The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: No More Mr. Tough Guy

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The Top Story

Sailors get ready for flight action on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea on June 14. (Tristan Kyle Labuguen / U.S. Navy / Handout / Reuters)

Not a Hawk, Not Yet a Dove

After Iran shot down an American drone over the Strait of Hormuz, the countries appeared poised for a military confrontation. American jets were set to attack, until President Donald Trump—ever the tough guy—called it off.

In an administration of Iran hawks who seem intent on bringing the two countries to a head, Trump now finds himself in the peculiar position of trying to stop further escalation.

“Trump is getting conflicting advice on dealing with Iran’s provocations,” Peter Nicholas and Elaina Plott report from the White House: National Security Adviser John Bolton has “raised the specter of armed conflict,” while Trump himself sits “atop the more dovish wing.”

The president’s Iran instincts don’t just run contrary to his inner circle of advisers. General Kenneth McKenzie, the new head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, is making sure Centcom (Central Command) has even more resources to deal with Iran. The Defense Department’s long-term strategy focuses on great-power competition with countries like China and Russia, Kathy Gilsinan writes, but “McKenzie will help keep the U.S. focus on the Middle East.”

After nearly two months of rising tensions, U.S. policy has reached an impasse: Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign of increased sanctions and small, steady troop buildups hasn’t yet pressured Iran to yield.

Will Iran continue to test America’s patience? And will Trump continue to test his advisers’ limits? One remaining option is diplomacy. But “when and if Tehran is ready to talk, the differences between Trump and [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei present further obstacles,” Karim Sadjadpour argues. A darker reality is that there might not be a way back to the negotiating table at all.

—Gabby Deutch


🗓 The Week Ahead in National Security

Monday, June 24: Mike Pompeo begins a six-day trip to Asia. He’ll stop in India and Sri Lanka, then meet Trump at the G20 Summit in Japan and travel with the president to South Korea.

Tuesday, June 25: The U.S. and Bahrain host the “Peace to Prosperity” workshop, the first step of Jared Kushner’s proposed Middle East peace plan. (Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be present.) Kori Schake argues that using “prosperity as a shiny object to distract Palestinians while their political aspirations are swept away” is “un-American.”

Wednesday, June 26: The United Nations charter was signed by 50 nations in San Francisco on this day in 1945. Last fall, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told The Atlantic that he thinks American global power is in decline.

At tonight’s first round of Democratic debates, watch for whether any of the candidates vying to take on Trump put forth a vision of America’s role in the world.

Thursday, June 27: On this day in 1950, the U.S. entered the Korean War. North Korea and South Korea never signed a peace treaty.

Friday, June 28: Trump attends the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, where he plans to meet with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, along with officials from more traditional American allies like Britain and France.


💣THREAT ASSESSMENT

U.S. Marines walk past Marine jets at a Saudi airbase in 1990 during the Gulf War.

Marines walk past Marine jets at a Saudi air base in 1990 during the Gulf War. (David Longstreath / AP)

What arms sales to the Gulf actually do: The Republican-led Senate voted Thursday to block billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The House is expected to follow, though Trump will likely veto the legislation. The vote is a victory for human-rights advocates.

Since the sales are almost sure to continue, it bears asking: Why does Washington keep doing this? Do arms sales actually work? Andrew Exum, who served as the assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy in the Obama administration, says no—the arms sales are a failure because America’s Gulf partners can’t help Washington in the way it wants. The goal of these sales, Exum argues, is “to build military capacity among our partners in the Gulf.” But their militaries are weak, so they rely on American assistance, while American attention is elsewhere.

An empty Pentagon: Iran shot down an American drone this week and the U.S. nearly responded with military strikes. That’s as big a military challenge as it gets, barring all-out war—all while the Department of Defense is leaderless. Patrick Shanahan, who served as acting defense secretary for more than five months, stepped down after reports of domestic violence in his family were made public. The White House announced Friday night that it will nominate Army Secretary Mark Esper, who was already due to become acting defense secretary today, when Shanahan’s resignation comes into effect.

This also happened: Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping met in Pyongyang, where Xi urged the U.S. to resume nuclear negotiations with North Korea. (Ken Moritsugu, Associated Press)


🌏FOREIGN POLICY & DIPLOMACY

Venezuela’s alternate reality in Washington: Despite the Trump administration (and scores of other countries) claiming otherwise, Nicolás Maduro remains Venezuela’s president. But in the U.S., the opposition has already won: Carlos Vecchio, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s man in Washington, has the ear of the president and the bipartisan backing of Congress.

In interviews with The Atlantic, Vecchio made clear that he trusts Trump to continue working to unseat Maduro. “Carlos, the U.S. will stand with you until you recover your democracy,” Vecchio recalled Mike Pence telling him, even as reports suggest Trump is losing interest in Venezuela.

But, Uri Friedman asked, “[are] Guaidó’s diplomats … making more headway in Washington than their colleagues are in Caracas”? Vecchio insists that is not the case. Yet five months into the opposition’s challenge to Maduro’s rule, they might have more to show for their efforts in a foreign capital than back at home.

Mr. Salvini goes to Washington: When Italy’s far-right interior minister and deputy prime minister came to Washington on Monday, he met with Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo—and not Trump—as protocol dictates. But that Matteo Salvini visited Washington at all is a “major coup,” Rachel Donadio writes: “The visit more than symbolically places Salvini in the company of other ‘strongmen’ who have visited the White House this year.”

