy of ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir’s destructive 30-year rule, the proposal is encountering resistance.

“We risked and sacrificed our lives; we spilt our blood to improve the economy, end corruption, and increase political freedoms,” says Mohammed Suliman, who participated in the 2019 protests in Khartoum that helped topple Mr. Bashir. “So far the government has only been interested in improving its score-card with the international community, while we are still suffering.”

In 2012, a U.S. court found Sudan liable for $10.2 billion in damages. In that context, the $330 million figure is an inducement to allow Sudan to move forward.

Says Cameron Hudson, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council: “There is no question it is a big sum for an economy that is near-bankrupt, where the standard of living is going down expeditiously, and [where] the transitional government needs to show more improvement on the ground for the democracy dividend people are waiting for.”

Collapse

2. US offers a way off terrorism list. Is price right for Sudanese?

Having toppled a dictator, moved toward a civilian government, and secured a peace deal between military and rebel forces, the Sudanese are looking to take one more step toward coming in from the cold: getting off the U.S. terrorism list.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – during a diplomatic swing through the Middle East – offered last week to lift the terrorism label off post-revolution Sudan in return for $330 million in compensation for Al Qaeda attacks from over two decades ago.

The U.S. offer has been met positively by Sudan’s transitional government, reports indicate. But among Sudanese citizens mired in an economic recession and lingering poverty that is a legacy of ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir’s destructive 30-year rule, the U.S. proposal is also encountering some resistance.

One year into a fragile three-year democratic transition away from strongman rule, the Sudanese are confronting their past but also posing a principled and pertinent question: Who is liable for the costs of an undemocratic leader who orchestrated violence at home and abroad – and whose political heirs have yet to atone for their domestic crimes?

“There is no question it is a big sum for an economy that is near-bankrupt, where the standard of living is going down expeditiously, and [where] the transitional government needs to show more improvement on the ground for the democracy dividend people are waiting for,” says Cameron Hudson, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

Mohammed Suliman is an unemployed university graduate who participated in the 2019 protests in Khartoum that helped topple Mr. Bashir.

“We risked and sacrificed our lives, we spilt our blood to improve the economy, end corruption, and increase political freedoms,” he says via messaging app. “So far the government has only been interested in improving its score-card with the international community, while we are still suffering.”

Compensation

In his visit to Khartoum, Secretary Pompeo announced the Trump administration’s offer to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism if it paid a settlement for Al Qaeda’s truck bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, in which more than 200 people were killed.

The United States had already lifted sanctions from Sudan in 2017, two years before Mr. Bashir, a suspected war criminal, was toppled by his own people. The terrorism designation has continued to deter investment in the country.

Mr. Pompeo also reportedly pushed for a peace deal and normalization between Sudan and Israel as another condition for lifting the terrorism label. But he allegedly backtracked after both military and civilian leaders in Sudan’s transitional government insisted they did not have the popular mandate to make such a controversial decision.

The U.S. had placed Sudan on the terrorism list in 1993 for harboring and aiding groups ranging from Islamic jihad to Hezbollah; Mr. Bashir later hosted both the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and harbored Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the 1990s.

Righting Bashir’s wrongs

The Sudanese transitional government, a blend of military and civilian leaders led by a civilian reformist prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, has taken several steps to show it is committed to restarting relations and righting the wrongs of the Bashir regime.

In April, the government paid an estimated $70 million settlement to the victims of Al Qaeda’s USS Cole attack in October 2000, in which 17 sailors were killed, and on Monday it agreed to a peace deal with various rebel forces in Darfur and the south of the country, integrating them into the national army.

Transitional leaders have expressed readiness to transfer Mr. Bashir, currently on trial in Khartoum for crimes committed in his 1989 coup, to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to be tried for the genocide in Darfur, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

Sovereign Council Media office/Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets Sudan’s Sovereign Council chief, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in Khartoum, Sudan, Aug. 25, 2020. The general was deposed dictator Omar al-Bashir’s military chief.

The government has moved to repair ties with neighbor Ethiopia and settle their dispute over the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam, and entertained warming ties with Israel, short of normalization. Yet the terrorism label remains.

