The Fourth of July Has Always Been Political

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 03:00 AM PDT

Is President Donald Trump politicizing the Fourth of July, allowing the crassness of partisanship to intrude on a sacred civic celebration? That widely posed question is built on a faulty premise. From the very beginning, Independence Day celebrations have been deeply political—in fact, the early celebrations were far more overtly political than today's festivities. The right question isn't whether July Fourth is being politicized, but rather, which vision of American citizenship it's being used to advance.   

In July 1776, American rebels staged celebrations of independence that were at once spontaneous and also—in a strikingly modern sense—media events. Independence had already been in the air for at least a year; the Continental Congress had already created public holidays, declared two national days of fasting, on July 20, 1775, and May 17, 1776. Yet when it forwarded the printed Declaration of Independence to the states, Congress did not recommend fasting, prayer, bell ringing, or any other observance. Congress would not order the nation to celebrate its own birth. Instead, many colonists devised their own celebrations to mark the event.

The Declaration had thrust all blame onto the king, and its public proclamation set off public, symbolic murders and funerals for the king—inversions of the King's Birthday celebrations. People in New York City tore down the equestrian statue of George III and hacked it to pieces. (It is said that metal bits of it were later used to make bullets.) In other places the monarch's picture and royal arms were ceremoniously burned. In Savannah, George III was "interred before the Court House." The press descriptions made sure to mention the ringing of bells and the bonfires—the two most important aspects of traditional King's Birthday celebrations. These printed descriptions inspired new celebrations and stressed the loud and visible support of the people for the end of monarchy and the beginning of American independence under new forms of government. The celebrations and descriptions they inspired made it seem possible that the 13 North American colonies, which until that time had had more connections with England than with one another, might unite to form a new nation.

In Huntington, Long Island, people took down the old liberty pole and used the material to fashion an effigy. This mock king sported a wooden broadsword and was described in a newspaper as having a blackened face "like Dunmore's Virginia regiment" (the enslaved people who had been invited by the governor of Virginia to help put down the rebellion) and feathers, "like Carleton and Johnson's savages" (the king's Iroquois allies in New York). Fully identified with his African and Indian allies, wrapped in the Union Jack, the king was hanged, exploded, and burnt. Nation-building festivities in 1776 targeted a revealing array of enemies, a process that a seemingly depoliticized Fourth of July has helped us to forget.

During the difficult years of the Revolutionary War, patriots began to celebrate the anniversary of American independence on July 4th. They also marked battle victories, and their anniversaries. These patriots focused on what unified them and on the glorious national future they expected would follow from their victories, rather than on the British past that they had once actively remembered on such occasions. The revolutionary movement's need to simultaneously practice politics and create national unity only raised the stakes of celebrating national holidays.

The trend in the early republic would be for July Fourth, and other celebrations modeled on the Fourth, to spread nationalism and at the same time, to provide venues for divisive political expression. In this way, Americans learned both to be American and to practice partisanship without any sense of contradiction. Just as they blamed the British and their Native and African allies while drawing on British traditions, they used the Fourth of July to praise and criticize their governments and each other, in the process struggling over who, and what, was truly American.

In 1787 and 1788, proponents of the new federal Constitution staged supposedly spontaneous celebrations of ratification in the various states, not only to express their relief, but also to attack their opponents and to try to convince doubters that the new national charter would inevitably be accepted by all the states. During the 1790s, when disputes over foreign affairs and the role of public opinion between elections led Federalists and Democratic Republicans to begin to coalesce into informal national political parties, these partisans began to hold separate Fourth of July celebrations in larger towns. They also used the Fourth and its now more fully developed repertoire of parades, sermons, toasts, and newspaper reportage, as a model for new celebrations with explicit political meanings.

Federalists began to celebrate Washington's Birthday in order to support Washington's policies and to confirm their claims to embody the nation. For a time, Democratic Republicans marked anniversaries of the French Revolution, which they felt expressed the more democratic version of politics they sought to turn into American tradition. After 1800, they also celebrated March 4, the anniversary of Thomas Jefferson's election to the presidency, as an alternative to what they called the "monarchical" tradition of Washington's Birthday. Such celebrations helped Americans put into practice a two-party system, which few justified on its own terms but which, along with the newspapers that were increasingly subsidized by parties, provided an orderly meeting ground between an unwieldy federal electoral politics and a tradition of popular rituals.

July Fourth and its alternatives enabled Americans to preserve the paradox of revolutionary tradition. While these nationalistic political celebrations often came to have a conservative bent after the Revolutionary era, some, like the abolitionists, used the occasion to criticize American policy. Shut out of the two-party system by politicians who refused to address the issue of slavery on a national level, antislavery activists invented alternative festivals, like celebrations of the end of the slave trade. When Frederick Douglass asked, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" and answered, "The Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn," he did so at an alternative Fifth of July celebration held in Rochester, New York, in 1852. Douglass continued the American penchant for not only celebrating but also inventing new holidays when the political possibilities of the old ones seemed insufficient.

On this Fourth of July, we may be asking whether the president's celebration, in which flyovers and tanks tell us that military service is the epitome of public service, is the right one. Or we may be asking, with Nike and Colin Kaepernick, whether we can see more in Betsy Ross's flag than a proslavery emblem. But on any Fourth of July, the real question is what version of the republic we care to advance by celebrating.

Go Read the Declaration of Independence

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 03:00 AM PDT

There are July 4 traditions that are welcome and seemingly indestructible: barbecues and fireworks, most notably. There are some that are fortunately defunct: hours-long orations by stuffed-shirt politicians. There are some innovations that one hopes do not become traditions: 60-ton tanks rolling through Washington, D.C., most notably. And there is one that has faded with time yet is worth preserving: reading the entire Declaration of Independence, from the ringing opening through the bill of particulars to the pledge of "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Some will say that the declaration was merely a cleverly written piece of propaganda. Others find in it the rank hypocrisy of its principal author, Thomas Jefferson, who preached liberty and who treated human beings as chattel. Still others will find it out-of-date Enlightenment twaddle that ignores the higher ends of politics or, conversely, an absurdly optimistic claim that anyone can, and everyone should, govern themselves. Its critics say those things today. They said them no less pointedly in 1776. The English sage Samuel Johnson had the most cutting put-down: "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" And he had a point.

But with all that, the words of the declaration, rendered familiar by repetition, deserve to be pondered by Americans today, for they are contested as much now as they have ever been. Do Americans still believe in "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," and that those laws entitle all peoples to independence? Why should we show "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind"? To paraphrase Groucho Marx: What has humanity ever done for us? Is it indeed self-evident that we are all created equal, and in what sense could that be so? How do we know that the Creator has created rights we cannot give up? Are "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" the real ends of government? Do those objectives aim too low? And really, who believes in "sacred Honor" these days?

Nor is the bill of particulars to be ignored. Consider how many of the declaration's accusations against King George had to do with that hardy perennial—civil-military relations: "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power." Or with the issue of immigration: The king had deliberately (Jefferson insisted) obstructed "Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither." Or with judicial independence: "He has made Judges on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices." Those issues live, in the United States and elsewhere.

The issues in the declaration are not merely American, but rather universal, and that is precisely what makes the United States exceptional. Not its reality at any given time, which may be worse or better than that of other states; a country stained by its bloody and often cruel treatment of Native Americans, or by its tolerance of slavery and its aftermath, cannot claim to be a utopia. Nor even its prosperity, for in that regard, tiny Switzerland can claim to have surpassed today's America. The United States, rather, is exceptional in the universality of its argument, the ideals that inspire and shame succeeding generations, and that offer the characteristically American promise of improvement, change, growth, and hope for the future.

Jefferson knew that the declaration he wrote had planted a bomb and lit a fuse under the institution that made his life comfortable. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just," he wrote, as the Revolution came to an end. But though he may have lacked consistency and courage, he wrote the declaration anyway. Those who conjured up American independence were, like any group of politicians, frail and flawed human beings. They could not have foreseen all the consequences. But they nonetheless put forward, and fought to defend, claims that have set off many subsequent detonations.

When Abraham Lincoln began the Gettysburg Address by pointing to the founding of the United States, he looked not to the passage of the Constitution, but rather to the Declaration of Independence, issued four score and seven years before. If his rhetoric on that occasion summoned forth a new birth of freedom, it was in self-conscious echo of the first.

When Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 he said, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'" For King, the glory of the declaration was the ideal, no matter the reality under which his people had suffered. Like none other, he saw the declaration as a mirror that Americans must hold up to themselves. And if they did not like what they saw, they could change things.

There have always been Americans who chafe at the universalism of the declaration, and foreigners who disdain or repudiate it. There will never be a shortage of critics who note the ways in which the United States fails to live up to this, its founding promise. But the heart of the American creed has never been more important.

Today liberal democracy is under threat from multiple quarters. New technologies make surveillance and repression easier than ever before, while some authoritarian governments have figured out ways to ensure both prosperity and political docility. Science may undermine the premise of human equality in many ways. It is not uncommon to read sneers from foreign observers of the United States (and even from quite a few Americans) who charge that the United States is saddled with 18th-century dogmas and 18th-century ways of doing business. Americans' confidence in their political institutions is at an all-time low, and partisan bitterness gives no sign of abating its rancor.

Which is all the more reason to go back to the beginnings, and back to the document that started it all. Americans are often blamed for their naive patriotism. Perhaps so. One cure for sophisticated cringing about naive patriotism can be going to a naturalization ceremony.

At one such event that I witnessed in the early 2000s, in a shabby government office building, there were immigrants from more than two dozen countries, ranging from Albania to Vietnam. After the formalities, the presiding official shoved a video cassette into a player, and President George W. Bush made an appearance. He spoke only a few sentences, which ended: "And remember, you are now every bit as much a citizen as someone whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower." There were tears in a lot of eyes.

Immigrants, such as my own grandparents, may be those who appreciate most how precious and how radical the promise of the declaration is. But if they read and ponder its words—after the hot dogs, but before the fireworks—later generations may see in it something at which to marvel, something that still terrifies tyrants, and something worth defending to the last.

Independence Day in a Divided America

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 03:00 AM PDT

John Adams predicted in a 1776 letter that the nation would mark the anniversary of its independence as "the most memorable Epocha in the History of America," hosting a great anniversary festival that ought to be "solemnized" forever after with "Pomp and Parade … Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other."

That was prescient. This year's commemorations may not be the most solemn or jubilant in modern U.S. history. There is no great victory to celebrate, as in 1946, no special anniversary to mark, as in 1976, and nowhere near unanimity in the proper direction for the country going forward. Long after Independence Day celebrations end tonight, America's polarization will persist.

But we can't separate.

"A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other," Abraham Lincoln observed, "but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue." We have no choice but to find common ground amid disagreement, as we've done over and over in our history.

And Independence Day is the perfect occasion for doing so.

In 1776, the initial, July 1 vote on whether to declare independence won support from only nine of the original 13 colonies: the Pennsylvania and South Carolina delegations voted no on the question, the New York delegation abstained, and Delaware's two representatives were split. By July 4, however, delegates impressed by the geopolitical advantages of showing greater unity had secured it, with South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Delaware all voting in favor.

Even though the new nation failed to live up to its ideals, Frederick Douglass would call the Declaration of Independence "the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation's destiny" in his 1852 speech, "What to a Slave Is the Fourth of July?" The oration began with incisive praise for the Founders' best qualities:

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration.

They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests. They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right.

With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation.

That prelude, rooted in the common ground of celebrating praiseworthy deeds and ideals, made the stinging indictment that followed all the more powerful. "Fellow-citizens," Douglass said, "above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them."

And he went much further:

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation's ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.

America got the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake; and emancipation, along with an amended Constitution, completed the American Revolution–– much more protest and politics, but no more war, would be required to perfect the union.   

