2020
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02
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Monitor Daily Podcast

October 02, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

Navy honors World War II hero with new ship

Yvonne Zipp
Daily Editor

With news that the president and first lady have tested positive for COVID-19, our politics team is working hard to keep you abreast of the unfolding story. First up is our top story today: Washington bureau chief Linda Feldmann offers insights on the most important considerations for the country in the coming days. 

Before we get to that, some good news to brighten the end of your week:

”It has to be Doris Miller.” That was the reaction when the Navy asked whose name should go on a new supercarrier. When Japanese fighters bombed Pearl Harbor, sinking his ship, Naval messman Miller jumped behind an antiaircraft gun and returned fire. His heroism continued after he ran out of bullets. He was one of the last to leave his ship, pulling wounded sailors out of burning, oil-covered water. At the time he faced two enemies: The Japanese and a racist system that made it illegal for a Black sailor to fire a gun, NPR reports. The USS Doris Miller will be the first supercarrier named after an African American and an enlisted sailor.

In Afghanistan, a coal miner’s daughter has placed No. 1 out of 200,000 students on the university entrance exam. At 15, Shamsea Alizada survived a Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul at a tutoring center that killed dozens of her fellow students, The New York Times reports. When she called her father to tell him the good news about the test, “he was so happy he was in tears,” she said.

Finally, from Cambodia, the tale of an unlikely hero. Over the past four years, Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, has cleared more than 1.5 million square feet of land mines, finding dozens and saving lives, the BBC reports. He has become the first rat to receive the gold medal ”for animal gallantry or devotion to duty” from the British charity PDSA.

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Analysis

Will Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis change anything? Or everything?

As the nation confronts perhaps the most jarring October surprise in history, it could raise new questions about the U.S. electoral system’s ability to navigate and absorb shocks.

Yvonne
Joshua Roberts/Reuters
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks to the media after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for the coronavirus disease in Washington, Oct. 2, 2020.

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An election year like no other has taken its sharpest turn yet, with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump testing positive for COVID-19.

The implications of the president’s diagnosis span wide, from national security to the economy to public safety to the election itself. An onslaught of false information, some designed to mislead, is already circulating on the internet. Among some Americans, the president’s diagnosis was immediately dismissed as a lie.

Even more important may be the questions of governance that arise when the president of the United States faces a serious physical challenge. 

In a larger sense, it’s a reminder of the norm-breaking nature of this presidency. Mr. Trump’s frequent refusal to wear a mask in public – and his mockery of Mr. Biden for wearing one – may be a metaphor for his presidency writ large, reflecting the president’s willingness to take risks and dismiss expert advice.

Still this moment, just 32 days before the Nov. 3 election, presents an opportunity to pause and reflect – and to rise, if possible, above politics. 

“[S]chadenfreude is never admirable,” tweets Pete Wehner, a veteran of Republican administrations. “Appealing to better angels is.” 

Will Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis change anything? Or everything?

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An election year like no other has taken its sharpest turn yet, with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump testing positive for COVID-19.

On Friday, the president was set to go to Walter Reed Medical Center, out of what the White House said was an abundance of caution. Mr. Trump has canceled all travel for the coming days, while his campaign events have moved online for now.

Well wishes from both sides of the aisle and world leaders have poured forth. In a tweet, Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, offered their support to the Trumps early Friday. 

“We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family,” they said. Both Bidens have tested negative.

Perhaps this moment, just 32 days before the Nov. 3 election, presents an opportunity to pause and reflect – and to rise, if possible, above politics. 

“[S]chadenfreude is never admirable,” tweets Pete Wehner, a veteran of Republican administrations. “Appealing to better angels is.” 

Still, the latest White House COVID-19 crisis is a reminder of the norm-breaking nature of this presidency. Mr. Trump’s frequent refusal to wear a mask in public – and his mockery of Mr. Biden for wearing one – may be a metaphor for his presidency writ large, reflecting the president’s willingness to take risks and dismiss expert advice. Even now, although White House staffers have stepped up their use of masks, some top officials still aren’t wearing them in public. 

Leah Millis/Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump waves to media after returning on Air Force One from a campaign rally in Minnesota, Oct. 1, 2020. President Trump announced early on Oct. 2 that he tested positive for the coronavirus disease.

The campaign itself won’t stop, even in the coming days. Fundraising, strategizing, and events continue – with Mr. Biden on Friday traveling to Michigan. Vice President Mike Pence, who has tested negative for the virus, is planning to continue to campaign in person. 

The vice presidential debate is so far still on for Oct. 7 – and is likely to get more than usual scrutiny, given that it will feature the running mates of the two oldest presidential nominees in U.S. history. The future of the remaining two presidential debates, scheduled for Oct. 15 and 22, remains uncertain.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Friday he plans to press ahead with the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, set to start Oct. 12. One member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, announced Friday that he has tested positive and plans to isolate for 10 days before returning to Washington for the hearings.

Even more important may be the questions of governance that arise when the president of the United States faces a serious physical challenge.

The American system has built-in backups. The vice president is standing by, empowered to take over the president’s duties in the event he becomes incapacitated. 

But the implications of the president’s diagnosis span wide, from national security to the economy to public safety to the election itself. Mr. Trump’s team is on the lookout for foreign adversaries seeking to exploit the situation. An onslaught of false information, some designed to mislead, is already circulating on the internet. Among some Americans, the president’s diagnosis was immediately dismissed as a lie. Others began speculating that the White House was downplaying the severity of Mr. Trump’s condition.

“It’s as if a nuclear information bomb exploded on social media,” Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent and expert on influence operations, tells The Washington Post.

My colleague Peter Grier wrote in a series of articles that Mr. Trump has a knack for exploiting the cracks in the American system of governance, aided by long-building cultural and political trends. As the nation confronts perhaps the most jarring October surprise in history, it could raise new questions about the U.S. electoral system’s ability to navigate and absorb shocks.

A deeper look

Years of disconnects fuel US-China clash

By now, U.S.-China relations being in a tailspin seems like old news. But not that long ago, officials in Beijing and Washington were singing a sweeter tune. Years of misplaced expectations have led to today’s shrill face-off.

Yvonne
JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS/FILE
Mr. Trump and China’s leader Xi Jinping stroll through the Forbidden City after an opera performance during a trip to China in November 2017.

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In 2015, the White House’s National Security Strategy welcomed China’s rise and “unprecedented” cooperation. Just two years later, the Trump administration’s new strategy labeled China a “strategic competitor,” seeking to “shape a worldview antithetical to U.S. values and interests.” And today, the two countries are in a tailspin, with antagonism not seen since before the 1970s.

