Arab Women Are Tired of Talking About Just ‘Women’s Issues’

The striking image of a tall woman dressed in white, lightly veiled, wearing large gold earrings, and raising a finger as she led several hundred men and women in chants of protest against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir went viral in April.

Described as a Nubian queen, 22-year old Alaa Salah quickly became an icon of the movement to bring down Bashir—and of the widespread participation of women in the protests that eventually resulted in his ouster. Her efforts, and those of many other women, were covered extensively by the media as an extraordinary moment, almost an exception.

Yet before Sudan, women were at the forefront of protests in Benghazi, Libya, in 2011; and in Yemen that same year, with one, Tawakkol Karman, going on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. And women were key to the activism that helped sustain the protests and civilian resistance against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with hundreds if not thousands of them landing in government jails.

[Read: Protesters in Sudan and Algeria have learned from the Arab Spring]

Though many of those protests were crushed, they were not new or fleeting moments of Arab women exerting their power. Women in the Middle East have historically been active in many fields from newspaper publishing in the early 20th century to banking and politics today, but their role has often been overlooked.

Now, however, a growing chorus of Arab women is offering an alternative to the typically male, often autocratic voice that dominates within their own societies (and in Western portrayals of the region). Through a variety of media, from journalism to television to literature, they are undermining the long-held narrative of Arab women as docile and submissive.

This is what emerges clearly from the recently published anthology Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting From the Arab World, a book edited by the Lebanese journalist and writer Zahra Hankir that brings together 19 essays by women journalists, all of them Arab or Arab American.

The essays are at turns searing, poignant, and funny, but what shines through in all of them is the sheer strength of the women writing. Whether it’s Hannah Allam covering Iraq for McClatchy newspapers in the days after the 2003 invasion, hunkering down in a shrine being bombed by American military jets; Nour Malas reporting for The Wall Street Journal on the descent of Syria, her homeland; or Hwaida Saad, a Lebanese reporter for The New York Times in Beirut who maintained open channels to contacts inside Syria with empathy and social-media ingenuity, their work has greatly enriched Western audiences’ understanding of what is unfolding in the region—hence, they are “our” women on the ground, all of us reading their articles.

In the essays, Hankir says, “none of them were striving to dispel stereotypes about who they are. Instead, they were focused on the task at hand, their jobs, and oftentimes survival. There is no one Arab woman; there is no one way to be an Arab woman; and there is no one Arab female experience. By telling their stories, these women, without intending to do so, and without a Western audience in mind, have punctured prevalent narratives rooted in flawed post-colonial discourse.”

[Read: In a changing Middle East, are women making progress?]

Some of the authors report for local media, such as Shamael Elnoor, who traveled into the war-ridden province of Darfur in 2015 to interview the feared chief of the Janjaweed militia; or Asmaa al-Ghoul, who stood up to militants from Hamas in Gaza with her pen and her gaze while writing for the Palestinian paper Al-Ayyam. Some have to deal with families who disapprove of their dangerous careers; others can count on fathers to remonstrate militants who dare question the women’s choices.

Through the essays, the reader meets yet more women from Libya to Yemen whose resilience and power are humbling, and who can “be devilishly funny” through the worst circumstances, as Allam writes in her essay. These women are journalists, activists, or teachers, yet they are never reduced to the sole status of women or asked to speak specifically about gender.

The notion that Arab women have much more to say than just commenting on their lives as women and on gender issues should be an obvious one, and it’s what drove the veteran Lebanese journalist Nada Abdelsamad to conceive her weekly talk show, Dunyana—Arabic for Our World—airing on BBC Arabic TV. (The program has been on air since 2014, when the British broadcaster began a push to give more airtime to women to achieve gender parity across all its output.)

Abdelsamad took the idea further in her show. The program not only features an all-women panel with the occasional male guest; it eschews the discussions of motherhood and child-rearing heard on many women’s talk shows, choosing instead to focus hour-long episodes on a specific political or social issue. On Dunyana, female experts discuss everything from youth unemployment to modern Arab literature to counterterrorism strategies. To date, Abdelsamad has had 720 women on the program, from every single Arab country, and has herself been surprised by the seemingly never-ending supply of women experts to sustain the show. She refuses to include politicians on her shows, and while some of the women are prominent in their own country, there are no celebrities.

In a region where debate has been constantly stifled by oppressive rulers, “it wasn’t easy at the beginning to convince the guests to interrupt each other to make it a free-flowing discussion,” Abdelsamad told me. She said she noticed that the women were particularly averse to interrupting or contradicting male guests. To promote more debate, she began to brief her panel more thoroughly on the format as well as the content.

Some of her favorite episodes include a heated discussion on atheism with a Saudi guest, the television anchor Buthaina Nasr, who chose to appear without her veil, and a show on the future of oil, renewable energy, and water in the region that featured Sara Akbar, a Kuwaiti petroleum engineer, and Shorouk al-Abaiji, an Iraqi water and agriculture expert.

Dunyana launched a new format a couple of months ago with a rotating panel made up of three women of different nationalities who debate one or two topics among themselves and with a guest. Abdelsamad, who anchored the program from its inception, is no longer on screen but remains as the editor. In a recent episode that made waves on social media, the Palestinian actress and art curator Manal Khader confronted a priest about personal liberty and freedom of expression after accusations of blasphemy against a popular Lebanese indie-rock band led to the cancellation of one of their concerts in Lebanon this month.

Abdelsamad’s show would be groundbreaking even in the United States or other Western countries, where all-male panels are still a regular occurrence, and where there continues to be a dearth of women experts cited in newspaper articles and academic papers. Male writers and reviewers also dominate book coverage in the United States, according to the nonprofit organization VIDA, even though women writers and readers are the majority. Arab women, therefore, face twin obstacles: the West’s own gender biases, and the reductive narrative of the Arab woman.

This is why it was such a victory when the International Booker Prize jury chose an Arab novel—one written by a woman—to receive the award for the first time in the prize’s history. The Omani novelist Jokha al-Harthi’s breathtaking, layered, multigenerational novel Celestial Bodies, which was beautifully translated into English, follows the lives of three sisters from a small village at a time of rapid social and economic change in Oman. The tale is replete with history, poetry, and philosophy, but also slavery, broken marriages, passion, and not-so-secret lovers.

[Read: The real roots of sexism in the Middle East (it’s not Islam, race, or ‘hate’)]

The chair of judges for the prize, the historian Bettany Hughes, said that the book gave the jury “access to ideas and thoughts and experiences you aren’t normally given in English. It avoids every stereotype you might expect in its analysis of gender and race and social distinction and slavery.”

That’s also why Hankir wanted to compile Our Women on the Ground. Though numerous memoirs have been written by Western foreign correspondents about the region, she writes in the anthology, “a volume like this one, which amplifies local Arab female voices in the literary space, hadn’t yet been created and was long overdue.”

Hankir told me that while questions from the audience at book events thus far in the United States have been thoughtful, she was surprised by how often journalists asked her about how her anthology would help puncture the narrative of the docile Arab woman, a reflection of how enduring that lens remains. It is still one chosen by some Western reporters in their own stories (as well as the one seen in portrayals from Hollywood and elsewhere), helping to perpetuate the stereotype.

And so, while the chorus of strong Arab women’s voices is growing, the question is: Does the West want to hear it?

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On Trump and Queeg: A Followup

Three days ago I argued that if Donald Trump were in any consequential job other than the one he now occupies—surgeon, military commander, head of a private organization or public company, airline pilot—he would already have been removed.  A sampling of reader response:

The military would have responded. One reader writes:

I am retired military officer and there IS a significant part of his behavior that should generate a change of command without a parade.

The UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] is very clear about anyone in the chain of command influencing ongoing military law procedures. If ANY military officer would have done what this man did concerning Eddie Gallagher they would have been removed from their position without hesitation. [JF note: Gallagher was the Navy SEAL who was tried for murder, on allegations he stabbed a captive prisoner to death. After he was acquitted, Trump publicly took credit for helping get him off. More here.]

My God, what have we done.


Also, school systems. Another reader adds:

He would be unemployable in every school district in America.

We elected a president who couldn’t even be a substitute teacher.


But maybe not in corporations? From another reader:

In your piece from 22 August, you mentioned:

“The board at a public company would have replaced him outright or arranged a discreet shift out of power. (Of course, he would never have gotten this far in a large public corporation.)”

I respectfully disagree. One thing that is almost never discussed in the US is the medieval level at which corporate management is done. It is a fiefdom where the CEO is the chosen one to do as he wishes for as long as he can.

Trump would have risen to the top of many a corporation looking for a ‘savior’ (isn’t that what we call the CEOs who will fix a company in trouble?)

Many American CEOs are as incompetent as Trump. They do a better job of hiding it, and they make sure that their successors get blamed for their messes.

I’ll accept the reader’s argument that some corporate CEOs may be no more knowledgeable or competent than Trump—though I’d like to hear a specific example. (Maybe Elizabeth Holmes, of Theranos? On the other hand, even today’s flawed corporate-governance system eventually caught up with her.)

I disagree that the board of a public corporation would have indefinitely put up with what the world has recently seen from such a leader, in the way that the GOP majority in the Senate—the functional equivalent of a corporation’s board—puts up with Trump.


The new ‘Flight 93’ A reader refers to popular right-wing concept that the 2016 presidential election was a civic version of United Flight 93, from September 11, 2001. On that flight, passengers recognized that the plane had been taken over by terrorists, and they stormed the cockpit to bring the plane crashing to the ground rather than allowing it to become a flying bomb detonated in Washington.

The idea that 2016 was the “Flight 93 Election” became shorthand for a “by any means necessary!” approach to Donald Trump: Yeah, he has his problems (just like crashing a plane into the ground has its problems), but the alternative is even worse.

The reader writes:

Whether purposely or not, your piece echoes and counterweights the pernicious metaphor of The Flight 93 Election by Micheal Anton.

It was helpful to be reminded that most institutions have procedures in place for removal of a presiding officer who is unfit for duty.  


Speaking of the military, maybe ‘The Caine Mutiny’ is not the right model. In my post I likened Donald Trump’s current bearing to that of Phillip Queeg, in Herman Wouk’s famed 1950s novel The Caine Mutiny and the subsequent movie.

Several readers wrote to note a complication with that comparison. In specific, while many people agreed with the similarities between Trump’s behavior and Queeg’s, several pointed out that the moral Herman Wouk seemed to draw from his story worked against the point I was trying to make.

Here’s a sample letter. For those not familiar with the book or all the characters mentioned, the central point is that Wouk ended the book being more sympathetic to his manifestly deranged main character, Captain Queeg, and critical of those who removed him from command. The reader says:

I have a quibble with your literary analysis.

My Dad gave me a tattered copy of The Caine Mutiny when I was in eight grade. It’s a great coming of age story. As I have become a graying and nondescript adult, as Willie Keith [one of the complicated protagonists] is described in the final pages, I appreciate Keith’s story more and more.

But it seems to me that at the end of the book, the narrative itself and important characters within it (not just Keith but Greenwald and even Keggs) conclude that Queeg should NOT have been relieved.

