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Best of The Atlantic
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‘Alleged’ No Longer
“They are creating a universe in which they’re stripping adult women of common sense, autonomy, and responsibility,” Donna Rotunno, one of Harvey Weinstein’s defense attorneys, said during the closing arguments of her client’s criminal trial. She was taking aim, most directly, at the case’s prosecution. But she was also suggesting, in the cosmic sweep of her accusation, a broader indictment: of #MeToo, and of the movement’s insistence that the blame for sexual violence lies not with its victims, but with its perpetrators.The lawyer’s argument was flawed in many ways—chief among them that it failed, apparently, to persuade its intended audience. On Monday, the jury of The People of the State of New York v. Harvey Weinstein announced its verdict, after nearly 30 hours of deliberation: Weinstein is guilty, they concluded, on two of the five charges that were brought against him. The “alleged rapist” is now the “convicted rapist.” He faces up to 29 years in prison. That is expressly because, not in spite, of the “common sense, autonomy, and responsibility” demonstrated by the women who spoke during the trial.For many observers—people who have lived through the Anita Hill testimony and the Christine Blasey Ford testimony and the election of Donald Trump—the Weinstein verdict came as a shock. “This was such a narrow legal hallway to walk down, and many of us braced ourselves for a not-guilty verdict,” Lauren Sivan, a journalist who has said that Weinstein masturbated in front of her, explained during a call with reporters on Monday. For others, the verdict was a symbol. “This is a new day,” Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan district attorney who had declined to prosecute Weinstein in 2015, told reporters just after the verdict was announced. Trump shared his own—deeply fraught—reactions to the verdict during a press conference on Tuesday: “I think that, from the standpoint of women, I think it was a, uh, great thing. I think it was a, uh, it was a great victory.”The men’s optimism was too easy; the verdict, after all, was split. The trial was harrowing for many of those who participated in it. (One witness, Jessica Mann, had an apparent panic attack while answering a particularly harsh string of questions under cross-examination.) Progress is hectic and occasionally cruel. “Don’t Tell Me to Be Happy About the Harvey Weinstein Verdict,” Molly Jong-Fast wrote in The Daily Beast. She had a point.And yet: That verdict was progress. The trial that occasioned it was progress. Even the simple shift in language—alleged rapist to convicted rapist—is progress. “Alleged,” applied to Weinstein, was both necessary and just; he was, like any other person accused of a crime, innocent until he was proven guilty. But “alleged” can suggest balance when there is none. More than 90 women have made allegations of sexual misconduct against one man. During the trial, their number was reduced, effectively, to two.It is hard to overstate the risk the Manhattan DA’s office took in bringing forward the charges of those two women, Mann and Miriam Haley—specifically because they had gone on to have relationships with Weinstein after their assaults. Juries (during, that is, the vanishingly rare times they are summoned for sexual-assault cases) have not traditionally understood that 81 percent of sexual assaults are committed by people already known to the victims. Nor have juries traditionally understood the complicated dynamics that can keep survivors tethered to those who did them harm. Assaults committed by strangers, their victims screaming and clawing and fighting back until they can fight no more: This is the narrow view many Americans, and consequently many American juries, have had of rape. This is the mythology that the prosecution was taking on.Myths are stubborn things. One consequence of living in a culture that remains loath to discuss sex, in schools or courtrooms, is that it loses the capacity to talk about sex. Its language suffers, and its empathic imagination suffers along with it. Jeffrey Marsalis, accused of drugging and raping 10 women, was acquitted of rape by two Philadelphia juries after they learned that many of those women had maintained contact with him after the assaults. (It took a third trial to convict him—this one involving a woman who had gone straight to the police with her claim.) The radio host Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on assault charges in part because some of his accusers had withheld information about the contact they had maintained with him after the alleged assaults. Assaults, when they occur, take place in a social context; discussions about assault, however, often ignore that fact.One of the remarkable elements of the Weinstein trial is the extent to which the women themselves wrestled, in public, with the myths. “I thought he was a nice person, I thought he was an okay guy,” Annabella Sciorra, who accused Weinstein of raping her in her New York City apartment in the mid-1990s, said on the stand. “At the time I thought rape was something that happened in the dark, in a back alley, something a stranger did to you with a gun to your head.” Miriam Haley testified that she had had sex with