This also happened: Colombian paramilitaries are recruiting desperate Venezuelans who have fled instability and chaos. (Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta, Reuters)


About us: This edition of The Atlantic’s Politics & Policy newsletter was written by Gabby Deutch and edited by Yara Bayoumy, the national-security editor, and Shan Wang, the newsletters editor.

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The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Cancel Culture

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What We’re Following Today

It’s Monday, June 24.

That’s a Lotta Debt: Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled a new plan to cancel $1.6 trillion of existing student debt and make public colleges in the U.S. debt-free. The proposal is unique, writes Adam Harris, in that in cancels all student debt, with no income or other kinds of restrictions. In this way, it differs from Elizabeth Warren’s robust debt-cancellation plan, which she released with other higher-education proposals in April.

Trouble in South Bend: A white police officer’s fatal shooting of a black man in South Bend, Indiana, this month has unleashed years of pent-up racial tension in the city. And while Mayor Pete Buttigieg has charmed the country with his ability to voice eloquent answers to some of the nation’s biggest problems, the voters back home don’t seem satisfied by his response to this crisis, reports Edward-Isaac Dovere.

Meanwhile, in 2020 Land …: Joe Sestak, a former Democratic representative from Pennsylvania who served three decades in the Navy, announced that he’s running for president in 2020. Who … is that?

There are now 24 candidates in the race (plus one GOP challenger) just two days before the first Democratic-primary debates, on Wednesday and Thursday night.

(David Williams)

+ Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson, two political newbies, will go up against political heavyweights like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden during those debates. But if Donald Trump’s 2016 election has taught America anything, it’s that even rookies have a shot at the White House.

Pivot on Iran: After deciding that a strike against Iran for the downing of a U.S. drone was not “proportionate,” President Donald Trump has chosen to retaliate by imposing sanctions on the office of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other individuals close to him.

Elaine Godfrey


Snapshot

Senator Bernie Sanders, flanked by Representative Ilhan Omar (left) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (right), calls for legislation to cancel all student debt, at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)


Ideas From The Atlantic

When the President Is Accused of Assault—Again (Megan Garber)
“The numbers give way to a numbness. He said and she said and she said and so did she, and the many, many shes, rather than amounting at least to the sum of their parts, end up canceling one another out. Defeatism sets in. The women’s stories tell us what we already know, and so they fade away.” → Read on.

The Boomers Ruined Everything (Lyman Stone)
“The political ascendancy of the Boomers brought with it tightening control and stricter regulation, making it harder to succeed in America. This lack of dynamism largely hasn’t hurt Boomers, but the mistakes of the past are fast becoming a crisis for younger Americans.” → Read on.

The Question the Iran Hawks Haven’t Answered (Peter Beinart)
“If every op-ed editor and cable anchor demanded such an accounting from the columnists, officials, and legislators promoting war with Iran, I suspect the debate over whether to attack would look very different. In fact, I suspect there would be no real debate at all.” → Read on.

The Unintended Consequences of the Contraceptive Mandate (Greer Donley)
“Men and women are equally capable of preventing pregnancy by using contraception. A universal mandate would ease, not reinforce, the assumption that birth control is a woman’s problem, while still disproportionately helping women.” → Read on.


What Else We’re Reading

‘Urgent Needs From Head to Toe’: This Clinic Had Two Days to Fix a Lifetime of Needs (Eli Saslow, The Washington Post) (🔒 Paywall)
The Ivory Tower Team of Wonks Behind Warren’s Policy Agenda (Alex Thompson and Theodoric Meyer, Politico)
What the 2020 Democrats Are Like Behind the Scenes (Alexander Burns, The New York Times) (🔒 Paywall)


About us: This newsletter is a daily effort from The Atlantic’s politics writers: Elaine Godfrey, Madeleine Carlisle, and Olivia Paschal. It’s edited by Shan Wang.

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Bernie Sanders’s Expansive Student-Debt-Cancellation Plan

Democratic presidential hopefuls are full of ideas about what to do with the nation’s $1.6 trillion of student debt. Today, Senator Bernie Sanders announced the most expansive proposal of those the candidates have suggested thus far. Sanders, along with Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Pramila Jayapal of Washington, introduced new legislation to cancel all student debt—yes, all student debt—and make public colleges debt-free.

The thing that most sets their proposal apart from others that have come before it is that it includes no income or other restrictions, meaning even doctors and lawyers, who tend to carry a lot of debt but also tend to be well paid, would be eligible. When asked at a press conference this morning why his proposal would extend to such top-earners, Sanders responded, “I believe in universality and that means if Donald Trump wants to send his kids to a public school, he can do that.” He stressed that, “all Americans are entitled to social security, are entitled to medicare, are entitled to education as a right.”

Sanders’ declaration highlights the divide between his campaign’s solution to the plight of the nation’s student borrowers, and that of Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic primary’s other progressive staple. Warren’s debt-cancellation plan, which was announced alongside a slate of higher education proposals in April, would cancel up to $50,000 of student debt for those who make less than $100,000 a year; those who earn more would get less relief, and the relief tapers out altogether for those earning more than $250,000 a year. The plan, she told me in a May interview, was designed to reduce, or at the very least not exacerbate, the glaring wealth disparity between black and white Americans.

“The fact that the debate has shifted to the point where we’re thinking about cancelling 75 percent or all debt is significant,” Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research at Demos, a left-leaning think tank, told me this morning. As I wrote in May, in just under a dozen years, Democrats have gone from proposing relatively modest interventions targeted at reducing college costs to advocating for massive efforts to cancel student debt. The shift is the result of a combination of grassroots activism, the explosion of the total student-debt load, and politicians’ recognition of the scope of the issue.

