2020
November
05
Thursday

Monitor Daily Podcast

November 05, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

‘A house divided’

Upon accepting the Republican nomination for United States Senate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. ... I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”

In 1858, the division had a clear name and object: slavery. That terrible cause would drive America toward dissolution and civil war. Today, those words come back with particular power. Whoever becomes president will govern a deeply divided nation, the election has shown. But the cause has no clear name or object. Neither immigration nor racial justice nor socialism quite encapsulates the burning cause.

Indeed, the closest cause would most likely be “ourselves” – our fear and misunderstanding of one another, divided along borders of red and blue, urban and rural, Black and white, white collar and blue collar. Lincoln could point at a thing to be remedied. Americans today can point only to their own hearts. Elections and legislative bills avail little because it is truly a battle for the soul of the nation. Can America handle the mounting stresses of diversity – be they racial or ideological or any other form – with the founders’ unshakable assurance of “e pluribus unum” – “out of many, one”?

The coming months and years will be a test of Americans’ commitment to the very core of the American experiment – to one another as Americans. Only then, “it will cease to be divided.”

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As Biden lead grows, Trump campaign switches fight to courts

The course of the presidential election could soon swing from vote-counting to courts. Here, we run down how that could play out in the days ahead and why. 

Mark
Mary Altaffer/AP
Municipal workers extract Luzerne County ballots from their envelopes on Nov. 4, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

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On Tuesday Pennsylvania’s Bucks County was sued by the Trump campaign – one of multiple legal challenges filed in several states.

Larry King, county director of public information, says that before Election Day if they received a ballot and could tell from the outside that something was wrong with its preparation, they would contact the voter and ask them if they wanted to come in and correct the error. That’s what the lawsuit is about.

But what does vote-counting actually look like? Close up, ballot counting seems prosaic, even inspiring, as opposed to riddled with wrongdoing.

“After the ballots started arriving, it became like Fort Knox in there,” says Mr. King, of the room where the ballots are being counted. “They don’t let me back there, they don’t let the janitor back there at night.

Inside the room are observers – one for each party, and one for each candidate. First, ballots go through a sorting machine called “The Dragon,” a long silver thing that cost $500,000 and is so big they had to take out a wall to get it inside. Then comes the labor-intensive part: The ballots are opened, flattened, and put through one of 10 high-speed scanners.

All paper ballots are retained as backup. None of the equipment is hooked to the internet, to prevent hackers gaining access.

To claim fraud in a process the workers will have to repeat 150,000 times before they are done is “really an insult to these poll workers who have been working their butts off,” says Mr. King.

As Biden lead grows, Trump campaign switches fight to courts

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As Joe Biden continues to pick up ground in battleground states such as Nevada and Pennsylvania, President Donald Trump and his allies are moving to a new venue in an effort to hold onto the White House: the courts.

In Pennsylvania and other key states, the Trump campaign has filed lawsuits alleging a variety of ballot-related infractions. Trump officials have intervened at the Supreme Court in a case that challenges Pennsylvania’s intention to count ballots received up to three days after Election Day. The president’s team has vowed to seek a recount in Wisconsin and raised vague charges of improper voting in Nevada.

The Trump administration promised more challenges as the election is “clearly moving from the political to the legal,” says legal commentator and George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley.

Attempting to tie up electoral results in courts across the country may offer little legal respite for the president’s campaign. Courts require solid evidence of fraud and show “a great deal of deference” to state election administrators, says Mr. Turley.

Courts also look at the final vote tallies, often throwing out lawsuits where it is mathematically impossible for the challenger to prevail. On Thursday, a judge in Michigan threw out a Trump campaign lawsuit to stop the vote count there. Democrat Joe Biden is ahead by 150,000 votes – far beyond the range of any recount – and the race has been called for him.

Matt Slocum/AP
Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, speaks during a news conference on legal challenges to vote counting in Pennsylvania, Nov. 4, 2020, in Philadelphia.

In some ways the legal moves may be just bare-faced bids to raise general doubts about the integrity of the election. On its face, the Trump campaign’s legal strategy is contradictory, even confusing. It has sued to stop ballot counts in Georgia and Michigan. Yet in Arizona, where Trump has gained as mail ballots are tallied, Trump supporters chanted “Count the vote!” outside a Maricopa County ballot processing location.

Like so much else in the Trump administration, the lawsuits may be aimed at satisfying an audience of one, backing up the president’s charge of an election “rigged” by his adversaries, and allowing him to frame and explain away a defeat.

“I think the litigation serves a broader purpose,” says Franita Tolson, a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. “It might not be about winning. It might be about changing the narrative.”

In Mr. Trump’s preferred narrative, he is not an electoral loser, but a victim “who would’ve won except for fraud and the incompetence” of state election boards, says Professor Tolson.

Trump campaign legal blitz

In many ways the Trump legal blitz is a chronicle of litigation foretold. The president has long said he would use any means to fight for reelection and that he would go to the Supreme Court if necessary. As a private citizen he was highly litigious and used lawyers and lawsuits as a weapon of public relations as much as law.

Early Wednesday morning at the White House, Mr. Trump appeared before reporters, insisted he had already won the election, and that voting should stop. Though he produced no evidence he said his opponents were stealing the election.

Since then he has tweeted “STOP THE VOTE!,” “STOP THE FRAUD!,” and other inflammatory comments while continuing to insist he will win the election. He’s vowed to legally challenge every state “claimed” by Mr. Biden due to voter and state election irregularities.

Taking an election dispute to the Supreme Court, as Mr. Trump said he would do during his appearance at the White House in the early hours of Wednesday, is not as simple as the president made it sound. Challenges must first be filed in lower state, or federal court.

That’s what Republican officials and the Trump campaign have done in the past two days, filing a flurry of lawsuits in courts in tightly contested states where mail ballots are still being counted – namely Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona. In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign scored a win Thursday when a judge ordered certain mailed ballots lacking identifying voter information to be set aside and not counted until the court could consider the matter further.

The legal challenges have made various specific claims. Some concern allegations of not having sufficient access to vote-counting locations. Others have alleged that mail ballots have been improperly handled, among other things by alerting voters to errors they made filling out their ballot. In Georgia, a case was thrown out after the judge found there was no evidence to support the campaign’s claims of improper ballot counting when two witnesses admitted under oath they had no knowledge of wrongdoing.

Succeeding with these kinds of postelection lawsuits requires meeting legal thresholds that the Trump campaign, in large part, hasn’t seemed able to. There must be concrete evidence of wrongdoing, or a compelling argument that a statutory or constitutional violation has occurred. Perhaps most importantly, there needs to be the possibility that the suit would affect the outcome of the election.

“It’s entirely possible that none of the lawsuits will impact the outcome,” says Michael Morley, an assistant professor at the Florida State University College of Law.

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Voters protest outside the Bucks County Government Administration Building in Doylestown, rallying for all ballots to be counted in Pennsylvania.

Counting the vote in Bucks County

Meanwhile, close up, ballot counting seems prosaic, even inspiring, as opposed to riddled with wrongdoing.

Outside the Bucks County Courthouse and Administration Building in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 100 or so people stand together waving signs that say “COUNT EVERY VOTE.” Speakers take turns talking at a podium.

On Tuesday, Bucks County was sued by the Trump campaign. Larry King, director of public information for the county, says that before Election Day if they received a ballot and could tell from the outside that something was wrong with its preparation, they would contact the voter and ask them if they wanted to come in and correct the error. That’s what the lawsuit is about.

