The Washington Post - 22.08.2019

(Joyce) #1



irst you get yourself invited to
a state visit in a friendly allied
country. Not just a visit of the
usual sort: a state visit with a
banquet by the queen and all the
pomp and the ceremony that can be
mustered. Hundreds of people start
working on all the elaborate prepara-
tions necessary for these grand occa-
sions. Monarchies take these things
seriously. The palace is properly pre-
pared to receive the dignified guest.
Everyone starts polishing.
Then you suddenly launch the idea
that it might be fun to acquire parts of
the territory under that particular
monarch. Just a simple property deal,
really. You don’t actually inquire dis-
creetly whether this idea would ever
fly. Instead, you launch it straight out
in public without any warning. Per-
haps that’s the way property deals are
The authorities of the country in
question are slightly taken aback.
Losing territory wasn’t really on their
agenda, and in these days, it’s not
normally part of the concept of
friendly state visits. They say in no
uncertain terms that the land is not
for sale.
Up until this point, it’s all pretty
absurd, as was pointed out.
But then it goes beyond the absurd.
The self-invited guest suddenly can-
cels everything and says if he can’t get
his property deal and the territory he
wants, he sees no purpose for the
state visit. Everything is off. Tons and
tons of preparations are just
One could have thought this was
something out of some saga from the
Middle Ages. Whether it actually ever
happened in those dark centuries I
don’t know, but it is not entirely
inconceivable. At least in the world of
the sagas.
But it wasn’t a saga from a distant
and bizarre past, but the present
reality of the president of the United
States and the queen of Denmark.
And in the modern world, I’m
rather certain it is unique for one
head of state to make an official visit

to another head of state conditional
on the latter being prepared to hand
over some territory. It wasn’t just
absurd — it was beyond the absurd.
Rest assured that people all over the
world have been shaking their heads
in disbelief.
Apart from the surreal theater of
the entire thing, and the profoundly
insulting behavior toward a long-
standing and loyal ally, the issues of
Greenland and the Arctic are serious
But it’s certainly not exchanging
territories that is the way forward.
Greenland is not for sale, and neither
is Svalbard or Iceland. Instead, the
necessary way forward is developing
cooperation between all the stake-
holders of this vast and challenging
region to address challenges that are
common to all of them. And climate
change and its effects are by far the
most serious of them.
When the United States in the
form of Secretary of State Mike
Pompeo turned up at the ministerial
meeting of the Arctic Council in Ro-
vaniemi, Finland, he spent most of
his energy attacking China and ended
up vetoing the communique that had
been agreed upon by everyone else.
The reason? It mentioned climate
change, and that was not acceptable
to the Trump administration. All oth-
ers had been discussing little but the
rising temperatures, which are hap-
pening two or three times faster here
than anywhere else on Earth.
All the others issued the paper
agreed between them anyhow.
Pompeo flew away, saying he was on
his way to Greenland. He didn’t show
up — he canceled the visit.
Canceling visits now seems to be
what remains of Arctic policy for the
United States. Perhaps just as well.
All other countries are keen to try to
prevent Greenland from turning
green again. We would all suffer the

Carl Bildt is a former prime minister of
Sweden and a contributing columnist for
The Post.


An Arctic saga

of absurdity


ecause of the investigation led
by three University of South
Florida researchers, and be-
cause of exemplary journalism
by the Tampa Bay Times, we now have
an intensely discomforting but wel-
come enrichment of American litera-
ture. It requires artistry to write beauti-
fully about children suffering at the
hands of evil men, and from the rivet-
ing first sentence of his slender new
novel “The Nickel Boys” — “Even in
death the boys were trouble” — Colson
Whitehead’s prose unfurls with con-
trolled fury as he reimagines life at
what was the Arthur G. Dozier School
for Boys in Marianna, Fla. The fact that
Whitehead never raises his authorial
voice enhances its wallop.
The boys were trouble even as corps-
es because, in Whitehead’s reimagin-
ing, the Nickel Academy had been
closed after many decades and develop-
ers had plans for an office park on part
of the land. The plans were, however,
impeded by the discovery of “bones and
belt buckles,” all those “fractures and
cratered skulls, the rib cages riddled
with buckshot” and other residue of
boys who died at the hands of sadists,
sexual predators and others who ran
the school for their private fun and
profit. Fifty-one bodies had been un-
earthed by the time Whitehead’s novel
was published, more are probably yet to
be found, and the final count will not
provide finality about how many were
dumped in what the boys called Boot

