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Devastated by wildfire, a California city weighs rebuilding amid a housing crunch

By Scott Wilson
Devastated by wildfire, a California city weighs rebuilding amid a housing crunch
Jeff Okrepkie stands by the lot where his house stood in the Coffey Park area of Santa Rosa, California. After losing his home in the wildfires last fall, Okrepkie has organized a neighborhood group to help those like him who want to rebuild. MUST CREDIT:Preston Gannaway for The Washington Post.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. - A Christmas tree stands in what was once Jeff Okrepkie's foyer in Coffey Park, a few red and gold ornaments hanging from its damp branches.

Once a picture of planned suburbia, the neighborhood is barren now. All 1,300 homes burned during a few overnight hours in October, a firestorm sweeping through with a mix of high winds and flame so violent that it pushed parked cars blocks away.

But in a gesture of resilience, the neighborhood threw a house-less holiday party last month, trucking in snow from Lake Tahoe, displaying a Santa's sleigh and dangling battery-powered lights from utility poles. It was a sign the starter-home neighborhood would return from a fire that destroyed more property than any in California history and left 22 people dead.

The bittersweet gathering of the Coffey Park diaspora also had a more practical purpose: To bring together community members who, even before the fire, hardly knew each other.

Those neighboring strangers are uniting, believing that a strength-in-numbers approach to negotiating with builders, lobbying City Hall and settling with insurance companies will revive the place they once lived in a way that everyone will still be able to afford.

"I didn't know many people beyond my own street here," said Okrepkie, who had lived with his wife in a gray, single-story home on Espresso Court for six years. "And now we don't even know where our neighbors are."

Coffey Park is emblematic of many aging suburban California neighborhoods. Its cul-de-sacs are populated by students, recent graduates in low-paying jobs and other house-sharing transients living next to busy young families with two incomes and little time. Now California's urgent task of expanding affordable housing for a squeezed working class is shared by this city about 55 miles north of San Francisco.

But the barriers to achieving that goal here among the ashes are extraordinarily high as the neighborhood rebuilds from a historic tragedy.

Residents in nearly half of the Coffey Park homes at the time of the wildfire - 43 percent - were renters rather than owners. The majority are not expected to return, and many underinsured landlords who never imagined that all their properties would burn at once are selling off vacant lots to developers with company profit in mind.

How many homeowners rebuild will determine the character of the Coffey Park that emerges from the taped-off plots - some cleared, some still a jumble of burned-out cars, melted garbage cans and charred trees. An estimated 8,000 residents of Sonoma County, where this city is the government seat, are simply planning to leave.

Much of the expected exodus is the result of housing costs. The flames destroyed 3,000 homes and apartments in Santa Rosa alone, or 5 percent of the city's housing stock. The sudden loss has rippled across a region that already had some of the nation's highest costs of living. Since the October fire, median home prices and rents, driven largely by the thousands of displaced, have spiked in counties across the North Bay region, some by as much as 30 percent.

"I hope that we can get the vast majority of these residents to stay in Santa Rosa, but we had a huge housing problem even before this," said Chris Coursey, the city's mayor. "This has created a kind of a two-pronged problem for the city: We need to help 3,000 people get back to where they want to be, but we also need to concentrate on making sure that five years from now we're not back to 2017."

The Tubbs fire flashed to life overnight on Oct. 8, and it burned with stunning speed, pushed by 80 mph winds over a series of ridgelines into eastern Santa Rosa.

The flames raced through canyons and into Fountaingrove's large hillside houses, wine-country resort hotels, weekend homes and thickly wooded yards. The same area burned in the last major fire here - the 1964 Hanley Fire - but at the time no one had yet built in the dry hills.

Local officials have questioned whether Fountaingrove should be restored. But given the extreme housing shortage, the City Council voted last month to approve 250 new homes for the neighborhood in addition to any that residents rebuild. Coursey voted against the project.