Inside the building giant TV screens in the hallways show what is happening just on the other side of a nearby wall: Tired workers with disheveled hair walk back and forth across a typical office space that looks like it needs a good cleaning. Crumbs, trash, and paper scraps litter the floor.

This is a room where the ballot counting happens. No one but the workers is allowed inside – not even Mr. King.

“After the ballots started arriving, it became like Fort Knox in there,” says Mr. King. “They don’t let me back there, they don’t let the janitor back there at night.”

There are roughly 30 people in the room – government employees who have to take an oath before they begin – working at any one time. The room has been operational since 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

“There are a lot of tired people in the building,” Mr. King says.

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Bucks County's mail-in ballots are sorted by polling precinct using an advance machine poll workers have nicknamed "The Dragon," and then, per Pennsylvania law, are stored in USPS bins until 7 a.m. on Election Day when they are permitted to be opened.

Inside the room are observers – one for each party, and one for each candidate on the ballot. First, ballots go through a sorting machine called “The Dragon,” a long silver thing that cost $500,000 and is so big they had to take out a wall to get it inside. Then comes the labor-intensive part: The ballots are opened, flattened, and put through one of 10 high-speed scanners.

All paper ballots are retained as backup. None of the equipment – not the Dragon, not the scanners – is hooked to the internet, to prevent hackers gaining access.

To claim fraud in a process the workers will have to repeat some 150,000 times before they are done is “really an insult to these poll workers who have been working their butts off,” says Mr. King.

Will the Supreme Court step in?

The Trump team lawsuit with the most potential credibility, experts say, is another case involving Pennsylvania. It concerns the state’s decision to allow mail ballots postmarked by Election Day but arriving up to three days later to be counted.

Republican officials in Pennsylvania challenged the so-called ballot deadline extension before the election, but the state supreme court upheld it. A preelection appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was unsuccessful, though Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch expressed an openness to the GOP argument.

“There is a strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision violates the Federal Constitution,” wrote Justice Alito. Only state legislatures, he wrote, have the power to make rules governing state elections.

The three justices asked Pennsylvania to segregate ballots received after Election Day so that if the deadline extension is overturned “a targeted remedy will be available.” The state agreed to segregate the ballots, and yesterday afternoon the Trump campaign asked the Supreme Court to revisit the case.

The justices have asked Pennsylvania to file a reply brief by the end of the day today, but has taken no other action. If the court does take the case, the new Justice Amy Coney Barrett – who joined the court a week ago – would be able to sit in judgment on the case since the preelection hearing was preliminary.

The Trump campaign “has a more than decent chance of success” if the Supreme Court takes the case, said David Strauss, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, on a Wednesday call with reporters. But the bigger question, he added, “is whether that is likely to make any difference to the outcome of the election.”

Staff writer Patrik Jonsson contributed to this report.

Why Trumpism is here to stay

The Republican Party has long been cast in the mold of Ronald Reagan. But President Donald Trump’s strong showing this election looks likely to pivot the party toward his image.

Mark
Matt York/AP
Supporters of President Donald Trump wave a flag during an election watch party, Nov. 3, 2020, in Chandler, Arizona.

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When polls suggested that President Donald Trump might lose badly on Election Day, some vulnerable Republican senators started tiptoeing away from him – particularly on his handling of the pandemic. He also faced criticism for not clearly denouncing a white supremacist group during the first presidential debate. 

Now that Mr. Trump has overperformed expectations in the election results, and still has a shot at winning, party officials are circling the wagons. His grip on the party seems as tight as ever. And even if he loses, he will remain the party’s leader, at least through the midterms – and likely until there’s a clear GOP presidential front-runner for 2024.

As a political agenda, “Trumpism” is part Reagan Republicanism – lower taxes, less government regulation, cultural conservatism – plus a pivot toward a hard line on immigration and an “America First” approach to foreign policy. It’s also infused with old-fashioned populism.

And it’s here to stay.

Says veteran political analyst Stuart Rothenberg: “The Trump wing of the Republican Party is the Republican Party, and it’s big enough now such that it would take a stunning blow to get those people to reassess.”

Why Trumpism is here to stay

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President Donald Trump may lose reelection, but if the nail-biter contest of 2020 has shown anything, it’s that “Trumpism” is here to stay. 

As a political agenda divorced from the more controversial aspects of his personality and style, Trumpism is part Reagan Republicanism – lower taxes, less government regulation, cultural conservatism – plus a pivot toward a hard line on immigration and an “America First” approach to foreign policy. It’s also infused with old-fashioned populism, in its appeal to Americans who feel forgotten by the powerful.

As long as President Trump himself remains in the public eye – which he is expected to do, win or lose – his outsize persona will ensure that his political brand dominates the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. 

But the preeminence of Trumpism within the GOP is not just about one man’s ability to garner attention and appeal to a significant portion of the electorate. It’s also about the deeper currents of thought that he has tapped into – and which long predated his fateful ride down the escalator at Trump Tower in June 2015.

“For the past 40 years, our political paradigm has shifted from ‘left versus right’ to ‘front versus back,’” says Mo Elleithee, director of the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University. 

“It’s about people who feel stuck at the back of the line versus those at the front who they feel are keeping them back,” he says. 

In Mr. Trump’s terms, it’s about fighting the “swamp” – the Washington establishment, of both parties, that he says are in it for themselves, not hardworking Americans.

The Trump party

In recent memory, a series of “outsider” presidents has come to Washington – from Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, all of whom staked claims to addressing concerns of the “little guy.”

But nobody can match the sheer disruptiveness of Mr. Trump, both in style and policy. The president’s continuing popularity within the Republican base means that he still holds the party in his thrall, regardless of how GOP leaders feel. 

“The Trump wing of the Republican Party is the Republican Party, and it’s big enough now such that it would take a stunning blow to get those people to reassess,” says veteran political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. 

When polls suggested that Mr. Trump might lose badly on Election Day, some vulnerable Republican senators started tiptoeing away from him – particularly on his handling of the pandemic. He also faced criticism for not clearly denouncing a white supremacist group during the first presidential debate. 

Now that Mr. Trump has overperformed expectations in the election results, and still has an outside shot at winning, party officials are circling the wagons. His grip on the party seems as tight as ever. And even if he loses, he will remain the party’s leader, at least through the midterms – and likely until there’s a clear GOP presidential front-runner for 2024.

It’s also possible Mr. Trump will run again for president himself. At the very least, he is expected to maintain a public presence – via Twitter, public appearances, possibly his own media venture – which would allow him to keep the embers of a potential political comeback burning bright. 

The “autopsy”

For experienced party hands, Mr. Trump is a wonder to behold. In early 2013, Henry Barbour, Republican National Committee member from Mississippi, co-wrote a report on the future of the GOP. Dubbed the “autopsy,” it aimed to reimagine a more inclusive party, following presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012. 

Most memorably, the report embraced comprehensive immigration reform, in an effort to recast the party as more welcoming to minorities. At the time, Mr. Trump lashed out against that recommendation: “Does the @RNC have a death wish?” he tweeted. 

The rest is history. He launched his 2016 campaign by railing against unauthorized Mexican immigrants. “Build the wall” has been a Trump rallying cry ever since. 

“Certainly, the president’s tone on immigration is not consistent with what we wrote in the report,” Mr. Barbour says in an interview. “It is what it is.”