Greenwald, from a position of moral authority, credits Queeg with doing what was necessary to protect the country from fascism while the rest of them trained up for war, and regrets what he sees as his own (necessary) role in Queeg’s humiliation. Keith accepts and agrees with the official Navy reprimand he receives for his role in the relief.

Keggs, now a captain himself, wonders how they got off the hook. The consensus opinion at the end of the book is that Keefer (and of course the fascists) were the true villains, and that the Navy that put Queeg in command of a DMS [destroyer mine sweeper] generally knows what it’s doing.

I loved everything else about the article. But let’s not let Trump off the hook the way Herman Wouk let Queeg off the hook.

Several other readers suggested a better (if less famous) comparison: the 1995 movie Crimson Tide, set aboard a nuclear-missile submarine, in which an executive officer played by Denzel Washington stands up to a captain played by Gene Hackman and finally (and correctly) relieves him of command.


Does naming a problem matter? I explained in my original post why I had long resisted “medicalizing” Trump’s aberrant behavior — that is, linking his excesses to some possible underlying disorder, rather than just noting them on their own. A mental-health professional writes to disagree:

I have to disagree on your belief that it wouldn’t matter to anyone what his diagnosis is.

We have a unique situation here in which his most likely diagnosis would distress many if they truly understood what the term actually means and how we can draw a reasonable conclusion that we know his provisional diagnosis without ever seeing him.

As a Psychiatric Social Worker who has worked in forensic mental health, I know that it is well established that at least 1% of the population does not develop a conscience. They don’t get angry, or stop caring, they simply lack to capacity to feel guilt, empathy, or grief. In many cases, this appears tied to brain abnormalities….

There are different terms and models for assessing such a person. Malignant Narcissism has been openly mentioned. Narcissistic Sociopath is common in pop culture. I prefer the term Psychopathy which is the model I am most familiar.

By definition, such a person is unfit for office (even if they lack the traits of the small subsection who become serial killers). I have to believe that the majority of the Republicans in Congress would care if they understood they are enabling a psychopath and the danger that represents to our country.

As a Social Worker, I am aware there are times when community safety and our duty to humankind outweigh the so-called
“Goldwater Rule” [JF note: this is the informal bar on commenting on people a mental-health professional has not examined personally]. This is spelled out in our NASW Code of Ethics and are reasons for the Tarasoff ruling and the laws on reporting suspected child abuse. [JF note: the Tarasoff case involved professionals’ responsibility to warn people who might be victims of a mentally ill patient’s behavior].

Imagine a professional who has the special training and has spent the time familiarizing themselves with the data on Trump trying to defend their decision to stay silent ten years from now. “Well, I knew that Trump might be a Psychopath, but you know, professional ethics.”…

FBI agents are trained in the many ways such a person gives themselves away, but even a well-educated lay person can recognize that we have a profoundly mental disturbed man in the White House.


More on why a diagnosis matters. From another reader:

One of the characteristics of NPD [narcissistic personality disorder, whose list of symptoms closely resembles daily reports from the Trump White House] is that when meeting obstructions to the patient’s narcissism, there is a progression from attempting to charm, to bullying, to outright paranoia; as you note, we re seeing that progression.

I agree the medicalizing our observations has no particular effect.  Sufficient to say that our President is decompensating, getting crazier and crazier.


We thought democracy would spare us. From another reader:

Toward the end of today’s piece you write:

“There are two exceptions. One is a purely family-run business, like the firm in which Trump spent his entire previous career. And the other is the U.S. presidency, where he will remain, despite more and more-manifest Queeg-like  unfitness, as long as the GOP Senate stands with him.”

I can’t help but think of the long history of hereditary monarchs and Popes who were not only utterly unfit to rule, but were unfit in ways that were clearly visible to everybody around them. Some of them were mere toddlers when they acceded to the throne.

I think that in the US, after tossing out one of those monarchs, we’ve convinced ourselves that our system just wouldn’t allow this to happen. We love democracy so much that we can’t conceive of the idea that a quarter of our country would willingly make the effort to walk into a polling booth and sign over power to someone like this, and that enough of the rest of us would not see it as such a dire emergency that they wouldn’t bother to vote against him.

It feels like a step backwards not just for the Presidency (which has seen its fair share of xenophobic, incompetent, and corrupt occupants), but for a world in general that seemed like it had moved on from an obviously flawed method of entrusting people with power.


Thanks to the readers, and a final point I can’t make often enough.

If a renegade CEO were jeopardizing a public corporation’s future, the board of directors would finally act.

If a renegade pilot threatened the safety of passengers, an airline’s management — or the regulators from the FAA — would feel legally obliged to act.

Same for a renegade doctor, or teacher, or most other officials. The scandal of some police agencies, and of some Catholic (and other) hierarchies, is theie failure to act as the evidence mounted up.

The body that could act in the public interest in this case is the U.S. Senate. As explained in the original piece, any effort to rein in Trump, or to remove him from command, finally rests on support from the 45 men and 8 women who make up the current Republican majority in the Senate. Unlike the other 330 million or so Americans, those 53 individuals — the people whose names are listed here —  could do something directly. And they won’t.

Click here to see original article

My Family’s Gun Wounds: A Tale in Three Acts

For years, I laughed off guns. They were part of the scenery where I grew up in Chicago. Street gangs fought each other with switchblades and brass knuckles and sometimes you heard the pop of gunfire at night. I shrugged it off. Made jokes about the situation. Closed my eyes and went to sleep.

In America, we “go ballistic” when we get angry. We “shoot from the hip” when we talk out of turn. We have “trigger warnings” in the classroom. Guns and gun culture are everywhere in our lives.

Living with gun violence can desensitize you. Humor was our coping mechanism, designed to keep complex emotions at bay. I’m ashamed to say that I made fun of family members who were shot and lived to tell the tale.

Yes—family members, plural. Three of them, to be exact.

The first was my grandfather. He shot himself in the foot, in rural Michigan.

The second was my cousin, who got shot in the stomach in Chicago.

The third was my little brother. He was shot in the head, in an alley in Denver.

My grandfather was maimed in a hunting accident, long before I was born. He meant to shoot a rabbit or a squirrel, but shot himself instead. The bullet took off his big toe. I remember when I was little he’d walk around barefoot in the morning, in pajamas with his coffee, a pucker of scar tissue where his toe should have been. I made fun of him, as I got older, because he was an alcoholic. I did it out of earshot. I snickered with my friends. What kind of fool shoots himself in the foot?

[Read: The bullet in my arm]

My cousin was shot when I was a teenager. It was a revenge shooting, according to my father. He said Carl, my cousin, was fooling around with a married woman. The husband came home one day to find the two of them together and shot him. Carl was married himself. The man shot him in the stomach. As the story goes, he managed to drive himself to South Shore Hospital, at 75th and Stony Island, and survived. My father turned the incident into a joke. He even embellished the story, describing Carl being shot as he exited his lover’s boudoir. Just what story did he tell his own wife when he called her up from the hospital? he asked. We laughed.

My cousin denies this story when I ask him about it. He says he was the victim of a stickup.

“To this day, that bullet is still there. If I get an X-ray or go through airport security, I still see it. They left the bullet in. It hadn’t hit any vital organs.”

I ask him how he feels about gun violence today.

“America has lived so long with guns, it’s damn near impossible to get rid of them. Only way we can stop it is to ban firearms—but I want mine. I’m 80 years old. I’m not as strong as I was … I’m damn sure going to use a firearm if someone breaks into my house. ” Carl owns three guns: a .22, a .38, and a Glock.

My brother was shot when he was 24. I was pushing 30. Chris was living in Denver. He was going home, after a late night at a gay bar, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It was after 2 o’clock in the morning. He was drunk. The bars had closed. He came across a couple—two gay men—arguing in the street, and stopped to listen. A stranger, behind him, started talking to him. The stranger was muscular and good-looking. He was wearing a denim jacket, which was odd because it was a hot summer night.

“The reason why that’s important is that’s where he had his gun,” my brother says. “I’m thinking I’m going to get picked up, but I was staying with friends, so he said we’d go to his place. Then he pulled the gun and cocked it, too. He made me go into the alley. He robbed me. He said, ‘Give me your money. Faggot this, faggot that. You’ll know better than to flirt with straight men.’”

Chris continues, “He made me get on my knees. And then he started banging the gun against my head. I started to cry. I kept trying to reason with him. ‘Are you done?’ I asked. ‘You’ve got my money.’ He kept hitting me. He wouldn’t leave me alone.

“Then everything went black. There was this really high-pitched sound. The black went away and I could get up. Someone came. I was in shock. A complete stranger saved my life.”

I flew to Denver when it happened. Chris was hospitalized for more than a week. He had two black eyes and his head was swathed in bandages. The doctors said there was no brain damage. They said he couldn’t work for a year. It was the mid-’80s. They didn’t talk about hate crimes then.

Today, Chris is trim and muscular and laughs easily. You don’t notice the scar on the back of his head at first. In fact, you forget it’s there. Only when he turns around do you see the yellow stripe of flesh on his skull.

I ask him what it’s like to live with a gunshot wound.

“People ask you questions,” he says. “Normally I say exactly what happened, because if I lie about it, I’m feeding into shame.”

I close my eyes and think about him—my little brother—and what he has been through and the shame he once felt. I think about my cousin and the fears that keep him armed. I think about my grandfather and how lucky he was, and how much worse it could have been. And I think about all the other families in this country of guns, families who no longer have their fathers or sons, mothers or daughters. I think of all the losses stretching across the land and back in time. I don’t laugh about guns anymore.

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Boris Johnson’s G7 Balancing Act

Boris Johnson has spent the first month of his premiership holding bilateral talks with Britain’s allies in the European Union and in the United States. But can he appeal to both at once?

At this weekend’s Group of Seven summit in the French seaside town of Biarritz, he has endeavored to do just that. The annual gathering, which brings together leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States, marks the British leader’s debut at an international summit. For Johnson, it’s an opportunity to reaffirm Britain’s role as an enduring global player, just months before its potentially chaotic exit from the world’s largest trading bloc.

But it also poses a more difficult diplomatic test—one in which Britain will need to undergo the tricky balancing act of maintaining its relationships with its European partners while also cultivating a potentially lucrative relationship with President Donald Trump.

Arriving at the summit yesterday with jokes and smiles, Johnson didn’t appear too daunted by the task. But it won’t be easy. The U.S. and the EU find themselves on opposing sides of myriad policy issues, ranging from the Iran nuclear deal and NATO to climate change and trade. Strained between both sides of the Atlantic, Britain is left with few options: To maintain close alignment with the EU risks compromising Johnson’s burgeoning bromance with Trump and the president’s promise for a “very substantial” post-Brexit trade deal; to do the opposite risks sparking further confrontation with the EU amidst their ongoing Brexit deadlock.

Brexit and trade have been the focus of the summit for Johnson, who is holding bilateral meetings today with both Trump and European Council President Donald Tusk to discuss them. To the former, Johnson called for the removal of “very considerable barriers” barring British goods from being exported to the U.S. market, such as pork pies and U.K. bell peppers. To the latter, he warned that the only way to prevent a no-deal Brexit, which Tusk said he will not cooperate, is to remove the Irish backstop, a provision in the current Brexit deal, negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May, that would maintain an open border on the island of Ireland by keeping Britain closely tied to EU rules and regulations (Johnson has dismissed the backstop as “antidemocratic”).