To Washington, those shifts are the product of long-building U.S. disappointment. To be sure, American engagement with China succeeded on many fronts. But profound misperceptions and misplaced expectations go back decades.

Republican and Democratic administrations alike envisioned deeper ties creating an opportunity for China to embrace free market economics and greater political freedom, even democracy. But as reforms stalled and then reversed under Xi Jinping, disenchantment grew. Chinese officials, meanwhile, have misread America’s motives, analysts say, and increasingly dismiss the U.S. as a declining power.

Today’s often fractious contest promises to shape the world for generations. Beijing’s leaders and both U.S. presidential candidates now face the challenge of accurately gauging the others’ intentions as they map a way forward – and try to keep tensions from escalating out of control.

Years of disconnects fuel US-China clash

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“Welcome to China! I love you!” the young Chinese Peking opera performers exclaimed to President Donald Trump, who beamed back at the children performing in Beijing’s Palace Museum. Chinese leader Xi Jinping looked on, smiling at the choreographed flattery.

It was Nov. 8, 2017, and compliments flowed between the men, both flush with victories – Mr. Trump’s U.S. election win, and Mr. Xi’s solidification of power as chairman of China’s ruling Communist Party at the 19th Party Congress in October. 

During Mr. Trump’s visit, Mr. Xi would evoke President Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking 1972 trip to China, proclaiming the two nations “partners, not rivals.” Mr. Trump lauded Mr. Xi as “a very special man” and, quoting a Chinese proverb, hailed the “incredible opportunity” to advance peace, prosperity, and friendship. 

But despite the leaders’ lofty declarations, tensions festered beneath the surface. Soon a dangerous tailspin in U.S.-China relations would plunge the countries into antagonism not seen since before the 1970s rapprochement.

ANDREW HARNIK/AP/FILE
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to opera performers on a trip to China in November 2017

Today, China’s authoritarian rise and a narrowing power gap with the United States have unleashed an often fractious commercial and geopolitical contest that promises to shape the world for generations. Beijing’s leaders and both U.S. presidential candidates now face the challenge of accurately gauging the others’ intentions as they map a way forward – and try to keep tensions from escalating out of control.

What is clear is that the current conflict has been exacerbated by profound misperceptions and misplaced expectations that go back decades, eliciting feelings of betrayal on the U.S. side and arrogance on China’s side. 

All these dynamics were on the mind of Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, as he rode the next day in the presidential motorcade toward the massive, Soviet-style facade of the Great Hall of the People, for another meeting with Chinese leaders. The three-star Army general was preparing to unveil a new U.S. national security strategy at home with an elevated focus on China. On his first trip to the country, he was soaking up “the symbolism, the zeitgeist” of Beijing, he recalls in an interview.  

As General McMaster settled into a black swivel chair at a conference table in the great hall, he and his team had one simple goal: to wrap up the meeting quickly so the president could prepare for the evening’s lavish dinner. Premier Li Keqiang began speaking, reading from 5-by-8 cards – as Chinese officials often do to stay on message. The general girded himself for more empty diplomatic speak.

But what came next surprised General McMaster. Despite Mr. Li’s reputation for being friendly to the West and relatively pro-reform, he spoke bluntly, echoing Chairman Xi’s assertive 3 1/2 hour speech at the October party conclave. His brusque message: China no longer needs the U.S. China has come into its own. Beijing would, however, help Washington solve its trade problem by importing U.S. raw materials for China’s emerging high-end manufacturing economy. 

What struck General McMaster was how Mr. Li’s monologue suggested an almost neocolonial relationship between a superior China and a servile U.S. It was “remarkable for the aura of confidence, you could almost say arrogance, and the degree to which he dismissed U.S. concerns about the nature of not only the economic relationship but the geostrategic relationship,” he recalls.

Such encounters helped convince General McMaster that a dramatic shift in China strategy was critical. “It reinforced the work we were doing and highlighted the urgency of it,” he says. 

Soon, it would be Beijing’s turn to be surprised.

MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AP
Performers dressed in traditional Chinese opera costumes take a selfie in front of the National Stadium, called the Bird’s Nest, on Sept. 5, 2020, in Beijing. The city was hosting a trade fair that showcased Chinese and foreign products.

Shift in strategy

In December 2017, Washington released its new National Security Strategy. In sharp contrast to the 2015 blueprint, which welcomed China’s rise and hailed “unprecedented” cooperation, the new document labeled China a “strategic competitor” that seeks to “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests” and “displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific.” 

Underlying this shift – ending the decades-old U.S. policy of engagement with China – was American disappointment that had been building for years. To be sure, U.S. engagement with China had multiple goals and had succeeded on many fronts. President Nixon reestablished ties with Beijing primarily to counter the Soviet Union, and the normalization of U.S.-China relations in 1979 ushered in decades of relative peace and rising prosperity in East Asia. 

Over time, Republican and Democratic administrations alike envisioned deeper ties creating an opportunity for China to embrace free market economics and greater political freedom, even democracy.

“Was it foolish or ... misbegotten? I don’t believe it was,” says Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. Engagement was worth the chance, he says. At different junctures, Communist Party reformers seemed to gain the upper hand. But success was never guaranteed. Hard-line, anti-Western leaders won out, fearing a loss of control that would spell the party’s demise, he says.

What was naive, experts say, was the conviction among some Americans that opening China’s markets made political liberty inevitable – a misperception echoed in centuries of Western interactions with the country. 

Western engineers, soldiers, and other advisers brought expertise to China “as the wrapping around an ideological package,” seeking to entice the Chinese to accept both, writes historian Jonathan Spence in “To Change China,” a study of Western advisers in the country from 1620 to 1960. “It was this that the Chinese had refused to tolerate; even at their weakest, they sensed that acceptance of a foreign ideology on foreign terms must be a form of weakness.”

Similarly, when China opened up in the late 1970s, pragmatic leader Deng Xiaoping introduced market techniques to generate wealth and raise living standards, but without relinquishing state ownership or one-party rule.

“China saw that prosperity was related to capitalism, and Deng Xiaoping’s revolution basically adopted capitalism with socialist characteristics,” says Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, president of the U.S.-China Education Trust. “Things they saw in America were things they aspired to – not the values, not the political system, but the things, the prosperity. They wanted that.” 

TYRONE SIU/REUTERS/FILE
Protesters hold lights while forming a human chain during a rally to call for political reform in Hong Kong on Sept. 13, 2019.