That doesn’t mean it’s the top priority for Sudanese civilians.

Amina Abdalla, who left Darfur as a teenager with her family of five for Amman, Jordan, in 2017 to escape ongoing violence, says that rather than compensation for foreign states, the transitional government should first focus on the communities that have been ravaged, destroyed, and dispersed.

“The Bashir regime has committed atrocities against my community and killed my relatives,” says Ms. Abdalla.

“We need justice and compensation first at home before we pay compensation to the foreign states Bashir has also committed injustices against.”

Removing a country from the terrorism list in return for compensation has a recent historical and legal precedent for the U.S. – the former rogue state Libya in 2006.

Under a deal brokered under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, then-Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi turned over two Libyan citizens to stand trial in The Hague for the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland; accepted responsibility as a government; paid $2.7 billion in compensation to victims’ families; and abandoned his weapons of mass destruction program.

In the case of Sudan, U.S. courts ruled that the Bashir regime was instrumental in providing material assistance and logistics support that allowed Al Qaeda to carry out the embassy bombings and the Cole attack. A federal court found Sudan liable for $10.2 billion in damages in 2012, a ruling upheld by the Supreme Court in May this year.

Economic price

In that context, the $330 million figure is being offered as an inducement to allow Sudan to move forward.

The civilian-led transitional government believes that by honoring the previous regime’s debts and paying compensation for his crimes – and ridding the country of the terrorism list designation and stigma – the subsequent access to international financial relief and foreign investment will save Sudan’s economy. The hope is the benefits will outweigh any immediate costs several-fold.

“Once the terrorism designation is removed, there are a number of actors in the financial community ready to come in aggressively to stabilize the economic situation that would create breathing space for political reform to take hold,” says the Atlantic Council’s Mr. Hudson, who from 2009 to 2011 was chief of staff to the U.S. special envoy to Sudan during the Obama administration.

But for the government it remains a gamble whether the future benefits will be worth the cost now.

The 2018-19 protests that swept across Sudan and led to Mr. Bashir’s ouster began over soaring bread prices; most of the protest slogans were rooted in economic concerns that have only worsened due to inflation and now COVID-19.

Citizens say they are running out of patience.

In mid-August, tens of thousands of Sudanese activists and citizens marked the first anniversary of the civilian-led transitional government with nationwide protests, many of which were dispersed with force.

Sudan is experiencing 80% inflation after decades of failed monetary policies. Food prices have doubled in 2020. State control of the economy and corruption have pushed 40% of the citizens of one of the most fertile countries in East Africa, the third-largest country in Africa and the Arab world, into poverty.

Remnants of dictatorship

Complicating citizens’ reconciliation with their ousted dictator’s legacy is the ongoing presence of elements of his regime in the transitional government and military.

The chairman of Sudan’s transitional council and power broker, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was Mr. Bashir’s army chief. General Burhan’s No. 2, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, one of the most influential military commanders, was a former leader of the Janjaweed militias that committed atrocities in Darfur.

Even as the government reaches out to old foes, citizens, activists, and human rights groups criticize it for failing to create jobs and reform the security services and military that once carried out Mr. Bashir’s atrocities.

“Right now, it looks like the transitional government is reforming its ties to the international community and the West, but is still acting like a dictatorship to its own people,” says Hameed, a Khartoum activist.

“Until there is justice and reform, we will not be finished with Bashir and we will not have a homeland,” says Ms. Abdalla, the refugee from Darfur.

“No matter who we pay.”

‘A shelter in the time of storm’: When on campus is safer than online

For some colleges and universities that serve students of color, the decision about returning to campus during the pandemic included weighing where their students would be safest – at home or at school?

David
Benedict College
Senior Mikal Conner, Benedict College President Roslyn Artis, and sophomore Fabeina Riggins meet at the tiger statue in front of the Benjamin F. Payton Learning Resources Center at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, on Sept. 1, 2020. The school is one of the historically Black colleges and universities that has given students the option to return to campus.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

College often provides more than just a place to study and socialize. For students of color living with the twin threats of racism and a pandemic, it plays an additional role: a safe space.