In Whitehead’s novel, Elwood, an
African American boy abandoned in
Tallahassee by his mother, is being
raised by his grandmother, whose own
father died in jail, arrested for “bump-
tious contact” after a white woman
accused him of not getting out of her
way on a downtown sidewalk. Elwood
is bound for college until he is falsely
accused of stealing a car and is con-
signed to Nickel, leaving behind his
treasured possession, a record of “Mar-
tin Luther King at Zion Hill.” He is
driven to the “reform” school by “a good
old boy with a meaty backwoods beard
and a hungover wobble to his step. He’d
outgrown his shirt and the pressure
against the buttons made him look
The Dozier School opened in 1900
and, at times, took children as young as

  1. On most nights at the Nickel school,
    “the only sounds were tears and in-
    sects,” but on other nights an industrial
    fan was turned on to muffle the boys’
    screams when they were beaten by
    Black Beauty, a three-foot leather strap
    with embedded sheet metal that
    “slapped across the ceiling before it
    came down on your legs.” There was
    “splatter on the walls where the fan had
    whipped up blood in its gusting.” “The
    white boys bruised differently than the
    black boys and called it the Ice Cream
    Factory because you came out with
    bruises of every color.”
    Whitehead, a Pulitzer Prize winner
    for his 2016 novel “The Underground
    Railroad,” jumps ahead to life after a
    Nickel boy leaves at age 18. And in his
    novel’s prologue, he writes of Nickel
    boys’ reunions featuring “shared dark-
    America, however imperfect —
    Americans do not want to know what
    goes on in their prisons, where a not-
    insignificant portion of the nation’s
    rapes happen — is much better now.
    More people — public-interest lawyers,
    journalists — are alert and watching.
    And perhaps more will be because of
    Whitehead’s searing reminder that
    what happened not long ago, and here,
    was not unthinkable.
    Nothing — no cruelty — is. Yet still we
    need reminding. When Primo Levi ar-
    rived in Auschwitz parched after a bru-
    tal train journey, he reached for an icicle
    to slake his thirst. When a guard yanked
    it away from him, Levi asked, “Why?”
    The guard replied, “Hier ist kein war-
    um.” (Here there is no why.) The death
    camps were an extreme form of — per-
    haps the logical culmination of — what
    Whitehead calls a “culture of impunity.”
    When some people have unrestricted
    and unreviewable power over others —
    when no one can be compelled to an-
    swer for his actions when asked:
    “Why?” — some of those with power will
    behave like beasts simply because they
    can. And because absolute power cor-
    rupts absolutely. This melancholy fact
    about the human species was under-
    scored last year in a nonfiction book
    about a lawless sheriff who bestrode
    Florida’s Lake County in the 1950s (“Be-
    neath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of
    Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and
    Found,” by Gilbert King).
    Do you wonder how the Nazis man-
    aged to find people willing to work as
    concentration-camp personnel? It was
    not that difficult.


A searing


of what’s not



hat the hell is wrong with us?
Less than a month after a
white supremacist allegedly
killed 51 people in
Christchurch on March 15, New Zealand’s
Parliament voted, 119 to 1, to make posses-
sion of assault weapons illegal. Gun own-
ers there have until the end of September
to turn in their weapons as part of a
buyback program, or face five years in
prison. More than 10,000 firearms have
already been handed in.
By contrast, at least 59 people have
been killed in mass shootings this year
(and more than 9,000 in other shootings,
not counting suicides), yet the United
States is no closer to banning assault-style
weapons. These were the weapons of
choice of mass murderers in Newtown,
Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; San Bernardino,
Calif.; Sutherland Springs, Tex.; Las Ve-
gas; Parkland, Fla.; Pittsburgh; Poway,
Calif.; El Paso; and Dayton, Ohio. Seventy
percent of voters and 54 percent of Repub-
licans surveyed by Morning Consult-
Politico support banning these weapons
of war. Yet President Trump claims there
is no “political appetite” for such action,
meaning there is no appetite in the
Republican Party to challenge the Nation-
al Rifle Association.
Because of Republican pusillanimity,
Congress hasn’t passed any restrictions
on firearms in a quarter-century: The ban
on selling assault weapons was approved
in 1994 and expired in 2004. The last
major federal firearms legislation actually
made the problem worse: In 2005, Con-
gress granted gunmakers immunity from
being sued when their products are used
to kill.
After every mass shooting, Republicans
offer lame excuses and tawdry evasions in
lieu of action. They claim it’s too soon to
talk about political solutions right after a
shooting — and, then, it’s too late. They
blame video games and mental illness,
even though every other Western country
has video games and mental illness, and
none has the same problem with shoot-
ings. The rate of violent gun deaths in the
United States is nine times higher than in
Canada, 73 times higher than in Britain,
88 times higher than in South Korea,
110 times higher than in Japan. The rate is
even higher in the United States than in
Iraq or Afghanistan. This isn’t because the
United States has a disproportionate share
of the world’s video games. It’s because we
have a disproportionate share of the guns:
4.27 percent of the world’s population
owns more than more than 40 percent of
all the world’s guns in civilian hands.
Under public pressure, Republicans
and Trump are now talking about, per-
haps, expanding background checks or