While overly optimistic about liberalism transforming China, many Americans underestimated the immense pride Chinese felt in building a booming economy after a century of war, famine, and political purges. “It was so hard to take for the Chinese because they had lived in a Sinocentric world prior to that,” says Ms. Bloch, who was born in Japanese-occupied China in 1942 and became the first U.S. ambassador of Asian descent. “It’s just like what if the U.S. does not recover from coronavirus, if our economy goes into the shredder? I can’t contemplate America overrun by foreign powers, but that is what happened to China. China’s current policies today are driven by those memories.”

China’s history of invasion and internal rebellion has exacerbated its rulers’ obsession with control. “Americans think they should be more like us, without realizing how fragile the top people must feel about their political order,” says Ezra Vogel, professor emeritus at Harvard University and biographer of Deng. “Considering all the chaos China has had since the [19th-century] Opium Wars ... the warlord period, the [1966-76] Cultural Revolution, now they have things under better control and they want to keep it that way. Americans’ DNA doesn’t allow us to sympathize with that.”

Instead, U.S. policymakers cheered on Chinese reformists, entrepreneurs, and activists. They underrated the authoritarian forces that prioritized centralized rule and political stability and resisted bottom-up pressure for economic, social, and political change. Their vision for China – as a liberalizing, benign, and responsible power that would integrate with the world – overrode concerns about incidents such as Beijing’s violent crushing of pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Even as China’s market reforms slowed in the 1990s with a reprioritization of cities, big infrastructure projects, and state-owned firms, Washington continued to reward China with most favored nation trade status and entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Rather than retaliating against Beijing’s repression and protectionism, the U.S. showed tolerance and even deference toward Beijing.

LI GANG/XINHUA/AP/FILE
A new aircraft carrier launches from a shipyard in northeastern China in 2017 – a symbol of the country’s aggressive military buildup.

But as reforms stalled and then reversed after Mr. Xi took charge in 2012, disenchantment grew among Americans who had long championed change in China.

Some U.S. officials, in fact, felt deliberately misled. Looking back, General McMaster, who has a Ph.D. in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sees deception. “The party officials with whom we engaged for so many years, in so many different dialogues, were just great at stringing us along and holding the carrot in front of our donkey noses,” he says.

U.S. engagement “underestimated the will of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to constrain the scope of economic and political reform,” concludes a White House report on China strategy published in May.

For their part, China’s experts on the U.S. view the American reaction as irrational. “Washington people are in emotional mode on China,” says Jia Qingguo, a professor in the School of International Studies at Peking University, in a phone interview from Beijing. He thinks U.S. policymakers who’ve promoted engagement as a way to advance U.S. values are “very disappointed with the direction of China’s political development ... and conclude they failed.”

View from Beijing

When Premier Li highlighted China’s willingness to buy more U.S. raw materials in the 2017 meeting with President Trump, he likely didn’t anticipate the lukewarm reaction from Washington. 

China’s leaders have long misunderstood what makes Americans tick, says Yasheng Huang, professor of global economics and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The disconnect, he says, is rooted in the assumption that “Americans think and behave very much like Chinese.” 

One of the most enduring misperceptions Chinese have about Americans is that their biggest priority is making money.

“Economics is everything, making money is everything, material aspects are everything,” he says. Practical and nonideological themselves, Chinese downplay Americans’ commitment to values such as freedom and human rights, or cast them as insincere, he says. “They typically never took it seriously that the U.S. could care about the South China Sea, and human rights, and all of that.”

Nadège Rolland, a senior fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research and expert on Chinese strategic thinking, agrees about the misperceptions. “[The Chinese] view the promotion of liberal democracy not as a genuine driver for the U.S., but as a tool the U.S. continues to use to sustain its hegemony,” she says. 

For China’s leaders, Ms. Rolland says, “everything is seen through the lens of power, and therefore values and beliefs don’t have much of an importance, unless they can accrue power.”

MARKUS SCHREIBER/AP
A woman wears a face mask protesting China’s treatment of Muslim minorities in a demonstration in Berlin on Sept. 1, 2020.

Beijing sees China’s growing economic and military might and the tremendous pull of its market as overriding protests by the U.S. and other democracies over its violations of human rights and international law and agreements. Indeed, since the 2008 financial crisis in the West, China has increasingly viewed itself as surpassing the U.S., dismissing it as declining power. 

Beijing’s new confidence has brought displays of superiority. “It’s an instinctive response to new power,” says Professor Vogel. “It’s a political version of nouveau riche. A person wears flamboyant clothes because he can now afford them, and a person with new power is ready to swagger around.” 

Such sentiments have reached a new intensity under Chairman Xi, who promotes an ethno-nationalist vision of China entering a “new era” on the world’s center stage. It’s a role reminiscent of the country’s history as the Middle Kingdom around which other nations revolve. 

Experts say, in fact, that Mr. Xi’s grandiose vision has echoes of the ancient tributary system, perfected in the Qing dynasty, that required any nation seeking to trade with China to come as vassals to the emperor, ruler of “all under heaven.”

“The central kingdom sits there and is wealthy and more or less stable and powerful, and all the vassals ... turn towards it like iron filings turn toward the poles of the magnet,” says William McCahill, senior fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research and a former U.S. diplomat in China.

Under Mr. Xi, China has veered toward arrogance and overreaching, experts say. Internally, he has used an anti-corruption campaign to amass power unseen since Mao Zedong. He has enshrined his ideology in China’s Constitution and removed term limits, foreshadowing lifelong autocracy. Under Mr. Xi, the party has tightened controls, advanced a high-tech surveillance state, imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong, and detained an estimated 1 million Muslim minorities in internment camps. 

Overseas, Mr. Xi has flexed new muscles from China’s massive defense buildup. He has militarized islands in the South China Sea after pledging not to and aggressively asserted claims along the Sino-Indian border. Perhaps the greatest fallout from China’s overreaching has stemmed from its exploitative business practices – breaking market-opening commitments made when it joined the WTO and waging commercial cyberespionage, intellectual property theft, and forced technology transfer.

Ironically, such moves alienated the U.S. business community – a staunch pro-China group that had lobbied for closer relations. Business interests were the ones most susceptible to the allure of China’s market and offered what Beijing thought would be the most leverage over Americans. 

CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS
Chinese leader Xi Jinping delivers a speech in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sept. 8, 2020, lauding the country for its fight against the coronavirus.

“China’s own actions have effectively turned many in the business community and both U.S. political parties against China,” says James McGregor, chairman of the greater China region for APCO Worldwide, a global consulting firm.

“There was a lot of goodwill coming out of the United States toward China, and that was not reciprocated,” says Mr. McGregor, an executive and author who has lived in China for more than 30 years. “As China got wealthier, it was: ‘OK, thank you very much, and we are going our own way.’”

