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Explore five iconic spacesuits

By Christian Davenport and Robin Givhan
Explore five iconic spacesuits
The Mercury suits developed for flights in the 1960s were modeled after the suits worn by military pilots after World War II. MUST CREDIT: The Washington Post

Explore five iconic spacesuits and more than 50 years of spaceflight in a dialogue between The Washington Post's space industry reporter Christian Davenport and fashion critic Robin Givhan.

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The Mercury suits developed for flights in the 1960s were modeled after the suits worn by military pilots after World War II. The pilots were beginning to fly at higher altitudes and needed a pressurized suit that could keep oxygen flowing and protect the pilots in the case of a high-altitude ejection. The Mercury suits were not designed to operate in the vacuum of space, but rather to help the astronauts in the case of an emergency.

Christian: The helmet was designed to be tight fitting so that if the astronaut moved his head, the communications equipment inside the helmet would move with him.

Robin: This suit could be from any country, really. You take away the patch there and there is nothing that screams U.S. or that looks particularly patriotic. When I look at it, it seems like it is advertising technology, not advertising patriotism.

Christian: The harness that stretches across the chest was used to help secure the astronaut to his seat and hold him tight through the vibrations he would experience in flight.

Robin: This silver sets the ground rules for how we imagine spacesuits to be - everything that we think is futuristic is always silver and reflective. Whenever there would be anything related to the future in fashion shows and people imagining what the next century would look like, they always started with metallic fabrics.

Christian: The suit was silver for a number of reasons, according to Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. First, it would make the astronauts stand out in case they needed to be rescued. It helped reflect sunlight and keep them from heating up, especially in the outer edges of the atmosphere, where the sunlight is unfiltered. Finally, NASA really wanted to set these guys apart from the other pilots with a very space-agey silvery suit.

Christian: The gloves are currently stored detached from the suit and not included in the 3-D model. They had lights on the fingertips so that in an emergency, when the lights in the spacecraft went out, they would be able to illuminate the instruments and control panel.

Christian: The biometric connector was used to monitor the astronaut's vital signs - such as heart rate and body temperature - to see how they responded to the conditions of microgravity. At the time, NASA had never sent a person into space and didn't really have a sense of the effects of space travel on the human body. You could see the nervousness and how scared they were about sending these guys to space in the suit - it looks over engineered, there are all these straps because they worried about anything that could possibly go wrong in an uncharted territory.

Robin: I love these boots, they remind me of Doc Martens, of work boots. But they seem so complicated to get into. Everything seems so complicated to get into, the exact opposite of this idea of aerodynamics of space travel. This looks like someone heavy, earthbound, slogging through something.

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The Apollo suits worn by the astronauts on the lunar surface were "essentially a spacecraft that is human form and human fitted," said Cathleen Lewis, a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. The suits were designed to keep astronauts alive outside their spacecraft. Custom made for each astronaut, the suits were based on 47 measurements and tested repeatedly. What you see here is "probably the closest thing of a body print of Neil Armstrong," Lewis said.

Christian: For Apollo, NASA needed a more robust helmet than the kinds used during the Mercury and Gemini missions, one that allowed the astronauts to see their feet. This is important "especially if you're walking on strange new territory," Lewis said.

Christian: The metallic gold visors could be pulled down. Lewis called them "oversized ski goggles."

Robin: You can't really see their face, their name is so small, they were not even trying to turn the astronauts into personalities. Which would be so natural now, just as a way of ginning up interest and getting people excited, by having a personal connection.

Christian: Unlike mission patches for other flights, the patch for Apollo 11 did not have the names of the crew members. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins felt their names should be left out because the flight represented all of humankind and the 400,000 people involved in the Apollo program.

Christian: Tubes connected to the suits through these nozzles served as connections to life support systems and communication and electrical systems, as well as water to help moderate body temperature.

Christian: Armstrong left his backpack on the moon in order to ensure that the ascent module was well below its weight limit, Lewis said. The pack contained the astronaut's life support system, which provided a supply of oxygen while also taking carbon dioxide away.

Robin: I love that there was so much attention paid to the idea that we are doing this for peace, for exploration and for scientific discovery. Despite how big and potentially intimidating this suit could be, it is not, it looks like a happy uniform. And the patches are so Boy Scout.

Christian: Moon dust is still visible on the legs and boots.

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After the Challenger space shuttle orbiter exploded after launch in 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board, safety became paramount. This shows in the design of the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), which astronauts started using inside the shuttle in the mid-1990s during liftoff and return to Earth.

Robin: They look much more like something you could envision a Navy SEAL wearing, or a NASCAR driver. It doesn't have that otherworldly silver what-could-that-possibly-be aspect to it. And the helmet looks like something a motorcyclist would wear.

Christian: Often referred to as the "pumpkin suit" because of its color, the suit is orange so that in case of emergency astronauts could be easily spotted.

Christian: The suit came with a survival backpack loaded with parachutes, flotation devices, drinking water and even emergency oxygen supplies.

Christian: Astronauts were able to take off their gloves without losing pressure in the suit, so they could work the controls of the shuttle in flight.

Christian: Anything that is not nailed down floats away in space. Astronauts need pockets to stash pens or other objects so they don't lose them.

Robin: This suit reminds me of a military uniform. I think it's the boots; they look like a camouflage-y shade of olive or gray. Also, compared to the previous suits, it doesn't look as space-ish.

Robin: There's nothing cool about it, there is nothing surprising, nothing that some kid would look at and have their imagination sparked by it. It is so mundane that all you have to do is go to the local construction worker uniform store and buy one and stick a motorcycle helmet on it and you have the suit.

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The Boeing suit was designed to be as light as possible, about the same "weight and complexity as a flight suit," said Shane Jacobs, spacesuit design manager with the David Clark Co., which made the suit for Boeing. With gloves, boots and head protection, the suit weighs 16 pounds, almost half the weight of the orange shuttle suit. Astronauts will wear it throughout launch and ascent into orbit, and on the way back to Earth.

Christian: This is a soft helmet, which essentially acts as a hood: It can be unzipped and allowed to flop down the astronaut's back. However, the visor is made of a clear hard material.

Robin: This suit doesn't look special, it reminds me of contemporary men's sportswear. Instead of looking at the spacesuits and seeing this futuristic idea, it seems that the creators of the suit are taking ideas that already exist in our mundane little gravity-rooted life and transporting them into outer space.