But, he notes, the president did better Tuesday than he did four years ago with Latino voters as well as African Americans. And he points to a logic in Mr. Trump’s approach. 

“That’s something we missed in the report,” Mr. Barbour says. “How do we consistently win working-class voters of all backgrounds?”

The Trump coalition

At heart, the future of Trumpism is very much tied to the legions of Americans he has brought into his orbit, including first-time voters – some of whom have sat out many elections but are now invested in Mr. Trump and his goals.

Mr. Trump has won many converts, such as Steven Mosley of Alexandria, Virginia, who works in higher education. Four years ago, he didn’t vote for Mr. Trump – but on Tuesday, he did. 

“He is the only Republican in my lifetime that actually said he was going to do something and did it,” says Mr. Mosley, who points to judicial appointments, moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and defunding Planned Parenthood. 

All political parties are coalitions, as is the Trump electorate – effectively the Republican Party, minus the “Never Trumpers.” Not all Trump voters like his brash style but many do, citing his willingness to fight hard and flout norms.  

“A lot of his base, they love his behavior,” says Dick Wadhams, a veteran GOP strategist in Colorado.  

Others are willing to vote for Mr. Trump in spite of his style, citing his traditional Republican approach to taxes and regulation.

For now, GOP strategists say, Mr. Trump is the Republican Party. To some “Never Trumpers” – a slice of the Republican elite that cannot abide the president’s persona or values – a Trump loss in the presidential race would mean the end of his party control.

Trumpism is a “cult,” says Rick Tyler, a former top aide to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. And if Mr. Trump loses the election, “the cult goes away.” 

To University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket, Trumpism represents “a loyalty to him rather than to any specific ideology. It’s an alternative to conservatism.”

Departure from tradition

Indeed, perhaps Mr. Trump’s most significant departure from conservatism is his seeming lack of care about the debt and deficit, even before the pandemic. 

Other analysts see a certain logic in Trumpism.

“Trumpism itself has a much more anti-globalist ideology than traditional Republicanism,” says Brandice Canes-Wrone, a political scientist at Princeton University. “It’s more generous in terms of social insurance; he’s not trying to significantly reform Social Security or Medicare, or even indicating any interest in doing that.”

She notes that elements of Trumpism adhere to traditional Republican philosophy, including in its conservative judicial philosophy and its approach to taxes and regulation. 

“Those areas are consistent,” Professor Canes-Wrone says. “But the anti-globalism and even the kind of strong preservation of Social Security and Medicare and the willingness to spend a lot during the pandemic, you could say anyone would do that. But with Trump, you don’t sense the kind of hesitation you might find with a more traditional Republican.” 

How Mr. Trump would handle a second term – a live possibility at time of writing – could go a long way to determining the future of the GOP. One important question: How would he behave, given that he would no longer need to campaign, at least for himself? 

“He could take a look at how his own behavior clouded the success of his administration over these past four years, and make the decision to be different,” says Mr. Wadhams. “Or he could double down and be even more confrontational than he was the first term.”

Staff writer Noah Robertson contributed to this report.

As coronavirus surges anew, Vermont may show US a path forward

With the United States battling a spike in coronavirus cases, Vermont offers a different picture. A sense of civic responsibility has helped the state distinguish itself.

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Early in the coronavirus pandemic, rural America stood out as relatively unaffected. Now, a resurgence in cases nationwide is prompting new lockdowns – and sparsely populated states in the Great Plains have become an epicenter. Yet Vermont, one of the nation’s most rural states, has continued to have among the nation’s lowest infection rates.

Some of it may be serendipity. One example: Vermont doesn’t have the large meatpacking plants that are common on the Plains – and where COVID-19 has sometimes spread. 

But some experts see lessons to be learned. Vermont’s response has included both a mask mandate and a spirit of collective responsibility. In Carnegie Mellon University’s surveys on Facebook, Vermont consistently ranks among the top 10 states with more than 90% of surveyed residents saying they wear masks, while North Dakota ranks in the bottom 10, with roughly 80% saying they wear masks. Residents here have also shown a higher propensity to curtail mobile lifestyles when asked.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert on infections, has taken notice. “This should be the model for the country – how you’ve done it,” he said of Vermont in September.

As coronavirus surges anew, Vermont may show US a path forward

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Charles Krupa/AP
Pedestrians walk down Church Street in Burlington, Vermont, March 11, 2020. The state has the lowest infection rate in the nation and is earning kudos for its policies, such as a cautious reopening and a program to trace contacts in superspreader events.

As he speaks, City Manager William Fraser gazes out on the heart of downtown Montpelier, Vermont. 

“Just as we’ve been talking – and I have a window facing Main Street – every single person that’s gone by has had a mask on,” he says. “And that’s on the sidewalks.”

It’s his way of pointing out that many Vermonters are doing their all to contain the pandemic. The state has called on people to wear masks in public, and many here in Vermont’s capital are following through, outdoors as well as indoors. They may be playing a crucial role in this state’s battle against the most serious viral outbreak in a century.

Nationwide, a surge in cases notched an unwelcome milestone Wednesday, with the United States becoming the first nation to see more than 100,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day. The spike has forced some states to pause their reopening plans and put new restrictions on activities. 

On Monday, Massachusetts issued a new stay-at-home advisory and ordered in-restaurant dining stopped after 9:30 p.m. As of this week, Michigan restaurants have to track customer names and phone numbers. Maine has postponed bar reopenings and returned to stricter limits on indoor gatherings.

Until recently, rural America had largely avoided the brunt of the pandemic. But the most recent surge has put rural regions on two distinct tracks. Four of the five states with the highest rate of infections per capita are among the most rural states in the Great Plains. Here in New England, Vermont and Maine, the nation’s most rural states, have the lowest infection rates per capita, along with New Hampshire. Researchers are beginning to piece together why that is.

“Part of that is policy,” says Jacob Conway, a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Stanford University and co-author of a new study on the spread of the pandemic. That means things like the mask mandate and social distancing along with a spirit of public compliance.

In the early stages of the pandemic, he says, the key drivers were population size and density. While the virus this past spring was tearing through dense urban centers like New York, with thousands of new cases per day, Vermont’s new daily cases peaked at 72, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. With its biggest city, Burlington, less than one-sixth the density of New York City, and fewer than 4 in 10 Vermonters living in urban areas, Vermont was well situated to avoid major outbreaks.

So were less populous places like North Dakota, the eighth most rural state, which reached a daily high of COVID-19 cases similar to Vermont’s in late April. But in July, the two states’ trajectories began to diverge. By the end of October, the surge was so bad that North Dakota skyrocketed to the top of the charts, with the worst infection rate among the states and the highest seven-day averages of new cases and fatalities per capita.

Vermont, by contrast, has the lowest infection rate in the nation, at less than a tenth of North Dakota’s. And it’s earning kudos for its policies, such as a cautious reopening and a program to trace contacts in superspreader events.

“This should be the model for the country – how you’ve done it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert on infections, said of Vermont’s response in a September media briefing.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
The downtown stands empty amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Brattleboro, Vermont, April 19, 2020. A recent study found that Vermont residents reduced their trips by at least 63% between February and mid-April.

Ordinary Vermonters are on the front lines of compliance with state rules. Chris Cassidy in Woodstock, who was masked up while walking his dog through downtown Woodstock on Thursday, says people in his town and throughout the state are looking out for their neighbors by following state guidance. That includes mask-wearing, social distancing, and avoiding crowded areas.