Still, when President Trump took office, China’s elites were initially delighted, thinking it would be business as usual. 

“The Chinese thought Trump was the best thing to happen to them,” recalls Ambassador Bloch. “One expert after another said: ‘We can do business with Trump. He is transactional.’”

Professor Jia, too, recalls that in Beijing “people were thinking, Trump was a businessman and would be pragmatic. It’s a matter of what kind of deal he can get. But then,” he says, “they realized he is not a usual businessman.”

Hard-line rhetoric

The culmination of Washington’s disillusionment with Beijing has been reflected in the Trump administration’s China policy. Chairman Xi’s broken promises, rollback of reforms, domestic repression, and overseas aggression united key American constituencies in a rare bipartisan consensus to get tough on China.

“Xi Jinping’s great tragedy is that he killed engagement – the very thing that enabled China to develop peacefully,” says Mr. Schell. Instead, he says, China is “now in a world of decoupling, antagonism, and possibly conflict.”

Adopting a policy of “long-term strategic competition” and “principled realism,” Washington is sanctioning China for unfair trade practices, espionage, and rights abuses. It is patrolling the South China Sea more frequently. The stark shift caught Beijing off guard, as China’s leaders had misjudged U.S. priorities and grown accustomed to Washington’s accommodation.

“Time after time they miscalculated,” says Professor Huang. When the trade war started, he says, “they thought, ‘Gee, we’ll just spend a few dollars and that will be it.’ That didn’t happen. They thought they could get away with things like Hong Kong, the national security law – they probably calculated there is nothing the U.S. can do, or whatever they do will be mild.”

“They vastly underestimated how far the U.S. is willing to go,” he says.

Today, each side increasingly views the other as an existential threat. Beijing accuses the U.S. of waging a new cold war, pursuing decoupling, containment, and regime change. U.S. leaders warn that future generations of Americans may live at the mercy of China’s Communist Party, if unopposed.

As friction has escalated with the spread of the coronavirus from China to the U.S., hard-liners holding sway in Washington and Beijing have lashed out with shrill rhetoric.

“Nationalism is really at the root of the rhetorical spiral which is driving the tit for tat in policies that are accelerating the confrontation,” says Jessica Chen Weiss, associate professor of government at Cornell University. “Both governments have calculated it is politically advantageous to sound and act tough, which makes it difficult to walk back.”

Public opinion has soured: Two-thirds of Americans and Chinese hold negative views of the other, according to surveys in March by the Pew Research Center and in August by the Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper. Meanwhile, the pandemic and visa restrictions have curtailed travel, hurting people-to-people exchanges. As mistrust deepens and diplomatic and other communications shut down, the risk of a military mishap grows. 

“The chance of a conflict because of a miscalculation is pretty high,” says Professor Jia. “The two militaries are getting very close to each other, so some of my military friends are really worried that some kind of accident will occur.”

Back from the brink?

The risk of war – if Beijing used force against the democratic island of Taiwan, for example – unnerves experts in both countries. Yet some are optimistic, offering a counternarrative that the superpowers can find a new footing, pull back from the brink, and cooperate, especially on global issues such as climate change – even as they compete.

Engagement did not wholly fail, and is still badly needed, they stress. U.S. engagement helped make it possible for China to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty since the Maoist era, while significantly opening its society – and benefiting the world. The flow of millions of students, businesspeople, and tourists between the two nations has also helped generate demand for greater freedom and political reform in China, even if the one-party regime has not supplied it.

“What we have done over the years created ... millions of pro-American Chinese,” says Stephen Orlins, president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and a lawyer who helped establish diplomatic relations in 1979.

Engagement also intertwined the U.S. and Chinese economies, offering tools for influence that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Washington is now belatedly using that leverage, the optimists say.

While Trump administration officials assert China seeks world domination, experts say Beijing wants to influence, not take over, the international order from which it has greatly benefited. It seeks a loose, malleable hegemony in Asia and other parts of the “global south.” Significant internal weaknesses, including an aging population, inequality, brittle governance, and slowing economic growth, constrain China’s ambitions.

China seeks to spread its authoritarian model in weaker countries and struggling democracies, “creating dependencies in the shadow of its economic and military clout,” but Beijing “doesn’t have the values to export to the rest of the world,” says Ms. Rolland.

Nor does Washington intend to contain China, keep it down, or incite regime change, as some in China fear, says General McMaster, now retired from the military and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Instead, Washington aims to compete and counter Beijing’s aggression as the best way to maintain peace.

“I would like to see the United States, Japan, the EU, and other like-minded countries sending a simple clear message to the Chinese Communist Party: You can achieve enough of your ambition, you can achieve enough of your goals to do the right thing for your own people, without infringing on our freedoms and our security.”

Police reforms surge after months of racial justice protests

This is something many may have missed amid a tumultuous news season: Protests of police brutality and racial inequality in the past four months have yielded remarkable progress on law enforcement reforms. Now what bears watching is their staying power.

Yvonne

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Even as protests against police brutality and racial inequality continue into a fifth month, rapid reform is afoot, say law enforcement experts. Since late May, states, counties, and cities countrywide have introduced a range of law enforcement reforms, including bans on chokeholds, increased body-camera use, and the end of “no-knock” search warrants. 

While the depth and durability of the new policies are not yet proven, the scope of progress is remarkable.

The [state] legislation that I’ve seen come through in the intervening months since May has really been unprecedented” in speed, expanse, and bipartisan support, says Amber Widgery, a policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. She has tracked state law enforcement-related legislation since 2014 when Michael Brown was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Following that incident, she says state legislatures began to take active roles in policing oversight and accountability.

One benefit of the protests has been to highlight the need for systemic change, Geoffrey Alpert, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, explained in an email to the Monitor. “The day of the ‘bad apple’ explanation [for police violence] is gone.”

Police reforms surge after months of racial justice protests

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Andrew Kelly/Reuters
A demonstrator stands before a line of New York Police Department officers during a July protest near City Hall. A nationwide surge of police reforms has been spurred by racial justice protests in the past four months.

Four months after the police killing of George Floyd – and as protests demanding law enforcement overhauls continue nationwide – police reforms have surged across the country with uncommon speed.  

While the depth and durability of the new policies are not yet proven, the scope of progress is wide. Since late May, states, counties, and cities countrywide have introduced a range of reform, including bans on chokeholds, increased body-camera use, and the end of “no-knock” search warrants. 

The [state] legislation that I’ve seen come through in the intervening months since May has really been unprecedented” in speed, expanse, and bipartisan support, says Amber Widgery, a policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

She has tracked state law enforcement-related legislation nationwide since 2014 when Michael Brown was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Following that incident, she says state legislatures began to take active roles in policing oversight and accountability.