Christian: Throughout the suit there are fasteners that will allow the suit to be tweaked to meet the astronauts' particular dimensions or adjust for different postures.

Robin: It still looks male-centric because so much of the language of functional sportswear comes from menswear. Whenever you look at women's clothes and they are defined as being incredibly functional it's usually something that could be unisex.

Christian: The gloves are designed to be used with a touch screen.

Christian: The pocket on the thigh is integrated into the suit, but the ones on the shin are removable.

Robin: The pockets are quite fashionable: the more fitted shape, the way they hang off. I feel like I've seen that on a runway somewhere.

Robin: It seems like this was designed with the thought of knock-offs and derivation in mind. You can see these boots sold out at some hipster sneaker store, in black or silver.

Christian: These Reebok boots weigh less than a pound each. They are designed to be comfortable and tight-fitting. The material is fire-retardant, and the sole is non-slipping, like a basketball sneaker.

Robin: The whole outfit looks very relatable. Actual astronauts wearing these don't look heroic as much as they look accessible. The earlier spacesuits seem completely removed from reality, and there was the sense that all the pockets and the little cords hide some complicated technology. With this one, you're like, "OK, my iPhone is in this pocket, and I've got a Clif Bar in the other one." It's just saying "You, too, can do this."

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The SpaceX suit is one piece, with the boots, helmet and gloves all connected - minimalist, efficient, inspiring. A version of this suit has been flown to space on a mannequin in 2018, when SpaceX famously launched a red Tesla Roadster into space aboard the first Falcon Heavy rocket, and again on a mannequin earlier this year in a test flight of the Dragon spacecraft. Astronauts will wear the suit throughout launch and ascent into orbit, and on the way back to Earth.

Robin: This is a spacesuit every space tourist wants to wear. It is social-media friendly, you want to take selfies in that, and it screams badass. Even the way the helmet is designed, with that black facade, is a little intimidating, but not full Darth Vader.

Christian: The helmet is 3-D printed, with padding customized to each astronaut's head. The visor is designed to give astronauts a broad field of view and can rotate open.

Robin: Everything is completely understated, which makes it so cool. If you know that is the SpaceX logo you are inside the club.

Christian: The suit's outer layer is made with fire-retardant materials. The gray parts are Nomex, a flame-resistant material. The whites are a Teflon-like material.

Robin: The sides are darker and they create the perfect swimmer's physique, a silhouette of strength. That is a fashion trick, to create the illusion of a particular shape. It could even turn into an hourglass if you are a woman inside that suit. From all five suits, this one is the most amenable to a woman's figure.

Christian: Zippers on the wrists allow astronauts to use their bare hands on the controls. But the gloves also work with the touch screens inside of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft.

Robin: Aesthetically, it is sleek and incredibly elegant. With the earlier ones, the technology was so obvious in the suit. They looked complicated, and it took an enormous amount of skill to be able to wear them. This looks so easy to wear, devoid of anything that looks highly technical or complicated.

Robin: If you pay a bazillion dollars to go into space and you get this - I'm assuming you get to keep it - you will wear those boots again! It seems you can pull it apart and continue to wear it and keep the bragging rights going.

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About the story: To re-create the spacesuits in 3-D, The Post took 2,500 photos of the original suits and stitched them together through a process called photogrammetry. This involves using an algorithm to analyze the images and find common points to build a 3-D model. The helmets were modeled manually from reference images, not through photogrammetry.

Rural retreats offer traumatized veterans and their families time and support to heal

By Hannah Natanson
Rural retreats offer traumatized veterans and their families time and support to heal
Veteran Chad Stuehlmeyer, left, of Mt. Vernon, Ill., one of the participants in Project Sanctuary, navigates the ropes course at the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown, Md. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Doug Kapustin

In 2007, Allen Rogers stopped leaving his bedroom.

Public places transported the 49-year-old veteran right back to Afghanistan, where he spent a year on active duty in the mid-2000s. Haunted by memories of women, children and donkeys "stuffed" with explosives, he grew suspicious of passersby.

"I just felt like everyone was out to get me, like I would explode if I went outside," said Rogers, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. "Over there, you couldn't tell the difference between a soldier and a civilian."

For months, all he did was watch TV and eat meals delivered by his wife, Christina Rogers. He withdrew from his family. He began answering questions with shouted expletives; he stopped looking at his two children. Over three years, Christina Rogers suffered 400 seizures, which doctors told her appeared to be brought on solely by stress.

"For so long, all I knew was just that he was angry," she said.

That's how life went until the Rogerses found Project Sanctuary.

The nonprofit group, based in Granby, Colorado, offers free six-day retreats in bucolic settings for veteran and military families. Participants take a wide range of classes, including on dealing with PTSD, managing household finances and communicating effectively. They also break for recreational activities like rock climbing and fishing.

Since its founding in 2007, the nonprofit agency has hosted 180 retreats in seven states serving about 1,400 families. This month, it held its first retreat in Maryland, attended by the Rogerses and 10 other families.

Heather Ehle, the founder and CEO of Project Sanctuary, said she is helping military families navigate the difficult readjustment to civilian life. Research has shown that U.S. service members and veterans struggle to keep jobs and marriages after deployment, and that this has negative effects on family and friends.

Sometimes, the worst happens. Roughly 22 veterans die by suicide every day, according to data compiled by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"People commit suicide because they feel disconnected from themselves - they knew who they were as a warrior, but they don't know who they are as a dad," Ehle said. "We offer a sanctuary, a safe space of healing: We're connecting them back to themselves and their immediate family."

Jasmine Townsend, a professor of recreational therapy at Clemson University, said Project Sanctuary is unique in involving the entire family. "If we're only focused on soldiers and their needs, we are leaving out a massive side of the story," Townsend said.

The Rogerses flew seven hours from their Nampa, Idaho, home to Reisterstown, Maryland, eager to repeat the life-changing experience they had at the June 2016 Project Sanctuary retreat in Grand County, Colorado. They had heard of the program from a military friend who participated.

"It was the best thing we could have done," Christina Rogers said of their first retreat. "He realized he's not alone, I realized I'm not alone, the kids realized they're not alone - there are others, and we share a common bond."

Allen Rogers nodded. By talking to other veterans in Colorado, he said, he found a way to explain the one thing his wife had never understood: the reason he could not meet their children's gazes. Now, sitting side by side, the couple said it together.