The Warren and Sanders plans both have their benefits, Huelsman told me. Warren’s more directly aims relief at the groups, particularly black Americans and low-income families, who need it the most. But income is not a perfect proxy for wealth—so, for instance, a black lawyer who comes from a poor family may have high earnings but may not in the same financial position as his lawyer peers. Sanders’ plan would account for those high-income, low-wealth Americans, who might be left out of the Warren plan. Universal cancellation also eliminates some of the need for additional bureaucracy that would need to be established to implement a targeted plan.

Some of Sanders’ critics argue that rich students—the children of Donald Trump, the thought experiment goes—should pay off their debts themselves, without federal help. But the bill’s supporters point out that such people aren’t likely to be helped by the legislation anyway. “Let me say this,” Omar said during the press conference, “the children of Donald Trump aren’t taking out student loans. Cancelling student loans is a problem of the poor and the middle class, not of the rich.”

That said, even if the children of Donald Trump were to be helped by the legislation, the ideology behind it would still fit squarely into Sanders’ broader worldview, Huelsman said. “It comes from a belief that it is self-evident that the government should provide certain public goods, and education is one of them,” he told me. Broad debt-cancellation and tuition-free college for all, then, are the tools to make that good accessible.

As the Democratic primary continues to take shape, how college should be paid for—and what should be done with the debt of those who have already borrowed—will be something voters will turn to to distinguish among the candidates. But however interesting the differences between Democrats on student debt seem now, they pale in comparison to the divide between Democrats and Republicans, which will be the more material difference to millions of Americans once the election is over in November 2020.

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The Struggle and Triumph of Rural Pride

“Coming out seemed like the worst thing ever,” says Anbjørn, a resident of Volda, in rural Norway. “You simply feel scared. I think every gay person in a small town has heard the horror stories.”

Despite the fear that consumed him in his youth, Anbjørn has embraced his identity in adult life. Now he hopes to share that pride with the largely conservative-Christian community he calls home. In the short documentary When Pride Came to Town, directed by Julie Lunde Lillesæter and Julia Dahr, Anbjørn organizes Norway’s first-ever rural Pride parade—much to the chagrin of dozens of locals. But the resistance the parade is met with is no match for the widespread support that it inspires.

Dahr says that while crafting the story, it was challenging to accurately depict the nuances of the situation. “It would have been easy to just tell the story of the clear-cut conflict between the rural Pride organizers and the religious anti-Pride protesters,” she told me, “but it was crucial for us to tell the more complex story and show, for instance, that many Christians in the town supported rural Pride and took part in the parade.”

Ultimately, the parade is a resounding success. “Two days before the parade, the organizers were expecting a few hundred people,” Lillesæter told me. “The turnout exceeded all expectations—4,000 people joined the celebration, in a town of only 9,000 citizens.”

The filmmakers said they felt particularly happy for one of the film’s subjects, Bjørn-Tore, who had left Volda as a young adult to seek acceptance within Oslo’s queer community. “He was finally able to celebrate love in his own hometown,” Lillesæter said, “and see that so many people there accepted and supported him.”

In the United States, a recent study found that up to 20 percent of the LGBTQ population lives in rural areas.

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How a Bad Night’s Sleep Birthed the Sound Conditioner

For nearly six decades, a beige, dome-shaped apparatus has lurked in bedrooms, offices, and waiting rooms, where it is heard but not seen. In fact, not noticing is what the electromechanical sound conditioner is all about. This unobtrusive device helps millions of Americans sleep and concentrate by hushing the world around them. Manufactured by the North Carolina company Marpac, the device has had a number of names in its lifetime—among them the Sleep-Mate, the Sound Screen, and the Sound-o-Sleep.

However, the sound it produces has never changed—a nimbus of noise opaque enough to mask intrusive sounds or private speech, but muffled and mellow enough to be forgotten. Today, rebranded as Dohm, the humble appliance holds its own in a crowded marketplace of digital comfort sounds, competing against ocean-wave machines and rainfall apps by being, well, more ignorable.

This post is adapted from Hagood’s new book.

The sound conditioner is one of the oldest examples of “personal therapy sensory devices”—the massagers, aromatherapy gadgets, air purifiers, and sound machines found in retail outlets like the Sharper Image catalog and Bed Bath & Beyond. The market for these technologies was said to be more than a billion dollars back in 2006, in a rare moment when someone bothered to study them. To better understand how and why Americans started plugging in machines to control what they hear and feel, I visited Marpac’s headquarters in Rocky Point, North Carolina, where I interviewed past and present owners, family members, and employees. There I learned the story of how noise was converted from an industrial by-product to a technology of self-care—the first entry in a now-bustling marketplace of devices attempting to free people from one din by creating a different one.


The sound conditioner was conceived in a roadside motel room circa 1960. James “Buck” and Gertrude “Trudy” Buckwalter, a young married couple, went sleepless because the room’s air conditioner was broken. According to Dave Theissen, Buckwalter’s protégé and eventual successor as Marpac’s president, the problem wasn’t heat—it was noise. Without the drone of the air conditioner, the sounds of an all-night poker game in an adjacent room kept the couple tossing and turning.

Buck was both a personable salesman and an inveterate tinkerer. He had risen to the position of vice president of sales at the Wooster Rubber Company (now known as Rubbermaid). Trudy told me he had also invented Wooster products such as the rubberized dish rack and rubber auto-floor mats. She had realized the sonic value of air conditioning and suggested that Buck invent something that made the same masking noise without cooling the air.