passing a “red flag” law that would allow
courts to temporarily take away guns
from individuals who are judged a danger
to themselves or others. Of course, Trump
has talked the talk before without backing
it up; he has already abandoned his earlier
support for universal background checks.
But even if the Senate does pass a broader
background check or a red-flag law, these
would be incremental improvements
wholly inadequate to the magnitude of
the crisis we face. Federal background
checks already exist, but most mass shoot-
ers were able to acquire their weapons
legally. Red-flag laws already exist in
17 states and the District, but they have
been primarily effective in reducing sui-
cides rather than homicides.
Much more ambitious gun controls are
needed. We should treat guns the way we
treat cars, requiring gun owners to pass
gun safety courses, get a new license at
regular intervals and carry liability insur-
ance that would force insurance compa-
nies to investigate their background. We
need federally funded research into im-
proving gun safety with “smart guns” and
other technologies. We need to end gun
manufacturers’ immunity from lawsuits.
And we need to outlaw an entire class of
weapons — assault rifles — that has no
place outside of combat.
Louis Klarevas, a researcher at Colum-
bia University, found that during the
10 years when the assault weapon ban was
in effect, “the number of gun massacres

... fell by 37 percent, and the number of
people dying from mass shootings fell by
43 percent.” The effect would have been
even greater if the 1994 law had fewer
loopholes and if it had banned the posses-
sion, not merely the sale, of assault weap-
ons and large-capacity magazines. That’s
essentially what Australia did in 1996
after a gunman slaughtered 35 people.
Australia has had only one shooting since
then that killed more than four people —
and that was the slaughter of a single
family carried out by a relative.
New Zealand and Australia have had
sensible responses to mass shootings. Our
nonresponse is suicidal — and it’s due
entirely to Republican lawmakers and a
Republican president putting loyalty to
the NRA above their loyalty to the Ameri-
can people. Republicans claim to be tough
on defense, but when it comes to what is,
along with global warming, arguably our
top national security threat (more Ameri-
cans have died from gun violence in the
past 50 years than in all of our wars
combined), they are a profile in coward-
ice. In their dealings with the gun lobby,
Republicans are Neville Chamberlain, not
Winston Churchill.
Twitter: @MaxBoot


A profile in cowardice


re the dominant voices of white
evangelical Christianity in the
United States destined to be
angry and defensive? Is Presi-
dent Trump making sure they stay that
I found myself asking these questions
after I read my Post colleague Elizabeth
Bruenig’s revealing and deeply reported
essay about her journey to Texas to probe
why evangelicals have been so loyal to
Trump and are likely to remain so.
Hers was a venture in sympathetic
understanding and empathetic listen-
ing. What she heard was a great desire to
push back against liberals, to defend a
world that sees itself under siege and to
embrace Trump — not as a particularly
good man but as a fighter against all of
the things and people and causes that
they cannot abide. Even more, they
believe liberals and secularists are utter-
ly hostile to the culture they have built
and the worldview they embrace.
“I think conservatives for decades
have felt bullied by the left, and the
default response was to roll over and take
it,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of
Dallas’s First Baptist church and one of
the very earliest and most vocal leaders
of Trump’s evangelical bloc.
I confess I don’t really see the “roll
over” part. Conservative politicians, Fox
News commentators and talk-radio
hosts have engaged in plenty of bullying
of their own. But I have no doubt that
Jeffress was telling the truth about how
he and like-minded folks feel.
This means that the nastiness that
makes Trump so odious to many of us
comes off to his evangelical Christian
supporters (even when it makes them
uneasy) as a hallowed form of militancy
against what one evangelical whom Bru-
enig interviewed called “a den of vipers”
engaged in what another called “spirit-
ual warfare.”
Bruenig summarized the approach to
politics she kept running into as “focused
on achieving protective accommodations
against a broader, more liberal national
culture.” She wondered whether con-
servative evangelical Christians will
“continue to favor the rise of figures such
as Trump, who are willing to dispense
with any hint of personal Christian virtue
while promising to pause the decline of
evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes.”
What struck me in reading Bruenig’s
chronicle is that the undoubtedly serious
faith of those she encountered was less
central to their embrace of Trump than a
tribal feeling of beleaguerment — re-
member: Defending a culture is not the
same as standing up for beliefs about