"When he looks at our children, he sees ..." Christina faltered.

Allen reached over and gripped her hand.

"The life I took away in Afghanistan," he said.

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At first, Ehle struggled to make people believe in Project Sanctuary.

Some saw her lack of military ties (she is a civilian) as proof she was "just in it to make money off veterans," Ehle said. Plus, she is a woman - and blond, she noted.

But she had fun with it.

"I would walk into a crowded room wearing red high heels, a little pencil skirt, and have my hair big, up, and blond," Ehle, now 51, recalled of early meetings with state officials and veterans groups. "Then I would sit there and suddenly go, 'What about the spouses? The families? Who's taking care of them?' "

Asked why she wanted to help military families, Ehle gave the same answer she gives today: It started in the early 2000s, when she was midway through her former career as a nurse. At the time, Ehle was volunteering at a free health clinic that sometimes saw veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

She spent hours giving former soldiers steroid injections and drawing blood for lab tests. But she also listened as they spoke of pain nobody seemed to understand. And she watched as families loitered in the clinic's waiting room, unattended.

"I kept thinking, 'Why are they not getting care? Why are we not taking care of our vets?' " Ehle said. "Something is wrong. He's not making this up. But nobody is taking them seriously."

In part inspired by chats with families at the clinic, she came up with the idea of a retreat center for military parents and children. The only way to help, Ehle was convinced, was to "get the whole family together."

For a year, she woke up every morning thinking about the idea. Finally, she took a leap: Pulling the funds from her own pocket, she held the first Project Sanctuary retreat in the spring of 2008 with just one family. The second came a few months later with five families. Word got around, and demand exploded.

Today, Sanctuary hosts 30 retreats a year, each attended by 10 to 12 families. The nonprofit group receives 350 applications annually and accepts as many as it can: about 300, Ehle said. All applicants must do is complete a form online.

Ehle switched to running Project Sanctuary full-time in 2010. Now, she spends her days overseeing the group's 20 employees - including licensed professional counselors, recreational therapists and social workers - seven of whom are full-time. But she also devotes a lot of time to raising money. Project Sanctuary is funded mostly by grants and donations. Last year, it took in $2 million, just about enough to "skid in break-even," Ehle said. Its target this year is $3 million.

"There's never been a place where, 'Oh well, we can relax now,' " Ehle said, adding that Project Sanctuary wants to increase its yearly retreats to 40 by 2024.

As it expands, the nonprofit agency is also tracking how its participants fare post-retreat. Townsend and other professors of recreational therapy conducted a study of Project Sanctuary outcomes in 2016, checking in with attendees right before, right after, three months and six months after their retreat.

The professors found that Project Sanctuary leads to "immediate changes in psychological functioning," Townsend said. Specifically, it reduces depression, anxiety and stress - and those gains persisted throughout the period examined.

Jamie Hoffman, a professor of recreational therapy at California State University at Sacramento who also worked on the study, said the program's success is due partly to its family focus and partly to the professional qualifications of its staff.

"Allowing families to engage in recreational therapy that is purposeful and goal-oriented creates outcomes where people can re-establish interests and commonalities and a sense of community and adventure," Hoffman said. "And that's a really important thing for these families."

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Still, Project Sanctuary can't fix everything.

At their first retreat, the Rogerses learned how to talk through disagreements. Fortified by that and other lessons, Allen Rogers isolates himself less often now, obeying Christina Rogers' requests that he run errands, go for walks, get outside.

But nothing can undo Afghanistan.

"I used to be very outgoing, 'Let's go have a picnic,' 'Let's go to the lake,' 'Let's go do this,' 'Let's go do that,' " Allen Rogers said. "I came home a totally different person. I don't act the same way I did when I met her."

Christina Rogers sighed.

"You just find your new normal," she said.

With the help of Project Sanctuary, another couple - the Lopezes of Jacksonville, North Carolina - are searching for just that.

Juan Lopez, 48, served in the Marine Corps for 22 years before retiring in 2011. He saw 11 deployments over the course of his career, including two active combat shifts in Iraq. When he came home for the last time to his wife, Maria Niriel Lopez, he tried to be a good father to their four sons. But he could not shake the Marine mind-set - could not dispel the conviction that immediate obedience of his every order was required for survival.

"I'm getting frustrated because my children didn't listen the first or second time," said Juan Lopez, who suffers from PTSD. "I'm looking at it as, 'I'm telling you this because you're going to get injured or hurt.' And their mind-set wasn't like that."

When the boys ignored him, he lost it, yelling and scolding. Maria Niriel Lopez, 53, could not understand why her husband was upset. She thought she must have done something wrong.

The family situation deteriorated, prompting Juan Lopez to seek treatment for PTSD. That's where he met a nurse who suggested Project Sanctuary. The couple attended a retreat in April 2018, went again in May and have kept coming back as volunteers ever since - most recently at the Reisterstown retreat.

Juan Lopez, sitting beside his wife at the retreat, said Project Sanctuary has renewed his faith in other people.

"I was hardened at heart. I had just been around the worst of humanity," he said. "Then I realized there's folks that really want to help, and I started to realize that there's a lot of good in humanity."

Maria Niriel Lopez said Project Sanctuary allowed her husband to "let down his guard." It made both spouses feel relaxed and safe. It showed them they were not alone. It reaffirmed their love for one another.

The two stood up and headed out - first to lunch, and then to a campsite where the Maryland retreat participants were clambering over a ropes course. The Lopezes had families to help.

The extraordinary trek of George Takei

By Karen Heller
The extraordinary trek of George Takei
Actor George Takei, 82, spent ages 5 to almost 9 in Japanese American internment camps during World War II.

NEW YORK - As a child, he believed the camp to be a magical oasis, where mythical dinosaurs prowled the woods at night. A native of Los Angeles, he marveled at the "flying exotica" of dragonflies, the treasures of rural life and, that first winter, the "pure magic" of snow.

George Takei spent ages 5 to almost 9 imprisoned by the U.S. government in Japanese American internment camps. A relentless optimist, he believed the shameful legacy of incarcerating an estimated 120,000 Americans during World War II would never be forgotten or duplicated.

At 82, Takei came to understand that he may be mistaken on both counts.