Those celebrating the Fourth of July in southern states today owe a debt to the emancipated African Americans who conserved the region's patriotic inheritance in place of whites who abandoned them in those first postbellum years.

"Whereas whites expressed little interest in celebrating the Fourth following the surrender of General Lee's forces, the new black 'freedmen' celebrations that took place throughout the South played a major role in assuring the Independence Day traditions of former times remained intact," James R. Heintze writes in The Fourth of July Encyclopedia. "On July 4, 1865, in Raleigh, North Carolina, a large African-American parade that included a brass band processed from Guion Hotel to the 'African Church' where those assembled heard speeches and sang songs. In Newbern, North Carolina, on July 4, 1866, a parade hosted a 'Freedman's Bureau' wagon covered with an immense American flag."

That same encyclopedia notes many other occasions across the decades when the Fourth of July inspired attempts at patriotic unity amid difference. The nation's July 4, 1876, centennial provided an occasion for North-South reconciliation, with Virginians raising the Star-Spangled Banner over the state capitol building in Richmond for the first time in 16 years. Also that year, Representative William T. Avery declared in a Memphis, Tennessee, oration, "This Fourth of July is a common heritage: it belongs to no North, no South, no East, no West."

On July 4, 1890, a march of 2,000 Confederate veterans in Chattanooga, Tennessee, concluded with former Confederate General John B. Gordon declaring that slavery was wrong and that the Confederacy had been on the wrong side of the Civil War.

In 1915, Frederic C. Howe, commissioner of immigration at Ellis Island, successfully urged cities to host July Fourth "Americanization Day" celebrations to welcome and honor new citizens. The Immigrants in America Review declared, "If American ideals and purposes are to be fully realized, the barriers that separate the newly naturalized citizen from the native born must be swept aside."

On July 4, 1922, Wisconsin's governor gave clemency to every man in Wisconsin prisons "incarcerated due 'directly or indirectly' to causes borne out of service to the nation." The following year, Oklahoma's governor gave a July 4 clemency "and used the occasion to express his dislike for capital punishment."

Starting in 1961, even Soviet authorities sent conciliatory Fourth of July messages to the United States in hopes of reducing Cold War tensions, with Nikita Khrushchev attending a 1962 celebration at the American embassy in Moscow.

After the tumult of the late 1960s and early '70s, Americans seized on the bicentennial of the declaration as an occasion that could bring healing. They may have been riven by the events of the recent past, but could unite around the spirit of '76. A man quoted in The Washington Post, a computer specialist named Bob Peloquin of Springfield, Massachusetts, summed up the effect of bicentennial festivities on many: "This has rejuvenated my faith in America," he said. "After Vietnam and Watergate, people were afraid to wave the flag. Maybe with the Bicentennial, people can come out of their shell and say, 'We've made some mistakes, but let's go on from here.'"

The principles of the declaration are still there to unite us, even amid the persistent divisions that define this moment. Much more so than in 1776, there is a widely held belief that all humans are created equal and "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Happy birthday, America.

Few Liberals Support Antifa, but Conservatives Pretend Otherwise

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 03:00 AM PDT

On June 29, a video appeared showing masked activists wearing black clothing—the garb commonly associated with "antifa," the self-described antifascist movement—assaulting the conservative journalist Andy Ngo in Portland, Oregon. As if in unison, conservative publications published articles accusing the "left," "liberal journalists," and "reporters" of condoning the attack.

That's a disturbing charge. Luckily, there's little evidence it's true. Indeed, the articles in question say less about widespread liberal approval of antifa attacks than about the right's need to conjure it up.

Typical of the genre was a June 30 Daily Caller article bearing the headline "Here's How Liberal Journalists Reacted After Andy Ngo's Attack At A Portland Rally." In its first sentence, the article accused "media pundits" of having "dismissed reports of a conservative journalist's attack."

To substantiate that charge, The Daily Caller cited tweets by Alheli Picazo, Nathan Bernard, Vegas Tenold, and Charlie Warzel. Who are they? Picazo, according to her Twitter page, is an "athlete, writer, researcher, politico" from Calgary, Canada, and has slightly more than 10,000 followers. The Daily Caller quoted a tweet in which she declared that, "Andy Ngo is someone who antagonizes those he knows will react in a disproportionate way…Those who assaulted him, however, are the ones at fault here."

For his part, Nathan Bernard runs Bernard Media, which according to Rolling Stone is a one-man operation. He has 24,000 Twitter followers. The Daily Caller quoted him as tweeting that, "After relentlessly baiting and harassing antifa, far-right provocateur Andy Ngo finally got his wish of being milkshaked." (In addition to punching Ngo, antifa activists threw "milkshakes" at him, which a Portland police source claimed—but various protesters denied—contained quick-drying cement.)

Then there's Vegas Tenold, who, according to his website, has written for The New York Times and The New Republic. Tenold has 2,000 Twitter followers and recently described himself as "a white man who nobody's ever heard of." The Daily Caller quoted him as tweeting that "an egg lobbed into a crowd where a journalist happens to be isn't attacking a journalist." Finally, The Daily Caller quoted Charlie Warzel of The New York Times, who said, "violence should be unacceptable. But there are also serious risks involved with putting yourself in volatile situations."

As its exception that proves the rule—the pundit who ducked the tide of liberal sympathy for antifa violence—The Daily Caller cited CNN's Brian Stelter, who tweeted that, "Attacking a messenger shows weakness, not strength. Hopefully the authorities will get to the bottom of this."        

So here's the overall tally: A New York Times writer calls antifa's behavior "unacceptable." A CNN reporter says the police must investigate. Two freelance journalists with relatively low profiles downplay the severity of the attack, while another accuses Ngo of "antagoniz[ing]" his adversaries, who "are the ones at fault here." After scouring the Internet for evidence that liberal journalists cheer attacks on conservative journalists, that's the best The Daily Caller could do.

The weakness of this evidence is particularly striking given the sheer volume of postings that appear on social media. Any partisan who trawls Twitter looking for irresponsible or mean-spirited statements from her ideological adversaries will usually find something. When I contacted The Daily Caller for an explanation, I received a statement from Ethan Barton, managing editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation, who wrote in part, "The article points out several journalists who excused Antifa's assault against Andy Ngo by accusing him of being an agitator, which is reminiscent of victim blaming."

In fact, whether any of those quoted "excused" the assault is debatable. And the insinuation that these commentators represent "liberal journalists" is fanciful.

Other conservative publications did no better than The Daily Caller. "Reporters and activists pile on journalist after antifa attack," declared the Washington Examiner. The evidence: the same quotes from Picazo, Warzel, and Bernard. The Examiner also quoted the Cosmopolitan and CNN columnist Jill Filipovic, who wrote: "This is reprehensible. I really, really hate much of what @MrAndyNgo believes. But you don't physically attack a person because of their views." It cited Media Matters editor-at-large Parker Molloy, who made light of the attack before writing, "In seriousness, though, now that I see the actual video… yikes... wtf are people thinking?" The Examiner also cited Slate's Ayman Ismail, who declared, "This is bad, but he's guilty of worse" and Charlotte Clymer from the Human Rights Campaign, who wrote, "Violence is completely wrong…but I'm also not going to pretend that this wasn't Ngo's goal from the start."

It was more of the same at The Federalist, which served up the same quotes from Clymer, Ismail, and Filipovic to support its claim that the "Left Blames Ngo, Not the Criminals Who Attacked Him." Brandon Morse of Red State—who asserted that "Mainstream reporters don't seem to care, or worse, sympathize" with Ngo's attackers—cited the exactly the same sources as The Daily Caller. His sole addition: The Guardian's Jason Wilson, who wrote that "Ngo said he had been attacked and hospitalised" but earned Red State's ire for describing his attackers as "left-wing protesters," not antifa.

Despite scouring the Internet, writers for The Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, The Federalist and Red State didn't find a single Democratic politician or prominent liberal, or any major media figure, who defended antifa's violence. Instead, four separate publications tapped the same small group of commentators—most of them unfamiliar to the average reader—who downplayed the attack or bundled their condemnation of antifa with a condemnation of Ngo.

In response to a query, Julio Rosas, author of the Examiner story, noted that it included several people affiliated with prominent news outlets or activist groups. Red State's Morse cited a broader pattern of media misbehavior beyond what was documented in his story: "Media Matters, CNN, Mother Jones, and NYT all seemed to question the validity of the quick dry concrete in the milkshake reports by police," he wrote in a Twitter message to me. He added, "Instead of immediately condemning Antifa for what they did," these outlets "cast doubt on different aspects." (Nicole Russell, author of the Federalist article, didn't respond after I reached out to her.) What Rosas and Morse's responses ignore is that even the prominent liberals quoted in their own articles condemned the attack.

There's a reason why The Daily Caller and company couldn't find much evidence of liberal support for antifa: Despite the right's effort to affix the term "leftist" to everyone from Joe Biden to Chairman Mao, there's a vast ideological gulf between mainstream American liberals and antifa, an anarchist group that justifies its violence by rejecting the legitimacy of the state. Historically, in fact, the revolutionary left has loathed liberals, who generally support the reform—not the overthrow—of existing political and economic institutions. Which helps explain why many of the journalists antifa has attacked aren't conservatives at all.

It's true that, in the years since Donald Trump's election, a few leftists have, to their discredit, apologized for antifa's violence. But if the response to the attack on Ngo is any guide, those apologies are diminishing as the ugliness of antifa's conduct grows more inescapable.

The irony in all this is that there's one extremely prominent American figure who really does cheer political violence: Donald Trump. Imagine if publications like The Daily Caller held the president to the same standard that they're applying to liberals.


China Is Leading the Next Step in Fighting Malaria in Africa

Posted: 04 Jul 2019 03:00 AM PDT

MOMBASA, Kenya—In 2007, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said it was committed to eradicating malaria across the globe. By then, it was late to the game.

That year, Chinese scientists working with a Chinese philanthropist and his company, New South, had already begun eradicating malaria from the small African nation of Comoros. Now they're setting their sights on a more ambitious location: Kenya, the East African nation of nearly 50 million people.

As Western donors garner headlines for funding expensive, experimental malaria interventions, Chinese researchers are undertaking a far more tested approach. Called mass drug administration, or MDA, it involves giving antimalarial pills to every man, woman, and child in a given area all at once. Rather than kill off the world's mosquitoes, which spread the disease by drawing blood from infected people, the thinking goes, why not simply wipe out malaria among humans?

If successful, the effort would ease the disease's burden on Kenya's health system and economy. But it would also showcase Chinese philanthropy in Africa, and may even help change the perception here that Chinese-made goods and medicine are of poor quality. Having recently surpassed the United States to become Africa's leading trade partner, and with Chinese investment in Africa rising sixtyfold from $500 million to $32 billion in the last 15 years, Chinese cooperation in the continent's science and public-health sectors may show the world that the country has far more to offer Africa than just roads, railways, and things.

China has employed MDA, along with other methods to fight malaria, at home since at least 1981; last year, for the first time in what is likely millennia, it saw no new native cases of the disease. But MDA is controversial for reasons of both science and ethics. There are concerns that it could lead to increased drug resistance, which could see malaria rise to levels not seen in decades. Others believe it's unethical to give antimalarials to people who may not even have the disease—or who don't wish to take them—though such qualms are dismissed in Kenya and elsewhere. Similar dilemmas are challenging U.S. policy makers as they debate how to respond to the rising anti-vax movement.

Chinese officials, researchers, and philanthropists seem unworried by these concerns—as are some Kenyan officials.

Read more: [What's stopping a cure for malaria in Africa?]

Dr. Bernhards Ogutu, who has spent decades studying malaria for the Kenya Medical Research Institute, welcomes the Chinese. For too long, he told me, the world has been "basically firefighting": waiting until people become sick with the disease, then treating them. He predicted that by using MDA and similar methods, in some parts of Kenya, "we can totally eradicate malaria in the next five years."