"I'm not ready to say that we're just going to go ahead and pretend nothing happened," he said. "We've got to put housing up there. But in addition we need to think about how to do it differently to make sure we don't end up with 250 piles of ash."

After the fire burned through Fountaingrove, a cascade of sparks began hitting the timberlines on the east side of six-lane Highway 101. Then the oaks and eucalyptus exploded, casting off embers the size of basketballs that the heavy winds blew hundreds of yards away. The fire jumped the highway, unimaginable before that night.

A Kmart burned to the ground. So did the extended-stay hotel next to it. Then the flames cut an aimless path through a business district before sweeping into working-class suburbia.

"We never thought it would reach this far," Okrepkie said.

Since its construction in the mid-1980s, Coffey Park has been a place where families sought starter homes or affordable rentals, which filled with firemen, police officers, teachers, diner owners, government workers and insurance salesmen.

Now the easiest way to find it is to follow the dump trucks. They pass the "Coffey Park Rises" sign at the four-way stop and the one next to it that reads: "Want to rebuild your home or sell your lot?"

"It was the heartbeat of the city," said Okrepkie, a commercial insurance salesman and now president of the neighborhood's post-fire Coffey Strong advocacy group.

Like his neighbors, Okrepkie lost everything: his 2-year-old son Tillman's school projects and Christmas presents, the family's ornaments and photographs, keepsakes and computers.

He and his wife, Stephanie, married in April, and when it came time to begin tallying what had been lost and what would be needed again, they pulled up their three-month-old online wedding registry for reference.

Okrepkie began organizing the neighborhood group after he saw so much social media misinformation from Coffey Park residents, many of whom he had never met.

They didn't understand the rebuilding process. Some were getting wildly different settlements from the same insurance companies, and others were being quoted various prices from the same developers. Many had not had their property appraised in years and so had no idea what they should expect to get.

Okrepkie organized Q&A sessions, attended by hundreds, at the local community college, and helped form an elected board that plans to vote on how to spend donated money.

The group is building a website that will list each Coffey Park homeowner's insurance company, settlement amount, and builder quotes - leverage that has already helped some neighbors get better deals. But it will be months before he has a sense of who is staying.

His neighbor has sold her lot and moved to Costa Rica. The family across the street is planning to rebuild, but their lot is still in ruins, their son's torched basketball hoop standing sentinel in the driveway.

"Nobody knows what this place is going to look like," he said. "But it's going to look very, very different externally."

Nearly 40 years ago, those who bought in the new Coffey Park development could choose from eight floor plans, and since the fire, the planning department and some of the original builders have pulled those out of file-cabinet drawers.

Some builders are offering to reconstruct those homes with some changes, ideally if streets and blocks sign up together. Doing so in bulk could shave as much as 30 percent off construction costs.

John Allen, a project manager for APM Homes, said the company built 500 of Coffey Park's original houses. The firm brought the original draftsman out of retirement to update those floor plans, which he is offering to those looking to rebuild.

On a rainy recent morning, the neighborhood was busy with churning backhoes and EPA inspectors pulling asbestos out of some sites. Along Hopper Street, a Coldwell Banker "For Sale" sign stood in one lot, which Allen's company is negotiating to buy.

"It's a business opportunity," he said, explaining that buying lots and building one-off homes is more profitable. "But we prefer not to do it this way, not here."

At the corner of Hopper and Scarlet, a makeshift sign says: "Miss U Guys."

Jodi Curtis, who works for the county transit department, lives a few blocks away, on the far side of Coffey Park from the Okrepkie family, whom she had never met.

The house she learned was hers while on her honeymoon at Disneyland more than a dozen years ago burned to the ground, along with the Mickey Mouse ears that her husband traced in their backyard with lava rock.

The loss of the house remains raw, especially to the couple's 13-year-old daughter, Madison, who would not visit the site for a month afterward. The family has been living in a two-bedroom apartment, which Curtis says flatly "is not home."