[Read: The many colors of sound]

When the couple returned home, Buck began experimenting with a few household items: a plywood-and-carpet padding base he cut into a circle, the electrical supply and motor from a record turntable, fan blades he cut from a coffee-can lid, and a housing made from a tin saucepan. Buckwalter plugged his device into an electrical outlet and listened—the blades inside the pan whirred, circulating air in the housing and creating a muted whooshing sound. Using a can opener, Buckwalter made some openings in the housing, which increased both the volume and the frequency spectrum of the device. That night, the Buckwalters slept with the device on their nightstand, just as they did the next night, and the one after that.

According to Dave Theissen, the couple’s friends were soon asking for their own sound machines. That gave Buck the idea that a market existed for this variety of mechanical noise. He soon started his own company to pursue the opportunity. In 1964, Buckwalter and the investor William F. Lahey were awarded the patent for their “Sleep-Inducing Sound-Producing Device.” Lahey purchased his stake with $5,000, which enabled Buckwalter to buy injection molds for custom plastic housings, creating a polished-looking product that was easy to produce. Production speed was now of the essence, as Sears Roebuck had decided to carry the product in its Big Book catalog. Millions of sales later, you can find the Dohm online and on the shelves of stores such as Bed Bath & Beyond. It has become a perfectly natural household item.

What made the sound conditioner such a sleeper hit? After all, it was a fan that doesn’t blow air and a turntable that doesn’t play music. The answer relies on the unintended, sonic consequences of a cherished American value—freedom of choice.

Courtesy of Marpac

By World War II, the pursuit of consumer choice in the United States had generated a whole new soundscape. There were new forms of manufacturing and traffic noise, of course, but also new ways of measuring noise and controlling it, through architectural design, insulation, and acoustic ceiling panels. New media such as the telephone, the radio, records, and film soundtracks commodified sound like never before. During and after World War II, the military and economic need for speed in the circulation of people, goods, and information spurred innovations such as the jet airplane, the interstate highway system, the open-plan office, and television, all of which amplified and proliferated noise. As a result, people’s relationship to sound changed: They were subjected to a greater diversity of both pleasant and unpleasant sounds even as they became consumers of sound, critical listeners increasingly accustomed to making sonic choices based on aesthetics, audio fidelity, and environmental quality. The same forces of economic and consumer freedom that were generating the cacophony were also making people more sensitive to it.

By the time the Buckwalters invented the sound conditioner in the early 1960s, the study and “domestication” of noise—that is, its conversion from an unwanted industrial by-product into a useful resource—was well under way in the research labs of psychologists, acousticians, and telecommunications engineers, particularly at Harvard, MIT, and Bell Laboratories. Noise was harnessed as an analgesic in dentistry, a raw material for electronic music, and a conceptual and experimental tool in psychoacoustics.

[Read: Is silence a luxury for white people?]

But unlike these scientific and industrial innovations, Buckwalter’s sound conditioner represented a domestic domestication of noise, using the acoustical by-product of a spinning fan as a sonic shield for American bedrooms. In the decade and a half before Buck’s invention, urban dwellers had been abandoning cities. Economic growth, along with the developing highway system, racial fears, and the search for affordable housing, had helped fuel the drive to the suburbs. Air conditioning, the technology whose failure had inspired the Buckwalters, had also facilitated population expansion in the heretofore quiet Sun Belt. Among other things, people fled to the suburbs to avoid the noise of the city—the cars and trucks, the construction, the din of nightlife, and all the rest.

However, the retreat from urban noise had a tendency to reveal the fact that silence doesn’t really exist. Remove the background thrum of the city, and the snore of your spouse will suddenly stand out in stark relief. And even if you can achieve true silence, you’ll probably just hear the ringing and hissing of your own auditory system (people suffering from tinnitus are among Marpac’s most loyal customers). For Americans, whose senses had been tuned for the freedom to choose, it only made sense to eliminate such unchosen sounds. The Buckwalters had conceived a means of fighting noise with more noise to achieve a kind of personal sonic freedom.


Unlike the laboratories at Harvard and MIT, however, the 1960s home was not under the control of acoustical engineers. There the American housewife ruled the roost. Marpac therefore faced the additional challenge of domesticating noise culturallyfinding a place for it in the home. In fact, in its early years, Marpac refrained from using the word noise at all when describing the sound of its product, for fear it would seem to create the problem it was intended to solve. Instead, the company branded its product the Sleep-Mate and called it a “sound conditioner,” mirroring the atmospheric control provided by the air conditioner. Marpac’s advertising relied on images of women (often Trudy Buckwalter herself) sleeping peacefully with the sound conditioner beside them on the nightstand, both feminizing and domesticating the noise machine.

The domestication proved a little too successful. While firms such as Bolt, Beranek & Newman and Herman Miller were developing in-ceiling noise-masking systems for offices, these technologies had not made it to the average office worker seeking quiet for privacy or concentration. Because of this, Marpac began hearing from professionals who used the sound conditioner in their offices. Some felt that the Sleep-Mate badge on the top of the device did not give off a professional image. So the company spun off a second product, identical in every way but for the badge, which now bore the name “Sound Screen.” Marpac’s noise now provided the freedom to sleep at home and the freedom to concentrate at work.