Most Americans, recent polling shows, support some degree of police reform. The movement’s demands are often encompassed – and blurred – by the rhetoric of “defunding police.” Whether that’s understood literally or as a gesture to the spirit of reform, what it mostly has meant in practice over the past four months is modest budget cuts, not literal abolition, The Associated Press reported.   

It’s also unclear how much of the current wave of reforms will stick. Already officials are backpedaling pledges to defund the Police Department in Minneapolis, the site of Mr. Floyd’s killing May 25. And less than half of Americans (44%) think the protests will bring change for the better – though a large majority of Black Americans (71%) believe so, a June AP-NORC poll found. 

“The recent protests have forced some politicians to make knee-jerk reactions and promise things that are not well thought out – such as defund the police,” Geoffrey Alpert, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, explained in an email to the Monitor. 

But, he added, one benefit of the protests has been to highlight the need for systemic change: “The day of the ‘bad apple’ explanation [for police violence] is gone.”

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, agrees there’s been a shift.

“After Ferguson, the focus was on reforming police. It was de-escalation and body-worn cameras and implicit bias training,” says Mr. Wexler. “This post-George Floyd moment we’re in, there’s almost a sense that reform didn’t work so we have to rethink policing completely. And that’s OK.”

Whether, and how, new reforms are actually enforced are other questions. After all, the New York Police Department banned chokeholds 20 years before Eric Garner died, in 2014, when an officer subdued him that way.

“That’s why people talk about defund the police or abolish police,” says Olugbenga Ajilore, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress. “Because we’ve done legislation, but we still have these outcomes.”

There’s also the question of how to measure the impact of police reforms. Mr. Wexler says successful policing depends on whom you ask – the community, or officers, or mayors. Fundamentally, law enforcement experts say, public safety is hard to maintain without public trust.

“Without basic trust – or procedural justice – [reforms] are all compromised,” says Mr. Alpert. “We need to spend more time getting feedback from the community, having community members be part of the reform thinking and consideration.”

Here’s a sampling of police reform efforts across the country over the past decade.

Camden, New Jersey: “Sanctity of life” focus

Faced with rampant crime and poor finances, Camden, New Jersey, dissolved its police department in 2012. A rebooted Camden County Police Department emerged the following year, though it still only patrols the city of Camden.

Amid calls from activists to address aggressive policing early on, the department developed a new use-of-force policy in 2015 that prioritized de-escalation.

“The core principle of that policy is sanctity of life,” says Capt. Gabe Rodriguez, who, among others, was rehired from the old department. Excessive force complaints dropped from 65 in 2014 to three in 2019.

Compared with 67 homicides in 2012, there have been 17 this year, and overall crime has dropped. Mr. Rodriguez says the real measure of success for Camden’s community policing model is that more residents feel safe enough to enjoy being outside.

SOURCE: NJ Advance Media Force Report; FBI Uniform Crime Reports
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Karen Norris/Staff

Critics say the transition lacked transparency and community input from the start, and the state’s top court ruled the department’s restructuring illegal in 2015. The treasurer of Camden’s NAACP chapter, Darnell Hardwick – who calls it a police union bust, not reform – says trust issues remain. And given the widespread use of surveillance technology, “it’s like a police state.”

Mr. Rodriguez says he welcomes frank discussions with the community, which is majority Hispanic and Black, and notes Camden police marched with Black Lives Matter protesters

Matt Rourke/AP
In New Jersey, a Camden County Police officer stationed near a COVID-19 testing facility last April is part of a restructured force that began in 2013. Recent use-of-force changes appear to reflect reduced use-of-force incidents and have increased a sense of safety on the streets.

Florida’s Volusia County: Rethinking police training

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood’s first six months on the job in 2017 saw six officer-involved police shootings. “You can’t control what happens on the streets at 3 in the morning,” he says. “All you can do is train, recruit, and hold your breath.”

A trip to Scotland in 2015 to study de-escalation tactics used by Scottish police had inspired him to rethink policies and training. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office requires 40 hours of crisis intervention training classes for new hires. And with guidance from the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit research and policy organization, the Florida force also implemented new use-of-force policies beginning in 2017 that emphasize de-escalation, communication, and “the sanctity of human life,” he adds.

The sheriff says these reforms have worked. Calls for service have remained relatively stable, while use-of-force incidents fell by almost half between 2017 and 2019, according to sheriff’s office data.

SOURCE: Volusia Sheriff's Office
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Karen Norris/Staff

However, African Americans – about 11% of the county’s population – have been arrested disproportionately more than their share of residents over the past three years; in 2019, they were involved in more than a quarter of documented use-of-force incidents, NBC reported.

The sheriff’s department plans on further reforms, including a pilot initiative that would pair mental health professionals with deputies to assist people in crisis.

“It’s an excellent idea,” says Volusia County-Daytona Beach NAACP President Cynthia Slater, who also supports the sheriff’s use-of-force reforms. “We’re in the 21st century, and we’ve got to move law enforcement into the 21st century.”

New York City: Police examine unconscious bias 

It’s unclear how many departments conduct implicit bias training, used to raise awareness of unconscious attitudes that could negatively impact others. But growing demand has outpaced research on its effectiveness.

Reportedly the first of its kind, a recent study examined the impact of implicit bias training on the nation’s largest police department, the NYPD, since it mandated the training for its 36,000 officers in 2018. While NYPD’s sworn personnel demonstrated an increased understanding of implicit bias, researchers weren’t able to detect training effects on actual behavior.

It’s difficult to isolate the effect of a one-day training, given many other factors affecting officers’ choices on the street, says Robert E. Worden, lead author of the study and director of the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety in Albany, New York.

And limited research has left another fundamental question unresolved. “It’s not at all clear that the enforcement disparities that we commonly see in law enforcement are due even in part to implicit bias,” he says.

Lois James, assistant professor at Washington State University’s college of nursing, is using body-camera footage to study the impact of implicit bias training on Sacramento Police Department personnel’s performance and behavior.

SOURCE: Robert E. Worden, Sarah J. McLean, Robin S. Engel, Hannah Cochran, Nicholas Corsaro, Danielle Reynolds, Cynthia J. Najdowski and Gabrielle T. Isaza, 2020. "The Impacts of Implicit Bias Awareness Training in the NYPD." IACP/UC Center for Police Research and Policy & John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety.
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Karen Norris/Staff

“Departments do actually invest a lot of time and money in implicit bias training, and it’s important to know whether it’s actually effective,” she says.