God. Their deeply conservative views are
not far removed from those of non-
evangelical conservatives.
Above all, there was a Republican
partisanship that has been around for a
long time. In some cases, it goes back to
1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson’s em-
brace of civil rights incited many white
Southerners, including evangelicals, to
bolt the Democratic Party. In other cases,
Republican loyalties were cemented by
Ronald Reagan in 1980.
We keep coming back to Trump’s white
evangelical base because it seems so
strange that religious people with strong
moral convictions could embrace some-
one whose behavior violates so many of
the norms they uphold. But party is a big
deal these days, and there was nothing
extraordinary about Trump’s share of the
white evangelical vote. He won what
Republican presidential candidates typi-
cally win. His 80 percent among white
evangelicals in 2016 was hardly a surge
from Mitt Romney’s 78 percent in 2012.
In the end, party triumphed over any
qualms evangelicals may have felt about
the “Access Hollywood” candidate. Long-
standing conservative desires (for sym-
pathetic Supreme Court justices) and
inclinations (a deep dislike of Hillary
Clinton) reinforced what partisanship
I get why those with strongly held
traditional religious views feel hostility
from centers of intellectual life and the
arts. More secular liberals should consid-
er Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolter-
storff ’s suggestion in “Religion in the
University” that religious voices be wel-
comed at institutions of higher learning
in much the same way the once-excluded
perspectives of feminists and African
Americans are now welcomed. One of
the academy’s purposes is to bring those
with different backgrounds and experi-
ences into reasoned dialogue. Religious
people must be part of that conversation.
But reasoned dialogue is far removed
from what’s happening in our politics
now, and the irony is that the Trumpifica-
tion of the evangelicals will only widen
the gaps they mourn between them-
selves and other parts of our society. In
her recent book “America’s Religious
Wars: The Embattled Heart of Our Public
Life,” Kathleen M. Sands, a University of
Hawaii professor, writes of a long-stand-
ing conflict between “anti-modernist re-
ligion and anti-religious modernism.”
Trump has every interest in aggravating
and weaponizing mistrust that is already
there. And judging from Bruenig’s ac-
count, he’s succeeding brilliantly.
Twitter: @EJDionne


Trump is the

evangelicals’ enforcer

An iceberg floats behind the town of Kulusuk in Greenland on Monday.

Some of those with power

will behave like beasts

simply because they can.



early 1 in 5 American adults live
with a mental-health condition;
nearly half of those afflicted re-
port having an unmet need for
services. The suicide rate is increasing,
too. In 2014, about 10 million Americans
seriously considered suicide, and more
than 1 million attempted it. These are our
neighbors, our co-workers, family mem-
bers, friends and loved ones.
Suicide will also kill an average of
20 American veterans daily. Even though
veterans represent just 7 percent of the
population, they are about 1½ times more
likely to die from suicide than nonveter-
ans. We are both veterans, so this hits
especially close to home.
It is time to treat suicide like any other
life-threatening emergency, and Congress
should take the lead. We have joined
forces across the aisle to start that conver-
sation, and we believe this issue can unite
Congress at a time when it is deeply
We have made it our mission to secure a
three-digit dialing code for the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Right now,
when an American is experiencing suicid-
al thoughts, help is more than just a
three-digit phone call away. In many
states, multiple government and nonprof-
it agencies provide overlapping services,
and each entity has its own phone num-
ber. For example, people can call the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, but
callers must search for and then dial
1-800-273-8255. That is one step too many
in a crisis.
In August 2018, we took the first step.
Congress passed the National Suicide
Hotline Improvement Act, which called

for a study to determine the best dialing
code for this purpose. Last week, the
Federal Communications Commission re-
leased the report, recommending 988.
Armed with the facts, it is time for
Congress to get to work. This week, we
introduced the National Suicide Hotline
Designation Act, which would let Ameri-
cans experiencing a mental-health emer-
gency dial 988 to immediately receive
Nothing haunts us more than the
thought of someone dialing 988 only to
hear endless ringing or an answering
machine. Our bill empowers states to
collect a small fee, similar to what is
already in place for 911, to enhance and
support local crisis call centers affiliated
within the 988 national network. Last
year, only 79 percent of all lifeline calls
were answered in the state in which they
were placed. In most cases, unanswered
calls are rolled over to a neighboring state.
But with an ever-rising call volume, this
patchwork system is not sustainable.
We recognize that this legislation alone
is not a panacea. We must also start
talking to each other about mental-health
care so that seeking help for everything
from suicidal thoughts to addiction to
depression is as routine as going to the
doctor for a broken arm or an annual
In the meantime, this legislation could
save lives. We stand united in joining our
neighbors, co-workers, family members,
friends and loved ones in doing our part to
provide support and to restore hope to our

Chris Stewart, a Republican, represents Utah
in the U.S. House of Representatives. Seth
Moulton, a Democrat, represents
Massachusetts in the House.

Let’s call 988 for

suicide prevention

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