Who returns matters to Curtis. It will determine who attends Madison's charter school, which never shut down after the fire.

"She's been in class with those kids since preschool," Curtis said. "So they had each other, and they had all gone through this same thing."

Curtis has picked a new design to replace the lost home, and she is excited. It will be her choice rather than a fixed plan. A few others on her street have done the same, and she believes the neighborhood that emerges will be stronger than the one that burned.

"The community already has come out a lot closer," she said. "Now we just want to get our routine back to normal."

The forgotten dream of Martin Luther King Jr.

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
The forgotten dream of Martin Luther King Jr.
John Wiebenson, a local architect, and others build a structure to use during the 1968 Poor People's Campaign on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. MUST CREDIT: Leah L. Jones, Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture

WASHINGTON - In that fraught and unsettled spring of 1968, Kenneth Jadin had a problem.

The 25-year-old architecture professor at Howard University needed a chunk of land. A big, big chunk of land.

Jadin and others had been tasked with the difficult challenge of figuring out how and where to house thousands of activists who would be flooding into D.C. for an antipoverty demonstration so grand in scale and so ambitious in scope that no one had ever seen anything like it.

Decades before Occupy Wall Street mainstreamed the notion of protest as semi-permanent encampment, Washington was about to become the scene of a demonstration so fixed in place that it would have its own Zip code: 20013.

The demonstration was to be the centerpiece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign, which he envisioned as a bold call to action to pressure the government to do more to address poverty. Jadin had a meeting scheduled with King, a man he admired but had yet to see in person, to discuss the difficult logistics of his plan to occupy Washington. That meeting was set to take place the first week of April.

But first, King would travel to Memphis, where an assassin's bullet took his life.

The shots fired by James Earl Ray did not, however, halt King's vision for a nonviolent show of civil disobedience - featuring a diverse array of African-Americans, as well as Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and Appalachian and rural whites - intended to rattle the capital and its powerful inhabitants. Jadin and other volunteers kept planning. They'd been considering staging the demonstration site - which would take the name "Resurrection City" - at an abandoned airfield or on undeveloped land owned by a cemetery. But now they pressed for approval for their first choice.

"We're going to get the National Mall," Jadin, now a professor emeritus at Howard, remembers telling colleagues. "They can't say no now."

And he was right. In the weeks to come a city grew on the expanse of land between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. At its height, 3,000 people would take up residence there in tents that Jadin designed.

But in a sense what they did there has been lost to time, wedged as it was amid the anguish of two of the signal tragedies of 20th-century America: the assassinations of King and Robert F. Kennedy, who was shot less than a month after Resurrection City was erected and three weeks before riot police forced the demonstrators out of their camp.

"It's a forgotten part of our history," Marc Steiner, a Baltimore radio host and longtime activist who lived at Resurrection City during its six-week run, said in an interview.

---

The assassinations of King and Kennedy drew so much attention that dozens of images captured by a freelance photographer on assignment for Life Magazine, Robert Houston, were pushed aside for bigger news - and never published.

An enlarged version of one of Houston's photos greets visitors to a new exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of Resurrection City and the Poor People's Campaign in space dedicated to the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the National Museum of American History. Half a century on, Houston's photographs have a special resonance: while many of the images of the civil rights era were taken in black-and-white, Houston often shot with color film.

His image of a striking yellow school bus ferrying demonstrators from Newark pulls visitors into the exhibit, serving as a kind of beacon of brightness in a space where the lighting and the mood is more subdued. Houston's photos have seldom been seen in public, but they came to the attention of the Smithsonian after an exhibition of his work was held at Morgan State University, Houston said.

On a recent morning, Houston - now 82 and still active as a photographer in Baltimore - stood beneath the school bus photograph looking up at the faces: young black men wearing pins bearing the image of a slain civil rights leader, but with expressions that could only be read as optimism.