[Read: The clause that makes Brexiteers furious—and why they have a point]

The trans-Atlantic divisions between European leaders and the Trump administration offer a preview of the tricky balancing act that British foreign policy will need to navigate in a post-Brexit world. On Iran, Britain has remained firmly aligned with Germany and France in defense of the 2014 nuclear deal and in opposition of the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine it through the reimposition of crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime. Still, Britain also announced last month that it would join a U.S.-led mission in the Gulf following the seizure of one of its tankers by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. Though the British government insisted that the move doesn’t constitute a shift in its position on Iran, Germany and France notably decided not to follow suit, citing opposition to Washington’s strategy of “maximum pressure” on Iran.

On trade, Britain is in a similarly difficult position. With just two months left before it leaves the EU, and all the trading relationships that membership to the bloc affords, London is desperate to begin striking its own deals—starting with the United States. But a free-trade deal with the U.S. won’t be easy, and Washington is likely to expect any number of concessions from British officials on both the trade and foreign policy fronts. Without significant leverage at its disposal, Britain is unlikely to be able to negotiate with the U.S. on an equal footing.

Trump has so far taken a shine to Johnson, who he endorsed to succeed former Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of his state visit to Britain earlier this year. In the days following Johnson’s ascendance, Trump boasted about his British counterpart being called “Britain’s Trump,” and the two have since held several phone calls to discuss issues including Brexit (of which Trump is a vocal supporter) and trade. “He’s the right man for the job,” Trump said of Johnson in their first meeting since Johnson took over as prime minister.

[Read: Inside Donald Trump and Boris Johnson’s special relationship]

Still, Johnson has been careful not to be seen as embracing too closely the American president, who remains unpopular in Britain. In addition to calling for the U.S. to remove trade barriers on British goods, Johnson also distanced himself from Trump’s renewed calls for Russia to be readmitted to the G7 without preconditions following its expulsion from the group over its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“Given what happened in Salisbury in Wiltshire, given the use of chemical weapons on British soil … given Russia’s provocations,” Johnson said in a press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, “I must say I am very much with Chancellor Merkel in thinking that the case has yet to be made out for Russia to return to the G7.”

But whether Johnson is able to balance Britain’s interests with both the U.S. and Europe may ultimately be out of his control. “A lot comes down to what mood Donald Trump is in,” Leslie Vinjamuri, the head of the U.S. and Americas program at the London-based Chatham House, told me, noting that the American president has been known to portray himself as a defiant force in these international gatherings. Indeed, last year’s gathering ended in Trump departing the summit early and withdrawing his endorsement of the group’s joint communique following a bitter dispute with the summit’s host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trueau, over trade.

“If the last seven to 10 days are anything to go by, this is not a good moment,” Vinjamuri said, citing the president’s decision to cancel his state visit to Denmark over the country’s refusal to discuss selling Greenland.

Some efforts have been taken by this year’s host to avoid such confrontation. Ahead of the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that this year’s gathering would dispel with the joint communique, noting that they are only used to detect dissent. “I know the points of disagreement with the U.S.,” Macron, the summit’s host, said, adding: “It’s pointless.”

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When Kamala Was a Top Cop

When Senator Kamala Harris is criticized for actions she took as San Francisco’s district attorney or as California’s attorney general, the Democratic presidential hopeful responds in two ways. She cites the most progressive aspects of her record, arguing that she’ll advocate in the White House for more reforms to the criminal-justice system. And she asserts that it is laudable to work for change from within broken institutions, “at the table where the decisions are made.”

She says very little, and nothing convincing, about some of the most serious charges against her, like that she fought hard to keep innocents in prison and failed to fight hard against corrupt cops.

If elected president, Harris seems as likely as any of her Democratic rivals, and far more likely than Donald Trump, to pursue a criminal-justice-reform agenda that overlaps with policies I favor as a civil libertarian. And I do not hold it against Harris that as a municipal and state official she enforced many laws that I regard as unjust. All the candidates now running for president will, if elected, preside over the enforcement of some laws that they and I regard as unjust.

But like her rivals, the reforms that Harris would sign into law as president would depend mostly on what Democrats in Congress could get to her desk. Far more important is how she would preside over a federal legal system and bureaucracy that is prone to frequent abuses. And her record casts significant doubts about whether she can be trusted to oversee federal law enforcement, the military, intelligence agencies, the detention of foreign prisoners, and more.

The Innocent-Man Test

On June 6, 1998, police were summoned to a bar in the San Fernando Valley where a fight had broken out. The Los Angeles Police Department officers Michael Rex and Thomas Townsend rolled into the parking lot and turned on their floodlights. They later testified that they saw Daniel Larsen, then 30, pull a long, thin object from his waistband and throw it under a vehicle; that they ordered everyone in the parking lot to get down on their knees; that they retrieved a double-edged knife with a weighted handle from beneath a car; and that they arrested Larsen, who was convicted of felony possession of a deadly weapon during a jury trial, despite protesting his innocence. Larsen had two prior felonies and was sentenced to 28 years to life.

Larsen continued to proclaim his innocence, but got nowhere for years, until he became one of the few inmates chosen by the Innocence Project to benefit from its limited resources.

The petition assembled on his behalf was formidable. At trial, Larsen’s defense attorney called no witnesses, having failed to do the leg work of identifying any who would help his case. But as it turned out, a man named James McNutt, a retired Army sergeant first class and former police chief, had been in the parking lot that night with his wife, Elinore, and both agreed to give sworn statements asserting that they saw a different man throw the object under the car, and that they specifically saw Larsen just standing there doing nothing.

The man that the couple saw is named William Hewitt. And he swore that’s what happened, too. So did Hewitt’s girlfriend, who said Hewitt sold his motorcycle shortly after the incident to bail Larsen out of prison, because Hewitt felt guilty that another man was being punished for his actions. Not only did Larsen’s defense attorney fail to identify or call these witnesses; he also failed to request that the knife be examined for fingerprints and did not present a theory of third-party culpability. He was later disbarred for failing other clients.

There was, however, a procedural weakness in Larsen’s petition: He filed it in 2008, long after the one-year deadline for appeals. After missing that deadline, getting federal habeas relief is difficult and rare. One must show evidence of actual innocence.

In 2009, Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal finally heard testimony from the multiple witnesses who proclaimed that the knife belonged to another man. She ruled that in light of the new evidence, Larsen’s case seemed to be among those “extraordinary cases where the petitioner asserts his innocence and establishes that the court cannot have confidence in the contrary finding of guilt.” She declared that “no reasonable juror would have found Petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” and that he “clearly received ineffective assistance of counsel,” but stopped short of declaring him to be innocent outright.

On June 14, 2010, Larsen was still in prison, but the state was ordered to either retry him within 90 days or to release him. Harris, who was elected attorney general that year, could have chosen to free the man who had already served more than a decade in prison for possessing a knife that almost certainly wasn’t his.

Under her leadership, the attorney general’s office instead filed an appeal attempting to block his release because he hadn’t filed his claim for relief in a timely manner. It sought to keep a man in prison on procedural grounds, despite strong evidence of innocence. As a result, Larsen needlessly spent two more years in prison, until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that he had cleared the threshold for producing proof of innocence and should be released. Even then, Harris’s office continued to litigate the matter, arguing before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit that “one reasonable juror could still vote to convict.” The argument failed. And Harris’s office finally conceded defeat.

Still, it did not quite relent.

According to the journalist Nick Martin, the freed inmate applied to get money from the California board that compensates the wrongly imprisoned. The going rate is $140 for every day of wrongful incarceration. “To be declared eligible for compensation, a person has to prove to the court that they deserve the money. And in order to secure that proof, one of the main requirements of the board is a recommendation from the attorney general’s office,” Martin wrote. “When Harris’ office filed their suggestion on Sept. 4, 2014 that the board should decline Larsen’s claim, despite him already proving his innocence in court, that essentially sealed his financial fate.” Martin reported last month that Larsen now lives in a small garage and relies on welfare payments.

Harris’s office didn’t merely fight to keep a man in prison after he’d demonstrated his innocence to the satisfaction of the Innocence Project, a judge, and an appeals court. After losing, it fought to keep the newly released man from being compensated for the decade that he spent wrongfully imprisoned.

Harris failed the innocent-man test.

The Disclosing-Misconduct Test

In 2010, the crime lab run by the San Francisco Police Department was rocked by a scandal when one of its three technicians was caught taking evidence––cocaine––home from work, raising the prospect of unreliable analysis and testimony in many hundreds of drug cases. It was later discovered that, even prior to the scandal, an assistant district attorney had emailed Harris’ deputy at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office complaining that the technician was “increasingly UNDEPENDABLE for testimony.”

But even after the technician was caught taking home cocaine, neither Harris nor anyone in her office notified defense attorneys in cases in which she had examined evidence.

“A review of the case, based on court records and interviews with key players, presents a portrait of Harris scrambling to manage a crisis that her staff saw coming but for which she was unprepared,” The Washington Post reported in March. “It also shows how Harris, after six years as district attorney, had failed to put in place written guidelines for ensuring that defendants were informed about potentially tainted evidence and testimony that could lead to unfair convictions.”

In fact, her office initially blamed the San Francisco police for failing to tell defense attorneys about the matter. A judge was incredulous, telling one of the assistant district attorneys, “But it is the district attorney’s office affirmative obligation. It’s not the police department who has the affirmative obligation. It’s the district attorney. That’s who the courts look to. That’s who the community looks to, to make sure all of that information constitutionally required is provided to the defense.”

Harris claimed that her staffers didn’t tell her about the matter for several months.

The Wall Street Journal reported in June that years earlier, her aides had sent her a memo urging her to adopt a policy of disclosing police misconduct to defense attorneys to safeguard the right to a fair trial. Police unions, however, were opposed to the policy, and Harris failed to act on it until after the 2010 scandal.

Had she chosen otherwise, she would not have woken up to this San Francisco Chronicle story: “Kamala Harris’ office violated defendants’ rights by hiding damaging information about a police drug lab technician and was indifferent to demands that it account for its failings, a judge declared Thursday … In a scathing ruling, the judge concluded that prosecutors had failed to fulfill their constitutional duty to tell defense attorneys about problems surrounding Deborah Madden, the now-retired technician at the heart of the cocaine-skimming scandal that led police to shut down the drug analysis section of their crime lab.”

Meanwhile, Jeff Adachi, then head of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, declared at the time, “Anytime I’ve asked the district attorney for a meeting, I’ve been told the district attorney is out of town or not available. We need a district attorney who will give this the attention it deserves.”

Harris failed the disclosure-of-misconduct test.