“I know in my sphere; we’re doing as much as we possibly can,” he said. “And we have an older population, so it behooves us to do everything we can.”   

Unlike Vermont, North Dakota never issued a mask mandate. Instead, Gov. Doug Burgum has encouraged mask-wearing and social distancing as a voluntary action. And voluntary actions have only gone so far. 

When the pandemic hit, Vermont virtually shut down. Using cellphone data, which can determine when people carrying cellphones have moved, Mr. Conway and his colleagues found that Vermont residents reduced their trips by at least 63% between February and mid-April. North Dakota was more varied, with some counties shutting down as much as Vermont while nearly as many cut their mobility by no more than 51%. 

As states have opened up, mobility has crept upward in both states, according to Google, which tracks callers who have their cellphone location history turned on. Also, officials worry about mask and social distancing fatigue.

“I think we’ve got some fatigue going on,” says Tracy Dolan, Vermont’s deputy commissioner of health. “During our contact tracing, more and more people are letting us know that some of the things they should’ve been doing, they weren’t doing.”

Since mid-October, the state has been tracking multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 cases linked to an arena in Montpelier that hosts youth and adult hockey leagues and broomball teams. The Montpelier arena outbreak led to Vermont’s first confirmed case of in-school transmission of COVID-19. As a result, the Union Elementary School here switched to remote learning on Oct. 23. The school returned to in-person instruction on Monday, with approval from state health officials.

Much remains unknown about the virus, so researchers hesitate to pinpoint the combination of factors that have made Vermont relatively successful in fighting the pandemic. Does it come down to personal choices or geography? One intriguing fact is that the states with the lowest infection rates per capita – Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine – are all located next to each other in a corner of the country.

“This could be coincidence, but it could also suggest that position may be a factor,” Iván Franch Pardo, a geographer at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Morelia, writes in an email. He and colleagues recently reviewed 63 scientific articles dealing with the geography of the pandemic. For example, it may be that fewer people and goods flow through them than the centrally located Plains states. The three states may be buffered by neighboring states, especially Massachusetts and New York, which have taken more active measures to contain the virus than North Dakota’s neighbors generally have.

Then there’s the industrial mix, Mr. Pardo says. Meatpacking plants have been a source of many COVID-19 cases, and they are more prevalent and larger in the Plains than in New England.

Still, there’s also evidence Vermonters are complying with their mandates more than North Dakotans are with their guidelines. In Carnegie Mellon University’s surveys on Facebook, Vermont consistently ranks among the top 10 states with more than 90% of surveyed residents saying they wear masks, while North Dakota ranks in the bottom 10, with roughly 80% saying they wear masks. 

With the holidays approaching, one of the keys to containing the virus will be keeping gathering sizes down, says Ms. Dolan, the deputy health commissioner of Vermont. Even small holiday gatherings with 20 people may be risky, she warns. “It’s not that you shouldn’t get together with anyone, but it’s really about keeping that circle very small.”

The winter months will likely see some days with higher cases, but Vermont is building up its contact-tracing capacity so it’s prepared, she adds. “We’re asking people to hold on a little bit longer, stay vigilant, and hopefully we’ve got a very different year next year.”

Laurent Belsie reported from Waltham, Massachusetts, and Gareth Henderson reported from Montpelier, Vermont.

Editor’s note: As a public service, we have removed our paywall for all pandemic-related stories.

Patterns

Tracing global connections

Pro-Trump vote has world wondering: Do we still know America?

Europe hoped the U.S. election would reaffirm its place in the “democratic family of nations.” Instead, it is forcing leaders to wrestle with the dramatic changes afoot – no matter who wins.      

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When President Donald Trump prematurely claimed victory in the early hours of Wednesday morning, alleging that “major fraud” was underway and calling for a halt to vote counting, he shocked more than his fellow citizens.

His words, unsubstantiated by evidence, echoed around the world’s capitals. There, they elicited reactions usually reserved for authoritarian leaders in the wake of unfairly conducted elections. And they cast another shadow among Washington’s allies over America’s reputation as the democratic world’s leader and exemplar.

Behind the concerns for the integrity of America’s election, though, lay general shock and dismay at the unexpected strength of the pro-Trump vote. The president’s solid support indicated that his election in 2016 was not the aberration most European leaders had thought it was. It laid bare the possibility that they had fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the United States.

Whoever wins the presidential election, those doubts will continue to dog the rest of the world’s relations with America. An editorial comment in Stuff, the largest online news site in New Zealand, captured the mood in many foreign capitals.

“That so many voters in the U.S. were willing to have another four years of Trump,” it read, “should cause all of us to rethink our assumptions.”

Pro-Trump vote has world wondering: Do we still know America?

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Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump alleged electoral fraud and called for a halt to the vote count early on Wednesday morning. His words spread alarm among international allies concerned for U.S. democracy.

It was an extraordinary moment, and because it came just after the polls in America had closed, one that risks being lost in the continuing drama over who will emerge as the next president of the United States.

But it encapsulated the reasons why Washington’s long-standing allies overseas are concerned that President Donald Trump may have permanently eroded America’s decades-old position as the democratic world’s leader and exemplar.

The moment came in the early hours of Wednesday, in the East Room of the White House, when Mr. Trump made a preemptive declaration of victory in the presidential election and claimed that “a major fraud on the nation” was underway to steal that victory. He suggested that election officials across the country stop counting the many millions of votes yet to be processed.

Ordinarily, in what came to be known as the “democratic family of nations” in the post-World War II order moulded under U.S. leadership, a respectful diplomatic silence would have followed a presidential election. The accepted rule of thumb: Wait for the result, then congratulate and reach out to whoever has been elected to lead America for the next four years.

Not this time. Instead, European leaders and international poll watchers came out with comments that recalled the sort of remarks that they, and Washington, have often delivered in the wake of unfairly conducted votes in authoritarian states.

The head of an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors polls internationally, said bluntly that “baseless allegations of systematic deficiencies, notably by the incumbent president ... harm public trust in democratic institutions.” 

“What is important for us,” said German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, “is that everything is counted out and that we have a clear result in the end that comes out of democratic elections, in democratic procedures.”

In Finland, a former prime minister, Alexander Stubb, tweeted that this was a “stress test for American democracy.” He said he still wanted “to believe in the resilience of its democratic institutions, but [I] am worried about the speech we just heard.”

Officials at the 27-nation European Union in Brussels also signaled concern. “We are awaiting that the authorities in charge of the vote-count announce the results,” a spokesperson for the European Commission said the morning after Mr. Trump’s remarks. “We will abide by whatever announcement is forthcoming officially by the relevant U.S. authorities, and we think that everybody should do likewise.”

Behind the response lay a mix of shock and dismay in Europe at the strength of the pro-Trump vote. The president’s solid support indicated that his election in 2016 was not the aberration most European leaders had thought it was, and laid bare the possibility that they had fundamentally misunderstood the current political and social nature of the United States.

A Trump victory “would challenge us fundamentally, in a way for which we are not yet prepared,” tweeted Norbert Röttgen, chair of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament.

While a small number of right-wing populist European leaders do back Mr. Trump – Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa, for instance, and Viktor Orbán, head of Hungary’s self-proclaimed “illiberal democracy” – most have been holding their collective breath in the hope of a Biden victory.

But they are skeptical about how far even a Democratic administration under Joe Biden would go toward reestablishing the old transatlantic alliance. Washington’s foreign-policy focus has been shifting eastward, toward its growing economic and geopolitical rivalry with China, since former President Barack Obama’s term of office.