In today’s hyper-mediated, 24/7 digital economy, an infinite array of informational and sensory options leaves people scattered and fatigued. That’s made technologies of self-care even more important. People often treat attention like a precious infant—something to be nourished and delighted, but also soothed, coddled, and carefully protected. The current Marpac owners, Jimmy Sloan and Gordon Wallace, told me that, in the 2010s, the company was selling more Dohms than ever. However, a multitude of other options have now arisen to block out noise, to manage your feelings, and, in the words of one Beats Electronics ad campaign, to allow you to “hear what you want.” There are digital white-noise and nature-sound apps, websites that put you in a quiet storm, simulated coffee shops, mood- and activity-specific playlists on Spotify, ASMR videos, and, of course, noise-canceling headphones.

If the hype proves warranted, a new category of in-ear products known as “hearables” will soon give people unprecedented control over what they hear. With some hearables—unlike the sound conditioner, whose broadband noise masks all sounds equally—developers aim to selectively cancel out only the sounds an individual chooses not to hear, vanquishing the crying baby on the airplane while allowing one to communicate with the flight attendant. Those efforts seem less like plugging one’s ears to distraction and more like erasing whole categories of people and everyday experiences. Compared with the never-ending array of digital choices for not listening, the mechanical noise the Buckwalters’ sound conditioner domesticated so long ago sounds comfortingly quaint.


This post is adapted from Hagood’s new book, Hush: Media and Sonic Self-Control.

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The Cruel Paradox at the Heart of E. Jean Carroll’s Allegation Against Trump

On Friday, E. Jean Carroll, the journalist and advice columnist, published a new piece of writing: an excerpt from her forthcoming book, What Do We Need Men For? Posted on The Cut, the essay is a meditation on the sexual abuses that have accumulated, like plaque in the artery, over the course of her life; it contains allegations that several culturally prominent men have assaulted her. One of those men is the current president of the United States. In the mid-1990s, Carroll writes, she had a chance encounter with Donald Trump, then known primarily as a real-estate developer, at Bergdorf Goodman; he had asked her to help him pick out a gift for, he told her, another woman. The encounter began as a friendly one between two New York City celebrities; it ended, Carroll writes, with Trump cornering her in a dressing room and raping her.

Soon after Carroll’s story was published—soon after her pain was converted, via the alchemies of the internet, into a piece of media—the familiar inertias set in: She had made a claim; he denied it; the world threw up its hands. The New York Times initially relegated this latest allegation that the sitting president of the United States is a rapist to its Books section, mentioning Carroll’s claim in the context of the upcoming literary collection that houses it. (On Saturday morning, per one count, there were 164 stories on the Times’ U.S. homepage; none of them addressed her allegation.) Several other major papers, that Saturday, deemed Carroll’s claim to be unworthy of coverage on their front pages. Over the weekend, the story’s outrages were largely extinguished, its claims consigned to that achingly familiar category of Trump-related news: Shocking, but not surprising. “The allegation went largely undiscussed by major TV networks on Sunday morning,” HuffPost noted, “clearing the path for yet another sexual assault allegation against the president to slip into the void.”

The attrition of attention when it comes to Carroll’s story—“media fatigue,” CNN’s Reliable Sources put it—is in its own way shocking but not surprising: It is yet more proof, as if any were necessary, of how commonly women’s stated experiences, particularly when the statements threaten the fragile order of things, are reflexively dismissed. Once again, the woman offers up her pain—as testimony; as evidence; as fodder for change—and, once again, that pain is met with a shrug. Once again, those who have an interest in disbelieving her—including, in this case, Trump himself—mention money and fame as her probable motivations for coming forward. Once again, the woman’s story is consumed and abstracted and diffused into the acrid air.

What will be the ramifications for the man who has been so accused? Almost inevitably: none at all. (“Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?” Jerry Falwell Jr., was asked by The Washington Post earlier this year. “No,” came the blunt reply.) Carroll is the 22nd womanthe 22nd woman—to make an allegation of sexual misconduct against Trump. Their accusations range from sexual harassment to assault to rape. But their staggering number, on its own, should matter; their staggering number should, in every sense, count, just as the staggering numbers of accusers did, to varying degrees, with Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar and Bryan Singer and R. Kelly, and others. In those cases, the women’s stories, and the men’s, bolstered each other, fighting assumptions and inertias, making the individual claimants more and more difficult to dismiss.

That has not been the situation, however, with the women who have made claims against Donald Trump. Instead, in Carroll’s case, a perverse kind of paradox has set in: The sheer number of women who have accused the president of misconduct seems to have helped to diminish the impact of her accusation. The notion of a president who is a sexual predator is profoundly familiar at this point, in part because Trump himself has been caught bragging on tape about the predation. (I moved on her like a bitch. Grab ’em by the pussy. When you’re a star, they let you do it.)

That explains, in part, how a famous woman could make, it is worth reiterating, a credible claim that the president of the United States raped her and see that claim dissolved within a weekend’s news cycle: A news media that is so efficiently calibrated to report that which is new isn’t fully sure how to report on that which is manifestly not new. The numbers give way to a numbness. He said and she said and she said and so did she, and the many, many shes, rather than amounting at least to the sum of their parts, end up canceling each other out. Defeatism sets in. The women’s stories tell us what we already know, and so they fade away.

There’s so much more you could say. You could talk about the assorted insulations of partisanship—about Donald Trump’s habit of framing moral questions in terms of politics, about his general insistence that factionalism is more important than empathy. You could talk about the consequence-free environment in which so many political leaders of the moment operate. You could mention Clarence Thomas, or Brett Kavanaugh, or the fact that Roy Moore recently announced, with Teflonic truculence, that he will make another bid to serve on the United States Senate. You could mention Juanita Broaddrick’s rape allegation against Bill Clinton, denied by him but lingering, with its gutting credibility, in the atmosphere. You could mention so much more. There are so many women who come forward to add their voices to the chorus, only to find those voices stifled.  