"You heard that four-letter word a lot: H-O-P-E," said Houston, who lived in a tent throughout the six-week demonstration. "Never before had I met a group of people who had absolutely nothing to lose. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Jadin, the Howard University professor who was one of many sympathetic whites who joined the cause, drew up diagrams on how to assemble the plywood-and-plastic, A-frame tents where Houston and the rest of the demonstrators would live. The parts were assembled at a Catholic brotherhood facility north of the city, he said, and trucked in by volunteers. But once the young demonstrators got ahold of them, they let their creativity flow.

"I was amazed at the inventiveness of people," Jadin recalled. "These high school kids ... made two-story units. One of them told me he'd never held a hammer before!"

He thought to himself, "If they're an example of the youth of today, we're in good shape."

Some painted peace signs on the plywood. A people's university was erected, so demonstrators could attend classes, and a culture tent was set up. A Washington Post headline awkwardly declared a "City of Huts Started Near Mall; Leaders Vow a Long Camp-in."

In May 1968, demonstrators began arriving in bus caravans and in mule carts. They were determined to make their presence known. Among those who'd been vocally supportive was Kennedy, who was in the midst of his campaign for president and seemed to be on a path to the White House. Peter Edelman, a Georgetown law professor and the husband of civil rights leaders Marian Wright Edelman, recalled talking to Kennedy poolside one afternoon. Kennedy told him activists should go to the capital determined "to stay and to stay and keep on staying until people in Washington get sick of it and decide to do the right thing."

---

The goals of the Poor People's Campaign included an "economic bill of rights" and more money for housing and jobs programs. Folk singer Pete Seeger spent time there, as did Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, who had recently starred on one of the biggest shows on television, "I Spy," Steiner recalled.

But the means of achieving their goals weren't universally agreed upon. Steiner, the longtime radio host who lived at Resurrection City for weeks, and many of the demonstrators advocated a boisterous, disruptive approach that was sometimes in conflict with the movement's leaders, he said.

One day, Steiner said he and others stormed into a hotel where the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, who had assumed a more prominent leadership role after King's assassination, was staying with other leading lights of the movement. Steiner, who'd been slogging through mud brought on by heavy rains that swamped Resurrection City, didn't like the optics of some of the movement's leaders staying in more comfortable digs.

"There was clearly a split between those of us in the camps and the leadership," Steiner said.

But others saw the movement's leaders as galvanizing forces. Jadin, the architecture professor, marveled at the daily speech the Rev. Jesse Jackson delivered while breakfast was distributed.

"I hadn't ever heard such preaching," Jadin said.

Three weeks into the demonstration, the nation was rocked by the assassination of Kennedy during a campaign event in Los Angeles. His funeral procession stopped at Resurrection City and the crowd broke into song.

"It was one of the most emotional moments you've ever experienced with that number of people," Steiner recalled. "Black, white, Latinos, spontaneously breaking into the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.' His death in many ways was as profound as the death of Martin Luther King. He was someone who identified with poor people and wanted to do something about poverty."

As the days dragged on, the resolve of the demonstrators waned and the population living in the more than 500 tents plummeted. By late June, the city's tolerance for the demonstration was also gone. The demonstration permit was expiring, and protesters and police were trading accusations. Law-enforcement officials were accusing demonstrators of throwing rocks at officers, and Poor People's Campaign leaders were arguing about alleged police brutality and saying riot forces were provoking camp residents by lobbing tear gas canisters.

On June 24, teams of riot police descended on Resurrection City firing tear gas. Houston, the freelance photographer, can remember leaping into the Reflecting Pool to wash the chemicals from his skin. More than 340 demonstrators, including Abernathy, were arrested. It was a demoralizing moment, as the demonstration came to an end without having achieved major tangible results.

"At the time I thought they'd crushed us. It was just dispersing all the energy of people who were coming in the beginning," Steiner said. "That's why people thought it was a failure."