Mr. Biden’s Democratic Party also includes a strong current of opposition to free-trade agreements; the expectation is that a Biden administration would focus inward, to deal with the many domestic challenges it would clearly face.

Still, the hope of most European leaders in the run-up to Election Day was that at least some key elements of their alliance with the U.S. would be repaired under a Biden presidency: stability, predictability, communication, consultation, and mutual respect.

And on one specific policy front, they do expect an early change if Mr. Biden wins.  

The day after the election, Mr. Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the international Paris Agreement on climate change took formal effect. Mr. Biden has pledged to reverse that, and to reengage in efforts to combat global warming.

But beyond that? Many of the political calculations in Europe, and among other U.S. allies in the world, have been newly unsettled in recent days, because of the twin impact of Mr. Trump’s postelection remarks and the size of Mr. Trump’s continuing electoral support.

An editorial comment in Stuff, the largest online news site in New Zealand, captured the mood in many capitals. “That so many voters in the U.S. were willing to have another four years of Trump,” it read, “should cause all of us to rethink our assumptions.”

One upside of a hard-fought election: Bumper crop of new voters

First-time voters on both political sides drove historic participation in this election. So we set out to find them and offer this postcard from the ballot box.   

Mark
Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Arlette Morales (left) and Tzipporah Goins can't vote in this election: Ms. Morales isn't a citizen, and Ms. Goins turns 18 next week. Still, the best friends wanted to be engaged in the 2020 election, so they volunteered to work as poll watchers at a local precinct in downtown York, Pennsylvania.

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When people picture a first-time voter, it likely isn’t Shona Dausinger. The middle-aged woman with a Paula Deen-style gray blowout walks toward her car from her polling location in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Jeff, after casting her first-ever ballot for President Donald Trump. 

“I just never really thought voting was a big deal before,” says Ms. Dausinger, with a shrug of her shoulders. 

One state away in Ohio, Delaney Murphy and Allie Bingham, University of Cincinnati students and first-time voters, brim with enthusiasm after casting their first-ever ballots for former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Despite a chaotic election week fraught with partisan tension, the voting on Tuesday had a major bright side: a rush of voters exercising their constitutional right for the first time. It was fueled by Republicans and Democrats alike. 

“People are like, ‘Why was there no blue wave?’” says Michael McDonald, who runs the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida. “Well, there was one; there was a red wave going at the same time.”

One upside of a hard-fought election: Bumper crop of new voters

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When people picture a first-time voter, it likely isn’t Shona Dausinger. The middle-aged woman with a Paula Deen-style gray blowout walks toward her car from her polling location in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Jeff, after casting her first-ever ballot – for President Donald Trump. 

“I just never really thought voting was a big deal before,” says Ms. Dausinger, with a shrug of her shoulders. 

One state away in Ohio, Delaney Murphy and Allie Bingham, University of Cincinnati students and first-time voters, brim with enthusiasm after casting their first-ever ballots for former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Despite a chaotic election week fraught with partisan tension, the voting on Tuesday had a major bright side: a rush of voters exercising their constitutional right for the first time.

Some estimates project that the final turnout will be more than 66% of eligible voters, the highest rate in 120 years, with the 2020 turnout already exceeding 2016’s turnout in 42 states – a sign of engagement by Republicans and Democrats alike. 

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
Zack Ness, a field technician for an engineering company, voted for the first time on Tuesday in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania. "I wasn't really into politics very much until 2016," says Mr. Ness. “I'm 34 and I've never voted in any election, but this feels important to me."

After driving by his Shrewsbury polling place several times on Tuesday to assess the line, Zack Ness, a field technician for an engineering company, pulled into the parking lot in his work truck. “I'm 34 and I've never voted in any election, but this feels important to me,” said Mr. Ness, adding that he also helped his father register so he could cast his first-ever ballot for President Trump. 

Turning out young – frequently first-time – voters like Ms. Bingham and Ms. Murphy has long been a play of the Democratic Party, and this year was no different. Thus far, more than 60% of voters under the age of 30 went for Mr. Biden, and of this year’s more than 10 million first-time voters, more than 60% were either Democrat or unaffiliated.

But the Trump campaign has always recognized the possibility of expanding its base with first-time voters such as Ms. Dausinger and Mr. Ness. As the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman found within 14 battleground states – including Pennsylvania and Ohio – almost 50% of nonvoting citizens in 2016 were white, non-college-educated adults, a slice of the electorate that Mr. Trump has won handily

The 2020 race has often been framed as Democrats attempting to expand their base while Republicans focus more on restrictions they argue are needed to protect the voting process from fraud. But this year’s historic turnout is likely due to enthusiasm on both sides. 

“People are like, ‘Why was there no blue wave?’ Well, there was one. There was a red wave going at the same time,” says Michael McDonald, who runs the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida and is an expert on voter turnout. “And that’s how you get a historic turnout. You can’t get it from just one-half of the country voting.”

And outside a polling precinct in downtown York, Pennsylvania, the enthusiasm extended to those who aren’t even eligible. Best friends Tzipporah Goins and Arlette Morales can’t vote this year: Ms. Goins turns 18 the week following the election, and the Mexican-born Ms. Morales is not a citizen. Still, they volunteered to be poll watchers, sitting in foldout chairs outside on the sidewalk, greeting voters as they left the Cornerstone Baptist Church and asking if they were able to vote without any problems. 

“I still want to participate in a system that doesn’t include me, because I still want to be included,” says Ms. Morales. “It’s hard. I try to push people to register to vote because if I can’t vote, then I have to at least get other people to vote for me and my family. I still want to put my own grain of salt into this election.”

A deeper look

Women created the blues. Now they are taking it back.

Many blues pioneers were Black women, but the rise of the electric guitar pushed men to the fore. Now young female artists are joining in and reinvigorating the art form. 

Mark
8 Backstage Flash
Blues phenom Samantha Fish, whose most recent album has been hailed by music critics, poses with her electric guitar on a street in Beverly Hills, California.

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Jackie Venson has never forgotten her first big breakup. In 2011, during her senior year at Berklee College of Music in Boston, she fell out of love with music. A classically trained pianist since childhood, she found herself uninspired and barely playing at all.

But while watching a fellow student play guitar, she was struck by how much fun he was having. Ms. Venson got a guitar and started teaching herself the blues. In the instrument, she found her voice.

When the first gramophone recordings of the blues emerged a century ago, its primary recording artists were Black female singers. But once the genre started to center around the electric guitar, it became largely dominated by men. That’s now changing.

Young female artists like Ms. Venson are emerging as the genre’s new leading lights, and they are changing the genre.

“There is such a refreshing breath of feminine energy intertwining with the blues yet again ... bringing it back to the masses,” says Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe.

“Blues music is born from some pain and suffering and really deeply human experiences of oppression,” she notes. “And yet it’s been transfigured into this expression of joy.”

Women created the blues. Now they are taking it back.

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When blues legend Buddy Guy headlined one of Asia’s signature musical events of 2020, he invited several other artists on the bill to jam with him onstage for an encore – including two women from Nashville, Tennessee.  

For Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who record under the moniker Larkin Poe, appearing at the Mahindra Blues Festival in India was a highlight of a year that also included earning a Grammy nomination for best contemporary blues album. 