As college leaders continue to debate whether it’s safe to reopen campuses, the presidents of many of the nation’s minority-serving institutions are arguing that it would be dangerous not to – with risk of exposure to the coronavirus at home, for example. Two-thirds of the private historically Black colleges and universities that are members of the United Negro College Fund have settled on a hybrid approach for the fall, offering both in-person and remote options.

“They know they provide a refuge for students,” says Brian Bridges, vice president of research and member engagement for UNCF. 

Benedict College, a small private HBCU in Columbia, South Carolina, is among those schools that has invited students back. “I don’t criticize anyone for being closed,” says Roslyn Artis, the school’s president. “These are decisions unique to campuses and the demographics they serve.” 

Collapse

3. ‘A shelter in the time of storm’: When on campus is safer than online

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down colleges nationwide in the spring, Fabeina Riggins returned home to her three younger siblings, three dogs and a cat – and lots of distractions. The walls of her California home were thin, and the house would echo with the sound of multiple Zoom calls.

So when her institution, Benedict College, offered students the option of returning to campus this fall, Ms. Riggins jumped at it.

“I knew I needed to come to campus,” she says. “I just needed to separate myself.”

Ms. Riggins, a sophomore, is one 678 students now living on the Columbia, South Carolina, campus – a third of the usual number.

Roslyn Artis, president of Benedict, a historically Black college, is acutely aware of the health challenges of reopening during a pandemic. She has implemented precautions to protect staff and students in recent weeks, spending tens of thousands of dollars to do so.

But as Dr. Artis sees it, there would be risks in remaining fully remote, too. Many of her students come from multi-generational homes, where they have to compete for access to computers and broadband. Twelve percent live in rural areas with no internet at all.

Home isn’t always the safest place, either. Some students come from dangerous neighborhoods; others live in cramped apartments with family members who work in high-risk jobs.

As college leaders continue to debate whether it’s safe to reopen campuses, the presidents of many of the nation’s minority-serving institutions are arguing that it would be dangerous not to. Two-thirds of the private historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, that are members of the United Negro College Fund – including Benedict – have settled on a hybrid approach for the fall, offering both in-person and remote options.

“They know they provide a refuge for students,” says Brian Bridges, vice president of research and member engagement for UNCF.

“Where would I go?”

In a survey conducted by UNCF in June, more than 80% of students at member colleges said they preferred either in-person classes or a mix of in-person and online. Nearly a quarter said they were unlikely to return if courses were entirely online.

Mikal Conner, a senior at Benedict College, says he returned to campus because he doesn’t learn as well online. As the first in his family to attend college, he wants to finish his final year strong.

“My grandma is very spiritual, and she’s praying to God that I graduate,” he says.

Mr. Conner worried that if he had remained at home, learning online and interacting in the community, his mother and grandmother might have been at risk because they have underlying health conditions. “If I were to catch it, where would I go?” he wonders.

Communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic, with Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans becoming infected at a rate more than twice that of white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.      

They’re also more likely to have lost jobs during the pandemic, in part because they are less likely to have a college degree, research by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows. In April, when unemployment rates peaked, close to 20 percent of Americans with a high school diploma or less were out of work, compared to 9 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

These statistics underscore how critical it will be to keep students enrolled through the pandemic, Mr. Bridges says.

“Students need these degrees to break the cycle of poverty that exists in so many of their families,” he says. “We don’t want to lose a generation of Black college students.”

A safe space – with rules

For low-income students of all races, college is often more than a place to study and socialize. As Cynthia Warrick, president of Stillman College, a small Tuscaloosa, Alabama, HBCU puts it, “This is where they get their internet. This is where they get their food. This is where they get their safe housing.”

After campuses closed last spring, rates of hunger and homelessness among college students spiked, a survey by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice showed. Benedict gave food subsidies to 250 students, and housing subsidies to 90.

But for students of color living with the twin threats of racism and a pandemic, minority-serving institutions like Benedict play an additional role: They are a safe space, “a shelter in the time of storm,” to quote Mr. Bridges and the biblical hymn.