But, looking back, Steiner has begun to reassess. Yes, poverty persists as a huge problem - there were 35 million people, or about 17 percent of the total population, living in poverty in 1968, according to the Census Bureau, and there were 40.6 million, or about 12 percent, in the same condition in 2016.

Steiner noted how many of the activists returned to their communities and organized programs that helped countless people, a spirit that he believes lives on.

"The success is now - that 50 years later people are saying, 'What? What happened?'" he said.

He was talking recently with a young activist who crowed that the protest movements of today are different.

"This is not your grandmother's revolution," the activist told him. "I said, 'You're part of a continuum.' "

---

"City of Hope," the National Museum of African American History and Culture exhibition at the National Museum of American History, will be on display through December 2018. nmaahc.si.edu.

Almost 35 years ago, she let a stranger hold her newborn. It has haunted her ever since.

By Paul Duggan
Almost 35 years ago, she let a stranger hold her newborn. It has haunted her ever since.
Eleanor Williams, 52, at her home in Waterbury, Connecticut, last month. Williams' 3 1/2-month-old daughter was kidnapped in 1983, and it remains a cold case. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Michael Noble Jr. for The Washington Post

WATERBURY, Conn. - The woman in the bus depot, the perpetrator, was amiable and chatty, Eleanor Williams tearfully told the police.

This was long ago, after Williams, young and naive, had been tragically preyed upon, investigators said. Today, it's a cold case.

The woman, whose crime in the terminal that day shattered Williams' psyche, was African-American and appeared to be in her 20s, Williams recalled, speaking for the first time in decades about a mystery that has perplexed District of Columbia police. Williams said the stranger's perfidy left her so mired in guilt and shame that she later contemplated killing herself.

The woman, about 5-foot-3 and slender, struck up a conversation with Williams in the passenger waiting area, cooing over Williams' infant daughter. After a while, in the sweetest voice, she asked whether she could hold the child.

Please? Just for a minute?

She said her name was Latoya.

Which might have been a lie. Who knows?

She said she was headed "out west" - maybe also a lie.

Williams was 18 then, on Dec. 2, 1983, a date that haunts her. She had grown up on a nine-acre farm in southeast Virginia, and she still lived there. Before that morning, when she set out for Kansas by motor coach with her daughter, she had never ventured more than 30 miles from her home, she said.

Her baby, April Nicole Williams, 3 1/2 months old, was bundled in a pink-and-white snowsuit. The trip's first leg, 200 miles, brought them to a bus station in downtown Washington.

They were scheduled for a three-hour afternoon stop. Carrying April and her diaper bag, Williams, who had been awake since before dawn, trudged into the station and sat down wearily, with 1,200 miles of highway still ahead of her.

Latoya, if that was really her name, "came over next to me at some point and just started talking to me," Williams said recently in her Connecticut apartment, sobbing as she described the awful mistake she made 34 years ago. Latoya "was being friendly, asking me lots of questions. Like, 'Where are you going?' And, 'How old is your baby?' She was nice, you know? Then she was like, 'Do you mind if I hold her?' And I was sitting right next to her, right there, so I said OK, and I let her."

Until lately, Williams, 52, hadn't spoken publicly about her firstborn child since the week in 1983 when her world fell apart. She kept the memories mostly to herself, buried under a weight of sorrow. In her apartment, she shared the story haltingly, pausing for long stretches to gather her composure.

The woman, cradling April, said the baby needed a diaper change, Williams recalled.

"She said: 'Oh, I'll take her to the bathroom. You look tired.' And I was skeptical, like, "Well . . . OK, I guess.' Because I was tired. And I thought about it, but I had already said OK, and she had already got up and taken her to the bathroom.

"And then, I don't know, about 10 minutes later, when she didn't come back, I started getting nervous."

Williams struggles every day to live with this: She entrusted her infant daughter to a stranger in a bus station, some woman. Latoya was her name, or maybe not.