Malaria is a debilitating sickness that can make strong, healthy adults bedridden for weeks and is one of the three leading causes of death for children in sub-Saharan Africa. Symptoms include fever, chills, shaking, muscle aches, and severe fatigue.

According to the World Health Organization, almost half the global population is at risk for malaria. Each year the disease afflicts 212 million people and kills 430,000 of them—nearly 1,200 deaths each day. Ninety percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of deaths occur in Africa.

Song Jianping, deputy director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine at Guangzhou University, which receives funding for its MDA research from the Chinese government, says those numbers could be drastically lowered. "It is not like we don't have the medicine. It's not like we don't have the methods. The hurdle is the wrong perception," he says. Fighting malaria through prevention is not enough, Song adds. "If the whole [of] Africa can run MDA, in 10 years, there will be no malaria."

Eradicating the disease won't be easy: Humans have only succeeded in wiping two diseases—smallpox and rinderpest—from the face of the Earth. "Mass drug administration—that's a very controversial intervention," says Desmond Chavasse, who for two decades has worked on malaria initiatives for the NGO Population Services International (PSI). But the appeal "is that the result is there for generations."

China isn't new to the global fight against malaria. Chinese scientist Tu Youyou discovered the antimalarial compound artemisinin, in 1972, and figured out how to extract it from the Asian sweet wormwood plant, eventually earning her the Nobel Prize in 2015. For at least 2,000 years, wormwood was used to treat fevers and other symptoms consistent with what we now know to be malaria.

Today, artemisinin is the most effective and widely used antimalarial compound in the world, with millions of doses of artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) given out each year. Some of the Chinese scientists who helped develop ACTs are now shifting their attention to using MDA in Africa. New South, the Chinese company whose CEO, Zhu Layi, says he has  personally spent $300 million on MDA research and experiments in Africa, and his company is in talks with Kenyan health officials to do an MDA test run among 10,000 people on the country's Indian Ocean coast, near the port city of Mombasa, where malaria is endemic.

But unlike those living in Comoros, many on the Kenyan mainland regularly travel or commute around the region, which poses a problem: People who are out of town when the drugs are administered might return carrying the parasite in their blood, reintroducing malaria to the area. There is also concern that the MDA approach could result in the malarial parasite building up resistance to the drugs used in the treatment. But, says Song: "If we can manage to give the correct dose, and do it fast, then we can kill the parasites before they develop resistance."

Read more: [What would happen if mosquitoes were to disappear]?

Workers look for holes in mosquito netting at the A to Z Textile Mills factory producing insecticide-treated bed nets in Arusha, Tanzania. (Katy Migiro / Reuters)

Already, resistance is threatening to undermine the gains made by the last great antimalarial technology: bed nets. In the 1990s, the advent of the insecticide-treated mosquito net led to a breakthrough that resulted in a steady decline of malaria around the world. The problem is that "we've already harvested most of the benefits you can expect to harvest" from nets, Chavasse says. Without new insecticides, drugs, and treatment methods, scientists say we'll soon see an increase in malaria worldwide. Many donors and investors are hesitant to invest in approaches like MDA when older methods have worked in the past. "But the current way of doing this is just going to keep us sick," Ogutu said.

In Kenya, where 70 percent of the population is at risk for malaria, according to government data, the devastation of the disease goes beyond the sickness itself. "People who get malaria are not able to go to work. Your productivity goes down. If you're a child, you will not be able to go to school," says Rebecca Kiptui, of Kenya's National Malaria Control Program. "If everybody falls sick, then the Kenyan economy would suffer." Five years ago, 37 percent of all outpatient treatments given in Kenya were for malaria. Taken together, lost work hours and the cost of treating patients for malaria amount to $109 million a year, according to researchers who studied the economic effects of the disease in the region.  

Some worry New South, the Chinese company, may be trying to get a piece of the pie—that its MDA campaign may in fact be a ploy to increase sales of its own medicine. Among New South's vast holdings is a pharmaceutical wing whose Chinese scientists in 2006 invented Artequick, an ACT that China's Ministry of Health approved as the "drug of choice" for treating malaria in the country in 2009. The next year, Beijing listed Artequick as the preferred malaria drug for export to Africa. But Chavasse says "there is a fundamental conflict of interest for why a Chinese ACT manufacturer would be carrying out a research project on mass drug administration.The thought needs to be driven by malaria academics—not by drug companies."  

Read More: [Two ways of making malaria-proof mosquitoes]

But Ogutu dismissed the idea that Chinese endeavors must have some ulterior motive. "We live in a conspiracy—that there's some hidden agenda," he said. In New South's case, those fears seem misplaced: Unlike antibiotics and more specialized drugs, there is little money to be made from malaria treatment, with artemisinin-based malaria meds selling for just pennies per pill.

Rather, the company's campaign to eradicate malaria forces us to reckon with the possibility that Chinese billionaires such as Zhu might be driven by the same altruistic intentions that drive their Western counterparts—philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, who have spent more than $2 billion fighting malaria. If anything, New South's secondary motivation isn't only profit, but also pride. "We want to promote Chinese medicine to the globe," Ethan Peng, who worked on New South's MDA efforts in Nigeria, told me last month from his office in Nairobi, Kenya's capital city.

Many in the West and in Africa are not enthused. Amid popular narratives about Chinese engagement in Africa is the assumption that Chinese-made products are faulty, cheap, subpar, or fake. Similar accusations have been directed at New South's malaria-eradication campaign. A 2014 report by CBS News questioned the use of New South's new drug, Artequick, even though it's a combination of three drugs that are well studied, widely used to fight malaria globally, and deemed by researchers to be an effective treatment for malaria.

The real debate may have less to do with science than it does with ideology: Is malaria elimination—or for that matter, health care in general—a societal affair, or an individual one?

Several of my Chinese and Kenyan friends alike are astounded that some American parents refuse to vaccinate their children against measles out of a disproven fear of autism, and question why people even have that choice. The notion that individual liberties should be respected even when they refute science—to the point of creating a public-health emergency—seems ludicrous in societies where health is treated not as an individual right, but as a common good.

Moreover, such criticism ignores the reality that, in many parts of Africa, solving problems through science has already become a collaborative affair. In November, the Chinese Academy of Sciences opened its first-ever research center in Africa, near Nairobi. Chinese and Kenyan scientists work together to create drought-resistant crops, increase rice yields, and develop new methods for trapping water in the ground to better grow maize.

Chinese medicine has been a boon to Kenya: Pharmacies here carry Chinese-manufactured artemisinin alongside more globally recognized products from the Swiss pharma corporation Novartis, and since 2003 China has donated malaria and HIV drugs to Kenya's government. Kiptui says she welcomes "any partner in malaria as long as they line up with our needs," be they from "America or China or Thailand, or wherever."

"In public health," Kiptui says, "you do the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people."

"It takes some time for people to understand," Peng told me. But "in Africa, more and more people are getting to recognize that Chinese medicine is very good."

This article was developed with the support of the Money Trail Project from the Journalism Fund. Qian Sun, Anthony Langat, and Felix Franz contributed from China, Kenya, and Germany, respectively.

A Hearing in the Census Case Turns Surreal

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 06:54 PM PDT

There's a three-year-old tweet from Donald Trump that I think about a lot. I've forgotten the context in which he made the statement, but the idea remains straightforward:

As became clear Wednesday, it's still true, subbing administration in for campaign.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration's attempt to ask respondents about citizenship in the 2020 census, concluding that while it wasn't forbidden to do so, the administration had misrepresented its reason for wanting to ask, in violation of federal law. That left the door slightly ajar for further attempts, and the president thundered about the decision and mused publicly about whether he could delay the census.

[Garrett Epps: Is the citizenship question dead? ]

But on Tuesday, government lawyers told plaintiffs and a federal judge that they would drop the matter, because the deadline to begin printing the census had arrived. The Justice Department said the same to reporters, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the census, issued a statement confirming it. It seemed like the matter was resolved, though final written notice hadn't been delivered to the court yet.

Then Trump went on Twitter and shattered that impression:

Federal district-court Judge George Hazel convened a call with attorneys Wednesday, trying to understand what was happening. "I don't know how many federal judges have Twitter accounts, but I happen to be one of them, and I follow the [resident, and so I saw a tweet that directly contradicted the position that Mr. Gardner had shared with me yesterday," Hazel said, referring to the Justice Department lawyer Joshua Gardner.

In short, Hazel wanted to know whether the federal government was still trying to get the question on the census, as Trump had said, or not, as Hazel had said. The question was simple, but the answer turned out not to be. (The transcript is short, and worth reading in full.)

Gardner, feeling the heat, immediately adopted the storied attorney's technique known as CYA. "I want to back up just a step and say that I've been with the United States Department of Justice for 16 years, through
multiple administrations, and I've always endeavored to be as
candid as possible with the court," he said, adding that what he had said on Tuesday was his "best understanding" of the state of affairs, and noted that Ross had said the same. He said Trump's tweet was his first intimation of any change: "I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the president has tweeted." Gardner said he had confirmed that the Census Bureau was in fact still printing the questionnaire without the citizenship question.

But then Joseph Hunt, the assistant attorney general for DOJ's civil division, jumped in with a contradictory message: "We at the Department of Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court's decision, that would allow us to include the citizenship question on the census. We think there may be a legally available path under the Supreme Court's decision. We're examining that, looking at near-term options to see whether that's viable and possible."

Here was Trump's tweet, vividly illustrated. Any litigation involving the federal government is based on the notion that the executive branch represents the presidency. But Trump refuses to coordinate his messages with anyone else, meaning the system breaks down. Only Trump speaks for Trump; neither his Cabinet officials nor his attorneys can reliably say what he intends to do.

Hazel basically told the government lawyers that while he might not doubt their personal honesty, he didn't have any reason to trust their statements, either:

If you were Facebook and an attorney for Facebook told me one thing, and then I read a press release from Mark Zuckerberg telling me something else, I would be demanding that Mark Zuckerberg appear in court with you the next time, because I would be saying I don't think you speak for your client anymore.

If Ross were still capable of shame—which he doesn't appear to be—all of this would be humiliating for him, though Trump has repeatedly undercut Cabinet officials and other appointees by publicly contradicting them before. It must be even more horrifying for career officials like Gardner, who have to work with federal judges regularly and value their reputations.

Angering federal judges is not an especially clever way to argue cases, as any of those attorneys might tell Trump, were he willing to listen. Hazel was courteous toward Gardner, apparently sensing his dilemma, but he was not taking any guff. He moved up a deadline for written notification to Friday, and when Gardner asked for an extension to Monday, citing the Fourth of July holiday, Hazel immediately rejected that.

"Timing is an issue, and we've lost a week at this point. And this isn't anything against anybody on this call. I've been told different things, and it's becoming increasingly frustrating," he said. "So Friday, 2 p.m., we're going forward or we're resolving it. That's where we are."

Incredibly, Trump might yet get away with using a citizenship question on the census to suppress participation. For one thing, the plaintiffs' lawyers complained on the call that the president's tweets achieved the same effect that they allege the citizenship question would: "It leaves the immigrant communities to believe that the government is still after information that could endanger them," one said. (Hazel wryly noted that he couldn't very well enjoin Trump from tweeting.)

[Thomas Wolf and Brianna Cea: How the Supreme Court messed up the census case]

For another, the Supreme Court rejected the method by which the Trump administration tried to instate the citizenship question, but not the idea itself. It remains possible that the government will rush a new appeal through the courts, get a favorable ruling from sympathetic conservative justices, and then try to get new questionnaires printed on a tight deadline. (This sets aside more bizarre—though not necessarily less likely—options, like some sort of executive order or simply defying the courts, as one congressman suggested Wednesday.)