The Corrupt-Prosecutors Test

For years, R. Scott Moxley, an indefatigable alt-weekly reporter, has covered police and prosecutorial misconduct for OC Weekly, a beat that never left him short for material, and that absolutely exploded in 2014, when Harris was attorney general. As he summarized it, “Sheriff’s deputies had spent years running unconstitutional jailhouse scams against pretrial inmates to secretly secure prosecutorial victories at trials. In return, prosecutors under then–District Attorney Tony Rackauckas looked the other way when deputies hid, doctored or destroyed exculpatory evidence from defendants; repeatedly committed perjury; and disobeyed lawfully issued court orders. Tens of thousands of pages of records inside the Orange County Superior Court, as well as at the California Court of Appeal, prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of what became known nationally as the jailhouse-informant scandal.”

For months, Moxley watched as details of the scandal emerged in a Santa Ana courtroom, and then as the judge declared that multiple deputies had perjured themselves on the stand. Earlier this year, he gave a scathing assessment of Harris’s response, which amounted to almost nothing by the time she was elected to the Senate in 2016.

According to Moxley:

After more bombshell evidence emerged that expanded the scope and intensity of the deputies’ cheating, [Judge] Goethals—a former homicide prosecutor—wrote another ruling expressing exasperation over the corruption.

Harris finally acted.

She announced the opening of an investigation into the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). As months, then years passed, it became increasingly clear the probe was nothing more than a sham. Though efforts were made to conceal that fact from the public, illuminating details emerged. For example, Harris’ investigators incredibly obeyed Orange County Sheriff’s Department commands not to audio record certain statements from accused deputies.

More telling, however, is the fact that the alleged investigation long ago landed in bureaucratic oblivion. Though Goethals and the California Court of Appeal officially announced disgust with OCSD perjury years ago, the AG’s office—first under Harris and now with Xavier Becerra—hasn’t held anyone accountable after a probe that so far has lasted more than 1,411 days.

The probe later ended without any charges filed.

Moxley went on to quote Scott Sanders, the assistant public defender who first unearthed the corrupt behavior in question. Sanders declared, “The former attorney general’s efforts in Orange County were far from a profile in courage. Her unwillingness to stand up to dishonest law enforcement will be her lasting legacy here, and the criminal-justice system will continue to pay the price for years.”

In a separate case, Kern County prosecutor Robert Murray appended to a confession two fabricated lines that would significantly increase the potential sentence a defendant faced, then gave a falsified transcript to the defendant’s attorney. When the attorney found out what happened, he filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for prosecutorial misconduct.

Sidney Powell reported this in The Observer:

California Judge H.A. Staley got it right. He found that Mr. Murray’s fabrication of “evidence”—falsifying the transcript of a confession during discovery and plea negotiations—was “egregious, outrageous, and . . . shocked the conscience.”

The trial judge saw no laughing matter—and neither should the rest of us. He dismissed the indictment completely, and in a scathing opinion, also quoted by the appellate court, wrote that the prosecutor’s actions “diluted the protections accompanying the right to counsel and ran the risk of fraudulently inducing defendant to enter a plea and forfeit his right to a jury trial.” The court refused to “tolerate such outrageous conduct that results in the depravation of basic fundamental constitutional rights that are designed to provide basic fairness.”

As for Harris:

Undaunted by the criminal conduct of a state prosecutor, or the district court’s opinion, Ms. Harris appealed the decision dismissing the indictment. According to the California attorney general, only abject physical brutality would warrant a finding of prosecutorial misconduct and the dismissal of an indictment. Fortunately for all of us—and the Constitution—she lost again.

She failed the corrupt-prosecutors test.

Progressives are divided about Kamala Harris’s candidacy, with some criminal-justice reformers who started off skeptical warming to her. For example, Shaun King told BuzzFeed News, “I was a little slow to trust her as a reformer on criminal justice, but I think she’s proven herself to me. I think she’s become one of the better spokespersons for really serious criminal-justice reform in the Democratic Party.”

I don’t doubt that Harris will continue to champion prudent criminal-justice reforms, whether she continues in the Senate or becomes president. But speaking and even voting for sound criminal-justice policies and being a trustworthy overseer of a sprawling criminal-justice bureaucracy are very different things.

I can forgive a politician a vote on a crime bill that looks ill-conceived two decades later, or a too-slow evolution toward marijuana legalization, or even a principled belief in the death penalty, something I adamantly oppose. I find it far harder to forgive fighting to keep a man in jail in the face of strong evidence of innocence, running a team of prosecutors that withholds potentially exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys, and utterly failing as the state’s top prosecutor to rein in glaringly corrupt district attorneys and law enforcement.

At best, Harris displayed a pattern of striking ignorance about scandalous misconduct in hierarchies that she oversaw. And she is now asking the public to place her atop a bigger, more complicated, more powerful hierarchy, where abuses and unaccountable officials would do even more to subvert liberty and justice for all.

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The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Tariffraff

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What We’re Following Today

It’s Friday, August 23.

‣ China said it plans to slap retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of American products, and restart tariffs on U.S. cars and parts. President Donald Trump escalated Friday evening:

‣ David Koch, the billionaire donor who, along with his brother Charles, helped fund and fuel aggressively libertarian movements that reshaped American politics, has died at 79.

Here’s what else we’re watching.

(Eman Mohammed)

The Forgotten American Hostages: President Trump likes to trumpet his administration’s efforts to free Americans jailed abroad (see most recently: A$AP Rocky). But he hasn’t prioritized at least five U.S. citizens currently jailed in Iran in the same way. Kathy Gilsinan and Yara Bayoumy tell the story of those prisoners, and speak with the ones who got out.

A Ketamine Fix: Increasing suicide rates among younger veterans have pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs to better address suicidal depression. What should we make of the president’s announcement that the government will purchase “a lot” of esketamine, a drug derivative of the recreational hallucinogen ketamine? James Hamblin explores the research.

Hong Kong Talking Points: Hong Kong’s struggle to protect its social and political freedoms from mainland-Chinese influence has captured headlines in the West, but doesn’t seem to be resonating with President Trump, Uri Friedman and Peter Nicholas write. What exactly is the administration’s position?

Bye Bye Bye (2020): Surprising no one, Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton said he was quitting the presidential primary and plans to run for a fourth term in Congress. He’s the fourth Democrat to drop out.

Christian Paz


Snapshot

(Regis Duvignau / Reuters)

Oxfam activists wearing giant papier–mâché heads depicting G7 leaders pose dressed as firefighters to draw attention to fighting inequality, on the eve of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.


Ideas From The Atlantic

The Proud Boys’ Real Target (Garrett Epps)
“From years of study—and personal experience—I know about Oregon’s dark racist past and the shadow it casts over the state today. Nonetheless, in recent years, leaders here have worked to create an inclusive culture—one that the fascists would like to discredit, stigmatize, and eventually destroy.” → Read on.

Bureaucrats Put the Squeeze on College Newspapers (Adam Willis)
“Sometimes the administration wants the paper to be a PR outlet for the university … When we turned that corner culturally—when colleges became a brand and they began to embrace this idea that they were a brand—then the bottom fell out in support for independent watchdog journalism.” → Read on.

Trump Longs to Command the Economy (David A. Graham)
“Moments before he issued his command to American businesses, Trump wondered whether ‘our bigger enemy’ is China’s Xi or Jay Powell, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. On its face, the question is absurd. But perhaps it’s no surprise that Trump sees more kinship with the Chinese autocrat than with the American central banker.” → Read on.

The Cops Who Abused Photoshop (Conor Friedersdorf)
“Society has already entered an era when technology permits the easy manipulation of images, video, and audio. One would expect law-enforcement professionals to discern the perils of participating in such manipulation.” → Read on.


What Else We’re Reading

A Penn law professor wants to make America white again (Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker) (🔒Paywall)

How America feels about Taylor Swift says more about us than her (Brandon Tensley, CNN)

Southern state governments hobble census outreach efforts (Olivia Paschal, Facing South)

‘It is about f—ing time’: Women break into top ranks of 2020 campaigns (Natasha Korecki and Maya King, Politico)


About us: This newsletter is a daily effort from The Atlantic’s politics writer Elaine Godfrey, with help from Christian Paz (and Taylor Swift’s Lover). It was edited by Shan Wang.

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The 2020 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet

Prepare for the Demaspora.

The deadline to qualify for the next Democratic primary debate is August 28, and as more candidates recognize they’re not going to make the cut, the field is clearing out.

On August 15, it was former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who now intends to run for Senate. On Wednesday, it was Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, who will run for a third term. Friday’s dropout is Seth Moulton, the representative from Massachusetts. His House colleague Eric Swalwell got in on the action early by dropping out in July. There are now a mere 21 Democrats running—but look for more departures as candidates fall short of the requirements of 130,000 individual donors and 2 percent in four polls.

Moulton’s exit from the race is no great surprise. The Massachusetts congressman was polling at zero—literally no supporters—in some polls. He’d never managed to qualify for a debate.

While Moulton was always a long shot, it was a little surprising just how little attention his campaign attracted. As a young man with both the Ivy League and military decorations on his resume, he’d attracted a great deal of attention before he entered the presidential race. He got to Congress by toppling a Democratic incumbent; once there, he tried to lead a charge to defeat Nancy Pelosi’s bid for party leadership — and failed completely.

That failure was indicative of Moulton’s questionable strategic choices. He made another blunder by entering the crowded Democratic race late, in April. And once he was a candidate, the press coverage that had seemed to accrue to him effortlessly disappeared. It’s hard to get attention as one of so many.

It didn’t help that Moulton didn’t have much of a sales pitch other than his youth. It’s interesting to note that the four candidates who have left so far are all white men. Of course, there are more white men than any other demographic in the field, so there are more to leave, but most of them struggled to articulate a unique appeal. Moulton and Swalwell emphasized youth; Hickenlooper emphasized bipartisanship. Inslee ran a nearly one-issue campaign on climate change. Of the other candidates who might have to face the music soon, Michael Bennet, Tim Ryan, and Bill de Blasio have also struggled to carve out an identity.

Moulton didn’t endorse another candidate immediately, but he praised former Vice President Joe Biden in an interview with The New York Times and said, “I think it’s evident that this is now a three-way race between Biden, Warren and Sanders, and really it’s a debate about how far left the party should go.”

Even as the Democratic field shrinks, the GOP side might grow. Former Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois said he’s considering a bid for the Republican nomination, with the backing of tireless (if hapless) never-Trumper Bill Kristol. Walsh has cut a curious path in the Trump era: Once a particularly outlandish Tea Party congressman who espoused birtherism and anti-Muslim bigotry, he has become a noisy critic of the president, earning the semi-affectionate, largely mocking moniker “Woke Joe Walsh.”

It long seemed that Trump would not draw a challenge in the Republican Party beyond Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who is ostensibly running for president but has been only slightly more visible than Amelia Earhart. Yet over the last few weeks, both Walsh and Mark Sanford, a former Republican congressman and governor of South Carolina, have begun to make serious noises about running against Trump.

“Serious” is relative, of course. Given Trump’s approval rating among Republicans, and his ample campaign resources, none of these challengers is likely to get very far. But their growing boldness at this moment, as the economy trembles and Trump exhibits behavior that’s erratic even for him, may be an indicator of trouble for the president’s reelection campaign.  

As the primaries progress, this cheat sheet will be updated regularly.

* * *

The Democrats


(Matthew Putney / Reuters)

TOM STEYER

Who is he?
A retired California hedge-funder, Steyer has poured his fortune into political advocacy on climate change and flirted with running for office.