Weinstein just weeks after he had forced oral sex on her, and continued a correspondence with him well after that. Haley was trying to “almost normalize the situation,” the assistant district attorney Meghan Hast told the jury—to reclaim what had happened to her. To convince herself that the world she had occupied before her assault was the same one she inhabited after it. Hast and her colleagues were hoping that the jury would empathize with that impulse.Trials are blunt instruments. And the basic facts of this one were not, fundamentally, what was being adjudicated as the prosecution and defense sparred. That the actions in question—oral sex, penetrative sex—had taken place was generally agreed upon; the real question at hand was whether the sex had been consensual. The facts at play, here, were matters of mindset. The defense attempted to prove that Weinstein understood the encounters to be consensual, if transactional. This was a trial, in large part, about whether Weinstein assaulted one woman and raped another during incidents in 2006 and 2013. As it played out, though, its proceedings asked questions that remain perennial when sexual violence is concerned: whose perspective matters. Who is deemed believable. Who is assumed to bear the blame.But when juries allow that no victim is “perfect”—when they expand their notions of what sexual violence actually looks like—the questions can become more nuanced and reflective of lived experience. Many of the women who took the stand described seizing up rather than fighting back. They described the feel of Weinstein’s weight over them, his strength, the power he wielded both physically and otherwise. He used his rage as a weapon, they suggested. But he weaponized his indifference, too. “He, you know, told me not to make a big deal about it,” said Dawn Dunning, while testifying that Weinstein had put his hand up her skirt and attempted to penetrate her with his finger during what she had assumed to be a business meeting. She did not tell anybody what happened. On the stand in the trial, she explained why: “I was embarrassed,” Dunning said. “I wanted to pretend like it didn’t happen. I just—I didn’t want to be a victim.”Dunning was describing what it’s like to live in a world that arranges itself around the whims of powerful men. She was describing the world, in other words, that still exists—a world whose laws are biased toward the privileged, and a world that is much better at talking about justice than truly enacting it. Monday was not “a new day,” as Cy Vance claimed. It was, however, a day that found 12 people doing something that some other juries have done, as well: appreciating that sexual violence is far more complicated than American law, and American culture, have admitted. And then reflecting that nuance in their verdicts. Believe women has been a slogan and a correction and an extremely modest rallying cry. Now, it is precedent. Now, more progress might be made. The jury took the women, at least in part, at their word. And Weinstein “will forever be guilty,” Tarana Burke, the founder of the movement the now-convicted rapist unintentionally helped to expand, said on Monday. “That’s a thing we have.”
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Carnival 2020 in Brazil
Over the past two nights in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, thousands of spectators jammed into Sambadromes to watch the annual spectacle of samba-school floats, dancers, and extravagant costumes during Carnival. Over the past couple of weeks, even more people took part in the many blocos, or street parties, dancing and drinking into the wee hours of the night. Collected below are images of Carnival 2020 festivities in Brazil.
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The Dissonance Between Sanders and His Supporters on Medicare for All
Ask a Bernie Sanders backer why they support the Vermont senator, and their response will likely include an emphatic uttering of the phrase Medicare for All—the health-care proposal is the crux of Sanders’s support.But some of Sanders’s most loyal organizers seem willing to make a deal. While they really do want the plan to pass, these supporters—grassroots leaders across the country who I talked to over the last week—speak with more skepticism about its chances, often more so than the candidate himself. They said they are clear-eyed about how difficult it will be to achieve such gargantuan reform. And they would be pleased, if not completely satisfied, with passing a public option as a compromise.“The goal is Medicare for All, but we recognize, Senator Sanders recognizes, that that’s going to be a process,” Kristin Pack, a 50-year-old stay-at-home mom and one of the leaders of Our Revolution Central Kentucky, told me. “If we could get a super-solid public option that could not be easily upturned by another party coming into power, that would be wildly successful.”