The millennial guitarists have been building their reputations since they were teenagers. (Fun fact: They named their group Larkin Poe after their great-great-great-grandfather, a cousin of Edgar Allan Poe.) They’ve appeared on a solo album by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. They opened for Keith Urban’s tour in 2019. And the sisters blew back Conan O’Brien’s pompadour when they performed on his talk show.

At the Indian blues festival in February, Larkin Poe was hailed as the breakout act as the sisters played tectonic riffs that probably registered on the Richter scale. 

“While Megan raised eyebrows with her ability to shred as skilfully as the more famous axe wielders on the bill, Rebecca showcased a powerful voice,” wrote a reviewer at Indian news site Firstpost. 

Their appearance offered a snapshot of how the blues is evolving. The music that originated in the late 1800s from Black workers in the American South is becoming increasingly international, multigenerational, and – most strikingly – female. 

EMILY BUTLER
Sisters Rebecca Lovell (left) and Megan Lovell of Larkin Poe, a fast-rising blues group, play at a venue in Atlanta in 2017. The women named the group after their great-great-great-grandfather.

When the first gramophone recordings of the blues emerged a century ago, its primary recording artists were Black female singers. But once the genre started to center around the electric guitar, it became largely dominated by men. That’s now changing. Young female artists such as Samantha Fish, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Jackie Venson, and the sister-led Larkin Poe are emerging as the genre’s new leading lights. To stake out their place, these Generation Z and millennial women have had to uproot a deeply embedded cultural notion: Girls can’t play the electric guitar as well as boys. 

These contemporary female artists are helping to strip the blues of its “OK, boomer” tag by offering fresh musical perspectives. They are bringing new songs, new lyrics, and greater diversity to a genre that is one of America’s original art forms – and a source of cultural expression around the world. Perhaps most important, by gaining admission to one of the oldest boys clubs in music, they’re empowering a new generation of young women to start playing music.

“What’s happening is this resurgence of the females of the blues,” says Sarah Rogo, an up-and-coming, 20-something blues guitarist in Los Angeles whose fans include ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. “A lot of it has to do with the guitar and the resurgence of females in the guitar. It’s like a chain effect.”

“Blue” notes

A century ago, things looked markedly different for women in the blues. The nascent music came out of juke joints in the South frequented by cotton-field workers. It was confined to African American venues on what was known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. 

The most popular blues performers in places like Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, and Tuxedo Junction in Birmingham, Alabama, were Black women. Notably, these singers bent their voices to sing something unheard-of in staid European music capitals: minor “blue” notes in between major notes over 12-bar shuffles. The blues drew on the call-and-response of spirituals. It was a sorrowful sound.

Yet the women who helped pioneer the genre were shut out from the recording industry. Then, in 1920, vaudeville singer Mamie Smith convinced the Okeh label there would be a huge Black audience for her recordings. Her second release, which included the song “Crazy Blues,” made her the Adele of her era. 

“It’s the first song to bring in a million dollars, and it really set a precedent for women taking the stage and starting to become recording artists,” says Lynn Orman Weiss, head of the Women of the Blues Foundation. “Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, and Mamie Smith were huge stars.” 

DONALDSON COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES
Memphis Minnie, shown here in 1928, was known as “Queen of the Country Blues.” She recorded some 200 songs in the early- to mid-1900s.

In the 1930s, the blues quickly evolved. The jazzy ragtime style was overtaken by folkier, acoustic guitar variants such as country blues and Delta blues, ushering in the likes of Robert Johnson. When the big migration of Southern workers to the urban Midwest coincided with the arrival of the electric guitar, it gave birth to the Chicago blues style that predominates to this day. 

Ironically, many white Americans and Europeans – the largest audiences for modern blues – were introduced to some of the Black legends of the genre only through British blues guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards. 

Since then, the blues has been dominated by lead guitar players – and men. Relatively few women have been prominent stars since the 1950s.

Until now.

Last year, for instance, guitar slinger Samantha Fish of Kansas City, Missouri, achieved something that the current biggest artist in blues – Generation X virtuoso Joe Bonamassa – has never been able to. She was reviewed in The New York Times. And the guitarist and singer’s sixth solo album, “Kill or Be Kind,” wasn’t just lauded by the Times. Variety hailed its single “Bulletproof” as “probably the best new rock song we’ve heard all year, and maybe for a few years.” 

She and other millennials – including Danielle Nicole and Chantel McGregor – are following a path blazed by several Gen Xers. Chief among them is Susan Tedeschi, who shares guitar duties with husband Derek Trucks in the immensely popular, Grammy-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band. Ana Popović, originally from Serbia, is a regular fixture of the Billboard blues charts and has been praised by USA Today and NPR. And Carolyn Wonderland (not her birth certificate name, in case you’re wondering) is now the lead guitarist for John Mayall, the legendary British blues artist. 

“There is such a refreshing breath of feminine energy intertwining with the blues yet again ... bringing it back to the masses,” says Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe. 

“Blues music is born from some pain and suffering and really deeply human experiences of oppression,” she notes. “And yet it’s been transfigured into this expression of joy.” 

MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES
R&B singer Big Mama Thornton, whose biggest single, “Hound Dog,” sold more than 2 million copies, performs in 1970.

You won’t get an argument about joy from Ms. Taylor, the millennial blues star. In 2012, when Annie Lennox performed at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert on a stage outside Buckingham Palace, 17 million television viewers were treated to an uncommon sight.

It wasn’t the angel wings that she and her band donned for a bluesy rendition of the Eurythmics hit “There Must Be an Angel.” Nor was it Ms. Lennox’s rock ’n’ roll move of repeatedly twirling her microphone cord over her head as if it were a helicopter rotor. It was the sight of Ms. Taylor stepping forward to play a wailing guitar solo. 

“It was shortly before my mom passed away,” says Ms. Taylor, who is from the West Midlands region of England and cracked the top 20 album chart in the United Kingdom with her 2019 album, “Reckless Blues.” “I’m very thankful that she got to see something big that she talked about forever.”

Ever since the invention of the electric guitar, there have been women such as Ms. Taylor who have excelled at playing the instrument. Yet in popular culture, they have largely been an invisible minority. During the height of the guitar hero era between the 1970s and 1990s, even the most gifted female players were seldom featured on MTV or radio. Other highly accomplished guitarists such as Joni Mitchell were frequently underrated because they weren’t as flashy or mostly played acoustic guitar. 

As a result, the guitar came to be widely viewed as a masculine instrument. Hence the use of terms such as “ax man.” 

“As a young teenager, I felt kind of out of place when I even contemplated learning how to play lead guitar,” says Ms. Fish, whose snarling slide solo on “Bulletproof” could blow the cobwebs off a pair of stereo speakers. “I felt there was a little bit of even just a psychological thing with me where I wasn’t sure if that was something that women do.” 

Novices on the instrument may have been intimidated by the idea of entering guitar stores that were heavily staffed by men. Indeed, until recently, the industry hasn’t been welcoming to women. For decades, bikini-clad models posing with fretboards were a regular sight in guitar magazines and trade-show booths. The sexist message to men: Want to attract women? Play guitar.

Yet artists like Ms. Fish and Ms. Taylor weren’t deterred from plugging in amplifiers. They’re of a generation whose mothers had careers. Younger women have also been taught to smash glass ceilings, as well as perhaps the occasional guitar. 

CHASELIFE PHOTOGRAPHY
Musician Sarah Rogo, an up-and-coming blues guitarist, opens for Jimmie Vaughan at a concert in San Diego in April 2019.