An NYPD spokesperson said via email that the department embraced implicit bias training for “further building trust between officers and civilians.” The force has also added ethics and de-escalation training for officers.

Colorado: Chokeholds banned, “qualified immunity” out 

Colorado passed an expansive police reform bill in June, which includes a ban on chokeholds and orders local and state law enforcement to use body cameras.

And, Colorado’s new civil rights law is the first in the nation to prohibit law enforcement officers from using “qualified immunity” as a defense. Qualified immunity is a judicial doctrine that can shield public officials from litigation if they violate someone’s constitutional rights.

Eliminating qualified immunity could help restore confidence in law enforcement, says Jay Schweikert, policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice.

“If you want people to have a certain level of trust and respect for police officers, and fight back against this cops-are-the-bad-guys narrative, you must have meaningful accountability,” says Mr. Schweikert, who is involved in a bipartisan coalition against the doctrine.

Colorado’s Fraternal Order of Police President Stephen Schulz says he supports efforts to increase transparency and accountability, but opposes the loss of the qualified immunity defense under state law.

“We walk into dangerous situations on a daily basis. We have to make split-second decisions, a lot of times to protect the innocent civilians or protect ourselves,” says Mr. Schulz. “Qualified immunity was there to recognize that.”

An officer acting in bad faith, says Mr. Schulz, isn’t “somebody that we want on the street side by side with us, or protecting our communities.”

SOURCE: NJ Advance Media Force Report; FBI Uniform Crime Reports; Robert E. Worden, Sarah J. McLean, Robin S. Engel, Hannah Cochran, Nicholas Corsaro, Danielle Reynolds, Cynthia J. Najdowski and Gabrielle T. Isaza, 2020. "The Impacts of Implicit Bias Awareness Training in the NYPD." IACP/UC Center for Police Research and Policy & John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety. Volusia Sheriff's Office.
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Karen Norris/Staff

A weighty vote: Who will win Fat Bear Week?

With wildfires, climate change, and the extinction crisis dominating science headlines, you would be forgiven for thinking that every ecosystem in the world is collapsing. But as one lighthearted contest shows, some places are thriving.

Yvonne
Jorel Cuomo/National Park Service/Reuters
A grizzly bear known to researchers as "Bear 775 Lefty" looks for migrating salmon to help fatten up for the winter hibernation, in Alaska's Katmai National Par, September 21, 2019. Each year, the park holds Fat Bear Week, a bracket-style voting contest and a celebration of the park's healthy ecosystem.

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To many people, October is for apple picking, fall foliage, and Halloween. But to some, the month brings another excitement: fat bears. 

Fat Bear Week – an annual contest in which visitors vote for whom they think packed on the most pounds among the brown bears of Alaska’s Katmai National Park – has gone viral, with people seeking out a fun diversion from the din of humanity’s hardships.

Fatbearweek.org offers bracket-style matchups along with before-and-after photos of each bear, shot during their skinnier spring days and their autumn rotundity. Visitors can also learn about the bears’ life histories and watch live webcams showing the bears in their natural habitat.

The fat bears, which gorged themselves on salmon, are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, says author and former park ranger Mike Fitz, who helped found Fat Bear Week. 

“It’s a testament to the sustainability of the salmon run currently in Bristol Bay, which is the largest salmon run left in the world,” he says. “And it’s really been gangbusters over the last several years and it’s been generally very healthy over the last several decades. So it gives people an opportunity also to see an ecosystem functioning at its fully realized potential.”

A weighty vote: Who will win Fat Bear Week?

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To many people, October is for apple picking, fall foliage, and Halloween. But to some, the month brings another excitement: fat bears. 

As the brown bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska focus on chowing down their last meals for months in preparation for the long winter hibernation, humans are celebrating the animals’ chubbiness.

Fat Bear Week began on Wednesday, and, on October 6, one ursine winner will be crowned Fattest Bear of 2020. 

Visitors to fatbearweek.org can vote online in bracket-style matchups for who they think has packed on the most pounds. On the site are before-and-after photos of each bear, shot during their skinnier spring days and their autumn rotundity. They can also learn about the bears’ life histories and watch live webcams showing the bears fishing for salmon in their natural habitat, Brooks River. The bears themselves are, of course, oblivious to the contest. 

Fat Bear Week has become an online sensation, with tens of thousands of people voting. The park is using it as an education tool to teach about hibernation, bear health, and ecosystem dynamics. But the popularity of Fat Bear Week also teaches us something about humans, too. 

“We do like to make this connection with animals,” says Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology at the College of Wooster, in Wooster, Ohio.

“There’s no question that most people like the idea of nature, they like the idea of wild nature. And being able to form a connection with an animal feels like you’re part of that wildness.”

The bear maximum

This year’s Fat Bear Week is on track to be the biggest yet. Before voting even began, more than 95,000 people responded to a pre-voting poll question on the website. 

Some of the increased traffic could be because this is the first year voting occurs on a website, hosted by explore.org, rather than on Facebook. But the pandemic and the polarizing politics in the news might also be playing a role, suggests Mike Fitz, resident naturalist at explore.org and author of “The Bears of Brook Falls,” a forthcoming book on Katmai’s bears. 

Mr. Fitz, a former ranger at Katmai who was involved in setting up the first Fat Bear Week, has picked bear 747 – one of the park’s largest and most dominant males and who was estimated to weigh more than 1,400 pounds last year – to win for the past few years, but 747 has yet to come out on top in the voting.

“It’s fun, simply put,” Mr. Fitz says. Fat Bear Week offers a diversion amidst the din of human life today, and, he says, “it’s a positive story. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the success of bears in Katmai National Park.”

The rangers at Katmai see the bears’ fatness as something to celebrate. It means they are healthy and ready to survive several months in hibernation without food or water. Mama bears even give birth to and nurse cubs while in their dens, meaning they must consume even more calories.

Mark Thiessen/AP/File
Two brown bears look for salmon at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

Bearing good news

And it’s not just about the bears. Fat bears are also a sign of a healthy and robust ecosystem, too, since they’ve spent the summer and fall gorging themselves on food – particularly salmon that they fish out during their migrations and spawning period.

“It’s a testament to the sustainability of the salmon run currently in Bristol Bay, which is the largest salmon run left in the world,” Mr. Fitz says. “And it’s really been gangbusters over the last several years and it’s been generally very healthy over the last several decades. So it gives people an opportunity also to see an ecosystem functioning at its fully realized potential.”

There’s something comforting about fat bears, too, says Dr. Clayton. “It suggests that nature is healthy, that nature is OK, we haven’t destroyed it,” she says. “There’s that really appealing kind of reassurance there, that, ‘look, not only are there still bears, they’re fat.’”