“I’m gonna take any movement as a victory, because legislation moves so very slowly at the federal level,” said Jennifer Mitchell, a public-school teacher in North Carolina who runs a series of Facebook pages supporting Sanders.This is not how the senator and many of his top surrogates have talked about Medicare for All. Sanders has spent the last several years pushing for the elimination of private insurance in favor of a comprehensive, publicly funded health-care program. He and his allies have savaged his Democratic primary opponents for being insufficiently devoted to this central policy proposal. For example, they’ve repeatedly lambasted former Mayor Pete Buttigieg for his Medicare for All Who Want It plan, which would allow people to choose between private insurance or buying into a public option. “It’s a failed idea,” Sanders said in December. And when Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced that she would support a public option as the first step toward a government-backed health-care system, Sanders fans accused her of being unserious about Medicare for All.[Read: Warren’s attempt to turn her greatest weakness into a strength]But a noticeable shift in rhetoric appeared earlier this month when prominent Sanders surrogate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that a President Sanders might have to settle for something short of Medicare for All. “A president can’t wave a magic wand and pass any legislation they want,” Ocasio-Cortez told HuffPost. “The worst-case scenario? We compromise deeply and we end up getting a public option. Is that a nightmare? I don’t think so.” Sanders disagreed with her in an interview on CNN, saying that his proposal was, “in a sense, already a compromise” because the plan has a four-year transition period.But the Sanders organizers I spoke with sound a lot more like the New York congresswoman when they talk about health-care reform. Political realities will likely stymie attempts to pass Medicare for All, they predict. “I would like to say, Yes,” Mitchell said when I asked her whether she thought a President Sanders could enact the policy. “But that is going to all depend on what kind of Congress we elect with our president.”To accomplish the comprehensive reform, Democrats would need at least 218 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate (unless, as Sanders has claimed, he can push Medicare for All through using the budget-reconciliation process, which requires only a 51-vote majority). But even if the party can win back the upper chamber from Republicans in November—already a difficult hurdle—Sanders allies will still have to persuade moderate Democrats like Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia to come around. “Between all the negotiations that would occur, it’s hard to say what a final Medicare for All bill would look like,” Shane Assadzandi, one of the leaders of the grassroots coalition West Virginia for Bernie, told me.A compromise bill might end up looking a lot like Buttigieg’s or Warren’s public-option proposals. And even though that idea repulses some on the left, most of the Sanders devotees I spoke with said they would see a public option as a major victory. “I understand if Bernie is the nominee and he puts forward a breathtakingly ambitious agenda to Congress, Congress is not going to swallow that hook, line, and sinker,” said Mike McCabe, the executive director of Our Wisconsin Revolution. “If not enough people are willing to embrace [Medicare for All], but we’re still able to make a significant step forward … that still would be an amazing outcome for millions of families in this country.”Comments like these elicit grumbles of “hypocrisy” from supporters of other Democratic candidates who have been saying for months that Medicare for All is much less politically feasible than a public option. But when I questioned Sanders backers on this point, each of them replied that, by campaigning on something as far-reaching as Medicare for All, Sanders is the only candidate starting in the strongest possible bargaining position. “So often the Democrats compromise with themselves,” McCabe told me, citing Buttigieg and his public-option plan. “They rein in their own aspirations; they limit their own demands. All that I know is that if you ask for a lot, you can get a little, and if you ask for a little, you get nothing.”Many of them are still optimistic about passing Medicare for All; they believe that the same wave of energy and enthusiasm that will sweep Sanders into office in November will also motivate lawmakers to support his more radical proposals. Even if more conservative members of Congress are hesitant to support the health-care plan, some Sanders supporters think that a public-pressure campaign in their states—which the senator has vowed to wage—will help persuade them. “The optics of what we’re dealing with completely flip on [their] head once he’s in the White House,” said Skylar Hurwitz, a 27-year-old member of Our Revolution Pennsylvania who is running for the state Senate.[Read: Bernie Sanders’s biggest win yet]But for the most part, the organizers I interviewed showed how his biggest defenders aren’t oblivious to the opposition his plans would face in Congress (not to mention from the interest groups that Sanders rails against). And as a Sanders nomination grows more likely by the day, it’s possible that we’re getting an early glimpse of the argument he will make to reel in hesitant Democrats in a general election: that a Sanders presidency won’t necessarily mean immediate, revolutionary change. It’s plausible, too, that Sanders supporters are tempering progressive expectations.“I understand how the political process works,” McCabe said. “I understand that you don’t get everything that you want.”