“It’s not just the mom saying it; it’s the dads saying it as well,” says Christine Hassler, author of the “20 Something Manifesto” and an expert on millennials. “And so they don’t really see the gender barrier as much.”

Years before she became a British blues star, Ms. Taylor recalls that she and her father would watch VHS tapes of guitar greats. Other than Bonnie Raitt, there weren’t many female role models for her to look up to. Instead, the self-taught guitarist worked hard to emulate the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan. 

“We see ourselves reflected in the artists we look up to, don’t we? I apparently saw myself reflected in a cowboy from Austin, Texas, for some reason,” she laughs. 

The increasing prominence of female artists in the blues mirrors what’s happening elsewhere in the music industry. In 2020, many of the biggest artists in popular music are millennial and Gen Z women. One has to take a very deep breath before listing just some of the household names who are topping the charts, winning Grammys, and garnering critical acclaim: Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Kacey Musgraves, Lana Del Rey, Ariana Grande, and the Korean group Blackpink. 

For all the high-profile success of many of these artists in dominating popular culture, the totality of the music industry is still dominated by men. Heavily so. A 2020 study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California examined 800 popular songs and found that just 21% of them were by female artists. Just 12.5% of those songs were written by women. Very few producers are women. Many female artists aren’t taken as seriously as men.

But displays of virtuosity on guitar are helping to change perceptions. Just look at what happened when Shakira picked up her Gibson Firebird and scorched the Super Bowl halftime show. 

“As far as women in pop music, they were more traditionally featured without instruments and they were more thought of as pure vocalists. But the barriers have broken down quite a bit in recent years,” says Alexx Calise, a journalist for Guitar Girl Magazine and a successful modern-rock artist. “There are a lot more female guitarists to look to now.”

In mainstream music, however, the guitar is often not so much a lead instrument as a textural one. Last year, Rolling Stone magazine even posed the question, “Is the guitar solo finished?”

For young women who wish to stretch out on the fretboard, the blues still represents a haven. It’s a genre of music in which young women can fully explore the instrument’s expressive qualities by letting it rip. 

Rebirth

Jackie Venson has never forgotten her first big breakup. In 2011, during her senior year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, she fell out of love with music. A classically trained pianist since childhood, she found herself uninspired and barely playing at all.

But while hanging out with some college friends, the young Texan discovered her passion again. Watching a fellow student play guitar, she was struck by how much fun he was having. Ms. Venson got a guitar and started teaching herself the blues. In the instrument, she found her voice.

“I wish I was a better singer,” she says. “It’s not something I’ve ever really been able to achieve with the tools I’ve been given. But I can achieve it on the guitar ... in the tone and in the speed and the bending. I can achieve the same excitement that gospel singers achieve when they sing.” 

MITCH CONRAD FOR GIBSON
Jackie Venson, a classically trained pianist who later took up the guitar and is now an ascending blues star, holds her Gibson Les Paul Studio guitar.

Ms. Venson is now an ascending star of the blues. In early October, she taped an episode of “Austin City Limits” for PBS. 

This year, almost a decade after Ms. Venson graduated from Berklee, the college’s guitar department registered its highest number of women in the incoming class. “They’re very high-level players,” says Sheryl Bailey, assistant chair of the department, whose female students number between 10% and 15%. By contrast, when Ms. Bailey attended Berklee as a student in the mid-1980s, she was one of just two women in the program of about 1,000 students.

The trend goes beyond music schools. Two years ago, the Fender guitar company released a study showing that 50% of new guitar players are female.

“Do we see the trend that there are more females playing or within the music industry at large than ever? Yes, absolutely,” says Elizabeth Heidt, global head of entertainment relations at Gibson Brands, the manufacturer most famous for making guitars such as Les Pauls. But she adds that the trend has been building for quite a while, abetted by technology. Social media has helped encourage more diversity in the industry. “We’re out there playing and we can find someone else that looks and sounds like us,” says Ms. Heidt. “So we can feel comfortable and connect.” 

Many budding guitarists are learning how to play by tapping into the thousands of instructional videos on YouTube. Typical of their generation, Gen Zers also post videos of how they’ve mastered tricky hopscotches on the fretboard. 

“I always joked that, you know, the next generation better be far better guitar players than me because I literally had to cycle into my local town and ask for a B.B. King CD that would be delivered to me in six weeks at my local record shop,” says Ms. Taylor. “And now, you know, they’ve got every tutorial available to them on YouTube. So they’d better be better and up the game!”

“She’s a Self Made Man”

The new generation of blues artists is certainly changing the genre. They’re bringing a broader range of subject matter to an ancient form of music, making it more relevant to the 21st century. 

When it comes to lyrics, for instance, they’re avoiding lazily regurgitated clichés. 

That means no songs about how my baby just left me on a southbound train, leaving me here at the crossroads because someone stole my truck. And my dog just died. Instead, younger artists are penning songs that deal with topics such as social justice, domestic issues, equality, and, of course, love, observes Ms. Orman from the Women of the Blues Foundation. 

Larkin Poe likes to get playful with words. The lead single from its most recent album is titled “She’s a Self Made Man.”

“My sister and I, we have said the phrase ‘self-made man’ time and time again our entire lives and used it as an expression of respect without ever having really cottoned on to the fact that you are qualifying success by gender,” explains lap-steel guitarist Megan Lovell. 

The duo isn’t averse to changing up the blues in other ways. Like many young artists, they draw from a wide range of musical genres. Their upcoming covers album, “Kindred Spirits,” includes rootsy renditions of songs ranging from those by The Moody Blues to Phil Collins to hip-hop star Post Malone. 

Similarly, Ms. Fish isn’t afraid to upset some purists by moving from acoustic country blues to synthesizer textures. 

“Blues fans are definitely a specific demographic,” says Ms. Fish. “All you have to do is look around at a festival and you’re going to see a lot of the 40- to 60-year-old men in the crowd. I don’t think my gender is really so much going to change that. But ... I’m constantly reaching and trying new things with my music.” 

Ms. Venson has cultivated a multigenerational audience by using platforms such as TikTok and Twitter to get her hip-hop-influenced blues music heard. (Who needs radio anymore?) During one three-month period of the pandemic lockdown, her nearly daily live performances on Facebook drew a cumulative audience of 1.5 million, according to the concert industry publication Pollstar. Despite being a relative latecomer to the guitar, she’s put in the requisite practice to overcome sexist skepticism that she wouldn’t be able to cut it.

“I knew I was going to come up against that,” she says. “If I am just genuinely really good, then it doesn’t matter that it’s there because it doesn’t apply to me.” 

A common refrain among these artists is their hope that the qualifier “female” guitar player will someday vanish from the popular lexicon.

“If someone just played some music, does that matter to you, the gender?” asks Ms. Bailey, the jazz guitar maestro who co-chairs Berklee’s guitar department. “Do they have to set it up? ‘Listen to this male guitarist or white guitarist or Asian guitarist.’ No, just, ‘Listen to this guitarist.’”

At the Indian blues festival earlier this year, the final gathering of performers represented a genre of music that is less and less defined by labels. The players were male, female, young, old, American, and Indian. For Larkin Poe, it was a moment of just being present in the music.

“We definitely feel that it is an underrated genre. It is not prized in the way that it should be,” says Rebecca Lovell. “Just to be a part of the fresh blood who are coming in and attempting to shine light upon these legends of music that certainly don’t get the attention and respect that they deserve ... that is gratifying.”