If Trump does manage to get the citizenship question in the end, it will prove that dishonesty pays. Ross misled Congress about the genesis of the the citizenship question, claiming that the Justice Department had requested it—when in fact, he had asked DOJ to request it. The government lied about the same matter in the court cases. Newly discovered documents suggest that DOJ lied when producing the request that Ross requested. Given its willingness to continue the fight, it seems possible that the government misrepresented the actual drop-dead deadline for printing the questionnaire. And the government lawyers misled the judge on Tuesday, though apparently through no fault of their own.

The decennial census is a massive logistical challenge, requiring the federal government to hire half a million people in an attempt to count every person in the United States. Pulling that off, though, might be easier than getting an honest and reliable answer out of the Trump administration.

<em>The Atlantic</em> Politics & Policy Daily: Giving Tanks

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 02:35 PM PDT

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What We're Following Today

It's Wednesday, July 3. We'll be off for the fourth, but back with dispatches on Friday.

(Jeremy Raff / The Atlantic)

All Eyes on the Border: There is "dangerous overcrowding" in at least five of the Customs and Border Protection facilities, with more than 3,000 migrant detainees being held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted, according to a new report from investigators at the Department of Homeland Security. (These detainees have either crossed the border illegally, or sought asylum at a port of entry.) One pediatrician named Dolly Lucio Sevier evaluated dozens of sick children at a Border Patrol facility in South Texas. This is what she saw.

+ All this suffering is evidence of an asylum system that is profoundly broken, argues David Frum: "The more clearly the U.S. articulates its rules, and the more swiftly and certainly it enforces those rules, the more lives will be saved."

The Sheriff Defying ICE: For decades, sheriffs in the American South used the independence and power of their office to shape their community. Then, last year, North Carolina's seven largest cities elected black sheriffs. David A. Graham describes what happened next.

Happy Fourth: President Donald Trump will deliver an evening address in front of the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow in honor of the holiday—making himself the centerpiece of what traditionally has been a civic celebration. "Past presidents mostly left the Fourth of July celebration alone," Peter Nicholas writes. "Trump is harnessing it for his own purposes, politicizing patriotic feeling."

Two Realities: While the president has been happily readying the tanks for his Fourth of July parade, the Democratic presidential candidates have been debating the efficacy of busing as a means of desegregating public schools, and laying out policy ideas for their first 100 days in office. It's as though they're operating in two different dimensions, Edward-Isaac Dovere writes: But can Democrats win if they don't play the president's game?

Elaine Godfrey


(Jim Bourg / Reuters)

A Bradley Fighting Vehicle is moved into place at the Lincoln Memorial ahead of a Fourth of July celebration in Washington.

Ideas From The Atlantic

You Should Really Read E. Jean Carroll's Memoir (Megan Garber)
"Carroll's 'merry romp' is overwhelming. It is exhausting. That is the point. This is not only a book about the failures of individual men; it is also a book, as its Swiftian title suggests, about the failures of a system that has given men the power to determine the whos and wheres and hows of women's lives." → Read on

Trump Wants Tanks on the National Mall. What Could Go Wrong? (Tom Nichols)
"Rather than honoring the day on which the Founders risked being hanged as traitors in order to proclaim a new republic, Trump will preside over a show of might meant to quiet the constant thunderclaps of insecurity that fill his every waking moment."
→ Read on

A Crime by Any Name (Adam Serwer)
"This is, perhaps, the most daunting element of this entire conversation. If these facilities even vaguely resemble concentration camps, then American society has failed in ways many Americans do not want to contemplate." → Read on

What Else We're Reading

Buttigieg introduces a national service plan (Daniel Strauss, Politico)

Whatever happened to Breitbart? (Paul Farhi, The Washington Post) (🔒 Paywall)

Politics Is Changing: Why Aren't the Pundits Who Cover It? (Rebecca Traister, The Cut)

It's a question no one says they want to ask. But the women running for president keep hearing it. (Lisa Lerer, The New York Times) (🔒 Paywall)

About us: This newsletter is a daily effort from The Atlantic's politics writer Elaine Godfrey. It's edited by Shan Wang.

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Photos of the 2019 Total Solar Eclipse

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 10:53 AM PDT

Yesterday, thousands of people in Chile and Argentina stood outside and gazed at the sky as day turned briefly to night during this year's only total solar eclipse. For two minutes, Earth's moon completely blocked the sun, allowing observers in the path of its shadow to see solar prominences and the sun's vast corona extending out into space. Gathered here, a few images of yesterday's celestial event, and of those who were fortunate enough to witness it.

Acne’s Wonder Drug Is a Mental-Health Puzzle

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 11:39 AM PDT

In 2002, a family filed a lawsuit alleging that an acne drug made their teenage son suicidal. Accutane, a since-discontinued brand name for the drug isotretinoin, works wonders for cysts and pimples that don't respond to other treatments. But since the FDA approved isotretinoin in 1982, it had been plagued by controversy over whether it could alter brain chemistry and cause depression. In the 2002 case, the 15-year-old intentionally crashed a single-engine plane into a skyscraper weeks after 9/11. "The only conclusion we have been able to draw is the Accutane poisoned him," the boy's mother told NBC at the time.

The case was dropped in 2007. Meanwhile, a steady stream of research has continued to probe the question of whether isotretinoin causes depression and suicide. None of it has conclusively proved an answer. But a study published today in JAMA Dermatology contends that, for all the focus on these most dramatic side effects, dermatologists and psychiatrists might have overlooked other potential mental-health risks for patients taking the drug.

Researchers led by Arash Mostaghimi, the director of dermatology inpatient service at Harvard's Brigham & Women's Hospital, used a publicly available database to catalog any "adverse events" that isotretinoin patients, their physicians, and drugmakers reported to the FDA from 1997 to 2017. They found that attempted and completed suicide, suicidal ideation, and depression made up the bulk of the complaints, as expected. But they also found a surprising abundance of reports of conditions such as insomnia, anxiety disorders, emotional lability, and self-harm.

[Read: Why hasn't science solved acne yet?]

The study was not designed to say whether isotretinoin treatment caused these effects, or even whether they were more common among isotretinoin patients than in the rest of the American population. As Guanglei Hong, a professor and health-statistics expert at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the study, told me in an email, the data do not "provide any insight on whether the drug increased or decreased mental health issues because this analysis did not include a comparison group."

But Mostaghimi believes that the results are still worth considering. The drug's "greatest burden may actually be on emotional lability and anxiety," he says, even though those effects "weren't things that we've really as dermatologists been focused on when we assess these patients." His findings, he contends, might signal that dermatologists are overlooking major side effects.

Isotretinoin is strictly controlled through an FDA program called iPledge, which requires patients to visit their dermatologist once a month in order to receive their prescription. Isotretinoin can cause serious birth defects, so women capable of bearing children have to commit to using two methods of birth control while taking the drug and submit to monthly pregnancy tests. Dermatologists also commonly require their isotretinoin patients to get a monthly blood test.

Mostaghimi hopes that dermatologists can take advantage of that monthly check-in to screen their patients for the less acknowledged conditions that he found reported in the FDA database. "I should probably be not only looking for signs and symptoms of psychiatric disturbance and challenges, but really trying to take advantage of those meetings to try to identify patients that need help and connect them to people who can help them," he says.

But adding more screening demands on top of the existing iPledge requirements could be a nightmare for some patients. In its current iteration, iPledge can already create significant obstacles to acne treatment. The journalist Sabrina Imbler recently described in Gay Magazine how the program can demean queer women by policing their compliance with birth-control methods they don't need. According to Mostaghimi, the program has been grappling with how to handle the needs of transgender patients for a few years now. And a study he published in March found that nonwhite isotretinoin patients were about 50 percent more likely to end their treatment early than their white counterparts—and that patients were most likely to identify iPledge-related requirements as the reason they delayed or interrupted their treatment. (The FDA declined to comment on the new paper.)

[Read: The best skin-care trick is being rich]

Adewole Adamson, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas at Austin and the web editor of JAMA Dermatology, is adamant that more people should have access to isotretinoin. "Accutane is one of the most satisfying drugs to give to patients," he told me. "It really transforms how patients feel about themselves." Indeed, it's difficult to argue that the medication is ineffective: In one study, more than a third of patients who go on isotretinoin never experienced an acne relapse; less than a quarter required another round of the drug. Because of that, he said, dermatologists can't yet be sure whether adding even more hoops for isotretinoin patients to jump through would be a good thing. "We have to be careful in rushing to change practice without more rigorous studies, because of these other potential consequences of burdening patients," he said.

Emmy Graber, the president of the Dermatology Institute of Boston, was similarly cautious about reading too much into the new results. "I hope that it provokes further study so we know if there's a causal relationship here," she told me. "I don't think it should change how we prescribe isotretinoin."

Despite its apparent flaws, iPledge itself might be the best tool researchers have to figure out how much, if anything, can be blamed on the drug. Mostaghimi hopes that states can experiment with adding and removing different elements from iPledge to see which interventions actually keep patients healthier. Adamson wants to see research that follows patients with severe acne who don't treat it with isotretinoin along with those who do, since the social isolation and self-esteem blows that can come along with acne itself could be linked to the suicidal ideation and depression that some ascribe to the drug.

Disentangling the difficulties of having acne from the difficulties of being a teen from the difficulties of being on isotretinoin is a medical conundrum, but also a personal one. In 2012, right around the time I turned 16, I was prescribed isotretinoin for cystic acne. Though no one gave me a depression diagnosis, I didn't feel like myself. The acute misery passed after a few months, but it has haunted me since. I don't know where those feelings came from. Part of me is always afraid they'll come back.

It's completely possible that isotretinoin had absolutely nothing to do with my mental-health saga. Maybe something inherent in me brought it on. On some level, it might not matter: Even if I had known the exact psychological risk the drug poses, if it indeed poses any at all, I might not have acted any differently. Still, it would be nice to know.

What a Pediatrician Saw Inside a Border Patrol Warehouse

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 07:04 PM PDT

MCALLEN, Texas—Inside the Border Patrol warehouse on Ursula Avenue, Dolly Lucio Sevier saw a baby who'd been fed from the same unwashed bottle for days; children showing signs of malnutrition and dehydration; and several kids who, in her medical opinion, were exhibiting clear evidence of psychological trauma. More than 1,000 migrant children sat in the detention facility here, and Sevier, a local pediatrician, had been examining as many as she could, one at a time. But she wasn't permitted to enter the area where they were being held, many of them in cages, and find the sickest kids to examine. Instead, in a nearby room, she manually reviewed a 50-page printout of that day's detainees, and highlighted the names of children with a 2019 birth date—the babies—before moving on to the toddlers.

When it was almost time to leave, Sevier asked to see a 3-year-old girl, and then two other children. But by that point, the friendly and accommodating Border Patrol agent assisting her earlier in the day had been replaced by a dour guard, wearing a surgical mask, who claimed that he couldn't find the toddler. "We can wait," Sevier said, as she recalled to me in an interview. Her tone was polite but firm; she knew that she had the right under a federal court settlement to examine whomever she liked.

"She's having a bath," Sevier recalled the guard as saying, a luxury one official told her is available only to babies removed from their guardians. In the facility's standard cages, there is no soap or showering for the kids. Though 72 hours is the longest a minor can be legally confined in such a facility, some had been there almost a month. Sevier waited.

Finally, the guard returned with news. He had found the girls after all. "We located the bodies," he said, in paramilitary slang. "I'll bring them right in."

I visited Sevier's medical practice last week in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, 60 miles from the Ursula facility, where she'd been a few days before. In mid-June, a team of immigration attorneys had asked Sevier to come with them to their next appointment in Ursula, after they'd had an alarming visit there earlier in the month. They wanted a doctor to evaluate the children and then use the findings to force the government to improve conditions in Texas immigration facilities. It wasn't the kind of work Sevier usually does.