Is he running?
No. He announced on January 9 that he would sit the race out. Lol jk! Steyer is now telling friends and allies he’s going to get into the race, my colleague Edward-Isaac Dovere reports.

Why does he want to run?
Impeachment, baby.

Who wants him to run?
There must be some #Resistance faction out there that does.

Can he win the nomination?
Nope.


(matt rourke / ap)

JOE SESTAK

Who is he?
A former vice admiral and two-term member of Congress from Pennsylvania, he twice ran for U.S. Senate.

Is he running?
Yes. He announced on June 23.

Why does he want to run?
Sestak’s announcement focuses on his long career in the military and the importance of American foreign policy. It’s a little evocative of retired General Wesley Clark’s 2004 campaign.

Who wants him to run?
It’s a mystery. Sestak says he delayed a campaign launch while his daughter was treated for cancer, which is praiseworthy, but there wasn’t even a murmur about him running before his announcement. Sestak is best known these days for losing Senate races in 2010 (in the general election) and 2016 (in the Democratic primary).

Can he win the nomination?
No.

What else do we know?
This logo, boy, I dunno.


(Mike Segar / Reuters)

BILL DE BLASIO

Who is he?
The mayor of New York City.

Is he running?
Yes. He announced on May 16.

Why does he want to run?
De Blasio was the harbinger of the Democratic Party’s leftward shift on economic issues, and they’d be at the center of his campaign, though the movement seems to have left him behind.

Who wants him to run?
That’s precisely the problem. De Blasio’s term as mayor has been a little bumpy, and even his friends and allies have spoken out against a run, publicly and privately.

Can he win the nomination?
No.

What else do we know?
De Blasio is the tallest candidate since Bill Bradley, in 2000. Both men are 6 foot 5.


(Matthew Brown / AP)

STEVE BULLOCK

Who is he?
Bullock is the governor of Montana, where he won reelection in 2016 even as Donald Trump won the state.

Is he running?
Yes. Bullock launched his campaign on May 14.

Why does he want to run?
Bullock portrays himself as a candidate who can win in Trump country and get things done across the aisle. He’s also been an outspoken advocate of campaign-finance reform.

Who wants him to run?
Unclear. The Great Plains and Mountain West aren’t traditional bases for national Democrats.

Can he win the nomination?
Probably not.


(Samantha Sais / Reuters)

MICHAEL BENNET

Who is he?
The Coloradan was appointed to the Senate in 2009 and has since won reelection twice.

Is he running?
Yes. Bennet announced his campaign on May 2.

Why does he want to run?
Like his fellow Rocky Mountain State Democrat John Hickenlooper, Bennet presents himself as someone with experience in business and management who knows how to work with Republicans.

Who wants him to run?
Probably some of the same people who wanted Hickenlooper to run. Bennet gained new fans with a viral video of his impassioned rant about Ted Cruz during the January government shutdown.

Can he win?
No.


(Jeff Roberson / AP)

JOE BIDEN

Who is he?
Don’t play coy. You know the former vice president, senator from Delaware, and recurring Onion character.

Is he running?
Yes. After a long series of hesitations, Biden announced his campaign on April 25.

Why does he want to run?
Biden has wanted to be president since roughly forever, and he thinks he might be the best bet to win back blue-collar voters and defeat President Trump in 2020. (Trump reportedly agrees.) But Biden seems reluctant to end his career with a primary loss, knows he’s old (he’ll turn 78 right after Election Day 2020), and is possibly out of step with the new Democratic Party.

Who wants him to run?
Biden has established a strong lead in the Democratic primary, but his shaky performance in the first debate showed he’s not invincible.

Can he win the nomination?
Yes. Being Barack Obama’s vice president gave Biden a fresh glow, but his past policy stands and his tendency toward handsiness remain a challenge. We’ve also seen him run for president twice before, and not very effectively.


(Jonathan Bachman / Reuters)

TIM RYAN

Who is he?
The Ohioan is a member of the House, representing Youngstown and America’s greatest city, Akron.

Is he running?
Yes. Ryan announced his plan to run on The View on April 4.

Why does he want to run?
Ryan is a classic Rust Belt Democrat and friend of labor, and he’s concerned about the fate of manufacturing. He is also an outspoken critic of Democratic leadership, mounting a quixotic challenge to Nancy Pelosi in 2017.

Who wants him to run?
Ryan comes from a part of Ohio that traditionally votes Democratic but swung to Trump, and he’d have supporters there.

Can he win the nomination?
No.

What else do we know?
He’s big on meditation.


(mary Altaffer / AP)

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND

Who is she?
Gillibrand has been a senator from New York since 2009, replacing Hillary Clinton. Before that, she served in the U.S. House.

Is she running?
Yes. She launched her campaign officially on March 17.

Why does she want to run?
Gillibrand has emphasized women’s issues, ranging from sexual harassment in the military and more recent #MeToo stories to equal pay, and her role as a mom is central in her announcement video. Once a fairly conservative Democrat, she has moved left in recent years.

Who wants her to run?
Vanishingly few voters. While Gillibrand entered the race as a big name, she’s struggled to gain the polling or donors needed to stay in debates, much less make a play for the nomination.

Can she win the nomination?
Almost certainly not.

What else do we know?
Just like you, she hated the Game of Thrones finale and is mad online about it.


(Kathy Willens / AP)

BETO O’ROURKE

Who is he?
The man, the myth, the legend, the former U.S. representative from El Paso and Democratic candidate for Senate in Texas.

Is he running?
Yes. O’Rourke announced his run on March 14.

Why does he want to run?
O’Rourke has been trying to figure that out. Since the El Paso massacre, he’s announced a new approach of attacking the Trump presidency head-on.

Who wants him to run?
A lot of live-stream watchers and thirsty tweeters, a coterie of ex–Obama aides, and a bunch of operatives running the Draft Beto campaign.

Can he win the nomination?
It seems increasingly impossible. O’Rourke has never regained the momentum of his announcement.

What else do we know?
This video is very important.


(Yuri Gripas / Reuters)

BERNIE SANDERS

Who is he?
If you didn’t know the Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist before his runner-up finish in the 2016 Democratic primary, you do now.

Is he running?
Yes. Sanders announced plans to run on February 19.

Why does he want to run?
For the same reasons he wanted to run in 2016, and the same reasons he’s always run for office: Sanders is passionate about redistributing wealth, fighting inequality, and creating a bigger social-safety net.

Who wants him to run?
Many of the same people who supported him last time, plus a few converts, minus those who are supporting Sanders-adjacent candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Tulsi Gabbard.

Can he win the nomination?
He could, but right now he hasn’t figured out how to get past Warren and Harris and past Biden.


(Aaron P. Bernstein / REUTERS)

AMY KLOBUCHAR

Who is she?
She has been a senator from Minnesota since 2007.

Is she running?
She announced plans to run in Minneapolis on February 9.

Why does she want to run?
Klobuchar represents a kind of heartland Democrat—progressive, but not aggressively so—who might have widespread appeal both in the Midwest and elsewhere. She’s tended to talk vaguely about middle-class issues.

Who wants her to run?
She’d probably build a constituency among mainstream Democrats. Her exchange with Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing won her a lot of fans.

Can she win the nomination?
The odds look longer by the day.

What else do we know?
Sadly, she is not using this fly logo.

(Jonathan Bachman / Reuters)

ELIZABETH WARREN

Who is she?
A senator from Massachusetts since 2013, Warren was previously a professor at Harvard Law School, helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and wrote a book on middle-class incomes.

Is she running?
Yes. She kicked off her campaign on February 9.

Why does she want to run?
Warren’s campaign is tightly focused on inequality, her signature issue since before entering politics. She has proposed an “ultra-millionaire tax” on people worth more than $50 million and a major overhaul of housing policies.

Who wants her to run?
People who backed Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016; people who were Bernie-curious but worried he was too irascible; people who didn’t like Bernie but are left-curious; Donald Trump.

Can she win the nomination?
Perhaps. After hovering in the second tier, early summer has been a breakout time for Warren, and she performed well in the first debate.

What else do we know?
She’s got a good doggo.


(Dimitrios Kambouris)

KAMALA HARRIS

Who is she?
Harris, a first-term senator from California, was elected in 2016. She was previously the state’s attorney general.

Is she running?
Yes. She declared her candidacy on January 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Why does she want to run?
Harris seems to think that a woman of color who is an ex-prosecutor will check a range of boxes for Democratic voters. She has so far staked out a broad platform, trying to appeal to a wide swath of the party.

Who wants her to run?
Mainstream Democrats. She put up immediately impressive fundraising numbers, and she’s enlisted a number of former Hillary Clinton aides.

Can she win the nomination?
Sure, maybe. Harris’s strong performance in the first debate has finally placed her in the top tier, as long expected.


(City of South Bend, IN)

PETE BUTTIGIEG

Who is he?
The 37-year-old openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Afghan War veteran has gone from near-anonymity to buzzy-candidate status in his first couple of months in the race.

Is he running?
Yes. He officially launched his campaign on April 14.

Why does he want to run?
Buttigieg’s sell is all about generation. He’s a Millennial and thinks his cohort faces new and unusual pressures and dilemmas that he is singularly equipped to resolve. Plus, it’s a useful way to differentiate himself from the blue-haired bigwigs in the blue party.

Who wants him to run?
Buttigieg has slowly climbed in the polls, grabbing attention for crisp answers and an almost Obamaesque demeanor; he has the support of some Obama alumni. He hopes to reach midwestern voters who deserted the Democrats in 2016.

Can he win the nomination?
It’s a long but not impossible shot. No mayor has been nominated since New York’s DeWitt Clinton in 1812.

What else do we know?
It’s “BOOT-edge-edge,” and it’s Maltese for “lord of the poultry.”


(DEPartment of Housing & Urban Development)

JULIÁN CASTRO

Who is he?
Castro was the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, before serving as secretary of housing and urban development under Barack Obama from 2014 to 2017.

Is he running?
Yes. He announced his bid on January 12 in San Antonio.

Why does he want to run?
Castro has long been saddled with the dreaded “rising star” tag, and with Texas still red, he’s got few options below the national stage. He’s emphasized his Hispanic-immigrant roots in early campaign rhetoric.

Who wants him to run?
It’s not yet clear. He’d like to take the Obama mantle and coalition, but that doesn’t mean he can.

Can he win the nomination?
Probably not. Four years ago, he seemed like the future of the party; now the stage is crowded with rivals, including fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke. “I am not a front-runner in this race, but I have not been a front-runner at any time in my life,” Castro said during his announcement.

What else do we know?
Castro’s twin brother, Joaquin, who serves in the U.S. House, once subbed in for his brother in a parade during Julián’s mayoral campaign, so if you go to a campaign event, ask for proof that it’s really him.


(KC McGinnis / Reuters)

JOHN DELANEY

Who is he?
A former four-term congressman from Maryland, he might be even less known than Pete Buttigieg, who at least has a memorable name.

Is he running?
Is he ever! Delaney announced way back in June 2017, hoping that a head start could make up for his lack of name recognition.