Carroll’s essay is not merely an allegation against a president; it is also a meditation on numbers. It is an exploration of the banality of sexual violence, and of the chilling functions of addition and subtraction that operate in the background of so many people’s lives. “Every woman,” Carroll writes, “whether consciously or not, has a catalogue of the hideous men she’s known.” And Donald Trump, in his backhanded way—in the course of denying, falsely, that he’d ever met Carroll; and belittling her; and threatening her—acknowledged that thesis. “This is about many men,” he said of Carroll’s essay, “and I was one of the many men that she wrote about.” In this, he was correct. The revealing part is that he meant it as a defense.

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Weird, Wonderful Photos From Another Era

While doing my job researching photos for various stories, I always come across more interesting images than I need, or photos that are unrelated to the story yet are still remarkable, strange, hilarious, or just great shots. The best of those, I’ve been tucking into a folder without a clear plan for future use. Today, I offer another sampling from that folder—a grab bag of historic images depicting land-speed records, underwater photography, Italian elections, a young Princess Elizabeth, a streamlined ferry, and more—from epic achievements to small moments. There isn’t really a theme here, other than “I thought these were neat photos, many rarely seen, and thought you’d enjoy them as well.” This is part of an ongoing series of collections of interesting photos from the past. See previous entry: Weird, Wonderful Photos From the Archives.

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Hand-Reared Butterflies Won’t Save the Monarch Migration

Every fall, millions of monarch butterflies engage in one of nature’s great spectacles, migrating from sites across North America to refuges in either central Mexico or coastal California, where winter temperatures are more tolerable. They fly south for thousands of miles, propelled by some innate sense of direction to places that they neither they nor their parents have ever visited. But not all of them make the journey. Not all of them know the way.

Some proportion of North America’s monarchs come from companies that breed stocks of the insects year-round, and sell them to weddings, festivals, and classrooms around the U.S. Others are reared by hobbyists, who collect wild eggs from their backyards and raise the butterflies in their homes. These are typically well-intentioned efforts, meant to bolster the numbers of wild monarchs, whose numbers have declined by more than 80 percent in the last decade. But according to a new study, these releases might do very little to save the imperiled monarch migration.

By testing monarchs bought from a commercial supplier, Ayse Tenger-Trolander from the University of Chicago showed that they make terrible migrators. While their wild counterparts have a strong tendency to head south, the mail-order insects flew in random directions. Tenger-Trolander also found that wild monarchs became similarly inept if she raised them indoors, even if she tried her best to mimic natural conditions.

“It’s a powerful study,” says Sonia Altizer from the University of Georgia, a monarch expert who was not involved in the research. “It’s the first to definitively show that captive-bred monarchs won’t show the same orientation behavior that wild ones will.”

In recent years, growing public awareness of the monarch’s plight has led to a surge in captive rearing. But scientists and conservation groups have warned against such practices, arguing that insects housed in dense conditions would be more susceptible to diseases that they could then spread to their wild peers. Regardless, “this study shows that captive releases are unlikely to help wild monarchs,” says Karen Oberhauser from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It won’t make that much difference if they can’t migrate and become a normal part of the population.”

Read: [What all the affection for monarchs misse]s

That’s not to say that all captive-reared monarchs are incompetent migrators. Last year, around 700 commercially bred individuals were tagged and released at a San Antonio festival; five of these were later found at overwintering sites in Mexico. “But there’s a population-level difference,” says Kronforst. “Some individuals might be able to respond correctly, but most do not.”

The team also admits that they studied insects from just one commercial breeder. Though they suspect that other captive-reared individuals would behave similarly, they can’t that for sure. “That’s an important caveat,” says Anurag Agrawal from Cornell University. “Nonetheless, they’re bringing scientific data to the table on a hot-button point in monarch conservation.”

Tenger-Trolander didn’t set out to wade into the debate—quite the opposite. She ordered the commercial insects in the hope that they would be identical to their wild counterparts and provide an easy source of experimental subjects for other studies. Instead, “they turned out to be very different,” she says—a conclusion that made sense in hindsight. The mail-order butterflies come from stocks that haven’t migrated for generations, and they’ve probably accumulated genetic changes that broke that ancestral ability.

Such changes have happened naturally elsewhere in the world. Monarchs originated in North America, but they’ve dispersed into the rest of the Americas, the Pacific Islands, and Europe. None of those other lineages migrate. Tenger-Trolander initially wondered if the commercial butterflies had come from one of these non-migratory groups, but a genetic analysis said otherwise. They were descended directly from North American stock, but were as distinct as monarchs from other parts of the world. In other words, breeders had inadvertently created a new lineage of North American monarch that stays put.

Read: [The butterflies’ great migration]

What happens when such butterflies are released? In most cases, they probably fly around and die, with little consequence. But those that are unleashed in the summer “could potentially go out and mate with local monarchs, and introducing genetic variation that is incapable of responding to the right environmental cues,” says Kronforst. “That could have consequences, but we just don’t know yet.”

“In trying to study migration, we’ve shown how fragile it is,” says Tenger-Trolander. “You can really knock out this behavior without much trouble, even by changing things you wouldn’t think are important.” For example, she and her colleagues also collected wild monarch eggs and raised them indoors, under autumn-like temperatures and lighting schedules, much as legions of hobbyist breeders do. These insects didn’t orient south either.