Sevier grew up in Brownsville, and to Rio Grande Valley kids like her, then as now, the border was not a crisis but a culture. Sevier went to nearby Matamoros, Mexico, for dinner, dentist appointments, weddings, and baptisms. Each year on All Saints' Day, she scrubbed relatives' tombstones in Matamoros with soap and water, then shot BB guns with her cousins at the cemetery. She had American classmates who lived in Mexico and commuted to school over the international bridge.

[Read: 'Nothing prepares you for the inhumanity of it']

She left the area for college and medical school. From afar, she told me, she began to understand that she had grown up in one of the poorest places in the United States, where low-quality, high-calorie food leaves kids both hungry and obese. Diabetes is widespread, and because access to health care is so limited, diabetic amputations are far more common than in the rest of the country. She thought that here was a place in need of a doctor like the one she was becoming. So after she completed her pediatric residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas, five years ago, she returned home.

The morning I visited, Sevier's pediatric clinic was bustling. A mural with characters from the Disney movie Inside Out, about the emotional lives of children, brightened the hallway. For Sevier, the role of a pediatrician includes "being the voice for the kid, the advocate." In some families, she explained, children's experiences "are just not valued." A child who is overweight or has a preteen crush may be the subject of ridicule, not attention and understanding. "I get to chip away at that in my office," Sevier told me.

Sevier at her medical practice in late June. (Jeremy Raff / The Atlantic)

She tried to take this same approach in Ursula. Neighboring the immigration facility are cold-storage warehouses that keep produce fresh despite the oppressive Texas sun and triple-digit temperatures outside. Opened under former President Barack Obama, the Border Patrol warehouse is chilly too; migrants have long referred to it as the hielera, or ice box. Even its official name sounds agricultural: the Centralized Processing Center. But while the crisp produce moves swiftly across the border, a reminder of the close ties between Mexico and the United States that Sevier knows so well, the migrants inside Ursula spend their first nights in America stuck beneath lights that never turn off, shivering under sheets of Mylar.

Sevier set up a makeshift clinic—stethoscope, thermometer, blood-pressure cuffs—in a room, lined with computer stations, that agents use for paperwork. Each of the agent stations had its own bottle of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. But when Sevier asked the 38 children she examined that day about sanitation, they all said they weren't allowed to wash their hands or brush their teeth. This was "tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease," she later wrote in a medical declaration about the visit, the document that the lawyers filed in federal court and also shared with me. (Asked for comment on this story, a Customs and Border Protection official wrote in an email that the agency aims to "provide the best care possible to those in our custody, especially children." The agency's "short-term holding facilities were not designed to hold vulnerable populations," the official added, "and we urgently need additional humanitarian funding to manage this crisis.")

As agents brought in the children she requested, Sevier said, the smell of sweat and soiled clothing filled the room. They had not been allowed to bathe or change since crossing the Rio Grande and turning themselves over to officials. Sevier found that about two-thirds of the kids she examined had symptoms of respiratory infection. The guards wore surgical masks, but the detainees breathed the air unfiltered. As the children filed in, Sevier said she found evidence of sleep deprivation, dehydration, and malnutrition too.

Government inspectors said they observed filth and overcrowding at the Ursula facility days before Sevier's visit. (Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General).

Beyond the children's physical ailments, Sevier also began to worry about their mental health. She asked to see a 2-year-old from Honduras along with his teenage brother, who she hoped could provide the baby's medical history. The older boy was excited because officials had kept them separate for more than two weeks. But when the guards brought the toddler over from the "day care" where the littlest detainees are held, he stared with wide eyes, Sevier recalled, and began panting heavily, hoarsely, and persistently for the rest of the encounter.

During the exam, she noticed that the toddler behaved differently from the kids his age she sees every day. In an exam room at her clinic decorated with a Lion King mural, I watched her do a routine checkup on a slightly younger boy. This toddler pulled back when Sevier touched him, but was easily soothed by his mother. The reaction was normal—"a small oscillation between worried and okay," Sevier explained. A little shyness is typical, she said, but toddlers "shouldn't be fearful of a stranger." When they are afraid—when the memory of their last shots is fresh in their mind, for instance—they resist Sevier by crying, clinging to their caregiver, or squirming beneath her stethoscope.

At Ursula, however, the children Sevier examined—like the panting 2-year-old—were "totally fearful, but then entirely subdued," she told me. She could read the fear in their faces, but they were perfectly submissive to her authority. "I can only explain it by trauma, because that is such an unusual behavior," she said. Sevier had brought along Mickey Mouse toys to break the ice, and the kids seem to enjoy playing with them. Yet none resisted, she said, when she took them away at the end of the exam. "At some point," Sevier mused, "you're broken and you stop fighting."

Sevier made her way down the list of names. A 15-month-old baby with a fever had been in detention for three weeks. His uncle had fed him from the same dirty formula bottle for days on end, until a guard replaced it with a new one. Because "all parents want the best health for their infant," Sevier later wrote in the medical declaration, denying them "the ability to wash their infant's bottles is unconscionable and could be considered intentional mental and emotional abuse." Before her visit, the uncle had asked for medical attention because the baby was wheezing. In response, a guard had touched the baby's head with his hand and concluded, "He's not hot," the uncle told Sevier.

"Denied access," Sevier wrote. "Status: ACUTE."

At her workstation, Sevier saw some quiet displays of resilience. A 17-year-old girl, with long black hair and a flat affect, entered the room carrying a green plastic bundle—her four-month-old son, wrapped in the kind of bed pad used for incontinent patients in a hospital. The mother explained that the boy had had diarrhea for several days and had soiled his clothes. Guards declined to provide clean baby clothes, she told Sevier, so she managed to obtain two extra diapers and flatten them out into rectangles—one for the baby's back, one for his chest. She had connected them like a disposable tunic, then wrapped him in the plastic pad. Inside the package, the baby was dirty and sticky, Sevier said. Diaper fluff clung to his hands, his armpits, and the folds of his neck. He wore no socks.

"I carry my baby super close to me to keep his little body warm," the mother told Jodi Goodwin, one of the attorneys with Sevier, who interviewed her the same day. Goodwin included her testimony in the court filing, which was a request for a temporary restraining order against the government on the migrants' behalf. On Friday, a federal judge read her testimony, among others, in court and ordered the government to work with a mediator to improve Border Patrol holding facilities "post haste."

These aren't even the sickest children in the government's care—those kids are quarantined at a different station, in Weslaco, Texas. When the team of lawyers visited Ursula without Sevier, "every single kid was sick," Goodwin told me. When they returned three days later with the doctor, Goodwin asked to see four kids whom another attorney had previously flagged to the guards as especially sick. But they were already gone. The guards told Goodwin that their illnesses were severe enough that they had been admitted to the intensive-care unit at a local hospital.

The source of illness in a facility like Ursula is largely the facility itself, though the idea that immigrants carry infectious diseases is a durable conspiracy theory that even the American president has perpetuated. It is the filth, sleep deprivation, cold, and "toxic stress" of these human warehouses that diminish the body's capacity to fight illness, Julie Linton, a co-chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Immigrant Health Special Interest Group, told me. Linton, a South Carolina–based pediatrician, visited Ursula last June and later testified before Congress to urge better access for health-care providers to children in detention.

[Read: Children cannot parent other children]

Border Patrol has long maintained that it is not equipped to handle children, who are supposed to be transferred into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement within three days. After that, many kids are housed in licensed child-care facilities that look more like the average public school than a jail. The federal government has attributed slow transfers to the sharp uptick in the number of migrants at the southern border; in May, 144,200 migrants were taken into custody—the highest monthly total in 13 years.

Days before Sevier's visit, reports of poor conditions at a similar facility in Clint, Texas, drew outrage around the country. Kevin McAleenan, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters the outcry was based on "unsubstantiated allegations regarding a single Border Patrol facility."

But his own agency's watchdogs soon contradicted him—the problems are not restricted to Clint. Ahead of Sevier's visit, government inspectors toured Border Patrol camps in South Texas, including Ursula. Their report, released Monday, described "dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley." One Border Patrol supervisor, according to the report, called his holding facility "a ticking time bomb." Congress last week authorized an additional $4.6 billion for Border Patrol and other agencies, despite the objections of progressive lawmakers, who said the bill did not go far enough to protect children in government custody.

Sevier spent years cultivating a physician's empathetic-but-detached habits of mind. During her medical residency, an 8-year-old rescued from near-drowning arrived at the hospital. For the first time, Sevier had to insert a breathing tube down a child's throat. Vomit began filling his esophagus and lungs. "Suction," she commanded without missing a beat, surprising even herself, she told me. It's what she was supposed to do—how she was supposed to act.

At Ursula, traumatized children with untreated illnesses sat before her. She probed, pressed, and listened. She took notes; she entered their data into a spreadsheet; she compartmentalized. She thought about a social event she'd promised to attend at 6 o'clock.

At 5:53, the guard with the surgical mask brought in the 3-year-old Sevier had requested to see, holding her by the armpits, like a puppy. Thin and subdued, the girl was crying but didn't turn away. "Underweight, fearful child in no acute distress," Sevier wrote. "Only concern is severe trauma being suffered from being removed from primary caregiver."

After the exam, the child lingered, and Sevier offered to hold her. She climbed into the doctor's lap and fell asleep in less than a minute. The squalor, the lighting, the agents, and the event that evening fell away from Sevier's consciousness. As if in rebellion against her careful training, her mind shut down, she told me. And for what seemed like an eternity, she sat in vacant silence with the child.

An Astonishing Government Report on Conditions at the Border

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 11:46 AM PDT

Adults and children are strewn across the floor behind fencing; some are covered by mylar blankets—aluminum-foil-like sheets designed to keep the cold out in cool temperatures and to deflect the heat in warm temperatures—others are lying uncovered on the cement. Then there are the men and women and children behind glass windows, and the doors marked Holding cell. Some wear face masks, and one man holds a sign that reads Help.

These are images included in a report, released yesterday, by investigators at the Department of Homeland Security. The 16-page report detailed the "dangerous overcrowding" of five Customs and Border Protection (CBP) holding facilities for migrants who either crossed the border illegally or sought asylum at a port of entry. But the report's focus was not just the overcrowding; it was also how long people—adults and children alike—were being held.

"Border Patrol was holding about 8,000 detainees in custody at the time of our visit, with 3,400 held longer than the 72 hours generally permitted," the report said. Under the Flores Agreement, which covers how migrant children in U.S. custody are handled, CBP is supposed to hand over custody to the Department of Health and Human Services within three days. That 72-hour time frame is generally observed for adults as well. The Border Patrol facilities are simply not designed to keep people for longer than that.

[Read: A crime by any name]

But many people—1,500 of the detainees—had been held for more than 10 days. Nearly a third of the 2,669 children—both those who were unaccompanied and those who had crossed with families—at the facilities the investigators studied had been held longer than 72 hours. At one facility in McAllen, Texas, 50 unaccompanied children under the age of 7 had been in custody for more than two weeks while awaiting transfer. After 72 hours, once a child has been turned over to HHS, the government is supposed to find the closest relative in the United States for children in its custody. But it has not worked that way.

Asked for comment on the report, Roger Maier, a spokesman for CBP, told me that, "CBP works with HHS/ORR [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] to place unaccompanied children with HHS/ORR as quickly as space becomes available." Officials contend that the surge of migrants, which has led to the facilities being beyond capacity, has left the government without the resources to adequately respond. In response to the report, Jim Crumpacker, who handles DHS responses to oversight reports such as this one, called the situation at the border an "acute and worsening crisis."

[Read: What a pediatrician saw inside a Border Patrol warehouse]

Most of the adults who had traveled by themselves had not been able to shower in custody—even those who had been detained for up to a month, the report said. (It was unclear how many people that was.) Some detainees got wet wipes with which to clean themselves. Most weren't offered a change of clothes. Children weren't being given hot meals, even though it is required by law; instead, they were fed sandwiches and snacks for meals. And at three of the facilities investigators visited, children had no access to showers.