Why does he want to run?
Delaney, a successful businessman, is pitching himself as a centrist problem-solver.

Who wants him to run?
Unclear. He’s all but moved to Iowa in hopes of locking up the first caucus state, but even there his name ID isn’t great.

Can he win the nomination?
Nah.


(Marco Garcia / AP)

TULSI GABBARD

Who is she?
Gabbard, 37, has represented Hawaii in the U.S. House since 2013. She previously served in Iraq.

Is she running?
Yes. She officially announced on February 2 in Honolulu.

Why does she want to run?
Gabbard says her central issue is “war and peace,” which basically means a noninterventionist foreign policy.

Who wants her to run?
Gabbard is likely to draw support from Sanders backers. She supported Bernie in 2016, resigning from a post as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee to do so, and she’s modeled herself largely on him.

Can she win the nomination?
No.

What else do we know?
If elected, she would be the first Hindu president.


(JOSHUA LOTT / AFP / Getty)

ANDREW YANG

Who is he?
Yang is a tech entrepreneur who created the test-preparation company Manhattan Prep and then Venture for America, which tries to incubate start-ups outside New York and the Bay Area, and which is based in New York.

Is he running?
Yes. He filed to run on November 6, 2017.

Why does he want to run?
Yang is a 360-degree sprinkler of policy proposals, but his best-known idea is a $1,000 per month universal basic income for every American adult.

Who wants him to run?
A motley internet movement, including many fans of Joe Rogan’s podcast.

Can he win the nomination?
Highly unlikely.


(Amy Harris / Invision / AP)

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON

Who is she?
If you don’t know the inspirational author and speaker, you know her aphorisms (e.g., “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”).

Is she running?
Yes. She announced her candidacy on January 28.

Why does she want to run?
It’s a little tough to say. She writes on her website, “My campaign for the presidency is dedicated to this search for higher wisdom.” She criticized Hillary Clinton for coziness with corporate interests in 2016, and she ran for the U.S. House in 2014.

Who wants her to run?
Williamson has a lot of fans, but whether they really want her as president is another question.

Can she win the nomination?
Stranger things have happened, but no.


(Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

CORY BOOKER

Who is he?
A senator from New Jersey, he was previously the social-media-savvy mayor of Newark.

Is he running?
Yes. He launched his campaign on February 1.

Why does he want to run?
In the Senate, Booker has been big on criminal-justice reform, including marijuana liberalization. He has recently embraced progressive ideas including Medicare for All and some sort of universal nest egg for children.

Who wants him to run?
He’ll aim for Obama-style uplift and inspiration to attract voters. Booker has previously been close to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and to Wall Street, both of which could be a liability in a Democratic primary.

Can he win the nomination?
Possibly.


(City of Miramar, FLorida)

WAYNE MESSAM

Who is he?
Look, many people thought a young black mayor from Florida would run in 2020. They just thought it would be Tallahassee’s Andrew Gillum, not Miramar’s Wayne Messam, who was elected in 2015.

Is he running?
Yes. Messam announced his candidacy on March 28.

Why does he want to run?
He’s got a lot of standard rhetoric about the fading American dream. “The promise of America belongs to all of us,” Messam says in his announcement video. “That’s why I’m going to be running for president. To be your champion.”

Who wants him to run?
People who know him seem to like him, but Miramar has barely more than 100,000 residents.

Can he win?
Sure, Messam won a national championship as a wide receiver for the 1993 Florida State Seminoles. Can he win the presidency? Um, no.


(Brian Snyder / Reuters)

SETH MOULTON

Who is he?
A third-term congressman from Massachusetts, Moulton graduated from Harvard, then served in the Marines in Iraq.

Is he running?
No. Moulton, who announced his campaign on April 22, left the race on August 23.

Why did he want to run?
In an interview with BuzzFeed, he said he felt the Democratic Party needs younger leaders and, alluding to his military career, “someone … for whom standing up to a bully like Donald Trump isn’t the biggest challenge he or she has ever faced in life.”

Who wanted him to run?
Almost no one. Moulton never gained much attraction, and some polls found him polling at precisely zero.

Could he have won?
No.


(Mary Schwalm / AP)

JAY INSLEE

Who is he?
Inslee is a second-term governor of Washington, and was previously in the U.S. House.

Is he running?
No. Inslee announced on August 21 that he was ending his campaign.

Why did he want to run?
Climate change. That’s been Inslee’s big issue as governor, and it will be at the center of his campaign for president, too.

Who wanted him to run?
Inslee generated excitement from climate activists, but never gained enough attention from the broad Democratic electorate to gain traction.

Could he have won the nomination?
No.


(Lawrence Bryant / REuters)

STACEY ABRAMS

Who is she?
Abrams ran unsuccessfully for governor of Georgia in 2018 and was previously the Democratic leader in the state House.

Is she running?
No. Abrams will instead focus on advocating against voter suppression, The New York Times reported on August 13. She’s likely to be mentioned as a running mate for the eventual nominee, too.

Why did she want to run?
Throughout her career, Abrams has focused on bread-and-butter issues such as criminal-justice reform and education, and since losing a 2018 election stained by problems with ballot access, she’s made voting rights a special focus.

Who wanted her to run?
Abrams has drawn excitement from young Democrats, the liberal wing of the party, and African Americans. Her rebuttal to President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address won her new fans, and the former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer says she should run.

Could she have won?
No.


(Department of Labor)

JOHN HICKENLOOPER

Who is he?
Hickenlooper was the governor of Colorado until January, and previously held the most Colorado trifecta of jobs imaginable: mayor of Denver, geologist, and brewery owner.

Is he running?
No. Hickenlooper is leaving the race on August 15.

Why did he want to run?
Hickenlooper branded himself as an effective manager and deal maker who has governed effectively in a purple state while still staying progressive. He said he worried the Democratic field could be too focused on grievance and not enough on policy.

Who wanted him to run?
Not nearly enough people. Hickenlooper was never able to get out of the low single digits in polling, and was at precisely zero in one late poll.

Could he have won the nomination?
No.


(Alex Wong / Getty)

MIKE GRAVEL

Who is he?
Gravel, 89, represented Alaska for two terms in the Senate, during which he read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and fought against the Vietnam War. These days he’s probably better known for his 2008 presidential campaign.

Is he running?
No. After launching on April 8, his campaign announced it was ending on August 5, and Gravel has endorsed Bernie Sanders.

Why did he want to run?
Gravel was running to bring attention to his pet issues: direct democracy, nuclear nonproliferation, and a noninterventionist foreign policy.

Who wanted him to run?
This is where it gets weird. The committee is the brainchild of three students in college and high school who have basically created a Draft Gravel movement. But Gravel decided he liked the idea and went along with it.

Could he have won the nomination?
No. He initially said he didn’t even want to, though his campaign—worried it might be disqualified for Democratic debates—then said he was running for real. He didn’t qualify anyway.

What else do we know?
Gravel produced the greatest presidential spot this side of the “Daisy” ad—and then he remade it this cycle.


(J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

ERIC SWALWELL

Who is he?
Swalwell, who is 38, is a U.S. representative from California’s Bay Area.

Is he running?
No. Swalwell left the race on July 8, exactly three months after he announced his candidacy on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.

Why did he want to run?
Swalwell was running on a gun-control platform. He also says the Democratic Party needs fresh blood. “We can’t count on the same old leaders to solve the same old problems,” he told The Mercury News. “It’s going to take new energy and new ideas and a new confidence to do that.”

Who wanted him to run?
Not nearly enough people. Swalwell never busted through the 1 percent threshold.

Can he have won the nomination?
Clearly not.


(Phil Long / Reuters)

SHERROD BROWN

Who is he?
By statute, I am required to mention the senator from Ohio’s tousled hair, rumpled appearance, and gravelly voice.

Is he running?
No. Brown told the Youngstown Vindicator on March 7 that he will not run.

Why did he want to run?
Brown’s campaign would have focused on workers and inequality. He’s somewhat akin to Bernie Sanders, but his progressivism is of the midwestern, organized-labor variety.

Who wanted him to run?
Leftist Democrats who though Sanders is too old and Elizabeth Warren too weak a candidate; lots of dudes in union halls in Northeast Ohio.

Could he have won the nomination?
Possibly.

What else do we know?
Like Warren, Brown has a very good dog.


(Mark Tenally / AP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE

Who is he?
Once known primarily as a close friend of Bill Clinton’s and a Democratic fundraising prodigy, McAuliffe reinvented himself as the governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018.

Is he running?
No. McAuliffe said April 17 he wouldn’t compete.

Why did he want to run?
McAuliffe holds up his governorship as proof that he can be a problem solver and deal maker across the aisle, and his Clintonesque politics would have contrasted him with many of the candidates in the field.

Who wanted him to run?
McAuliffe himself concluded he just didn’t have a big enough constituency in the wide Democratic field.

Could he have won the nomination?
Probably not.


(Simon Dawson / Reuters)

MIKE BLOOMBERG

Who is he?
The billionaire former mayor of New York, Bloomberg is a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat-again.

Is he running?
No. Bloomberg announced on March 5 (in Bloomberg, natch) that he would not run.

Why did he want to run?
For starters, he was convinced that he’d be better and more competent at the job than anyone else. A Bloomberg bid would likely have centered on his pet issues of gun control, climate change, and fighting the more fiscally liberal wing of the Democratic Party tooth and silver-plated nail.

Who wanted him to run?
What, was his considerable ego not enough? Though his tenure as mayor is generally well regarded, it’s unclear what Bloomberg’s Democratic constituency was beyond other wealthy, socially liberal and fiscally conservative types, and it’s not as if he needed their money to run.

Could he have won the nomination?
Probably not. Bloomberg has also previously toyed with an independent run, but says that would only help Trump in 2020.


(Yuri Gripas / Reuters)

ERIC HOLDER

Who is he?
Holder was the U.S. attorney general from 2009 to 2015, and he’s currently leading a Democratic redistricting initiative with help from some retiree named Barack Obama.

Is he running?
No. After toying with the idea, he wrote in The Washington Post on March 7 that he would not run.

Why did he want to run?
Holder has three big areas of interest: redistricting, civil rights, and beating Donald Trump by all means necessary.

Who wanted him to run?
Tough to say. Obamaworld isn’t really lining up behind him, and he’s never held elected office, despite a successful Washington career.

Could he have won the nomination?
Probably not.


(Faith Ninivaggi / Reuters)

MITCH LANDRIEU

Who is he?
Landrieu served as the mayor of New Orleans from 2010 to 2018. He was previously Louisiana’s lieutenant governor.

Is he running?
It seems unlikely. “Probably not, but if I change my mind, you’re going to be the first to know,” he told the New York Times editor Dean Baquet in December.

Why did he want to run?
Like the other mayors contemplating a run, Landrieu considers himself a problem-solver. He’s also become a campaigner for racial reconciliation, taking down Confederate monuments in New Orleans, and staking a claim for progressivism in the Deep South.

Who wanted him to run?
Not clear.

Could he have won the nomination?
Probably not.


(Jeenah Moon / Reuters)

ANDREW CUOMO

Who is he?
Cuomo is the governor of New York. He was formerly the secretary of housing and urban development under Bill Clinton.