“It’s an affirmative place to be, a safe place to be, a place that wants you to be there – so long as you’re following the rules,” says Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of Texas A&M-San Antonio, a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

At Benedict, the list of rules this year is long – and strictly enforced. Curfew is midnight, and students must pass through a security gate when returning to campus. Masks and social distancing are mandatory. Students have been put on notice that they will be “excised from the community” if they break the rules, Dr. Artis says. She’s already dismissed a couple who “thought their relationship absolved them of the community standard.”

She has also capitalized on the sense of shared responsibility that small colleges cultivate. She’s asked students to hold each other accountable, and to protect one another and their professors. So far, four students have tested positive in the first four weeks of the semester.

Benedict, like many small, private colleges – and HBCUs in particular – was struggling financially even before the pandemic hit. This semester, its enrollment fell 12 percent, costing the college $2.4 million in tuition revenue. Combined with $1.8 million in lost housing revenue from the dropouts and the students studying online, the college faced a $4-million budget hole heading into the school year. Dr. Artis is worried that she’ll lose even more students this spring if her campus doesn’t reopen fully.

But she bristles at the suggestion that colleges like hers “are only open because they’re concerned about the money.” With most overhead costs fixed, “I’m losing money every day,” she says.

“I don’t criticize anyone for being closed,” she adds, acknowledging that her approach to containment might not work at a large college with a porous perimeter. “These are decisions unique to campuses and the demographics they serve.”

A month into its reopening, Benedict looks and feels different than it did last fall, Dr. Artis says. Pathways are unidirectional, and purple and gold dots – the school’s colors – are on the ground marking off six-foot increments. The food court is grab-and-go, and the cafeterias are monitored by repurposed coaches. In the classroom, students sit six feet apart, separated from their professors by plexiglass barriers.

To Ms. Riggins, who came to campus to escape her noisy, chaotic home, it’s almost too quiet.

“I miss how it was, everybody being on campus,” she says. Still, with so many of her friends stuck studying at home, she adds, “I’m grateful to be back.” 

The Explainer

App wars: TikTok aside, Trump WeChat ban could be bigger deal

Increasingly, concerns about digital privacy and censorship are playing out across national borders. In this case, a ban on a hugely popular Chinese phone app could accelerate the severance of ties between the U.S. and China.

David

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 3 Min. )

Ever heard of WeChat? Many Americans hadn’t until Aug. 6, when President Donald Trump announced an executive order to prohibit its transactions in the United States. Even since then, news has been dwarfed by the hubbub over TikTok, the viral video app the Trump administration also seeks to ban.

The president argues that the apps, both owned by Chinese companies, present a national security risk by giving Beijing access to U.S. user data. WeChat, ubiquitous in mainland China, is used for everything from video chats to banking and payments.

But it’s the app’s international role that could make its banning so consequential. WeChat claims to have more than 1 billion users, and is one of few apps accessible in both China and the U.S. – in part because Beijing has blocked many competitors. That makes the app key for families, friends, and businesses to communicate.

“It is all-encompassing right now – in a way it’s more powerful than Facebook,” says George Shen, a Chinese American technology consultant.

Exactly how the U.S. government will carry out the executive order remains to be seen. But however it plays out, it’s one more sign of the technological decoupling between the U.S. and China.

Collapse

4. App wars: TikTok aside, Trump WeChat ban could be bigger deal

President Donald Trump’s move to ban TikTok has dominated tech news headlines since early August. But while negotiations over the viral video app race on, there’s been scant attention to another executive order, announced the same day, that could prove more consequential. The order prohibits WeChat, a “super app” unfamiliar to most Americans but ubiquitous in China.

What is WeChat, and why has it been targeted?

WeChat, owned by the Chinese company Tencent, is an app used by more than 1 billion people, according to Tencent CEO Pony Ma – mainly in China, but also by the Chinese diaspora in other countries, and some 20 million people in the United States. The app enables messaging, phone calls, and video chats, as well as social media, playing games, banking, and electronic payments online and at stores. Many people in the U.S. use the app to stay in touch with friends, family, and contacts in China, while U.S. businesses employ it for advertising in China.