The report echoed the accounts of lawyers who visited a border facility in Clint, Texas, southwest of El Paso, last month. DHS officials had sought to rebut those claims. During a meeting with reporters on Friday to discuss border arrests, Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of DHS, called the lawyers' descriptions "unsubstantiated allegations." Donald Trump's administration has repeatedly denied eyewitness reports from advocates and media accounts about the situation at the border, pushing back on them as mischaracterizations or sensationalizing. But this report is from the government itself, saying that the overcrowding and conditions at the border are "urgent" and need to be addressed.

Elora Mukherjee was one of the lawyers who visited the site at Clint. As the director of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, Mukherjee has been working with detained migrant children for more than a decade. There were hungry children who did not have enough to eat, she told me. Children had urinated on their pants, and weren't offered a change of clothes. Some children had vomited on their clothing. It was a health risk, she said. Children reported seeing guards pulling other children from cages by force. On Monday, a ProPublica report detailed the culture of a Facebook group in which current and former CBP agents joked about the death of migrants. When the lawyers went public with reports of the conditions, Mukherjee reiterated, the government called them unsubstantiated.

"Conditions in CBP facilities have consistently been awful," she told me. "But what has changed has been the length of time that children have been held in CBP custody—and what is also different is that children are now dying." Yesterday's report, Mukherjee said, "shows that our reports are substantiated."

You Should Really Read E. Jean Carroll’s Memoir

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 04:10 PM PDT

In the southeastern corner of Missouri is a tiny town named by a man, local lore has it, in honor of his girlfriend. She was Shawnee; when it was time to make his tribute to her official, the man, Samuel Green, came to the realization that he was unable to fully pronounce—or accurately spell—his beloved's name. So he paid her what he determined to be the next-best form of appreciation: He named the town after the only Native American woman whose name he was able to spell. Pocahontas, Missouri, was born.

The writer E. Jean Carroll hears this bit of myth while visiting Pocahontas over the course of the extended road trip she takes for her new book, What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal. At a local pie shop, she asks the owners about the provenance of their town's name. Getting her answer, Carroll finds herself considering the fate of the woman: "I like to imagine the Shawnee girlfriend," she writes, "mounting her stallion, galloping out of Missouri, riding across America, founding her own town, and, because she can't keep white guys straight, calling it DermotMulroneyDylanMcDermottDeanMcDermott."

What Do We Need Men For?, which publishes this week, began as a conceit in search of an insight. Carroll, the initial plan went, would travel to American towns named after women—places such as Charlotte, Vermont; Tallulah, Louisiana; Marianna, Arkansas; Angelica, New York; and Pocahontas, Missouri. She would visit more than two dozen locations that celebrate, at least as far as the map goes, the lives of women—and then ask those towns' residents a central, Jonathan Swift–ian, satirical-serious question: What do we need men for? It was a hero's-journey setup, promising the kind of extended jape Carroll has specialized in, as a journalist and as a gimlet-eyed advice columnist for Elle magazine: roving, curious, compassionate, whimsical. Its emphasis on geography would add a cheeky new dimension to that foundationally feminist argument: that women navigate a world designed by, and for, men. "The whole female sex," Carroll writes at the beginning of the book that resulted, "seems to agree that men are becoming a nuisance with their lying, cheating, robbing, perjuring, assaulting, murdering, voting debauchers onto the Supreme Court, threatening one another with intercontinental ballistic nuclear warheads, and so on."

As Carroll embarked on the trip, however, her premise expanded. The journey began in October 2017, just after the alleged predations of Harvey Weinstein were revealed and not long after a man who bragged about assaulting women was elevated to the American presidency. As the roads unfurled before her, memories returned. Realities became unavoidable. In Anita, Indiana, Carroll met a woman with red hair, a shade shared by the friend who happened, decades before, to glimpse welts on Carroll's neck and put the pieces together. Neurons zipped. Trauma erupts unpredictably. Travel has a way of making things plain.

If you've read the excerpt from Carroll's book that New York magazine published late last month, then you have a sense of the shape What Do We Need Men For? ultimately took, as satire's center proved unable, fully, to hold. The memoir is currently getting the attention it is (such as it is) in part because its author is a beloved and famous writer, but in part as well because of one of the many claims Carroll makes in it: that, in the mid-1990s, Donald Trump cornered her in a department-store dressing room and raped her. (The president has dismissed Carroll's story, just as he has dismissed the claims of the 21 other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.) New York magazine's lengthy excerpt of the book goes out of its way to contextualize the news-making allegation: "Donald Trump assaulted me in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room 23 years ago," its headline reads. "But he's not alone on the list of awful men in my life."

[Read: The cruel paradox at the heart of E. Jean Carroll's rape allegation against Trump]

It is that rarest of things—a headline that undersells. Donald Trump, in this setting, is most assuredly not alone. The story that started with a road trip structures itself instead around the collection Carroll describes as her Most Hideous Men of My Life List—21 of them, alternately neglectful and mendacious and careless and violent and cruel. It takes her 273 pages to describe them all. The list includes Les Moonves, who, Carroll claims, attacked her in an elevator after she interviewed him for a report about the psychology of TV executives. (Moonves, too, denies Carroll's allegation.) It includes the romantic partner who, Carroll alleges, in a fit of rage, nearly choked her to death. (The New York Times, reporting on Carroll's allegations, contacted the man she identifies in the book only by his initials; he declined to comment.) It includes a college classmate who, one crisp fall weekend, drove Carroll to an isolated area to look at the color-changing leaves, threw her on the ground, pulled a knife, and tried to rape her (she fought him off and then outran him, she writes). It includes the boyfriend of a babysitter who, with the sitter, made a game out of disrobing and then fondling the very young Carroll. It includes a camp counselor who molested her when she was 12.

There's much more, as Carroll drives and remembers; the thing about a list is that it will keep on going until the list itself decides it is finished. There's the television publicist who attacked Carroll in her car, she writes, "the same week Moonves attacked me in the Nikko Hotel elevator." There's the mob boss in Chicago. There's Carroll's own boss in the same city. There's the official who refused to issue her a passport "unless I had dinner with him and sat on his lap." There's the rapist and serial killer—yes—who approached Carroll when she was on the porch of her house outside Nyack, New York, and who, when her dog growled at him, backed away. The man, Carroll writes, would go on to rape and nearly kill her neighbor later the same day.

There is still more. And not all the hideousness is sexual in nature. There's—and at this point, Auntie E. might warn her readers that there is one more round of listing to go, and advise them to take a cleansing breath—the fur trapper in Montana ("a torturer of animals"), and the financial adviser (Dweebie D. Fleecer, she dubs him) who lost much of the money Carroll had given him as a seed for a retirement fund and then, when she questioned the failure, blamed her for his bad investments. There's the mechanic Carroll meets on her road trip, after her car breaks down in Blytheville, Arkansas; he charges her an exorbitant fee to make the repairs, shortly after which the car breaks down again, leaving her driving without functioning brakes. (Carroll is able to maneuver the car into a stop at an empty parking lot; a man materializes to inform her, angrily, "You can't park here." Carroll explains the situation: busted brakes, just need to park long enough to get a tow, the whole thing. The fellow who quickly makes it to No. 9 on Carroll's Hideous Men list repeats his no-parking mandate and punctuates it, she writes, with a warning: "Get out now." She has little choice but to restart her brakeless car and comply.)

There are, then, two versions of Carroll's book. There is, on the one hand, What Do We Need Men For? as a news maker—as a memoir that contains a serious allegation of sexual violence against the sitting president of the United States. But there is also What Do We Need Men For? as a consideration of the we of the book's title: a story of gendered predation, as it has stretched across Carroll's own life and across the lives of many of the women she speaks with as she travels. This latter version is strikingly cheery in its tone. Carroll refers to herself as "an eccentric personality," and this is evident even in her story about abuse. The car she travels in is a Toyota Prius that she bought used and then hand-painted with large polka dots and frogs. (She named the vehicle Miss Bingley, after Jane Austen's side-eyeing mean girl.) Her companion for the trip is her dog, a poodle rescue named Lewis Carroll. (Her cat, Vagina T. Fireball, she left in the care of a neighbor in New York.) You get the sense, as the story goes along, that Carroll's quirkiness itself has a double valence: It is evidence of her simply being true to herself, but it is also an act of resistance—a declaration, to those who would try to diminish her, that she will respond with insistent humanity.

Carroll, in interviews, has emphasized the whimsy of the book—the memoir is "a merry romp," she told CNN's Brian Stelter—and there is indeed a certain mirth to the proceedings. But the strategic collisions of tragedy and comedy also become, as the story goes on, reliably gutting. "I am sick to my stomach," Carroll writes on page 184, in an extended footnote about Moonves and his assorted enablers. By that point, dear reader, you are very likely feeling the same.

Carroll's "merry romp" is overwhelming. It is exhausting. That is the point. This is not only a book about the failures of individual men; it is also a book, as its Swiftian title suggests, about the failures of a system that has given men the power to determine the whos and wheres and hows of women's lives. Carroll does not talk much about patriarchy or toxic masculinity or trauma or otherwise make much use of the current feminist vernacular; the book can read, at points, as preemptively dated, with its references to "the whole female sex" and similarly winking generalizations. What it offers, though, is a kind of literary impressionism, based on 75 years of lived experience—a sense of what it feels like to have pulsing veins and fiery nerves and a teeming mind and be caught within the cold infrastructures of sexism.

The list Carroll creates, in that way, isn't merely a list, or a method of organizing a narrative; it is also an indictment. It is a testament to the dull banalities of sexual violence. It is a reminder of the varied forms, insidious as well as obvious, such violence can take. The book stayed true, in that sense, to Carroll's initial premise for it: It is a memoir that is rooted in maps. It suggests all that can happen, at the most local of levels, in a land that names towns after women and tells the rest of them to know their place.

Trump’s Fourth of July Takeover Was Inevitable

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 10:37 AM PDT

If you fear that President Donald Trump has been underexposed lately—if you missed the back-to-back news conferences he gave in Asia over the weekend, or the 45 tweets he's sent out since his return, or the footage of him speaking with reporters from the Oval Office on Monday afternoon, or the Fox News interview he gave later that night—know that, on the Fourth of July, he will come out of seclusion.

Trump is making himself the centerpiece of what traditionally has been a civic celebration on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., delivering an evening address in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He has wrangled the Pentagon into displaying heavy military hardware for the occasion. Invited guests will watch him from a reserved VIP section stretching from the stage toward the Reflecting Pool, with the White House, the Trump reelection campaign, and the Republican National Committee controlling the tickets.

The event is the latest expression of the 45th president's creeping ubiquity. A Washington tradition that, for decades, has centered on fireworks and remembrances of the nation's beginnings is now a camera-ready spectacle that's decidedly about Trump. Past presidents mostly left the Fourth of July celebration alone. Trump is harnessing it for his own purposes, politicizing patriotic feeling.

Trump prefers "campaign rallies and parades rather than working through traditional parties and local networks," Sheri Berman, a political-science professor at Barnard College whose research includes democracy, populism, and fascism, told me. "I think July 4 can be seen as part of the way in which … he mobilizes voters and connects with his base, different from the way a more traditional politician would." Put another way: "Trump has to colonize everything," says Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a history professor at New York University who specializes in authoritarian leaders. "Any holiday, any civic ritual, becomes a Trump ritual."

Trump has pined for a national military parade since at least July 2017, when he watched French soldiers marching in Paris on Bastille Day. Speaking privately with French President Emmanuel Macron a couple of months later in New York at a United Nations General Assembly meeting, Trump mentioned the display, turned to his delegation, and said "I want horses! I want horses!" a former French official told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the conversation. Planning began shortly thereafter for a parade in the fall of 2018, but the administration ultimately scrapped the idea, citing cost estimates for security, traffic control, and other obligations that ran into the tens of millions of dollars.