“There’s these two critical parts to making a migratory insect: They have to have the correct genetics, and they have to receive the right environmental cues,” says Kronforst. “We thought we knew those cues but our experiment suggests we don’t totally understand them.” Perhaps, aside from day length and temperature, the butterflies are also responding to the angle of the sun, or the diminishing quality of the milkweed plants they eat. Without that full suite of triggers, even those with migration-capable genes don’t set off correctly.  

The briefest exposure to artificial conditions can make a difference. During her study, Tenger-Trolander moved one small group of outdoor-reared monarchs inside, to save them from a predicted overnight freeze. Those insects had lived their entire larval lives outside, and were already in the pupal stage. But after just three to four days indoors, some of the adults that emerged also failed to point south. “That was the thing I was most surprised by,” says Tenger-Trolander. “I thought, ‘What difference could these last couple of days make?’ And they really killed it.”

“Even with all the problems, there are some real pluses to people raising monarchs,” Kronforst adds. “One of the biggest is that it creates this love of this insect.” He hopes that hobbyists and schools will continue the practice, with a few tweaks. First, collect eggs from local habitats instead of ordering from commercial suppliers. Second, expose them to natural outdoor conditions to “give them the best chance of developing into migratory insects.”

But if migration is so finicky, and so sensitive to environmental conditions, what will happen to the monarch’s epic journeys in a rapidly changing world? Some omens come from the southern U.S., where even naturally occurring monarchs are skipping the migrations, thanks to warmer year-round weather and the presence of exotic milkweeds that people have planted. “As a species, it’s likely that the monarch will survive for a long time,” Kronforst says. “But this phenomenon that we all know and love—the migration—seems to be very fragile. We’re seeing what conditions cause it to be lost, and we’re seeing those play out in front of our eyes.”

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Why a Government Lawyer Argued Against Giving Immigrant Kids Toothbrushes

Arguments before the United States Court of Appeals are usually dry, esoteric, and nerdy. What would it take to make one go viral? This week, in a clip that launched a million angry Facebook posts, we found out. It took a lawyer for the United States telling a panel of incredulous Ninth Circuit judges that it is “safe and sanitary” to confine immigrant children in facilities without soap or toothbrushes and to make them sleep on concrete floors under bright lights.

This assertion generated widespread outrage. Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation who uttered it, was instantly excoriated online. As fate would have it, the clip of her argument went viral at the same time as a new wave of reports of brutal and inhumane conditions at immigrant confinement centers. It also immediately followed the raucous debate over Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referring to the confinement centers as concentration camps. The juxtaposition suggested, misleadingly, that the Trump administration was explicitly justifying the worst sorts of child mistreatment we were seeing on the news.

[Peter Beinart: AOC’s generation doesn’t presume America’s innocence]

The truth is more complex, but still appalling. The sheer effrontery of the government’s argument may be explained, but not excused, by its long backstory.

The government’s “safe and sanitary” argument did not arise from a new case generated by Trump-administration policies. It arose in 1985, during the Reagan administration, when a 15-year-old Salvadoran child named Jenny Lisette Flores was detained after entering the United States illegally, hoping to escape her country’s vicious civil war. Flores spent two months at a facility in California, confined with adult strangers in poor conditions and strip-searched regularly. In July 1985, she and three other minors brought a class action against what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service, challenging its policies for the care and confinement of minors.

In 1997, after a dozen years of litigation, the parties settled the lawsuit in what became known as the “Flores Agreement.” The Flores Agreement requires, among other things, that the government hold minors in facilities that are “safe and sanitary” and that they be released from confinement without delay whenever possible.

Over the years, lawyers acting on behalf of minors protected by the Flores Agreement have filed numerous motions asking judges to enforce it, claiming that the government has fallen short of its obligations. They filed the motion now at issue in 2016, during the Obama administration, arguing that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) were violating the Flores Agreement by, among other things, confining minors in facilities that are not “safe and sanitary.”

United States District Judge Dolly Gee, who considered hundreds of declarations from minors and their parents, ultimately ruled that CBP was violating the Flores Agreement. In 2017, during the Trump administration, she found that CBP failed to provide adequate food and water to minors, that it did not maintain the facilities at adequate temperatures, and that it deprived the minors of sleep by confining them on concrete floors under bright lights. Gee also found that CBP’s obligation to provide “safe and sanitary” conditions included providing soap, dry towels, showers, toothbrushes, and dry clothes. Gee ultimately ordered CBP to appoint a monitor to bring its facilities into compliance with the Flores Agreement.

[Read: Are children being kept in “cages” at the border?]

Gee’s order put the government in a technical legal bind. When a federal judge appoints an official to monitor compliance with an already existing injunction or agreement like the Flores Agreement, the government cannot immediately appeal. Such a measure is considered an “interlocutory” order—an intermediate one that does not generate a final decision suitable for appellate review. The government can only appeal if the judge modifies the prior injunction or order.

So that’s what the United States argued. In its appeal to the Ninth Circuit, the United States—through Fabian and the other attorneys of the Office of Immigration Litigation—claimed that Gee had altered the deal. They argued that by ruling that “safe and sanitary conditions” specifically required things like dry clothes and toothbrushes and showers and not sleeping on concrete under bright lights, Gee changed the Flores Agreement and “substantially altered the legal relations of the parties by reading new requirements into the Agreement.” That was the premise of their assertion that they could appeal, after all.