An executive order issued by President Trump on Aug. 6 would prohibit transactions related to WeChat in the U.S. on national security and economic grounds, saying WeChat captures “vast swaths” of data from its users, giving China’s ruling Communist Party access to Americans’ information, while also allowing it to keep “tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.” In China, multiple laws can compel companies, organizations, and individuals to share data with the government. WeChat user content undergoes surveillance, and contents considered politically sensitive by China’s authorities are censored.

How would restrictions impact users in the U.S.?

WeChat is one of the few mobile apps accessible in both China and the U.S., in part because so many competitors have been blocked in mainland China, including WhatsApp, Telegram, LINE, and Facebook Messenger. A ban in America would inconvenience millions of people who rely on WeChat to stay in touch and conduct business – especially those who speak only Chinese. “Most Chinese Americans use this app. ... It’s for comprehensive communication,” says George Shen, a Chinese American technology consultant from Massachusetts. “It is all-encompassing right now – in a way it’s more powerful than Facebook.”

Still, Mr. Shen says alternatives to WeChat do exist, including Skype, Zoom, Letstalk, and Signal. He understands the data, privacy, and security risks of WeChat, having discovered to his surprise last year that his own WeChat messages and account were being censored. “Thousands of people do the manual work to look into each and everyone’s messages, to see if it is in accordance with the [Communist] Party’s narrative. If it is not, they will block it and delete it,” says Mr. Shen, a U.S. citizen.

Some argue a ban is too strong. A group of Chinese American lawyers has formed a nonprofit organization, the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance, that has filed a lawsuit against Mr. Trump and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross seeking to block the executive order. While acknowledging the risks of using WeChat, the group argues users should be able to decide whether to accept them or not. “If there are bugs in your house, you call an exterminator. You don’t burn down the house,” writes Song Yi, a Washington-based attorney who is working pro bono on the case.

What would a ban mean for the U.S. and China?

Exactly how the U.S. government will carry out the executive order remains to be seen. The order directs the secretary of Commerce to determine by Sept. 20 the “transactions” that will be “prohibited.” “The worst-case scenario is WeChat gets pulled out of the app stores,” said cybersecurity expert Melissa Hathaway in an August webinar hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. The administration’s goal is to protect national security, by preventing “an extraordinary amount of personal data that goes back to mainland China,” she said, but that could be complicated by laws protecting communication channels.

However it plays out, the WeChat action is another sign of the technological decoupling between the U.S. and China. “I do see this as part of the journey of decoupling that started years ago and has definitely accelerated with this administration,” Ms. Hathaway said. Ultimately, technology experts say what is needed is not tit-for-tat actions against individual companies, but a broad multinational agreement on data flows and transparency.

As assaults persist, Nairobi’s ‘karate grannies’ fight back

A martial arts self-defense class for Kenyan grandmothers is changing perceptions about their vulnerability and strength. It’s also created a sense of community, mutual support, and a savings cooperative. 

David
Pauline Nyambura
Jane Waithiegeni rains blows on an improvised punching bag during practice at a hall in Korogocho, one of Nairobi's most dangerous neighborhoods. The karate classes help the women defend themselves.

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 5 Min. )

Morning sun filters into a makeshift hall in Nairobi’s Korogocho informal settlement as Njoki Muturi, 86, ducks and weaves as she practices punch combinations. On a typical morning here, some 15 grandmothers transform the sleepy hall into a frenetic dojo, directing punches and kicks at a homemade punching bag. 

Welcome to Ujamaa Karate, known locally as “Shoso jikinge,” or “Grandmother, protect yourself,” where older women in Korogocho study martial arts for self-defense. They may not be your typical karatekas, but for many, the skills they learn here have been life-saving. In an area with little in the way of policing or social support, several of the women say they have managed to fend off would-be attackers using knowledge and confidence they learned here. 

Equally important is the fierce community of women they’ve formed. The women also run a savings collective and an informal day care for HIV-positive children. 