The Fourth of July plans seem to resurrect much of what Trump wanted to see. Fighter jets will be streaking overhead. At least two types of tanks, Sherman and Abrams, will be showcased, though they won't be trundling down Pennsylvania Avenue. (All will be brand-spanking-new, Trump promised. Except … it won't be. The Sherman tank is old; the World War II–era relic hasn't been in service since the 1950s.) And Trump appears to have gotten his original wish: Horses will be part of an early-afternoon parade along Constitution Avenue.

Depositing tanks into a crowded city risks some collateral damage. They're heavy and can crack pavement. An Abrams tank weighs upwards of 60 tons—that's about 41 Toyota Corollas. Under previous leadership, the Pentagon has been sympathetic to the potential harm. A memo from then–Defense Secretary James Mattis's office last year cautioned that no tanks should be used for the parade under discussion at that time, and that "consideration must be given to minimize damage to local infrastructure." Administration officials said the tank displays tomorrow will be "static," meaning the vehicles won't be moving.

Watching plans for the event unfold, the city's leadership is nervous. They worry the infrastructure won't be able to accommodate the equipment, and they question whether they'll be repaid for cleanup and other expenses. That's not an unrealistic fear. The Trump administration and Congress still owe the District of Columbia more than $7 million from Trump's 2017 inauguration.

"We're obviously concerned about the political nature of the event," Muriel Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., told me. Referencing Trump's VIP section, Bowser noted that "people from all backgrounds and beliefs come down to watch the fireworks with their families and friends. The addition of a seemingly private event could change the tone of that."

Trump is unmoved. As always, he has the TV audience foremost in his mind, and the show could be eye-popping. The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels will perform aerial acrobatics. In addition to fighter jets, the helicopters and blue-and-white 747s reserved for the president's use will take part in flyovers.

"Our July 4th Salute to America at the Lincoln Memorial is looking to be really big. It will be the show of a lifetime!" Trump tweeted today. The White House has said little about the event. A spokesman referred questions about cost to the National Park Service, which did not respond to a request for comment. In a separate tweet today, Trump said the cost "will be very little compared to what it's worth."

In a period of intense political tribalism, it's potentially perilous for a president to inject himself into what has typically been a nonpartisan exercise. Former President Barack Obama angered Republicans in 2009 when he delivered something as benign as a back-to-school address at a high school in Northern Virginia. A Florida Republican Party official at the time complained that Obama's speech was an attempt to "indoctrinate" children and spread "socialist ideology." (In the end, his remarks were pretty plain vanilla—not one favorable mention of Norman Thomas or other notable socialists. Obama did warn the kids that there was "no excuse for neglecting your homework." None.)

But perhaps tribalism is the point. In his remarks, Trump looks poised to wade into more partisan territory. Speaking to reporters yesterday, the presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said that Trump's speech will carry a few self-congratulatory notes. He'll talk about "the success of this administration in opening up so many jobs for individuals, and what we've done for veterans," she said.

Trump has long sought to fuse his nationalist MAGA brand with patriotic signs and symbols that are supposed to hover above party. He literally hugged the flag at a speech to conservative activists in March. Throughout his term, he's picked fights with NFL players, especially the former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, for kneeling in protest during the national anthem. In that sense, the Fourth of July was, for Trump, ripe for takeover.

There's a practical element, too: He is using the VIP-seating area to reward loyalists and donors, even if the seats may lack the cachet of, say, a White House visit. "It's not a state-dinner ticket, which I'd really rather get," a Trump supporter, who was offered a VIP ticket and spoke on the condition of anonymity, told me.

Yet as much as Trump touts the event as a celebration of the armed forces, some veterans are feeling left out. There are only so many seats in the VIP section, and plenty of campaign supporters who need to be accommodated. One group not getting tickets is the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, according to the organization's chief executive officer, Jeremy Butler, who has criticized Trump's Fourth of July plans. "As far as I know, there's been zero outreach from the administration to our organization," says Butler, whose group represents more than 171,000 veterans. A White House official said that "various veteran service organizations" were offered tickets.

Trump's financial interests stand to benefit from the exhibition he's created. A review by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) last month found that Trump's hotel in D.C., which sits a few blocks from the Mall, figures to do lucrative business this week. The nightly rate on July 5, topping $1,100, is more than double the sum for a normal Friday, CREW said. Comparable luxury hotels in the area are not seeing the same spike in nightly rates. A spokeswoman for the hotel declined to comment.

Whatever Trump says in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln (a man to whom he once paid a rare compliment: "very presidential"), he will have succeeded in putting his stamp on Independence Day ceremonies that his predecessors largely avoided. Republican President George W. Bush liked to invite friends and staff up to the White House's Truman Balcony to watch fireworks "and generally have excellent fried chicken," the former Bush aide Karl Rove told me. Obama would hold events for military families and administration aides on the White House's South Lawn and then watch the fireworks from the roof or the Truman Balcony. That's how Trump celebrated the holiday last year. Pete Souza, a former official White House photographer who chronicled the celebrations in the Obama era, said in an interview that Trump "is politicizing it. He's making the Fourth of July about him and not us."

The last time a president directly took part in the celebration on the Mall was in 1951, when Harry Truman delivered a speech at the Washington Monument on the 175th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Trump's celebration marks the 243rd anniversary—hardly a nice round number that merits special attention.

As Trump's plans for a celebration gelled, a subplot was whether he could persuade the military to go along with them—a running drama in this administration. Trump appears to view the Pentagon, as he does the Justice Department, as a tool for promoting his own interests. In one recent example, before Trump's trip to Japan in May, the White House wanted the Navy to move the USS John S. McCain "out of sight" during his visit, lest the boat remind him of the deceased senator he dislikes.

Patrick Shanahan, the former acting defense secretary, warned afterward that the military must not be "politicized." But with the current power vacuum at the Pentagon, officials coughed up the tanks Trump wanted. "It's more evidence of the domestication of the military," Ben-Ghiat says. "They've been subordinated to the personality cult of Trump." On our 243rd birthday, Trump might not want it any other way.

Trump Wants Tanks on the National Mall. What Could Go Wrong?

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 09:07 AM PDT

Hello, comrades! Happy Fourth of July, or should I say, Happy 45th President of July! How fortunate we are to see our Tremendous Nation's military hardware as we celebrate the 240th-ish anniversary of something or the other, and the third year of our Amazing President! Of course, our Great Hero Farmers are going bankrupt and our Treasonous Justice Department is engaging in ongoing Presidential Harassment, but at least our New Sherman Tanks will be on parade!

Unless, of course, our Sherman tanks (after their arduous trip through the Time Tunnel) plunge through the Arlington Memorial Bridge and we have to fish them out of the Potomac. In which case, it will clearly be the result of sabotage by wreckers determined to ruin yet another celebration of the Most Abused President in All of Human History.

If only this were more of a parody. In fact, President Donald Trump's plan to turn the Fourth of July into a gigantic ritual of reassurance for his spun-glass ego has now fully matured from a crackpot idea into an expensive, authoritarian, and truly weird hijacking of our most important national holiday. Armored vehicles have already been moved through the streets of the District, and we can only be relieved that there aren't any Minuteman III nuclear-armed ICBMs near Washington, or Trump would probably be ordering the Air Force to cart one of those down Constitution Avenue, as well.

Instead of observing the Fourth like a normal president and engaging in some quiet ritual of civic virtue—swearing in new citizens, or visiting our troops, or perhaps just watching the fireworks and leaving his fellow citizens alone for a day—Trump has decided to order up a spectacle. Rather than honoring the day on which the Founders risked being hanged as traitors in order to proclaim a new republic, Trump will preside over a show of might meant to quiet the constant thunderclaps of insecurity that fill his every waking moment.

His choice of a military parade, replete with all kinds of weapons he does not understand, makes perfect sense. After being exiled by his own family to military school, Trump has repeatedly compensated for his subsequent evasion of military service by imagining himself as the reincarnation of George Patton. Other national leaders who ducked military service during Vietnam, from Dick Cheney to Bill Clinton, have usually had the good sense to be quiet about it. Even George W. Bush, who undertook the hazardous training of a fighter pilot, rarely drew attention to his careful choice to join the National Guard. When he showed up on an aircraft carrier swaggering around in a flight suit, more than a few of his admirers winced.

But only Trump, who continues to pontificate on his own courage and martial skill despite his obvious lack of both, is going to force the entire country to engage in a national exercise of play-pretend, with a pageant better suited for the leader of some tiny nation's junta rather than the president of the United States. Trump will wear a suit and tie, but he will be acting out a role that calls for 5 o'clock shadow, meaningless fruit salad on his chest, golden-fringed epaulettes the size of mops, and a peaked cap with a comically high crown throwing a shadow over his aviator sunglasses.

Trump, apparently, was entranced by a French military parade celebrating Bastille Day. He does not seem to understand that national leaders in a democracy do not receive a parade, but rather preside over it. Whether it is a commemoration of the birth of French democracy or a celebration of the patriotic spirit and courage of ordinary Americans, a parade is for the marchers and the observers, and not for the residents of the executive palaces and mansions.

But forget democratic norms. Trump's ordering of a garish parade in his own honor has blown through the romance of Bastille Day and past the stodgy opera of the Soviet May Day reviewing stand, and is now squarely in the North Korean "Because I feel like it" mode of self-congratulatory military festoonery.

This is an assault on fundamental American cultural and constitutional traditions. Making the military dance for the president's pleasure is yet another abuse of our civil-military relationship. Appending a nonpartisan holiday to a political party—including the GOP distributing tickets to an event in our shared capital—is yet another insult to the public trust. A display of might to gratify the ego of the commander in chief is yet another blow to republican virtue in the service of petty would-be monarchism.

The tawdriness of the Trumpist Fourth takes me back to a better memory of our national holiday. On July 4, 1983, I was returning from the Soviet Union, where I'd been studying Russian. My international flight back was delayed, and it was deep into the evening when I finally boarded a regional hop for my last leg, from JFK to Hartford. It was a quick flight, but from the air I could see the fireworks in small towns across New York and Connecticut. After weeks of being bombarded by the cheap, shrill patriotism of the Soviet state, with all its fakery and forced grandeur, I was never so glad to be back home in a free country.

None of those small towns, as far as I know, was celebrating the president of the United States. None of them needed tanks shredding their streets. None of these celebrations was ordered up, and paid for with millions of taxpayer dollars, in a vain effort to fill the emptiness inside one unhappy little boy who was packed off to military school and never got over it.

This year, let us spare a thought for the men and women of the armed forces who must obey the order to march about in the oppressive heat of a Washington summer, and thank them for their service. And then, as better stewards of our republic than the current chief executive, let us say nothing further about Trump's parade and consign any notice or memory of this embarrassing mess to the oblivion it deserves. It is the only proper response to the president's insistence on this unpatriotic—and, yes, un-American—ritual of personal self-glorification.

The Paradox of Madonna’s Gun-Control Music Video

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 08:28 AM PDT

Madonna has presented herself as a fierce warrior against gun violence lately, and the result largely has been offensive to people who've survived gun violence. Last week, she released a music video that depicted a massacre at a discotheque, and Patience Carter, who lived through the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, tweeted, "I applaud the attempt, but I am truly disturbed." Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the same event, said, "Appreciate the message, but please remember that there are people behind the prop you're using." Emma González, a prominent advocate among the Parkland, Florida, school-shooting survivors, took a few days to collect her thoughts, and then announced this: "Madonna's new video for her song #GodControl was fucked up, it was horrible."

It's particularly striking to see González object. "I Rise," the final song on Madonna's new album, Madame X, opens with a sample of González speaking at a rally following the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. González's words on that song—"Us kids don't know what we're talking about. That we're too young to understand how the government works. We call B.S."—are delivered in a sharp, arresting yell, which cuts a contrast with the rather generic empowerment fare that then unfurls. "Died a thousand times, managed to survive, I can't break down now," Madonna sings over slow-clacking drums and semi-poignant violins.