Is he running?
No. Though he’s long toyed with the idea, Cuomo said in November 2018, “I am ruling it out.” Then again, his father was indecisive about running for president, too.

Why did he want to run?
One can adopt a Freudian analysis related to his father’s unfinished business, or one can note that Cuomo thinks he’s got more management experience and success, including working with Republicans, than any Democratic candidate.

Who wanted him to run?
Practically no one. Cuomo’s defenders bristle that he doesn’t get enough credit, but his work with Republicans has infuriated Empire State Democrats without winning any real GOP friends.

Could he have won the nomination?
No.


(Yuri Gripas / Reuters)

ERIC GARCETTI

Who is he?
Garcetti is the mayor of Los Angeles.

Is he running?
No. Garcetti flirted with the idea, visiting South Carolina and naming a hypothetical Cabinet full of mayors, but said on January 29 that he would not run.

Why did he want to run?
Garcetti’s pitch was that mayors actually get things done and that his lack of experience in Washington was a positive.

Who wanted him to run?
Garcetti was reelected in a landslide in 2017, but he had no apparent national constituency.

Could he have won the nomination?
Doubtful.


(Andrew Harnik / AP)

HILLARY CLINTON

Who is she?
Come on.

Is she running?
No, she announced on March 4 that she won’t. But until she issues a Shermanesque denial signed in blood—or the filing deadline passes—the rumors probably won’t die.

Why does she want to run?
She doesn’t.

Who wants her to run?
Pundits, mostly.

Can she win the nomination?
See above.


(Mike Blake / Reuters)

MICHAEL AVENATTI

Who is he?
Formerly Stormy Daniels’s lawyer, he’s now facing a dizzying array of federal charges.

Is he running?
Haha, no way. He now says he might once again, but he won’t. And if he does, it won’t matter.

Why did he want to run?
Attention, power, self-aggrandizement

Who wanted him to run?
Some very loud, very devoted fans.

Could he have won the nomination?
No, and his comment to Time that the nominee “better be a white male” was the final straw.



REPUBLICANS


(Leah Millis / Reuters)

DONALD TRUMP

Who is he?
Really?

Fine. Is he running?
Yes. He filed for reelection the day of his inauguration, though some speculate that he might decide not to follow through.

Why does he want to run?
Build the wall, Keep America Great, etc.

Who wants him to run?
Consistently about 35 to 40 percent of the country; a small majority consistently says he should not.

Can he win the nomination?
Yes. While his low approval ratings overall have stoked talk of a primary challenge, Trump remains very popular among Republican voters, and as president has broad power to muscle the GOP process to protect himself.

What else do we know?
There is nothing else new and interesting to know about Trump. You’ve made your mind up already, one way or another.


(Carolyn Kaster / AP)

JOE WALSH

Who is he?
After a strong run in the James Gang, Walsh joined the Eagles as lead guitari—wait, no, wrong guy. This Joe Walsh was a Tea Party congressman from Illinois from 2011 to 2013.

Is he running?
Not yet, but he is considering it, with the encouragement of Bill Kristol, one of Trump’s most relentless Republican critics.

Why is he running?
Once a strong Trump backer, Walsh has undergone a strange political transformation over the last three years and now routinely attacks Trump, who he sees as insufficiently conservative and too deferential to Russia.

Who wants him to run?
There are still some Republicans dead-set against Trump, though vanishingly few. A Walsh candidacy would give them someone to vote for in the primary and potentially a way of weakening the president ahead of the 2020 general election.

Can he win the nomination?
Absolutely not.


(Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

MARK SANFORD

Who is he?
Sanford was governor of South Carolina from 2003 to 2011 and a U.S. representative from 1995 to 2001 and 2013 to 2019.

Is he running?
No, but he told the Charleston Post and Courier he’d decide over the next month.

Why is he running?
Sanford has been an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, whom he views as crude and fiscally undisciplined. Trump helped defeat him in a 2018 primary, giving some extra motivation.

Who wants him to run?
Lots of reporters who are eager to make bad Appalachian Trail jokes. There must be some never-Trump fiscal conservatives who don’t want Trump but wouldn’t vote for Weld. Not many, though.

Can he win the nomination?
No.


(Stephan Savoia / AP)

WILLIAM WELD

Who is he?
Weld, a former Justice Department official, was the governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997 and was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2016.

Is he running?
Yes. Weld officially launched his campaign April 15.

Why is he running?
Calling President Trump “unstable,” Weld has said, “I think our country is in grave peril and I cannot sit any longer quietly on the sidelines.”

Who wants him to run?
Weld always inspired respect from certain quarters, and the 2016 Libertarian ticket did well by the party’s standards, but Weld’s unorthodox politics and hot-and-cold relationship with the GOP probably don’t help his support.

Can he win the nomination?
No.

What else do we know?
This logo is so cool.


(Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters)

JOHN KASICH

Who is he?
Kasich recently finished up two terms as governor of Ohio, previously served in the U.S. House, and ran in the 2016 GOP primary.

Is he running?
No, and it seems he won’t. “There is no path right now for me. I don’t see a way to get there,” he said May 30. “I’ve never gotten involved in a political race where I didn’t think I could win.”

Why did he want to run?
Kasich has long wanted to be president—he ran, quixotically, in 2000. But Kasich has styled himself as a vocal Trump critic, and sees himself as an alternative to the president who is both truer to conservative principles and more reliable and moral.

Who wanted him to run?
Maybe some dead-end never-Trump conservatives. It’s tough to say.

Could he have won the nomination?
Even he doesn’t think so. Kasich previously ruled out an independent or third-party run, but has since reopened that door.

What else do we know?
John Kasich bought a Roots CD and hated it so much, he threw it out his car window. John Kasich hated the Coen brothers’ classic Fargo so much, he tried to get his local Blockbuster to quit renting it. George Will laughed at him. John Kasich is the Bill Brasky of philistinism, but John Kasich probably hated that skit, too.


(Patrick Semansky / AP)

LARRY HOGAN

Who is he?
In November, Hogan became the first Republican to be reelected as governor of Maryland since 1954.

Is he running?
No. After some flirtation, he ruled out a run on June 1.

Why did he want to run?
Hogan is a pragmatic, moderate Republican who has won widespread acclaim in a solidly Democratic state—in other words, everything Trump is not.

Who wanted him to run?
Never-Trump conservatives; whatever the Republican equivalent of a “good government” type is.

Could he have won the nomination?
As long as Trump was running, no.


(Official Senate PhotO)

JEFF FLAKE

Who is he?
The Arizonan, a former U.S. House member, decided not to run for reelection to the Senate in 2019.

Is he running?
No. When he took a contributor role with CBS on January 23, he said he was not running.

Why did he want to run?
Starting in 2016, Flake was perhaps Trump’s most outspoken critic among elected Republicans, lambasting the president as immoral, unserious, and unconservative.

Who wanted him to run?
Liberal pundits.

Could he have won the nomination?
No. Flake retired because he didn’t even think he could win the Republican Senate nomination.


THIRD PARTIES AND INDEPENDENTS


(OFFICE OF JUSTIN AMASH)

JUSTIN AMASH

Who is he?
Amash has represented a Grand Rapids, Michigan-area seat in the U.S. House since 2011.

Is he running?
Not yet, but Libertarian Party members are lobbying him to get in, and he says he’s thinking about it.

Why does he want to run?
Amash has cut a path as a strong libertarian in the House, especially in recent months as a critic of President Trump. On July 4, he announced he was leaving the Republican Party, feeding presidential speculation.

Who wants him to run?
Libertarians, duh. “There’s a lot of people who consider Amash to be the best congressman from the perspective of a Libertarian,” Libertarian Party Chairman Nicholas Sarwark told MLive. “They think he’s the best congressman for our goals since Ron Paul.”

Can he win the nomination?
Yes.


(JASON REDMOND / Reuters)

HOWARD SCHULTZ

Who is he?
That guy who used to sell you over-roasted coffee. Schultz stepped down as CEO of Starbucks in 2018.

Is he running?
It seems increasingly unlikely. After some travel through the spring, Schultz announced he would take the summer off, citing health problems, and laid off most of his staff.

Why does he want to run?
Personal pique over Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s support for a 70 percent marginal tax rate. No, seriously. Schultz has offered some vague platitudes about centrist ideas and bringing the country together, but most of it aligns with standard Democratic positions.

Who wants him to run?
Donald Trump.

Can he win the nomination?
The great thing about being a billionaire self-funder as an independent is that you don’t have to win a nomination. The downside is that you still have to win votes eventually.


(Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters)

JOHN MCAFEE

Who is he?
He’s the guy who made your antivirus program-turned-international fugitive-turned-unsuccessful 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate. A typical politician, basically.

Is he running?
He says he’s going to either vie for the Libertarian nomination again or run as an independent, though it’s probably worth regarding what he says with some skepticism.

Why does he want to run?
To promote cryptocurrency, brah. “See, I don’t want to be president,” he told a crypto trade publication in November 2018. “I couldn’t be … no one’s going to elect me president, please God. However, I’ve got the right to run.”

Who wants him to run?
Rubberneckers, disaster enthusiasts.

Can he win the nomination?
“No one’s going to elect me president, please God.”

What else do we know?
You want to see what it’s like as the opposite sex for three hours? What being kissed by God feels like? You want the infinite experience of freedom? Knowledge of yourself? Eroticism that incinerates you? A simple good time? Forgetfulness? He’s your man.

Click here to see original article

Taylor Swift Finds Her Faith on Lover

When an artist’s work becomes synonymous with the term diaristic, it’s easy to feel that there’s little left unknown about her life. Taylor Swift has been not-so-subtly addressing her nonfictional exes and besties and rivals and romances in lyrics for years. One song on her new album, Lover, reveals the very block on which she first shacked up with one of her beaus. But it’s still surprising to hear her talk about certain subjects in song. Like her faith.

When Swift swam into the country mainstream with her twangy 2006 self-titled debut, there were light mentions of prayer amid her swept-up love ballads. She’s used only the most generic religious references—a stray “Lord save me,” for example—since then. Now, with Lover, she acknowledges her actual beliefs and lack thereof. On “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a tender banjo piece about her mom’s cancer diagnosis, she sings, “Holy orange bottles, each night, I pray to you / Desperate people find faith, so now I pray to Jesus, too.”

What a jolting line—shifting from the secular, imagistic, everything-is-enchanted sort of mysticism Swift has always excelled at to one rooted in actual theology. Significantly, the couplet comes from real-life struggle. Writing in Elle recently, Swift said that her mother’s illness “taught me that there are real problems and then there’s everything else. My mom’s cancer is a real problem. I used to be so anxious about daily ups and downs. I give all of my worry, stress, and prayers to real problems now.”

Lover is an album of revelation through pain that sees Swift pushing herself in surprising ways. Her motifs include heaven, angels, devils, the colors pink and gold, and the notion of rebirth, all of which inform a solid new chapter in a long-running narrative. Back in 2014, Swift’s “pop”-makeover 1989 presented her as a cosmopolitan conquerer: a woman of the world collecting famous friends and accomplishments to the laudatory blare of keyboards. Winning pop culture’s popularity contest came with inevitable complications, and the chaotic Reputation offered a joking-but-not-really embrace of the drama. She’s now claiming transcendence with Lover, but it’s the hard-earned, hard-kept kind, with musical wobbles—in sonic character and in quality—to match.