Furthermore, the webcams let people around the world observe the bears in their natural habitats from their own living rooms, says Jeffrey Skibins, an assistant professor at East Carolina University who specializes in the human dimensions of wildlife conservation and conservation psychology. And that can cultivate a sense of connection with the bears.

“It’s something that’s relatable,” says Dr. Skibins. “Especially as we’re coming up into the holiday seasons, I think everybody could look at one of the fat bears and go, ‘oh, gosh, I’m going to be that fat bear in a couple of months.’”

According to his research, that relatability fosters conservation action. 

“Being able to watch these bears and identify individuals and connect with them,” says Dr. Skibins,  “you really are starting to check all the boxes of what makes a powerful nature encounter for anybody, whether it’s online or in person.”

Television

Put the kettle on and settle in with a fresh batch of British TV shows

Entertaining fare from across the pond has long captured the fancy of Americans. This fall, culinary, political, and detective offerings aim to match the appeal of “Downton Abbey.” 

Yvonne
Mark Bourdillon/Love Productions/Netflix
Contestant Dave Friday chats with judges (from left) Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, and co-host Noel Fielding. The latest season of "The Great British Baking Show" debuted in the U.S. on Netflix in late September.

Put the kettle on and settle in with a fresh batch of British TV shows

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If you need a break from the real world (and who doesn’t these days?), put on the kettle, get out the Earl Grey, and settle in for a bounty of entertainment from across the pond.

One of Britain’s sweeter exports, “The Great British Baking Show” (rated TV-14), recently kicked off its 11th season and literally crashed back into our viewing lives when one contestant rammed into another in the season’s debut in September. The program has become too precious by half and the humor a smidgen too awkward, but remains quite charming, in great part because it is, well, a very nice show. That may sound vanilla, but it’s reassuring to watch a dozen bakers compete over 10 weeks in their pandemic bubble, always respectful and utterly kind to one another as they vie with great sincerity for a title, a cake plate, and a bouquet of flowers.

For enjoyable family entertainment, don’t miss “Enola Holmes” (PG-13), another recent Netflix release. Starring Millie Bobby Brown, made famous by “Stranger Things,” this whimsical pastiche is rollicking good fun. Brown’s character, never imagined by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but based on Nancy Springer’s young adult novels, is strong, inspiring, and witty. This spunky character drives the narrative, and the 2-hour movie flies by (even with some plot holes and general silliness) as she unwinds several mysteries, occasionally aided by her older brother Sherlock, played by Henry Cavill. No word yet on a sequel, but the director is already envisioning what’s next.

MASTERPIECE
Imelda Staunton stars as nosy neighbor Mary in "Flesh and Blood," a complex family thriller arriving on PBS starting Oct. 4 (check local listings).

PBS, the presenter of much acclaimed British television, has two new modern, four-part offerings slated for release this fall. The first, “Flesh and Blood” (TV-14), kicks off on Oct. 4 (check local listings) and offers a complex family thriller starring Francesca Annis as a vivacious widow who falls for a retired surgeon, played by Stephen Rea, who may or may not have her best intentions at heart. No one is above suspicion, not her three flawed but well-meaning children or her nosy and meddling neighbor, played to creepy perfection by Imelda Staunton. Though a bit heavy-handed in spots, it really will keep you guessing as to whodunit right up to the twisty ending.

You may think you’ve had enough of politics this year, but veteran writer Sir David Hare has scripted the intriguing “Roadkill” (TV-14), another PBS offering, debuting Nov. 1. The unsettling and edgy series follows a self-made salesman who carves out a high-profile place in the British government, consistently rising to the top in spite of, and thanks to, Machiavellian schemes and a self-serving lifestyle. Though the conceit is rather worn, Hugh Laurie makes for a compelling central character as you watch him consider his moves and then surprise you with the unexpected in this ruthless game of politics. 

For fare from elsewhere in the British Isles, consider “The South Westerlies,” a cheeky six-part Irish series set in a very picturesque, West Cork village available from Acorn TV starting Nov. 9. Orla Brady plays a single mother who returns to a vacation haunt from her youth to secretly sway villagers to vote for an offshore wind farm. The show is more than a little derivative – think “Local Hero,” that offbeat 1980s flick from idiosyncratic director Bill Forsyth – but less successfully quirky. And be prepared for characters whose lifestyle choices may raise eyebrows. Still, it entertains with a mixture of misunderstandings, romance, corporate double-dealings, and Brady’s compelling performance. Acorn will be debuting more original content early next year with “Bloodlands,” a police thriller set in Northern Ireland.

If you fancy a period drama, you can do no better than the visually appealing and well-crafted “Belgravia” (TV-14), written by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”). Beginning at the battle of Waterloo and set against lovely 19th-century backdrops, this six-part series plays out much like a tale from Dickens as the lives of three families are intertwined and threatened by scheming servants, misconstrued events, and bold men with great expectations. Released in the spring, it can be watched on Epix platforms.   

BritBox, a streaming option, is entering into the original content game early next year with four new series (not yet available for review). “Crime,” written by Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”), features a detective searching for a missing schoolgirl; “Magpie Murders,” adapted from the bestseller by Anthony Horowitz (“Foyle’s War”), follows an editor who is given an unfinished manuscript that alters her life; “The Beast Must Die” is a revenge thriller about a grieving mother seeking justice; and “A Spy Among Friends” is based on Kim Philby’s actual espionage at the beginning of the Cold War.

Many British shows have shorter seasons than those in the United States, which means viewers can often enjoy an entire series in one weekend. Just remember the treacle tart to go with your cuppa.

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The Monitor's View

Why Trump’s detractors wish him well

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Just two weeks ago, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Trump White House issued a warm statement that the liberal jurist had “demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward one’s colleagues.” That spirit of humanity toward a political opponent is once again on display in Washington, a town too often prone to uncivil discourse. Just hours after the president and first lady tested positive for COVID-19, many of Donald Trump’s fiercest opponents wished them a speedy recovery.

The usual acrimony of mudslinging politics was silenced after the head of state became ill. It gave way to a principle long honored in both military battlefields and sometimes political ones: Anyone injured during a conflict deserves health care. In politics, too, a sickened opponent must be immune from the swords of hate.

The many consoling words for the president as he struggles with COVID-19 serve as a reminder that enmity in politics should not translate to enmity toward a person. An idea may be unworthy of respect but not its proponent. In either sickness or in health, civility – even a loving word – can move politics in new directions.

Why Trump’s detractors wish him well

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Reuters
Clouds pass over the White House after President Donald Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for the coronavirus disease.