There's been praise for "God Control" from gun-control advocates as well—March for Our Lives thanked Madonna for "using your platform"—but the generally mixed response is typical of the strange spot that the Queen of Pop finds herself in 14 albums into her career. Though patchy throughout, Madame X has a claim as the most adventuresome, politically bold work in her catalog. But unforced errors and clumsy attempts at creating conversation have complicated what could be a triumphant chapter for her. Her insistence on communicating often in the crudest, most blunt terms have proved a distraction, yet again.

"God Control," the third track on Madame X, runs more than six minutes long and feels like a few songs in one. To open, Madonna sing-mumbles sadly about the state of the nation: "I think we understand why people get a gun / I think I understand why we all give up." A children's choir cuts in, magisterially delivering the not-so-subtle pun of the title: "We lost God control." Then the track transmutes into a schmaltzy, irresistible take on Philadelphia soul, evoking polyester pants and cocaine spoons. "It's a hustle," Madonna pants amid generally zany verses about "a new democracy." It's hard to say what exactly is going on, but it's likely a camp commentary on the way people can dance in the face of crisis. Moreover, the song is catchy and amusing. It works.

The video takes any of the song's ambiguity and subtext, and lights it up in dynamite. The director Jonas Åkerlund cuts between scenes of Madonna typing the lyrics on a typewriter and scenes of a flamboyant disco party being shot up by someone with an assault weapon. The video moves backwards in time, from the height of the massacre to the portion earlier in the night when Madonna's character was at the club dancing. The pop-pop-pop of the gun is horrifyingly loud and mixed over the music. At her typewriter, as she hears the news of the shooting, Madame X cries. Text at the end of the video delivers stats on gun violence and calls for firearms control.

Madonna argues that the video is disturbing on purpose, as it's a "wake-up call," per her lyrical refrain. "This is really happening," she told People. "This is what it looks like. Does it make you feel bad? Good, 'cause then maybe you will do something about it." But it's clear by now that the people whom the video made "feel bad" have been doing things about it. Survivors of shootings who have, in fact, rallied for gun control say they feel used as props. Their critique is sensible enough. It's not as though gun violence has gone undepicted in our mayhem-packed pop culture. It's not like tragedies such as Pulse and Parkland haven't been galvanizing shocks in their own right. The "God Control" clip stylizes trauma and amplifies it, but it doesn't push the conversation anywhere new. People unsympathetic to Madonna's cause are not likely to be moved; people sympathetic to her cause are left feeling drained.

Then again, enervating her supporters has been Madonna's M.O. in recent years. When in 2017, at the Women's March, she said she thought about "blowing up the White House," she was making an honest statement of frustration that got weaponized by Donald Trump and his spokespeople to attack the resistance movement against him. When this year the New York Times contributor Vanessa Grigoriadis attempted a sympathetic but unflinching profile focusing on Madonna's rare place as a 60-year-old diva-pioneer-provocateur, Madonna said the article made her feel "raped," using a term that the writer had implied Madonna employed too casually.

Asking Madonna to tone things down at this point is silly—she's made a career by teetering on the line of good taste—but to listen to Madame X is to wonder whether small recalibrations away from shock for shock's sake could revitalize her career. Influenced by time she spent living in Lisbon and traveling in Latin America and Europe, the music flirts between peppy, moody intrigue and unnecessarily grating detours. Vocally, she tends toward an over-auto-tuned kind of singing. Her knack for clunky lyrics is perverse. "We built a cartel just for love," she says, not so cleverly, on one of her two otherwise strong duets with the Colombian singer Maluma. Another track, "Killers Who Are Partying," has her laundry-listing marginalized people across the world and suggesting she is one of them: gay, African, Muslim—it's all the same, goes her implication.

Now the genuinely strange amalgam that is the song "God Control" has been sacrificed to an unwatchable costumed bloodbath in the name of making a point. As always, Madonna doesn't let consumers sink into her pop-political experiments; she doesn't let her good ideas stand on their own. They must always come with a wince—and what's too bad is that the people most likely to wince are the ones she claims to want to help.

What Kind of Movie Ari Aster Wanted <em>Midsommar </em>to Be

Posted: 03 Jul 2019 01:16 PM PDT

This story contains mild spoilers for the film Midsommar.

Ari Aster is not afraid to talk about how personal his filmmaking is. Maybe he should be; anyone who's seen his debut feature Hereditary, and its follow-up, Midsommar (which opens in theaters today), might expect the director to be as bleak and bizarre as his creations. But though Aster has described the harrowing Hereditary as a family drama pulled from feelings about his own life, and Midsommar as a breakup movie written in the throes of heartbreak, he's chipper and thoughtful in person, the kind of artist whose dark side seems to reside entirely within his art.

Midsommar is not as straightforward a piece of horror as Hereditary was, but it's still a distressing work, following Dani (Florence Pugh), her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), and other unwitting Americans as they visit a Swedish commune that has planned a secretive, deadly celebration. I talked to Aster about his fondness for blending genres, the respective canons of breakup films and daytime horror, and whether he'll venture into some new niche for his next project. This interview has been edited.

David Sims: You've called Midsommar a breakup movie and a personal one, but I assume you're pouring more of yourself into the female protagonist than into her boyfriend?

Ari Aster: I'm putting myself into Dani, primarily. But I think we've all been on either side [of a breakup].

Sims: Going on a crazy vacation to shake things up is a thing a lot of 20-somethings do.

Aster: And it's always the perfect remedy; it fixes everything. Just like having a baby if the marriage is in trouble. Perfect idea! No consequences in that!

Sims: You made this film very quickly after Hereditary. Is Midsommar something you've always been working on, or was it more of a thunderbolt?

Aster: I usually find that writing comes easiest to me when I'm in a crisis. It becomes a tool for digging myself out of the crisis. Or at least navigating it. Otherwise, I'm just torturing myself. You always want to write a breakup movie when you're in a breakup, and every time I'd been in one, I'd thought, "I want to write about this, but I'm not inspired. I just wanna die." And so, this time I just happened to find the way in. You find yourself parsing through the ruins, blaming yourself, blaming the other person, working through these things.

Sims: And turning it into a script.

Aster: The first version of this script was twice as long and had way more, the kind of thing you hand off to any responsible reader who says, "You've said this already." Then you shape it. The first cut of this movie was three hours and 40 minutes; there are plenty more little moments that weren't necessary, but I would have been very happy to include. I would say this was, for me, a way of making a breakup movie and having fun with clichés and tropes that are inherent to two different genres, doing something that's simultaneously absurdist and nakedly vulnerable. It's folk horror, but being given to you with the trajectory of a high-school comedy. It's about a girl who everyone knows is with the wrong guy, and the right guy is under her nose.

[Read: 'Midsommar' is a fascinating departure from the brutality of 'Hereditary']

Sims: In terms of folk horror, it's obvious what's happening the whole time, and everyone's basically up front about it. Anytime any of the Americans ask any of the village members a question, they basically just tell them the truth.

Aster: Yes! As they say, "It strips you of your defenses and opens you."

Sims: You've also kind of made a slasher movie with no kills. You don't really see the murders, but they're all getting picked off, one by one. They just walk off into the woods.

Aster: I'm not here to subvert the [horror] genre, but at the same time, we all know what's going to happen. So it's not that interesting. If anything, I respect you as a viewer—you know they're all going to be killed—so that's not where the surprises are going to be, and that's not where the joy is going to be. Don't come to me for the movie with the most inventive kills. That's not where my interests lie. At the same time, there's a certain sort of joy to be had in making something where everyone knows where you're going. How do we get there in a way that's emotionally surprising, as opposed to a left turn in the plot? How do we stay on course, move toward something inevitable, and hopefully have an experience?

Sims: Midsommar is also a piece of daytime horror, like The Wicker Man. The fact that it's all in bright sunlight contributes to that obviousness. Everything is being illuminated for them, but the characters are so in their own heads and on their own journeys. Were there other daytime-horror movies you thought about?

Aster: Not really. Our references were like, [the British filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger]—I talked to my cinematographer about them. A real three-strip Technicolor look, like Black Narcissus, and The Tales of Hoffmann. And we were talking more about breakup movies than horror movies, like Albert Brooks's Modern Romance. If Midsommar works beyond my wildest dreams, it would be something you go to after a breakup. Like, every time after a breakup, I watch Modern Romance. On Hereditary, the movies we watched [during filming] weren't horror movies, and on Midsommar too. I love horror—Hereditary was absolutely a horror film, I wouldn't argue against that. This film is adjacent to horror; I wouldn't call it a horror film. I think of it as a fairy tale with horror elements.

Sims: It's less intensely frightening than Hereditary. But it's still wrenching!

Aster: I hope it's wrenching and funny. And I hope you're laughing at the end! Best-case scenario, you're laughing at the end, and the laughs catch in your throat a little. You get so lost in the making of a film; I certainly will never be able to watch it with fresh eyes. So much of it is by the seat of your pants.

Sims: I look at this thing as a critic; I see it as a finished product that's been made precisely, for me to pick apart and analyze, whereas I'm sure you look at it and think, I took a scene out here, or Here's where the light was weird that day, and we could only do three takes.

Aster: You try your best through every step of the process to hide those seams and make everything cohere. Hopefully it does; I'll never know if it did. What I can say is that I love movies, I love genre, and I always find the most exciting way into any given genre is sideways. I typically like to think outside of the genre I'm dealing in. That's why we weren't watching any horror movies for Midsommar. We were watching Powell and Pressburger, watching breakup movies. On Hereditary, we screened a movie for the cast and crew every week, but on Midsommar, we had two months to build this entire village, and so there was not enough time to do anything. We only got one screening in—McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

Sims: A frontier-town movie.

Aster: Exactly. I thought that would just be inspiring because they built a village for that movie, and that's what our crew was doing at the time. And because of the way that all of the peripheral characters are just as important in any given scene as the main characters. Again, the first cut of Midsommar was almost an hour and a half longer, so there's a lot more of the village in that cut, because when you have to cut it down, that ends up becoming the stuff you could cut without losing anything from the story at the center. The original cut of this film is more meandering, in a way that I liked. It almost plays for a while as an anthropological study of this place, where we just live there for a while. Anyone there for the genre, for the action, would just be suffocating.

Sims: As viewers, we are always going to be with the newcomers, though; it's nice in that the village always feels a little inscrutable and alien. For the paintings and the lore [in the movie], were you drafting from reality?

Aster: I did a lot of research and deep dives into so many corners, from Swedish tradition to different midsummer traditions around the world, into folklore, Norse mythology. I drew liberally from all of them, and most of it is imagination from there. It's a total mélange. And I had a lot of fun putting prophetic images on the wall, where everything that's going to happen is there, and if you go back, then you can sort of see what connects to what. I like doing that only because I imagine that it encourages a more active engagement on the part of the viewer.

Sims: And it helps it feel like a real place, beyond a simple murder town.

Aster: Hopefully, the details are rich, and there's a logic behind everything the villagers are doing, and they're not just lawless pagans. At the same time, they're also adhering to laws that are very particular to this film, and they exist solely to satisfy Dani's particular needs. They are perfect for Dani right now. It's a wish-fulfillment film in a way—she loses a family and gains one.

Sims: Are you going to make more horror movies?

Aster: I love genre movies. I want to be playing in different genres.

Sims: Make a space movie!

Aster: I have a sci-fi film! I'm very excited about it and would love to make it. It would be very expensive and not exactly mainstream. I've got a Western; I've got an absurdist dark comedy. I really want to find a way to make a musical, in the same way that for a long time I wanted to make a breakup movie, and I didn't have it in me. I'm hoping for some inspiration.