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The Trump-Modi Playbook
During his inaugural presidential visit to India, Donald Trump was greeted with a rally at the world’s largest cricket stadium. In an atmosphere reminiscent of a typical Trump event back home in the United States, he waxed lyrical about an electoral win. Only this time, he wasn’t referring to his own.“Last year, more than 600 million people went to the polls and gave him a landslide victory like no other, in the largest democratic election ever held anywhere on the face of the Earth,” Trump said of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a crowd of more than 100,000 people in Ahmedabad, the first stop on his two-day tour of the country. Trump praised Modi for being an “exceptional leader” and a “very tough negotiator,” calling his ascent to the premiership an “incredible rise.”Trump has a well-documented affinity for his host, and it’s not hard to see why. The pair share a number of similarities, including a nativist governing philosophy and a strongman appeal. Perhaps their greatest commonality, though, is their adherence to a familiar autocratic playbook, the likes of which have been adopted by other democratically elected leaders around the world.[William J. Burns: The U.S.-India relationship is bigger than Trump and Modi]What makes an autocrat? In the most narrow sense, it is a ruler who governs with absolute power. Though neither Trump nor Modi can lay claim to exercising that kind of influence (both India and the U.S. have robust, albeit strained, democratic institutions), their illiberal tendencies offer some insight into what a democracy in autocratic transition might look like. As the leaders of the world’s two largest democracies, their shared disregard for norms, disdain for dissent (from the media and elsewhere), and dedication to strengthening their own executive power at the expense of state institutions designed to curb it have made them emblematic of the democratic deterioration that has been taking place in recent years.A mainstay of autocratic rule is the consolidation of executive power. In some countries, this tactic plays out in a sort of piecemeal way. For example, Trump’s bid to extend his presidential authority in the U.S. has steadily increased overtime, from his attempts to defy Congress and the Constitution over his hard-line immigration policies to his impeachment-spurring efforts to withhold congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. In both cases, Trump’s rationale was largely the same: to invoke presidential privilege or, in autocratic speak, to declare himself constitutionally above the law. Similarly, Modi has tested the limits of his authority in India—most recently by unilaterally revoking the constitutionally enshrined autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state; by establishing new limits on India’s citizenship laws that discriminate against Muslims; and by imposing violent crackdowns on protests across the country.This extension of executive power takes more blatant forms in other democratic countries, however. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has overseen a raft of reforms designed to grant him sweeping new powers, including the authority to appoint senior officials and declare states of emergency. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party has gone to great lengths to impose its authority over the country’s judicial system. And in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has bypassed due process altogether, overseeing a “war on drugs” in the country that has resulted in the extrajudicial killing of tens of thousands of people, according to rights groups.Another hallmark of autocratic rule is the repression of dissent—particularly that from the media. In the U.S., this has largely come in the form of the White House withholding press briefings and attacking news outlets and journalists perceived as critical. In India, the government’s relationship with the press has gone well beyond condemnation, with Modi opting to amend accreditation guidelines in order to weed out “fake news,” exacerbating self-censorship, and, in one case, even revoking a form of Indian citizenship from a critical journalist.Efforts to quell dissent have been no less prevalent in other democratic countries led by leaders with autocratic tendencies. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro accused the media of “lying” about the scale of the widely documented Amazon fires last year and has threatened to withhold government advertising funds from outlets deemed to be publishing “fake news.” In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s moves to subjugate the free press have included the establishment of a conglomerate of government-friendly outlets. The most severe examples, however, are in Turkey, which Erdoğan has transformed into the world’s largest jail for journalists, shedding any pretense of freedom of the press.But perhaps the most common trait among burgeoning autocrats in recent years is the growing appeal to populist and nationalist sentiment. This has been most pronounced in India through Modi’s efforts to transform the country from a secular democracy into a theocratic, nationalist one that dominates its minorities. In the U.S., Trump has made his nativist rhetoric about immigration a hallmark of his administration. And in Hungary, much of Orbán’s populist rhetoric against the “elites” has been leveled almost exclusively at one person in particular: the prominent Hungarian-born financier George Soros, who founded the vilified Central European University.[Read: How to build an autocracy]This “autocratization of democracies” hasn’t compelled any of these countries to renounce their democratic credentials, Shelley Inglis, the executive director of the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center, told me. On the contrary, she said, many of these countries “firmly place their identity on [their] democratic structures,” adding that even countries regarded as more fragile democracies, such as Brazil and the Philippines, continue to tout their democratic identity. (This sets these countries apart from regimes such as China and North Korea, neither of which claims any sort of democratic legitimacy.)Nor have citizens of these countries necessarily turned on their leaders either. In the case of Trump and Modi, both remain relatively popular with their base despite political challenges at home (for Trump, impeachment; for Modi, the political fallout of his Hindu-nationalist project paired with an economic slowdown). Others, such as Duterte, remain wildly popular nationwide. When I asked Inglis whether this approval should register as tacit support for these leaders’ autocratic tendencies, she said it would be better to interpret it within the broader trust deficit in democratic institutions.[Read: This is how democracy dies]“There is an overall declining trust in institutions—in government, in civil society, in [the] media,” she said. “That makes it easier to somehow rationalize the behavior of leaders that would otherwise probably be more concerning.”