Stories fell into the sinkhole of history, given the omission of the camps from many textbooks and the shame felt by former internees, many of whom remained silent about their experiences, even to descendants. Takei takes no refuge in silence.

The "Star Trek" actor has lived long enough to see thousands of immigrant children jailed near the border. On Twitter, to his 2.9 million followers, he wrote, "This nation has a long and tragic history of separating children from their parents, ever since the days of slavery."

Sitting in his Manhattan pied-à-terre near Carnegie Hall, the activist for gay rights and social justice calls his government's actions "an endless cycle of inhumanity, cruelty and injustice repeated generation after generation" and says "it's got to stop."

Takei was fortunate. He and his two younger siblings were never separated from their parents, who bore the brunt of fear and degradation in the swamps of Arkansas and the high desert of Northern California. They shielded their children, creating a "Life Is Beautiful" experience often filled with wonder. His father told him they were going for "a long vacation in the country." Their first stop, of all places, was the Santa Anita Racetrack, where the family was assigned to sleep in the stalls. "We get to sleep where the horsies slept! Fun!" he thought.

Takei had little understanding of his family abandoning their belongings, the government questioning their patriotism and their return to Los Angeles with nothing, starting over on Skid Row. As a teenager, he came to understand the toll.

"The resonance of my childhood in prison is so loud," says the actor, who still lives in L.A.

This summer, Takei is accelerating his mission to make Americans remember. Almost three-quarters of a century after his release, he feels the crush of time: "I have to tell this story before there's no one left to tell it."

He has a new graphic memoir, "They Called Us Enemy," intended to reach all generations but especially the young, by the publisher of the best-selling "March" trilogy by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

In August, Takei appears in AMC's 10-episode "The Terror: Infamy," a horror saga partially set in an internment camp. Four years ago, he starred in the Broadway musical "Allegiance," inspired by his personal history.

"That experience in the camps gave me my identity," he says in the apartment he shares with his husband, Brad, which is decorated with Japanese ink drawings and "Star Trek" bric-a-brac: a Starship Enterprise phone, a Sulu action figure in a Bonsai tree.

It's possible those years in the camps subconsciously nudged Takei toward acting. "To me, the theater was life, its artists, the chroniclers of human history," he writes in his 1994 autobiography, "To the Stars." He would star as Hikaru Sulu in a short-lived sci-fi series that would, improbably, spawn more movie and television iterations than furry Tribbles.

In turn, that success created a springboard for social activism. He became "a social media mega-power" - his website's phrasing, as he has 10 million followers each on two Facebook pages - fueled by a six-member influencer agency, which he calls "Team Takei." That influence, to a doting and ever-expanding audience, might ensure his experience in the camps matters.

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Takei frequently refers to his life as "an American story." It is also a singular, improbable one.

Who else enjoys continued success through the curious alchemy of "Star Trek," coming out at age 68 and regular appearances on "The Howard Stern Show"?

"George is a little outrageous, and a little Mr. Rogers. He's sort of where they meet in the middle," says filmmaker Jennifer Kroot, who produced the 2014 documentary "To Be Takei."

After enrolling as an architecture student at the University of California at Berkeley, Takei transferred to UCLA to pursue acting at a time when there was almost no work for Asian Americans except dubbing Japanese monster movies like "Rodan" into English and portraying crass caricatures in the Jerry Lewis vehicles "The Big Mouth" (1967) and "Which Way to the Front?" (1970).

Takei accepted the jobs, the Lewis ones to his everlasting chagrin: "I shouldn't have done it." But he learned. Never again.

Fortunately, he landed "Star Trek," Gene Roddenberry's utopian vision of space pioneers from varied backgrounds working together in harmony and oddly cropped slacks. Two decades after World War II, it showed an Asian American in a positive role.

Jay Kuo, who co-wrote "Allegiance," grew up in a household where television was largely forbidden. Not "Star Trek." Kuo's Chinese American parents knew "we needed to see ourselves represented. We were invisible. George was the only Asian sex symbol. That shirtless sword scene was groundbreaking," he says of the scene in which Sulu believes he's an 18th-century swashbuckler after the crew is infected by a virus.

The Starship Enterprise was tasked with a five-year mission. Five? The original "Star Trek," the mother ship of Trekiana, didn't make it past three, running for just 79 episodes. The final show aired a half-century ago this year.

Takei felt blessed to land the role of the master helmsman. When the show was canceled - "I knew it would be. Good shows were always getting canceled" - Takei was despondent that he would never work again.

Hah! Space became the eternal frontier: six movies with the original cast, an animated series.

Those early TV contracts didn't favor actors. Takei's residuals stopped after the 10th rerun. Which happened, Takei says, "about 10,000 reruns ago."

Fortunately, what the network taketh away, the Trekkies giveth.

Takei jumped on the convention train, across the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany and Japan, signing autographs and posing for photo ops for up to eight hours, his lustrous baritone growing hoarse.

"'Star Trek' has been enormously bountiful to us," Takei says. "We had no idea that this phenomenon of 'Star Trek' conventions would follow."

Now, Takei is one of only four original cast members still alive, along with William Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk), Nichelle Nichols (communications officer Lt. Uhura) and Walter Koenig (navigator Pavel Chekov).

His professional life flourished, riding the wave of nostalgia and outsize fandom. His personal life, particularly for someone who has always been political and outspoken, was more complicated. Friends and associates long knew Takei was gay. He met Brad Altman, then a journalist, through a gay running club. They started dating in 1987. Brad took George's last name in 2011.

Takei worried that coming out publicly would deep-six his acting career. So he waited and waited, an eternity, 3 1/2 decades.

"The government imprisoned me for four years for my race. I imprisoned myself about my sexuality for decades," Kuo recalls Takei telling him. "You can't imagine what kind of sentry towers you can build around your heart."

Takei came out in 2005 as a statement, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in California. Quickly, he moved from the closet to the front of the pride parade.

"I was prepared that I wasn't going to have an acting career," he says.

Uh, no.

"The opposite happened, and I was more in demand," Takei says, almost in song. "They love gay George Takei!

It was as though gay was an honorific - and Gay George Takei was a reboot. Gay + "Star Trek" - the latter listing toward camp with its community theater props, too-tight tops and Shatner's Hamlet-like readings - was a fitting combination.