"She went to change her," Williams said, "and I never saw them again."

- - -

"One year ago yesterday a 3-month old girl was kidnapped at the old Trailways bus terminal in downtown Washington, prompting one of the largest and longest manhunts in the city's history. Today, while the chance of the baby's return has decreased, the hope, it seems, has not." - The Washington Post, Dec. 3, 1984.

There's still hope, although very little.

She weighed 11 pounds when she vanished.

Assuming she is alive, she turned 34 last summer.

"I'm pretty sure this is the only cold-case kidnapping we have, the only stranger kidnapping, where we still have a victim out," Washington Police Cmdr. Leslie Parsons, head of the criminal investigations division, said recently. Parsons wouldn't discuss details of the case, but apparently there isn't much to say. "About the only thing we can do proactively at this point is put it out in the media. Hopefully someone will see it, and they'll call us."

When another anniversary of the abduction rolled around in December, the department issued a news release, a standard plea for help: "The infant victim was named April Williams. She has a small birthmark on top of her left wrist in a straight line." The statement was a terse rendition of the basic facts, repeated by police many times through the years, including details from the mother's 1983 recollection of her chat with the kidnapper.

"The suspect could have a sister named Latisha or Natisha," the department said. "The suspect could have the astrological sign of 'Leo.' The suspect is described as [having] . . . a dark brown complexion and spots on her face. Her ears were pierced with two holes in each ear."

It said of Latoya, "she could go by Rene or Rene Latoya."

A few weeks ago, the detective handling the case contacted Williams in Connecticut, where she has lived since 1988, and asked her to speak with the news media. Publicity is good for cold cases, he told her: You shake the tree, and something might fall out. Plus, it's the internet age. The last time Williams talked publicly about April, in the days right after the kidnapping, stories and photos didn't routinely circle the planet as they do now.

Williams balked at sitting for an in-person interview, telling a reporter on the phone that Connecticut was her "safe haven," that she wanted to be left alone there, free of the painful past. She said she has tried for years to block out what happened, to rid her memory of everything about that afternoon except for April's little face.

Then, after a few days, she changed her mind and said OK.

Then, the next morning, she canceled.

Then, later in the week, she phoned and said all right, come to Waterbury.

"Of course I blame myself," she finally said in her apartment. Her hands were trembling. "I blame myself every minute, right up to this minute. It's been 34 years, and it's not something that's over. I deal with it every day, whether I talk about it or not. . . . It's always on my mind. It's always: 'How could you be so stupid? Why? Why did you do it?' "

She lives alone and works as a surgical technician, helping physicians with their instruments in operating rooms. She is "extremely close" to her grown son and daughter, both born after April. She has two grandchildren and hopes for more, she said.

"There were times when I was younger when I wanted to commit suicide, I just felt so bad and so guilty," she said. "But my other kids were always my strength. Like, what would they do if anything ever happened to me? I remember coming home one night after work and thinking, 'I could just drive off the road into a tree, and nobody would ever know that I wanted to do this.' And then I thought about my other kids."

Williams was 4 when her mother died in 1969, on Christmas night. She is the second-youngest of six siblings and was raised by her father on her paternal grandparents' farm near Suffolk, Virginia. In late 1982, when she was a senior in high school, she found out she was pregnant.

"I wasn't happy about it," she recalled. "I mean, I was 17 years old! I didn't want to have a baby. I thought about having an abortion, but I decided not to. . . . There's something about when babies start moving and kicking. You know there's something inside you, and it's like a bonding. It's just some kind of way special."

April was born Aug. 17, 1983, two months after her mother's high school graduation. Williams said the father was a local teenager who wanted no part of parenthood. She saw no future with him, either, and they lost touch after the baby arrived.