“These classes have done more for us than help us prevent rape over the years,” says student Esther Wambui Muriithi. “They act as a way of keeping us physically active in our old age and the social networks and the successive support system we’ve been able to form has been very useful during this pandemic.” 

Collapse

5. As assaults persist, Nairobi’s ‘karate grannies’ fight back

It’s a Thursday morning and Jane Waithiegeni is ushering a group of older women into a makeshift hall in Nairobi’s Korogocho informal settlement. Around them, morning sun filters through the fissures in the wooden planks and iron sheets that make up the building’s walls. 

She’s talking about her grandchildren’s poor appetite when the last of her students, 100-year-old Rebecca Wambui, steps in with the aid of a wooden walking stick.

With that, the mood grows suddenly serious, and within a few minutes, the 15 grannies have transformed the hall into a frenetic dojo, directing punches and kicks at an improvised punching bag made from a sack stuffed with old clothing. 

Their screams of “No! No! No!” ring through the air as each woman takes her turn at the bag. Welcome to the Ujamaa Karate program, also known locally as “Shoso jikinge,” or “Grandmother, protect yourself,” where older women in Korogocho study martial arts for self-defense. 

They may not be your typical karatekas, but for many, the skills they learn here have been life-saving. In an area with little in the way of policing or social support, several of the women say they have managed to fend off would-be attackers using knowledge and confidence they learned here. 

Equally important, they say, is the fierce community of women they’ve formed, which extends far beyond karate-chopping. The women also run a savings collective, and several operate an informal day care for HIV-positive children. And they’ve passed their self-defense skills to the next generation.  

“The combat moves and morsels of knowledge we have learnt since joining the program have been passed on to even our granddaughters who are equally vulnerable,” says Ms. Waithiegeni, who joined the class after being sexually assaulted in 2013.

Pauline Nyambura
Women warm up during a self-defense class. In addition to learning martial arts, they have formed a strong community.

There is no recent data available on the sexual assault of older women in Korogocho, but according to Lilian Kasina, who runs the project monitoring unit at Nairobi Women’s Hospital Gender Violence Recovery Centre, about a fifth of all such assaults are committed against women over 60, owing in part to a false local belief that sex with an older woman can cure HIV.

Empowerment in martial arts

Seven miles northeast of downtown Nairobi, Korogocho is a maze of tin shacks backing up against one of the city’s main trash dumps, Dandora. As many as 200,000 people live crammed into half a square mile. There are few streetlights, and order is still maintained mostly by a network of local gangs, who have also made the area particularly dangerous for women. 

“Here women are attacked in their own homes,” Ms. Waithiegeni says. 

In 2006, Americans Jake and Lee Sinclair visited an area near Korogocho to check in on a program they were running to feed homeless children there. Harrowed by the stories of sexual violence they heard, Ms. Sinclair, a martial arts enthusiast, decided to start self-defense classes for women and girls in the area – including one specifically for women over 60. Her course blended techniques from karate, kung fu, and tae kwon do to help women overpower would-be attackers.

Today, the teachers are exclusively local women who have come up through the program themselves, like Ms. Waithiegeni. Her road to the program was winding. In 2014, a year after she was abducted from a local minibus on her commute home and sexually assaulted, she heard a local nongovernmental organization was giving free T-shirts to anyone who took an HIV test. Thinking little of it, she took the test. To her shock, the result came back positive. It was the result, she suspected, of her rape the previous year. 

“Learning my status made me angry. I sunk into depression,” she says. Not long after, a friend told her about the Ujamaa self-defense classes. She signed up and five years later is now one of the program’s instructors. 

Today, she watches as one of her pupils, 86-year-old Njoki Muturi, ducks and weaves as she practices her punch combinations on the old punching bag. Ms. Muturi is dressed in a vibrant red dress and blue turban, with a brightly colored khanga– a swatch of geometrically patterned local fabric – wrapped around her waist, and a pair of slippers on her feet.

“We practice in everyday wear because this is how an attacker would typically find the granny if they actually got attacked,” Ms. Waithiegeni explains. 