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The Atlantic Politics Daily: ‘Namaste Trump’ Is a Sequel
It’s Monday, February 24. In the rarest of rare outcomes, a jury convicted Harvey Weinstein today of sexually assaulting two women (but acquitted him on the most serious charge, predatory criminal assault).In the rest of today’s newsletter: Trump at the Modi-o, part two. Plus: the Nevada caucus aftermath, and what happens if presidents refuse to leave office after their term ends.*« TODAY IN POLITICS »(Francis Mascarenhas / Reuters)The MAGA show heads to India.The sight was surreal: President Donald Trump clasping hands with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both of them taking in the raucous chants of some 50,000 Indian Americans who came to a Houston football stadium late in September for an event (aptly) named “Howdy Modi!”Who wouldn’t want to bask in a sequel?Today, Trump joined Modi for “Namaste Trump,” a MAGA-style rally for the two leaders in the world’s largest cricket stadium, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Though Trump tied himself into knots trying to pronounce Hindi words—stumbling over chai as well as the name of the city in which the rally was held—he got the crowd he came for. More than 100,000 people filled out the stadium pews; another 100,000 lined the motorcade route.The Trump-Modi bromance may have something to do with their populist, us-versus-them panache: Trump sought to implement a version of a Muslim ban; Modi has done basically just that. Trump blasts the press as “fake news”; Modi’s government has cracked down on unfavorable media outlets. As intolerance and division in both societies erode their democracies, I fear that the leaders may reinforce each other’s worst instincts,” William J. Burns, a former deputy secretary of state, writes, worrying about the type of relationship that is developing between both countries. Read his full essay.—Saahil Desai*« SNAPSHOT »(NASA / Handout via Reuters)The NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson (photographed here at her desk at NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1966), died today at 101. That her role in the mythos of spaceflight wasn’t celebrated until her 90s is a reminder of “who gets left out of the stories America tells about its accomplishments,” Marina Koren writes.*« CAUCUS FOCUS »(Jim Young / Reuters)Nevada’s Democratic Party held its caucus on Saturday. If you’re still catching up on the results, we have the latest:‣ “In the most diverse contest of the year, the most progressive candidate in the field won his biggest victory yet,” Russell Berman writes: Bernie Sanders’s victory in Nevada proved his staying power, following the first two primary contests in mostly white states.‣ “Efforts to stop him so far have been ineffective and made the party seem out of touch,” Edward-Isaac Dovere writes: As Sanders rises, the Democratic establishment is weaker than it’s ever been.‣ “The Nevada outcome could intensify the muddle in the middle that has prevented any centrist candidate from emerging as the principal alternative to Sanders.” Even if Joe Biden notches a win in South Carolina (he was second to Sanders in Nevada), too many moderates remain in the race for any of them to truly challenge Sanders on Super Tuesday, Ronald Brownstein writes.+ There’s a key lesson centrists aren’t learning, Ibram X. Kendi argues.*« ARGUMENT OF THE DAY »(THOMAS PEIPERT / AP / SHUTTERSTOCK / THE ATLANTIC)“That a president would defy the results of an election has long been unthinkable; it is now, if not an actual possibility, at the very least something Trump’s supporters joke about.”Here’s a hypothetical. Say it’s November 2020 and Trump has been defeated, thus bringing an end to his administration on January 20, 2021 (or say he’s reelected; his term would still end in January 2025). Say he then refuses to leave the White House. What then?Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, looks at all the ways such a crisis would play out.*« EVENING READ »(Ben Childers)Floods and PoliticsAcross Kentucky, floods are devouring rural communities. The catastrophe is out of sight, out of mind for many people living outside these areas, partly because the national news media are too quick to default to a “flyover country” attitude toward noncoastal towns, Silas House writes. If coal mining isn’t devouring the mountain in front of your house, then it’s easy to leave all the lights on. If your home isn’t being carried away by floodwaters, it’s hard to feel the consequences of climate change. Folks in rural places aren’t immune to this disconnect. They say they care about the land, yet they often elect politicians who value profit over the environment. Rural voters’ support of Trump is widespread, even though he has been designated by several environmental groups as the “worst president in history.” Read the rest.* Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an editor on the Politics desk, and Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters. You can reply directly to this newsletter with questions or comments, or send a note to Your support makes our journalism possible. Subscribe here.
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