Takei was hired as much for his droll persona - his catch phrase, "Oh myyy!" - as his talent. Work was constant: He had appearances on the sitcoms "The Big Bang Theory" and "Will and Grace," and in Archie Comics (as hero to gay character Kevin Keller), plus that surprising gig on Stern's show.

"That was a strategy after I came out," he says of Stern. "We had reached decent, fair-minded people, the LGBT audience. Howard had a huge national audience."

On Stern's show, hired technically as "the official announcer" but also as a routinely pranked foil, Takei surprised listeners by inverting his elegant persona - a man who rarely swears or raises his voice - by being as raunchy as the regular crew.

Takei revealed more about his sex life than perhaps anyone anticipated. Mentions of Brad became a constant. Takei's once-closeted life was broadcast by the master of all media all over Sirius XM.

In 2017, former model Scott R. Brunton alleged that Takei drugged and sexually assaulted him in 1981. No charges were ever filed. Takei denies the incident, which was never substantiated. The actor says, "It's a fabrication of somebody who wanted to have a story to regale people with."

Takei moved past it. "It was a very upsetting experience, but it's never come up again."

His optimism buoyed him. And he had important causes to serve.

- - -

The first time I met George and Brad, at a party in Los Angeles last year, they were bickering.

When we meet in Manhattan, they bicker again over lunch, over the smallest details. Brad worries about almost everything. George does not. It was somewhat refreshing - a cult icon and his spouse being themselves in front of a reporter. Takei's openness contributes to the continuing embrace by fans five decades after "Star Trek" was canceled and why he's a natural for Stern. He presents authentically as himself, a man who extols life's fortunes. Why isn't he angry with the country that imprisoned his family?

"Because it would be another barbed-wire fence around my heart," he says.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 formally apologized to former Japanese American internees. Takei received a reparation check for $20,000. He donated it to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, which he helped found and for which he serves as a trustee.

Takei has witnessed his country change, often for the better. "When I was growing up, I couldn't marry a white woman," he has said, due to anti-miscegenation laws. "And now I'm married to a white dude!"

In 2012, when he was on "The Celebrity Apprentice," he invited host Donald Trump to lunch at "any of Trump's properties" - smart move - with the intention of discussing marriage equality. Trump accepted the offer. Takei recalls that Trump told him "he believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. This from a man who has been married three times!"

Takei was in New York recently for Pride Month, attending the Stonewall anniversary concert and City Hall ceremony. The events are as vital to his identity as acting.

"I was active in almost every other social justice cause as well as political candidates," he says. "But I was silent about the issue that was most personal to me, most organic to who I am, because I wanted my career."

Time was generous. He began life in internment camps and came out in his late 60s. At 82, he's flourishing in a field that had little use for him when he started.

But time can punish memory. Takei wants to ensure we know the story of what happened to his family, in his country.

The worst day of internment was the first one, he recalls. Soldiers marched up the driveway with bayonets on their rifles, pounded on the door and took the family away to who knew where and for how long. Says Takei, "It was a terrifying morning."

Bayonets and a 5-year-old boy. It is, as Takei says, an American story - a frightening and lamentable one.

All we can do is learn.


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Saudi leader urgently needs to reset relationship with America

By david ignatius
Saudi leader urgently needs to reset relationship with America


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2ND WRITETHRU: 4th graf, 2nd sentence: deleting "and attempted to seize a second". 1ST WRITETHRU: New 4th graf reflecting breaking news.


JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- As America's confrontation with Iran deepens in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. military is rushing more than 500 troops to Saudi Arabia, its key partner in the region. The grim but necessary task is to deter Iran and prepare for war, if deterrence fails.

It's time for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to do something significant in return -- by responding to the deep, bipartisan criticism of his regime in Congress. He should take responsibility for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and signal his readiness for a political settlement of the ruinous war in Yemen.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship is important for both countries' security -- especially as the confrontation with Tehran edges closer to war. But it's built on an unstable platform. This month's House vote to block the sale of new weapons to the kingdom is a sign of the political trauma at the core of the relationship, and of trouble ahead.

Resetting the U.S.-Saudi relationship on a more honest basis is urgent now, as the danger of regional conflict grows. The latest sharp escalation came Friday as Iran seized a British tanker in the Gulf, according to a U.S. official. This provocation makes British and probably American retaliation likely - compounding the crisis further, which seems to be Iran's goal.

American and Saudi commanders stress they don't want war. But make no mistake: Unless the U.S. or Iran eases its demands, this confrontation will lead to a battle that would devastate the region.

Saudi Arabia seems to take American support in this crisis almost for granted. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials have been urging the crown prince for months to demonstrate accountability by prosecuting Saud al-Qahtani, the Iago-like adviser who the U.S. named last November as an organizer of the plot that led to Khashoggi's death and dismemberment in Istanbul.

But MBS, as the Saudi leader is known, has ignored these demands. Qahtani hasn't been charged, and U.S. officials say he continues to operate freely, and even consult with former colleagues. The crown prince's unwillingness to discipline Qahtani reinforces the CIA's reported assessment that MBS himself approved the Khashoggi operation.

A visit here is a reminder of why it's so important for MBS to put the U.S.-Saudi relationship back on track. Many things are going right here, despite the crown prince's authoritarian rule. A younger generation is taking power; a once-joyless country is learning to have fun and be creative. In Jeddah's "old town" at night, the streets are crowded with men and women and young families, and musicians play on the sidewalks.

"We used to live our lives in secret," a Saudi friend tells me. "We could be free in our homes or when we went abroad, but not in public here. But that's changing."

Reform is a work in progress, and Saudis don't know where the red lines are. There's a comedy club in Jeddah, but a performer got arrested for a joke about religious conservatives. A pop-up nightspot called "White Lounge" tried to emulate the club scene in Beirut or Dubai, but it was closed after conservatives protested against women dancing so near the holy city of Mecca. Social media influencers are shaping modern tastes, but they're also getting daily guidance from the government.

John Abizaid, the U.S. ambassador here, told me Wednesday that if MBS's "Vision 2030" reforms succeed, they could change the Arab world. "Vision 2030 is the most important tool against extremism that I've seen in this region." he says. But the process is fragile.

Saudis worry about the constant threat of Iranian-sponsored attack. Gen. Fahd bin Turki, the commander of Saudi forces in Yemen, shows visitors the wreckage caused by some of the hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and cruise missiles fired by Iranian proxy forces across the border. Saudis ask what Americans would do if they faced regular rocket attacks from Mexico, and it's a reasonable question.