Ms. Muturi knows that well. A few years ago, she was working on her farm at Kasarani, a residential area near Korogocho, when she noticed a man lurking nearby, watching her. Mustering the courage she’d learned in her self-defense classes, she approached him with her gardening panga (machete) in hand.

“I told him I was old and ready if my life were to come to an end,” she recalls. “And I asked him whether he was ready as I advanced towards him. The cowardly man realized I was not joking and took off.”      

Pauline Nyambura
Instructor Jane Waithiegeni helps Rebecca Wambui, 100, across a gully as students leave after a self-defense class.

A fierce community of women

Because attacks are so common, Ujamaa teaches older women not only self-defense, but also how to make noise and exude confidence in the face of would-be attackers, making them more difficult targets. 

“The grannies’ fighting abilities have become something of a legend here and the young men who thought of these women as weaklings now know better,” says Korogocho’s area chief and government representative, David Mula. 

But in recent years, the program has expanded from its original purpose of providing self-defense training. Several of the women now run what is known in Kenya as a chama – an informal cooperative society through which they pool their savings to take care of members’ emergencies.  

“We do beadwork and make African baskets for sale, the proceeds of which go into a collective fund,” explains Ms. Waithiegeni, who is also the chair of the savings collective. 

She and several of the members also sporadically operate a day care center for HIV-positive orphaned children in the neighborhood to prevent them from roaming the city’s streets, where they are vulnerable to being recruited by local gangs.  

But in recent months, the country’s COVID-19 lockdown has made that more difficult, since the women don’t have the spare money to keep their center going.  

Still, they gather faithfully once a week in the community hall, where Ms. Waithiegeni leads them through a series of drills to practice their technique. 

“These classes have done more for us than help us prevent rape over the years. They act as a way of keeping us physically active in our old age and the social networks and the successive support system we’ve been able to form has been very useful during this pandemic,” says Esther Wambui Muriithi, another student. The women, she says, often check in on each other between classes, “just generally making sure everybody is doing fine.”

Other headline stories we’re watching

(Get live updates throughout the day.)

The Monitor's View

The seeders of a new Lebanon

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

Over the past month, ever since a blast devastated Beirut’s port, a number of foreign officials have visited Lebanon. They are in search of individuals who can be trusted to lift the country out of a deep crisis born of a corrupt elite. Lebanon, says French President Emmanuel Macron – who has visited twice since the blast – needs a “new political contract.”

On Wednesday, the country’s elected leaders were even snubbed during a visit by a top U.S. official. He held talks with civil society activists, many of whom are now seen as leaders in shaping an inclusive identity in Lebanon’s highly diverse population. During his visit this week, the French president did meet with a few elected leaders but spent much of his time reminding the Lebanese of what binds them as a people.

Street protests that began last October against the ruling parties have continued despite mass poverty and the pandemic. “The people are one – Shia, Sunni, Christian, they’re all one here,” one protester said. Now with a little help from leaders abroad, the Lebanese might start to enjoy that oneness as a nation.

Collapse

The seeders of a new Lebanon

Over the past month, ever since a blast devastated Beirut’s port killing more than 180 people, a number of foreign officials have visited Lebanon. They are in search of individuals who can be trusted to lift the country out of a deep crisis born of a corrupt elite. Lebanon, says French President Emmanuel Macron – who has visited twice since the blast – needs a “new political contract.”

On Wednesday, the country’s elected leaders were even snubbed during a visit by a top U.S. official, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker. He held talks with civil society activists, many of whom are now seen as leaders in shaping an inclusive identity in Lebanon’s highly diverse population.

Meanwhile, the World Bank plans to work mainly with nongovernmental organizations to help Beirut recover from the Aug. 4 blast. It calls this a “whole of Lebanon” approach that will bypass corrupt institutions and ensure the “needs and priorities of the Lebanese people.”

During his visit this week, the French president did meet with a few elected leaders but spent much of his time reminding the Lebanese of what binds them as a people.

He planted a cedar tree – the country’s emblem – at a special preserve. He met with famed singer Fayrouz. She is beloved in the Arab-speaking world and someone who unites Lebanon across its religious and ethnic divides. She remains a consoling voice in a fractured nation.