It was this sequence of events that brought Fabian before three judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week to make her startling argument. The panel—which included Judge A. Wallace Tashima, who as a child in World War II was confined to an internment camp with other Japanese Americans—was perhaps not an ideal forum. The judges were openly hostile, incredulous that the government would argue that a facility is “safe and sanitary” even if the minors confined there have no soap, toothbrushes, or dark places to sleep. “I find that inconceivable that the government would say that that is safe and sanitary,” said Judge William Fletcher, in a representative comment. The judges ultimately suggested that the United States should consider whether it wanted to maintain the appeal—a signal that litigants ignore at their grave peril.

[Adam Serwer: Trumpism, realized]

The United States’s loathsome argument—that it is “safe and sanitary” to confine children without soap, toothbrushes, dry clothes, and on concrete under bright lights—is morally indefensible. It’s also a spectacularly foolish argument to raise in the famously liberal Ninth Circuit, where the United States should have expected exactly the reception that it got. And even though the litigation began under the Obama administration, it was the Trump administration that elected to bring this appeal and ask the court to bless these inhumane conditions as “safe and sanitary.” That’s an extremely aggressive legal argument, and one that suggests that the disturbing conditions being reported at confinement centers are intentional, not a sign of mere neglect.

It is right and fit to condemn the Trump administration for its argument and its treatment of children. But it’s wrong to think the problem can be cured with a presidential election. Trump will depart; the problem will not depart with him. This administration is merely the latest one to subject immigrant children to abusive conditions. It’s been 35 years since Jenny Flores was strip-searched in an adult facility. Before Sarah Fabian defended concrete floors and bright lights for President Donald Trump, she defended putting kids in solitary confinement for President Barack Obama.

The fault lies not with any one administration or politician, but with the culture: the ICE and CBP culture that encourages the abuse, the culture of the legal apologists who defend it, and our culture—a largely indifferent America that hasn’t done a damn thing about it. This stain on America’s soul will not wash out with an election cycle. It will only change when Americans demand that the government treat the least of us as both the law and our values require—and firmly maintain that demand no matter how we feel about the party in power.

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Republicans Don’t Understand Democrats—And Democrats Don’t Understand Republicans

Americans often lament the rise of “extreme partisanship,” but this is a poor description of political reality: Far from increasing, Americans’ attachment to their political parties has considerably weakened over the past years. Liberals no longer strongly identify with the Democratic Party and conservatives no longer strongly identify with the Republican Party.

What is corroding American politics is, specifically, negative partisanship: Although most liberals feel conflicted about the Democratic Party, they really hate the Republican Party. And even though most conservatives feel conflicted about the Republican Party, they really hate the Democratic Party.

America’s political divisions are driven by hatred of an out-group rather than love of the in-group. The question is: Why?

A new study, called “The Perception Gap,” helps provide an answer. More in Common, an advocacy organization devoted to countering extremism that previously published a viral report on America’s “hidden tribes,” set out to understand how political partisans see each other. Researchers asked Democrats to guess how Republicans would answer a range of political questions—and vice versa. (The survey was conducted among a sample of 2,100 U.S. adults the week immediately following the 2018 midterm elections.) What they found is fascinating:  Americans’ mental image of the “other side” is a caricature.

[David Pozen, Eric Talley, and Julian Nyarko: Republicans and Democrats are describing two different Constitutions]

According to the Democratic caricature, most Republicans stridently oppose immigration, hold deeply prejudiced views about religious minorities, and are blind to the existence of racism or sexism. Asked to guess what share of Republicans believe that immigration can strengthen America so long as it is “properly controlled,” for example, Democrats estimated about half; actually, nearly nine in 10 agreed with this sentiment.

Democrats also estimated that four in 10 Republicans believe that “many Muslims are good Americans,” and that only half recognize that “racism still exists in America.” In reality, those figures were two-thirds and four in five.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans are also prone to caricature Democrats. For example, Republicans approximated that only about half of Democrats are “proud to be American” despite the country’s problems. Actually, more than four in five Democrats said they are. Similarly, Republicans guessed that fewer than four in 10 Democrats reject the idea of open borders. Actually, seven in 10 said they do.

If the reasons for mutual hatred are rooted as much in mutual misunderstanding as in genuine differences of values, that suggests Americans’ divisions should in principle be easy to remedy. It’s all just a matter of education.

Unfortunately, the “Perception Gap” study suggests that neither the media nor the universities are likely to remedy Americans’ inability to hear one another: It found that the best educated and most politically interested Americans are more likely to vilify their political adversaries than their less educated, less tuned-in peers.

[Read: Liberals and conservatives react in wildly different ways to repulsive pictures ]

Americans who rarely or never follow the news are surprisingly good at estimating the views of people with whom they disagree. On average, they misjudge the preferences of political adversaries by less than 10 percent. Those who follow the news most of the time, by contrast, are terrible at understanding their adversaries. On average, they believe that the share of their political adversaries who endorse extreme views is about 30 percent higher than it is in reality.

Perhaps because institutions of higher learning tend to be dominated by liberals, Republicans who have gone to college are not more likely to caricature their ideological adversaries than those who dropped out of high school. But among Democrats, education seems to make the problem much worse. Democrats who have a high-school degree suffer from a greater perception gap than those who don’t. Democrats who went to college harbor greater misunderstandings than those who didn’t. And those with a postgrad degree have a way more skewed view of Republicans than anybody else.

It is deeply worrying that Americans now have so little understanding of their political adversaries. It is downright disturbing that the very institutions that ought to help us become better informed may actually be deepening our mutual incomprehension.

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