Just two weeks ago, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Trump White House issued a warm statement that the liberal jurist had “demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward one’s colleagues.” That spirit of humanity toward a political opponent is once again on display in Washington, a town too often prone to uncivil discourse.

Just hours after the president and first lady tested positive for COVID-19, many of Donald Trump’s fiercest opponents wished them a speedy recovery. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he “will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.” Words of condolence also flowed from foreign leaders who have differed sharply with Mr. Trump’s policies, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr. Trump is not the first world leader to be diagnosed with the coronavirus. Britain’s Boris Johnson and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro have defeated the virus, as we pray Mr. Trump will. In all three countries, the usual acrimony of mudslinging politics was silenced when the head of state became ill. It gave way to a principle long honored in both military battlefields and sometimes political ones: Anyone injured during a conflict deserves health care.

That principle has been around only about 150 years, starting with the founding of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a nonprofit group that has challenged the old take-no-prisoners approach in warfare. The organization’s neutral workers have steadily persuaded combatants on all sides to allow medical treatment of the fallen. Once injured, a soldier is considered worthy of life-saving help.

Under humanitarian law enshrined in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, a person has inherent innocence. “The task is first and foremost to recognize the humanity in each one of us, as remote and different as we may be, and most importantly to refuse to remain a spectator when this humanity is denied or violated,” writes Vincent Bernard, an ICRC editor. In politics, too, a sickened opponent must be immune from the swords of hate. 

The pandemic has upended many of the world’s conflicts. In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban have allowed the Red Cross and other aid groups into areas it controls in order to help deal with the virus. Some observers say the Taliban’s acceptance of neutral care for civilians helped soften the group’s recent stance to start negotiations with the Afghan government.

A similar response might be in store for Washington. The many consoling words for the president as he struggles with COVID-19 serve as a reminder that enmity in politics should not translate to enmity toward a person. An idea may be unworthy of respect but not its proponent. In either sickness or in health, civility – even a loving word – can move politics in new directions.

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.

Reinventing yourself? Find your true self!

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If our sense of purpose and worth seems adrift, it’s worth considering our nature and purpose as God’s children – as a mother has experienced firsthand as her children grow older.

Reinventing yourself? Find your true self!

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

With the start of a new school year, whether in person or remote, many parents and families have to find a new norm.

I’ve found it isn’t as easy as falling into what we were doing the previous year. As the children advance in school, my role as mom keeps changing as well. I might be a cheerleader one minute and a referee the next. Or maybe I switch from entertainment director to working mom; from being wanted as a classroom helper to “Please don’t let my friends see you, Mom, because you will embarrass me.”

The sense that we need to periodically reinvent ourselves, whether due to a change in employment, schooling, or other activities, can make us feel anxious and unhappy. But I’ve found that a different, spiritual perspective can make all the difference.

My youngest was about to go off to kindergarten. I was going to be by myself during the day for the first time in almost 10 years. At first, I felt sad, lonely, a bit lost, and unmotivated.

But I have always found it helpful to ask God for direction. So one morning, as my son went off to school, I did just that.

The thought immediately came, “Find your true self.”

What this meant to me was that I had been defining myself and my worth by a human title. In this case, “best stay-at-home Mom ever” (just kidding!).

But God sees us as so much more: as His loved spiritual offspring, with a God-given purpose and ability to bless others – whether or not we have children at home.

Mary Baker Eddy’s “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” captures the timelessness of our purpose. It says: “Man, governed by immortal Mind, is always beautiful and grand. Each succeeding year unfolds wisdom, beauty, and holiness” (p. 246).

Male or female, young or old, at our core we are each this grand and beautiful spiritual man – the flawless reflection of our divine Father-Mother, God, the divine Mind. A worthless, useless, or purposeless child of God is not possible! If we find we are asking ourselves, “What am I if I’m not … (a mother, or an accountant, or a teacher, or a factory worker, or so on),” we can take heart in our spiritual identity and purpose.

Whatever our career or family roles may be, we are all capable of reflecting God’s light, intelligence, and love into the world.

I continued praying with these ideas. One early morning while driving, I had the sudden urge to go to a particular store. I wasn’t planning on this, but the feeling was so strong that I turned into the parking lot. As I got out of the car, my son’s kindergarten teacher ran over to me, saying, “I am so glad to see you! My husband’s car won’t start and we need to jump our battery. Can you help us?” After I did, the teacher commented that I must have been sent by God.

Not only does our moment-by-moment God-derived purpose come with benefits and a wonderful boss, it also comes with the tools needed for us to accomplish whatever task may be at hand. The Bible tells us, “For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such things are with Him” (Job 23:14, New King James Version).

With all of these wonderful ideas to propel me forward, I realized that I didn’t need to reinvent myself, or define myself by any particular label, after all. I woke each morning determined to live up to my true, spiritual selfhood as the expression of divine Life and Love.

As I opened my thought to divine Love’s guidance and view of my true self, I found countless opportunities to glorify God through church work, involvement with the parent-teacher organization at my children’s school, theater work, helping a neighbor grocery shop, even caring for my mother.

This year, as my children left for the first day of school, I thanked God for the care, guidance, and world of opportunity all of us have to express goodness and joy.

This is our true selfhood: children of God, full of light, purpose, worth. Recognizing this empowers us to help others – wherever we find ourselves – and to be blessed as well.

Viewfinder

A border breach that led to the beach

Heidi Levine
The sun was starting to set over the Mediterranean, offering relief from August’s heat, as I walked to the shore near where I live in Jaffa, a part of Tel Aviv that is home to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It was the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Many people were strolling along the promenade or bathing in the warm sea. As I paused to talk with four women, I didn’t realize one of them was deaf until I saw another communicating my words to her. Duha Shashtri, a nursing student, explained in English that they were family members from the West Bank city of Nablus, excited because they were visiting the sea for the first time. They were among thousands of Palestinians embracing a rare opportunity. Despite pandemic restrictions, during the holiday people crossed through a hole in the electrified fence that divides Israel and the West Bank. Israeli soldiers stood there, ignoring Palestinians pushing baby carriages and carrying picnic coolers. The crossings, which ended after a few days as the barrier was sealed, offered a glimpse of what life could look like one day if Israelis and Palestinians achieve peace, and even swim side by side as they did during Eid al-Adha. – Story and photos by Heidi Levine / Correspondent
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Yvonne Zipp
Daily Editor

Thanks for joining us today. We look forward to seeing you again on Monday, when we’ll look at strains on American democracy, opening day of the Supreme Court term, and 100 years of Agatha Christie mysteries.

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