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How to glue together a cracked nation

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It is customary to the point of cliché for U.S. politicians to follow rough-and-tumble campaigns with calls for unity and consensus. Such calls aside, an already divided country appears to be even more so. A Pew Research Center poll just prior to the election found that nearly 80% of voters would vote for candidates from the same party all the way down the ballot.

Yet does parity mean paralysis? America’s founders did not think so. “Can they not harmonize in society unless they have everything in their own hands?” asked Thomas Jefferson, speaking of political blocs. The answer, as is often the case in American politics, becomes more apparent beyond Washington, where government gets closer to the people.

As America emerges from a taut election in a year shaped by a pandemic and unrest over racial injustice, division is not its only choice. Embracing the different perspectives they have to offer each other, Americans can restore a founding ideal of their democracy: out of many, one.

How to glue together a cracked nation

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A person carries an upside down flag as people in Seattle march on the night of the Nov. 3 election.

It is customary to the point of cliché for U.S. politicians to follow rough-and-tumble campaigns with calls for unity and consensus. The alchemy of the ballot box is supposed to turn Republicans and Democrats back into Americans. Magnanimous in victory. Decorous in defeat.

That norm felt a little frayed this week. Yes, victory speeches had the usual grace notes. “Clearly, people are saying it’s time to turn the page,” said Democrat John Hickenlooper, a former governor of Colorado, after winning a seat in the Senate. “It’s time to start solving problems and helping people.”

Such calls aside, an already divided country appears to be even more so. A Pew Research Center poll just prior to the election found that only 4% of registered voters in states with a Senate contest said they would be open to voting for a presidential candidate from one party and a Senate candidate from another. Almost 80% said they would vote for candidates from the same party all the way down the ballot.

Those findings held. The “blue wave” – an overwhelming gain for Democrats – did not come. Nor did President Donald Trump’s base crack. Neither side emerged with a clear mandate or grew its majority.

Does parity mean paralysis? America’s founders did not think so. “Can they not harmonize in society unless they have everything in their own hands?” asked Thomas Jefferson, speaking of political blocs. The answer, as is often the case in American politics, becomes more apparent beyond Washington, where government gets closer to the people.

In Utah, Republican Gov.-elect Spencer Cox and his opponent, Democratic House Minority Leader Brian King, emerged from the election voicing hope for cooperation. “I feel strong about including, you know, Democrats and Libertarians and others so we can have those robust discussions and policy inputs,” Mr. Cox told The Salt Lake Tribune.

In a response, Mr. King said, “I’d love to see us lead out in Utah in a way that really crosses the ideological and the policy spectrum and really incorporates the best ideas regardless of where they come from.”

The unusual political career of Jerry Brown in California underscored the value of finding a broader governing perspective. During his first two-term stint as governor starting in 1975, Mr. Brown pursued a progressive agenda that was ahead of its time even for California. He left office eight years later highly unpopular. In 2011 he returned to Sacramento. By the time he finished another two terms, he had become perhaps the most successful governor of a state notoriously difficult to govern.

Most political careers follow a linear upward path from local to higher state and national offices. Between his governorships, Mr. Brown went to Oakland as mayor. “He himself said at one point when he was mayor of Oakland that he was finally understanding that the regulations that he had implemented as governor were hamstringing localities,” Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a longtime California political analyst, told The Atlantic. “He finally was far [enough] outside the bubble of state politics and the governorship to look at what he was doing.”

That lesson applies now. “If we’ve divided ourselves in half, which statistically we sort of have, and tomorrow we stay in these camps, as a country, we’re only half of ourselves and we are missing the richness of each other,” John Sarrouf, a Boston-based conflict resolution consultant, told the Deseret News.

As America emerges from a taut election in a year shaped by a pandemic and unrest over racial injustice, division is not its only choice. Embracing the different perspectives they have to offer each other, Americans can restore a founding ideal of their democracy: out of many, one.

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.

Supply is in God’s plan for you

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There’s an alternative to panic and stress if our current resources seem increasingly limited. As God’s children, we each have the inherent capacity to prove, as so many in the Bible did, that God’s provision leaves no one out.

Supply is in God’s plan for you

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

The challenges the world economy is facing these days leave many companies and individuals feeling deeply concerned about limited revenue and income.

When faced with challenges, I often go to the Bible. So, that’s where I’ve gone when seeking inspiration for my prayers about this situation. The Bible is full of examples of God meeting the needs of those who were in desperate circumstances. My study of the Bible has taught me that God’s plan, or will, includes the supply needed for all people.

There’s a story in the Old Testament from which I’ve always gained inspiration. It’s a story of the prophet Elisha helping a widow woman, who owed a creditor and had nothing but a pot of oil in her house (see II Kings 4). Through following Elisha’s inspired guidance, the woman was able to prove that God can and does care for all, no matter the circumstance.

I’ve also found the account of Christ Jesus feeding a great multitude, with an apparently limited amount of food on hand, to be both encouraging and empowering (see Matthew 14). Jesus understood that God would provide for the need at hand – that God’s will included supply for all. In his Sermon on the Mount he said: “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8, New King James Version).

So both Elisha and Jesus brought the certainty of an absolute faith in God’s provision to bear upon circumstances where resources were limited, and then all the supply needed in both cases was demonstrated.

This idea that God provides us with the supply we need can be applied in all kinds of situations, including our individual careers, as I was able to prove in one of my first full-time jobs. I was working diligently as an entry-level salesman with few leads. I was competing for business with seasoned sales agents at the same company and with those among larger companies as well.

At the same time, I was striving to live my faith and practice what I was learning from my study of Christian Science, which was discovered by Mary Baker Eddy. This Science gave me confidence that I could not be without the supply I needed, so I prayed to God.

I worked to see my situation from a spiritual perspective – to acknowledge the reality that our true source of supply is God, Spirit, the unlimited origin of all good, and not what appears to be a limited material resource, such as leads. That’s because we are each truly God’s spiritual offspring (see Acts 17:28), and God knows us as inherently reflecting His infinite and abundant goodness. Therefore, we can perceive that too, and prove that the provision of needed good is always in God’s plan for us.

As I prayerfully acknowledged that the true source of my supply is God, it wasn’t long before I had an intuition to canvass particular areas in my sales region, which resulted in coming across some solid leads. This led to completing transactions which gratefully helped meet my income needs.

Gaining what we need is not a question of God learning about our human problems and then giving us things. It’s about a deeper spiritual reality we all can understand – and demonstrate – in our lives.

Mrs. Eddy was an avid student of the Bible, and she understood that God’s care for man includes providing for all our needs. She states with strong conviction: “God gives you His spiritual ideas, and in turn, they give you daily supplies. Never ask for to-morrow: it is enough that divine Love is an ever-present help; and if you wait, never doubting, you will have all you need every moment” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 307).

How reassuring to know that God, divine Love, truly cares about each of us. And so, during these times when the human picture seems to present limited possibilities, we all have the ability to prove that God’s will for each one of us unreservedly includes the meeting of all our needs.

Some more great ideas! Listen to episodes of Sentinel Watch  on www.JSH-Online.com. These weekly podcasts share spiritual insights and ideas from individuals who have experienced healing through their practice of Christian Science. There is currently no paywall for these podcasts, and you can check out recent episodes on the Sentinel Watch landing page.

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Sunset beauty

Anupam Nath/AP
A reflected sun turns calm water aglow, as a farmer stands in his paddy on the outskirts of Gauhati, India, late in the day on Nov. 5, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

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