Here's the puzzle: In this once-sclerotic kingdom, where public entertainment was all but banned, a Saudi grunge rock band called Talsam recently wowed fans at a Jeddah concert by playing favorites from "Pearl Jam" and "Rage Against the Machine." For someone like me, who first came here in 1981, the yearning for change now is unmistakable.

That's why MBS's obstinate refusal to take responsibility for Khashoggi's killing and other human rights abuses is such a mistake. He's subverting his own reform process and, ultimately, his country's future security. America is sending more troops and weapons, but Congress will eventually rebel against fighting a war for a ruler who covers up a murder.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Both Britain and America are suffering political nervous breakdowns

By megan mcardle
Both Britain and America are suffering political nervous breakdowns



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WASHINGTON -- When I was in London recently, a British friend offered effusive thanks for the United States -- whenever he was feeling particularly aghast at the disarray of his country's political institutions, he said, he just looked across the Atlantic and instantly felt much better.

Funny, I told him, I was about to say the same about Britain.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the erosion of the longstanding U.S.-U.K. "special relationship." Yet in one respect the countries are more tightly linked than ever before: Both are enduring a collective nervous breakdown of their political institutions.

It is only the latest symptom of America's madness that Donald Trump just spent nearly a week making xenophobic and un-American remarks about "the Squad," the four ultra-progressive congresswomen who also happen to be women of color. And that in consequence, the House Democratic Caucus, filled with members who normally seethe at their radical colleagues, is now loyally defending the biggest thorns in its side.

Time for a soothing peek across the Atlantic, where the Conservative Party leadership election is drawing to a close. It very much looks as if Theresa May, stepping down as prime minister, will be replaced on July 23 by former London mayor Boris Johnson, a theatrical politician who provides hours of fun for an amazed press corps.

On Thursday, in anticipation of Johnson's presumed victory, the House of Commons -- controlled by Johnson's Tory colleagues -- voted for a measure that would prevent him from using a parliamentary maneuver to force a "no deal" Brexit come Oct. 31.

Despite the lunacy of the springtime Brexit brawl that prompted May to resign as prime minister and open the way for Johnson, the true craziness is that somehow the Conservative Party still has a leadership election worth worrying about. The party is a shambles, its reputation in tatters, but amazingly the Tories are still holding onto power, albeit with a weakening grip.

That almost defies explanation. After all, David Cameron, May's predecessor, called the 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, thrusting both his party and his country into the current mess. Under May's leadership, things somehow, incredibly, got worse. After more than two years of tireless work, May failed to secure a parliamentary majority to do anything about Brexit -- not to go through with it or to call it off. Now they're about to get Boris Johnson, which will only be a different sort of insanity.

Yet look at the alternative. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party's current leader, is an unreconstructed 1970s radical. His party is promising to nationalize private utilities and expropriate shareholders, along with raising taxes and increasing spending. And on the most important issue currently facing his country, Corbyn has been just as incapable as the Tories of sketching out a plausible, coherent path forward on Brexit.

Meanwhile, Corbyn's amiable tolerance for anti-Semitism has gotten so bad that Labour peers in the House of Lords are considering a symbolic vote of no confidence in his leadership. British voters don't seem any fonder: During the recent European elections, the Labour Party pulled just 14% of the vote.

If anyone other than Corbyn had been at the head of the Labour Party, May's government would probably have fallen long ago. He may yet end up at Downing Street. But the only reason Labour doesn't already have the keys is the party's dramatic leftward lurch. In the United States, centrists fear that the Democratic Party is repeating Labour's mistakes.

The current Democratic presidential hopefuls are generally running to the left, courting activists who argue that the party can beat Trump only by mobilizing the base. Spurned centrists complain that the progressives are guaranteeing four more years of Trump rallies and trade wars. But so far, neither party seems interested in the centrists' increasingly dire predictions.

Which points to an even deeper parallel between Britain and the United States. Thanks to "first past the post" electoral systems, both nations have two major parties that alternate in power. In both countries, those parties are abandoning the center in favor of their fringes. And radicalism in one side breeds more radicalism in the other, in an increasingly vicious cycle.

Partisans excuse their own radicals on the grounds that, hey, the other side is worse. And they assume that because the other side has moved so far from the center, eventually the center will have to support them instead.

In fairness, one set of partisans has to be right about this. And soon enough, both Britain and America will find out which.

Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's immigration policies speak louder than his racist, xenophobic words

By catherine rampell
Trump's immigration policies speak louder than his racist, xenophobic words



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Vile, chilling, dangerous and life-threatening.

These words cannot adequately describe the Trump rally chants of "send her back," referring to a U.S.-citizen congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who immigrated from Somalia as a child refugee; or the presidential tweets that inspired this chant, suggesting that Omar as well as three native-born U.S.-citizen congresswomen of color should all be deported. (On Thursday, President Trump said he "wasn't happy" with the chants at the Wednesday rally.)

Such racist, xenophobic rhetoric has inspired a lot of (deserved) outrage. But did Americans really need to hear these words to know that Trump considers immigrants and brown people to be subhuman? The actual policies his administration has been undertaking should have left no doubt.

Consider just a few developments this week alone, several of which have gotten scant media coverage.

Last weekend, roughly around the time of those notorious tweets, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was expected to begin rounding up undocumented immigrants -- including some who were never properly notified about their immigration court hearings -- in raids in at least nine major cities. Frightened families went into hiding -- in their homes, secret rooms, churches. The raids were not as widespread as expected, but lingering terror continues to sap economic activity around the country.

Then on Monday, as the news media and public were consumed by those same tweets, the Trump administration announced a sweeping attack on asylum seekers.

The new rule, which went into effect the following day, bars protection for immigrants who failed to apply for asylum in at least one country they passed through before crossing into the United States. It is intended to close the door to large numbers of Central Americans fleeing persecution, effectively sending them back to perilous conditions in their home countries or in Mexico.

This rule violates both domestic and international laws, including a decades-old agreement put into place partly to preclude a repeat of the world's shameful treatment of Holocaust refugees. It guts our entire asylum system by extralegal fiat and was immediately challenged in court. A court had already blocked a similar, more limited Trump asylum ban late last year.

We're not done yet.

On Wednesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services -- the agency tasked with processing applications for (BEG ITAL)legal(END ITAL) immigration -- asked its staffers to drop their congressionally assigned duties and agree to work in ICE field offices around the country instead, according to an email leaked to BuzzFeed.

There, USCIS employees would, among other things, facilitate a program forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their U.S. cases are adjudicated -- yet another policy being challenged in court for violating U.S. immigration law.

Sadly, this week is not an aberration.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security sent its draft final regulation of the "public charge" rule to the White House for final review. This rule would make it more difficult for immigrants who've used noncash safety-net services to which they are legally entitled -- or who are deemed (BEG ITAL)at risk(END ITAL) of ever using such services -- to receive green cards or temporary visas.

The proposed rule already seems to be having a chilling effect on usage of benefits such as food stamps and health insurance by both immigrants and their U.S.-citizen children, even though it hasn't yet gone into effect (and may never do so, as it, too, is likely to be challenged in court).

Earlier this month, the Justice Department submitted its own companion rule to the White House for initial review. That rule, whose text has not yet been made public, would reportedly make it easier to deport green-card holders who had -- once again, (BEG ITAL)legally(END ITAL) -- ever used safety-net benefits. Refugees may also be at risk.

This is just a partial summary of anti-immigrant actions taken this month. It doesn't include the forced family separation policy that began more than a year ago and resulted in at least 18 infants and toddlers as young as 4 months old being ripped from their parents; or the filthy conditions in which immigrant children have been confined, without toothbrushes or soap, some for weeks at a time; or the administration's choice -- and it is a choice -- to detain people in inhumane conditions while they wait for their cases to be adjudicated, rather than releasing them; or, of course, Trump's attempts to bar all Muslim immigrants from U.S. soil.

By all means, we must continue to condemn Trump's virulently bigoted rhetoric. But we never needed him to talk the talk to know what he thinks. He's long been walking the walk.

Catherine Rampell's email address is Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

America must reject Trump's racism at the ballot box

By eugene robinson
America must reject Trump's racism at the ballot box


(Advance for Friday, July 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

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WASHINGTON -- When the racist chant began Wednesday night -- "Send her back! Send her back!" -- President Trump paused to let the white-supremacist anger he had stoked wash over him. George Wallace would have been so proud.

That moment at a Trump campaign rally in North Carolina was the most chilling I've seen in American politics since the days of Wallace and the other diehard segregationists. Egged on by the president of the United States, the crowd was calling for a duly elected member of Congress -- Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a black woman born in Somalia -- to be banished from the country because Trump disapproves of her views.

This hideous display followed Trump's weekend call for Omar and three other House Democrats, all of them women of color, to "go back" to the "totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came." All of this is an unmistakable echo of the racist taunts that used to be leveled at minority groups that had the temerity to demand civil rights and the gall to achieve political and economic success -- go back to Africa, go back to Mexico, go back to China.

After the election and reelection of the first African American president, one might have thought we were beyond such ugly, desperate racism. To the contrary, perhaps Barack Obama's tenure surfaced long-buried fear and loathing that made Trump's ascension possible.

We can leave that for the political scientists to figure out in the fullness of time. Right now, we have an emergency to deal with. Trump has decided to seek a second term by making a naked appeal to white racism. I didn't think we'd ever see anything worse than his 2016 campaign, which he launched by slandering Mexican immigrants as drug dealers and rapists. Obviously, I was wrong.

The 2018 midterm election, which saw a Democratic blue wave that flipped control of the House, gave a clear sense of what voters think about the Trump presidency. Despite the lies he frequently tells on Twitter about his approval ratings, they have never reached 50%. Trump has to know his reelection bid is in trouble, and he is already in what looks like panic mode.

He has never made a serious effort to expand his base. Instead, he seeks to inflame it.

Trump no longer pretends to be the voice of forgotten working-class Americans. He has become the voice of insecure white Americans, whom he encourages to resent foreigners, immigrants and uppity minorities. His border policy -- separating babies from their mothers, putting children in cages -- is the fulfillment of an ugly revenge fantasy. Cruelty isn't an unfortunate byproduct of Trump's crackdown on asylum seekers. It's the whole point.

The president apparently believes he has found a perfect foil in "the Squad" -- the four newly elected members of Congress he told to "go back" to where they came from. Omar is a refugee from civil war in Somalia who became a U.S. citizen in her teens. The others were all born in this country -- Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., in Detroit; Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., in Cincinnati; and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in New York.

But Tlaib is Palestinian-American, Pressley is African American and Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican heritage. Trump has decided to try to paint four young, progressive women of color as the enemy. Trump's message to his aging, white base is clear: (BEG ITAL)This is the future you should fear. These are the people you should hate.(END ITAL)

The Republican Party goes along meekly as Trump struts around like a dime-store Mussolini. As for Democrats and independents, history teaches us that the way to deal with hateful demagoguery is not to ignore it, not to downplay it, not to hope it somehow exhausts itself, but to confront it. Trump's fomenting of hate has to be called out. It has to be denounced. It has to be resisted.

Democratic presidential candidates need to realize that elaborate policy positions are necessary but not sufficient. Trump is a bully who will push and push and push. The party is unlikely -- and would be unwise -- to nominate someone too timid to push back.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., needs to rethink her strategy as well. I know she understands how much is at stake. I know she worries that impeachment may be a trap. But if Trump is going to preside over what amount to white-power rallies, the time for measured restraint is past.

The next 16 months must be a referendum on Trump's weaponized racism. The answer must be a resounding no.

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

If they won't pass his trade deal, Trump should make Democrats own NAFTA

By marc a. thiessen
If they won't pass his trade deal, Trump should make Democrats own NAFTA


(Advance for Friday, July 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

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WASHINGTON -- Here we go again. This week, President Trump appeared to renew his threat to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if Democrats do not pass his new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). His threats may worry pro-trade Republicans, but they are music to the ears of anti-NAFTA Democrats, who would love nothing better than to get rid of NAFTA without giving Trump a trade victory.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has a better idea: Trump should tell Democrats that they will own NAFTA if they oppose his deal to replace it. The message should be "if you're a Democrat, you essentially are voting for NAFTA if you vote no on USMCA," Portman explained in an interview on the American Enterprise Institute's new podcast, "What The Hell Is Going On," which I co-host. If the USMCA fails, he says, "you go back to the status quo, which is NAFTA."