Before his arrival, Mr. Macron mediated the selection of a new prime minister for Lebanon, according to reports. The last government resigned after the blast, taking blame for a neglected store of explosive ammonium nitrate in the port.

He has also confronted Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, asking him to prove his loyalty to Lebanon rather than to Iran, which backs the militant Islamic group. “Everyone knows that you have an Iranian agenda,” Mr. Macron said, according to Le Figaro newspaper. “You want to help the Lebanese, yes or no?”

He also has laid out specific reforms for Lebanon’s leaders to implement before they receive financial aid from international donors. These include a “full audit” of the central bank, a new law to ensure the independence of the courts, and adequate support for the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Street protests that began last October against the ruling parties have continued despite mass poverty and the pandemic. “The people are one – Shia, Sunni, Christian, they’re all one here,” one protester said. Now with a little help from leaders abroad, the Lebanese might start to enjoy that oneness as a nation.

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.

Out of turmoil, into a place of peace

  • Quick Read
  • Read or Listen ( 2 Min. )

At times it can feel as though we need to just hunker down and wait out the pandemic before we can truly feel joy and peace. But at every moment we can open our thoughts to God’s love and care, which lifts discouragement and fear.

Collapse

1. Out of turmoil, into a place of peace

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
Loading the player...

No matter where you live, you’ve likely been affected by public health regulations during the pandemic. We’ve all witnessed the spirit of cooperation expressed by so many in response. Yet sometimes this is accompanied by a feeling of just hunkering down and getting through these difficult times, just “waiting it out,” as a friend recently put it.

But that didn’t sit right with me – because I’ve learned through Christian Science about the mental nature of how we experience life.

That realization was a turning point. For weeks I’d been mentally vacillating. Most of the time I felt confident in God’s ability to care for all His children. But then I’d be overcome with fear and heartache for my city, our country, and the whole world.

That began to change as I took mental action. I began actively monitoring my thinking, asking, “Did that thought come from the divine Mind, God?” If so – if it represented God’s goodness – I welcomed it in. If it was based on fear, I dismissed it as human theory and therefore limited and changeable.

This wasn’t just an intellectual exercise. It was opening my heart to acknowledge the joy and love that divine Love, God, continually expresses in all of us as His loved children – which lifts us beyond fear, frustration, and discouragement.

And that’s what happened for me. That evening, when I heard a news report of a community in conflict about when businesses should reopen, I felt genuine compassion for both sides. The next morning, during my run in the park, I was aware that people were smiling and making eye contact. I felt a general softening in all of us.

Late that afternoon I suddenly felt inspired to take a walk along the river. I’d started over there once, weeks earlier, but then it had felt outside my comfort zone, so I’d turned back. This time I walked for miles, drinking in the beauty of the river and the city I love.

The comment my friend had made reminded me to take mental action – and I’ve continued doing so ever since. As a result, there have been no more waves of uncertainty for me – just peaceful confidence that God is constantly expressing love to one and all.

Instead of simply waiting the pandemic out to experience joy and peace, we can each take mental action right now, affirming God’s care for all of us. And together we’ll contribute to an atmosphere of greater health and stability that can ripple out into the world.

Adapted from the Aug. 17, 2020, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

Viewfinder

Swimmers, take your mark

Aly Song/Reuters
People relax by the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China, Sept. 2, 2020. Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, was ground zero in the coronavirus pandemic, but in recent months life has largely returned to normal.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Finally, we think our reporters are amazing. But it’s gratifying when their peers recognize it too. The Los Angeles Press Club has awarded our West Coast Bureau Chief Francine Kiefer first place in the category of long-form magazine feature – business/government.

Francine says the winning story grew out of having lived in California 25 years ago, during a very anti-immigrant time. When she returned about a year ago, she noticed how much the tone had changed and how much political power Latinos had accumulated. Her reporting resulted in the 2019 cover story “Latino power” – and the prestigious award. 

Congratulations, Francine!

More issues

2020
September
02
Wednesday

Give us your feedback

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

 
of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.