The opener, “I Forgot That You Existed,” rates as a misfire with a message. Pert piano and squiggly synth elements recall the cloying tropical pop that Ed Sheeran has played with on his recent albums; her sing-talky delivery resembles him, too. She’s telling someone who betrayed her that she doesn’t even think about them anymore, and the fact that she’s written a song about how much she doesn’t care is surely part of the not particularly funny joke. This is as petty—and flimsy—a song as Swift has written. That is, however, the point. She’s saying goodbye to all the silly score-settling.

Well, sort of. The pulse-quickening next track, “Cruel Summer,” seems to bait her rival Kanye West with its title (the name of his 2012 crew album) and its flashing indicator light of a beat (which could have been off of that album). Really, though, the song’s closer in character to Bleachers, the rock band of Swift’s recent chief collaborator, Jack Antonoff. His flair for ’80s FM drama—gated drums, goofy vocoder—meets her storytelling chops, with noirish verses alternating between excellent, swirling choruses. She’s describing a romance of “unbreakable heaven” that arrived among scandal, and the bridge climaxes with her lover “grinning like a devil.”

Love is heaven and love is hell—Swift’s on a duality kick, and it’s resulting in some of the most intriguing lyrics of her career. She’s been accused of “playing the victim” over the years, but the misty synth ballad “The Archer” owns that criticism in a stark, admirable way. Maybe she does ask for trouble, and maybe she does “jump from the train” to “ride off alone”: There are no excuses in the song. Her writing is like a sharp double-edged blade elsewhere, too, especially when trying to swing at complex, bittersweet feelings. On “I Think He Knows,” she cops to being turned on by “his hands around a cold glass.” For “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” she nails an introspective scene: “I take the long way home / I ask the traffic lights if it’ll be alright / They say, ‘I don’t know.’”

Reputation raided rap production to create noisy hybrids with warmly addictive choruses, and Lover continues in that direction but with a lot less noise and slightly worse choruses (where’d Max Martin go?). The songs set a mood and stay in them; often the beat leads the way, with sometimes stiff results. Worst are the performatively chipper bids at radio play: the singles “ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down,” plus the corny sock hop of “Paper Rings” and the Anglophobic-disguised-as-Anglophile reggae of “London Boy.” The political clapback of “The Man,” in which she imagines how her publicist would have less to do if Swift weren’t female, takes what was good about the sound of 1989 and executes it with irony in the place of emotion.

It’s the more ambivalent, unclassifiable, sonically adventurous side of the album that instead deserves the classic Swift-fan obsession. The wintry and poignant “Cornelia Street” airs premature pain for a breakup that she hopes never happens. Her producers go wild with the trippy and polyphonic “Death by a Thousand Cuts” and with the murmuring atmospherics of “False God” (Swift’s first sax spot?). You’d call the title track a reversion to Swift’s old country style if the coat of reverb on it wasn’t as thick as the silt on the Titanic. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend,” another standout, whose nostalgia seems to reach not only backwards in time but forward, features an eerie combo of steel drum and choral harmony as Swift paints a muted portrait of a wedding.

Swift’s early albums mentioned marriage, too, but usually in the clichéd manner of a young person pining for a fairy-tale ending. The vision of settling down as a capstone—as some culminating spectacle—is a common one, but it’s also one that plenty of grown-ups who once held it eventually realize was short-sighted. Swift’s realized the same, as demonstrated when the title track (and its moving video) dreams of comfort rather than head rushes and diamonds. During the wonderful bridge of “Daylight,” the album’s closing track, she rebukes her old vision of love as “black-and-white” or “red.” Rather, it’s “golden like daylight.” Lover’s love is the type that is patient and kind—the kind learned from reading holy books, living long enough, or both.

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Trump Longs to Command the Economy

Fate sometimes has an acute sense of irony. This morning, the political donor and philanthropist David Koch died. Koch’s father was an early, prominent supporter of the limited-government, red-baiting John Birch Society. Koch ran for vice president as a Libertarian in 1980, but he and his brother Charles eventually shifted their focus to pushing the Republican Party in an aggressively small-government, low-regulation direction. They had remarkable success, but had serious disagreements with the current Republican president, Donald Trump.

The same morning Koch died, Trump tweeted:

The phrase that leaps from this meandering jeremiad is this: Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China. In his ongoing struggle against China, Trump has begun to ever more resemble his rival Xi Jinping—an authoritarian presiding over a command economy. David Koch isn’t buried yet, but his father, Fred, is surely spinning in his grave.

As is often the case when Trump tweets something detached from reality, it is difficult to tell how serious he is. His defenders often try to write off his most bizarre remarks as jokes, though there’s no sign this one is meant to be humorous: It’s in the middle of an extended rant, and it fits with his other statements about China and trade.

[Read: The sweeping effects of Trump’s deal with Carrier]

Even if Trump is serious, does he really think he can mandate the behavior of private business via Twitter missive? Who knows! Trump has shown enough autocratic impulse, and enough ignorance of how the government and law work, that it’s impossible to rule that out. It’s also possible, though, that Trump knows he can’t actually decree such a move, but understands the power of saying it anyway, both as public relations and as a way to pressure companies to act out of fear of presidential reprisal.

Trump has demonstrated a yearning for the tools of a command economy since his campaign, when he repeatedly promised to keep American jobs in the country. In November 2016, when he was still president-elect, he bullied Carrier, the air-conditioner company, to cancel the closing of a plant in Indiana. The move horrified small-government conservatives, many of whom had opposed Trump during the election, but he was just getting started. As his trade war has hurt American agriculture, the president has undertaken a $16 billion subsidy program for farmers. This week, he also publicly lambasted car companies for reaching an agreement with the state of California to set emissions standards stricter than his administration’s.

Trump has done all of this even while attempting to paint his 2020 Democratic opponents as a bunch of socialists. Calling the president’s actions “socialist” is a bit misleading, because they don’t really seem to be aimed at creating a more equitable redistribution of wealth. The Carrier rescue turned out to be a sham. The farm bailouts seem to be largely flowing to farmers who are already wealthy. But they extend government control of the economy in ways that the Republican Party has traditionally fiercely opposed. GOP officials attacked President Barack Obama as a socialist for his bailouts of the automotive industry and for the Affordable Care Act, but Obama didn’t go around issuing peremptory, unilateral commands to all American businesses.

[Read: Trump’s new Red Scare]

Perhaps the decree is just a fleeting notion for Trump, but in the past the administration has sometimes gone to great lengths to turn seemingly outlandish declarations into established policy. Trump promised to ban Muslims from entering the United States during the 2016 election, and the White House worked through multiple iterations of a policy to bar some Muslims before finding one that passed legal muster. More recently, the administration has tried multiple ways to legally justify family separations and the internment of immigrant children at the border.

Trump’s tweets round out a week in which his statements have been stunning even for him. Among other things, the president referred to himself as “the chosen one” to deal with China; retweeted remarks that likened him to “the king of Israel” and “the second coming of God”; called American Jews who vote for Democrats “disloyal,” reviving an old anti-Semitic dual-loyalty slur; and abruptly canceled a state trip to Denmark after the Danish government indicated that Greenland was not for sale. Moments before he issued his command to American businesses, Trump wondered whether “our bigger enemy” is China’s Xi or Jay Powell, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

On its face, the question is absurd. But perhaps it’s no surprise that Trump sees more kinship with the Chinese autocrat than with the American central banker.

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Trump Orders ‘a Lot’ of Ketamine for Depressed Veterans

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the government will purchase “a lot” of the drug esketamine, a derivative of ketamine.

Though ketamine is known as a recreational hallucinogen, Trump asserted that a new nasal-spray derivative would be of great benefit to veterans with depression. As he left the White House for a veterans’ conference in Kentucky, he told reporters that he had instructed the Department of Veterans Affairs to make a large purchase—overriding a recent decision by the doctors who manage the hospitals’ formulary of which drugs are to be prescribed.

“There’s a product that’s made right now that just came out by Johnson & Johnson which has a tremendously positive—pretty short-term, but nevertheless positive—effect,” Trump said. But that statement is contrary to the evidence. A review by the Food and Drug Administration of what limited studies have been done with esketamine found mixed results, leaving many scientists unsure if the drug is indeed effective and safe. Just last week, the agency published a report that said the drug was not reliably better than placebo.

Rates of suicide among veterans have perennially been about 50 percent higher than those among people who were never in the military. Then, last year, the VA reported that rates increased by 10 percent among younger veterans in particular. Despite pressure to better address and treat suicidal depression, the VA’s medical advisory board voted in June against including esketamine in the list of drugs that the hospital system offers in its formulary. The VA declined to comment on its decision, but current guidelines, a VA spokesperson told me by email, allow for esketamine’s occasional use in “veterans who have not previously responded to adequate trials of other available treatments for major depression.”

Esketamine recently underwent an expedited trial to see if it could be of benefit for people with depression. In March, the FDA granted a controversial fast-track approval to the drug (which is sold under the brand name Spravato) for use in severe depression. Only one of three clinical trials showed any benefit. The drug was not shown to decrease suicide: three patients who were taking the drug died by suicide during the clinical trials, compared with none who weren’t.

The FDA ultimately voted to approve the drug, but only for use in conjunction with an oral antidepressant medication, and only for the treatment of severe cases of depression where other approaches haven’t helped. Given the many potential adverse effects, the drug has to be administered by a physician. The patient then has to be overseen for two subsequent hours. Effectively, esketamine was deemed safe enough for doctors to consider prescribing when everything else has failed and a person is still suffering.

This is a far cry from the promises the president made to veterans. “Hopefully we are getting it at a very good cost,” Trump said. “I guess it’s a form of a stimulant where if somebody is really in trouble from the standpoint of suicide, it can do something.” The drug is, in fact, a sedative; ketamine has long been used as an anesthetic. And its daily cost is $737.50.

Speaking to veterans later that day in Kentucky, Trump reiterated the promise: “I’ve instructed the top officials to go out and get as much of it as you can from Johnson & Johnson.”

Despite Trump’s remarks, the VA spokesperson, Susan Carter, told me that the agency has no immediate plans to change its policy: “VA will closely monitor the use of esketamine in veterans to more fully understand its relative safety and effectiveness as compared to other available treatments. Based on this information, VA may revise its clinical guidance and formulary status if warranted.”

Even if the drug does prove safe and effective enough for the VA to adopt it widely, by no measure would it constitute a comprehensive approach to preventing suicide. Antidepressant medications of all sorts have only ever constituted part of an effective treatment plan.

Preventing the onset and escalation of depression in high-risk groups is more difficult still. It involves building community and connection—creating and maintaining healthy avenues for veterans to process trauma, reintegrate into the often directionless maw of civilian life, and recalibrate a sense of purpose and belonging. Putting great hope in a nasal spray—as anything more than an emergency last resort in extreme cases—is to overlook the fundamental complexity of depression, and to miss the root causes of the disease.

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