Besides, Portman says, there is no good reason for Democrats to oppose the USMCA because "it is such a much better agreement for Democrats than NAFTA. ... It's everything that they've been asking for, in terms of improving the NAFTA accords." Take the automobile industry for example. America has lost about 350,000 auto jobs since NAFTA was ratified in 1994, which is a third of all jobs in the industry. Meanwhile Mexico has gained hundreds of thousands of auto jobs during that time.

The USMCA will reverse that decline and bring auto jobs back to America. It increases the percentage of a vehicle that must be made in North America from 62.5% to 75%. It requires at least 70% of a vehicle's steel and aluminum to be from North America. And it requires between 40% and 45% of a vehicle be produced by workers earning a minimum of $16 per hour. Portman's office estimates that, given Mexico's low wages, this will significantly shift auto production from Mexico to the United States.

"Look at the details of this agreement," Portman says. "There's a minimum wage in Mexico for autoworkers. That's not a Republican approach, but it's very helpful for autoworkers. ... The rules of origin, where you have to have more things made in North American countries. ... That's something Democrats have been asking for years." How, he asks, can Democrats vote against that and in favor of the NAFTA status quo?

Portman points out that the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that the USMCA would raise U.S. employment by 176,000 jobs. And the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) says the USMCA would result in $23 billion in new U.S. auto part purchases and create 76,000 U.S. auto jobs. Would Democrats prefer those purchases and those jobs go to Mexico?

Or, take labor and environmental standards -- longtime Democratic priorities. There are none in NAFTA. Labor and environment commitments were added only after the fact, as "side letters" by President Bill Clinton, but since they were not in the actual agreement, they are not enforceable. USTR says the USMCA "includes the strongest, most advanced, and most comprehensive set of environmental obligations of any U.S. trade agreement" and "unlike the NAFTA, the USMCA's environmental provisions have been incorporated into the core text of the agreement [and] are fully enforceable."

As for labor standards, the USMCA guarantees secret-ballot votes by workers on collective bargaining agreements, and according to USTR, it requires the three countries to "practice core labor standards as recognized by the International Labor Organization, including freedom of association and the right to strike, to effectively enforce their labor laws." Do Democrats want to throw all that away in favor of an agreement with zero enforceable labor and environmental standards?

Portman says Trump should tell Democrats, "Wait a minute, this is all the stuff you said you wanted." If Democrats block the USMCA, so long as NAFTA remains in place Trump can it hang around their necks in key battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which they need to win the presidency. He can tell working-class voters that Democrats voted to keep sending auto jobs to Mexico, and against the environment and the right to strike.

Democrats understand this, which is why Portman thinks the USMCA will pass. "I think it's going to get done for a very simple reason, which is logic will ultimately prevail." But logic will prevail only if Trump stops threatening to leave NAFTA.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group

The contagion of rationalization

By michael gerson
The contagion of rationalization


(Advance for Friday, July 19, 2019, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, July 18, 2019, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

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WASHINGTON -- Susan Brooks. Brian Fitzpatrick. Will Hurd. Fred Upton.

You may have read or heard these names in passing, but they are worth lingering upon. These are the four Republicans who supported a resolution condemning President Trump's plainly racist taunt urging four House members to "go back" to their countries of family origin. These are the only House Republicans for whom decency still has a political application. These are the last, scattered exceptions to the rule of malice and bigotry in the GOP.

Vote for them. Send an email to thank them. Give generously to their campaigns. Shake their hands in the street.

If we want more of a virtue in public life, it is important to praise it, and praise it properly. Brooks, Fitzpatrick, Hurd and Upton (along with ex-Republican Justin Amash) possess political courage, but of a particularly rare and important type. They refused to rationalize.

Rationalization is the default setting of the human mind. We can't reconsider our whole view of the world with every new piece of information. So we tend to accept evidence that supports our predispositions, and filter out evidence that does not. All of us do this to one extent or another.

But in politics, rationalization can take disturbing forms. The tendency can become a habit. And this habit can harden into a rigid ideology in which all questioning is disloyalty. And this cult-like ideology, if all the maleficent stars align, can become a cable network like Fox News.

If politics is really the never-ending warfare between tribes, then information is only useful as ammunition. The consideration of conflicting ideas and views only gives aid and comfort to the enemy.

The most depressing historical example of rationalization can be found in Mark Noll's brilliant "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis." In the mid-19th century, prominent ministers in the North used the Bible to justify abolitionism, while prominent ministers in the South employed the Bible to justify slavery. According to South Carolina minister James Henley Thornwell: "That the relation betwixt the slave and his master is not inconsistent with the word of God, we have long since settled. ... We cherish the institution not from avarice, but from principle."

"American national culture," Noll argues, "had been built in substantial part by voluntary and democratic appropriation of Scripture. Yet if by following such an approach to the Bible there resulted an unbridgeable chasm of opinion about what Scripture actually taught, there were no resources within democratic or voluntary procedures to resolve the public division of opinion that was created by voluntary and democratic interpretation of the Bible. The Book that made the nation was destroying the nation; the nation that had taken to the Book was rescued not by the Book but by the force of arms."

On the issue of slavery, Southern religious leaders almost uniformly took the position that supported the oppressive and unjust economic arrangements of their community. There were very few examples of unexpected or heroic resistance. Instead, ministers built a complex series of arguments to rationalize a system based on theft and abuse. And the issue was not eventually resolved by the triumph of superior arguments. "It was left," Noll says, "to those consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant."

I have no intention of equating the surpassing evil of slavery to the rise and rule of Trump in the GOP. I raise the example to show how hard it is -- and how important it is -- to examine the settled convictions of your own community and resist them when they are wrong.

Resisting rationalization is often too difficult for the common day. But not all days are common. July 16, 2019, should be remembered for its up or down vote on political and moral decency. The rationalizations in this case -- that Trump's statement was not (BEG ITAL)technically(END ITAL) racism, that the resolution violated House rules, that Democrats are guilty of similar offenses -- had nothing to do with the morality of the situation. They were transparently self-serving and political.

As a society, we would punish racist taunts of this type if done on the school grounds or the playing field. We can't accept them in the president of the United States without doing great damage to public norms of respect and inclusion.

There is a point when rationalization reaches the soul, and human beings lose sight of simple right and wrong. And 187 House Republicans have now officially reached it.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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