By then, Williams was interested in someone else: a soldier in Kansas, a young man she had never seen. One of her brothers was in the Army, stationed at Fort Riley, and he had mentioned his sister Eleanor to a buddy named Kevin. She and Kevin became pen pals during her pregnancy, trading letters and photos for months, and talking by phone.

In November that year, Kevin wired her money for a bus ticket to Kansas so they could meet and spend the holidays together.

Williams had never been out of southeast Virginia.

She made it as far as Washington, where she wound up spending a week, frightened, disoriented, often panicked, with news lights flashing and detectives pressing her, wanting to know this, wanting to know that - then more detectives, asking, asking, demanding.

These were stone-hard questions from stone-hard men with badges, the gist of the queries being: What did you do to her? Tell us. Where is she?

Latoya took her!

And a polygraph examiner, quietly, in a mortician's voice:

"Did you sell your baby?"

At last, when the police seemed satisfied with her story, Williams was gently sent on her way, home to the farm. She said she hasn't set foot in the District since.

"And I never will go back, ever."

- - -

"Mother of Kidnapped Baby Hypnotized" - Post headline, March 10, 1984.

Latoya had short hair, dark and wavy.

She wore green pants and a white ski jacket with a purple floral lining.

Williams told the detectives that.

The Post reported at the time that the woman in the bus station had taken the baby with her to a fast-food counter to buy sodas. This detail showed up in the newspaper repeatedly, but it wasn't accurate, Williams said. She recalled reading it that week. And she said the mistake didn't surprise her because she had learned, in just a few hours' time back then, to never trust anyone she doesn't know: Police, reporters, strangers in bus depots - trust nobody.

"That's how I am now," she said. "I'm always going to be that way."

These days, there would almost certainly be video footage of some Latoya walking into a bus terminal. Security cameras would capture her in the waiting area, would record her chatting up a young mother, then heading to a restroom or wherever, and sneaking out of the station with a tiny bundle in her arms. But the Latoya of 1983 stole a baby in the pre-surveillance age. "If we had images of the suspect," Parsons said, "we'd definitely put them out to the public."

She is a ghost.

Hours after the abduction, the driver of a Metrobus and several passengers reported seeing a woman on the bus who matched the suspect's description. The woman, carrying an infant, got off near the Prince George's County line, the witnesses said. Squads of police officers canvassed the area for days, knocking on doors. But the trail, if it was a trail, went cold.

Deep in Virginia, meanwhile, Williams grew tired of being stared at.

"I just couldn't deal with everybody looking at me and talking about me and having something to say about my situation," she recalled. "It was always, 'She gave her baby away.' People were always whispering that. Or, 'She's just not fit to have a child.' I mean, the way people are, they're cruel; they're mean. Until something happens to them."

A month after the abduction, Williams left the farm for Kansas again on a motor coach.

Emotionally she was immature, still an adolescent, she said.

Kevin, the Fort Riley soldier, was there when she got off the bus.

"All I needed him for was to have a baby to replace April," Williams said. "He knew the only reason for me visiting him was because I wanted to get pregnant again, because I wanted another April. I thought it was going to make me feel better. I thought it would make it hurt less. But actually all it did was make it hurt more."

She soon lost touch with Kevin.

Their daughter was born the following September.

Williams asked that the daughter's name not be published, for privacy's sake. She is 33 and understands the circumstances of her conception. Williams told her the story when she was teenager. She also told her son, born in 1986. The three have had many long conversations about April and the emotional impact of her disappearance, Williams said. She said they are parent, daughter, son, and the best of friends.

And the siblings know that every Aug. 17, they should leave their mother alone.

"I always spend April's birthday by myself," Williams said. "I don't want to be around my other kids, because that's me and April's day. I sit and just think about her, hold onto her picture, cry. And I just wonder what she could be doing."

Her voice was pleading.

"All the stuff they do in school, the awards they get. Did she get any awards? You know, the prom, homecoming, graduation - did she go to the prom? What did she grow up to be? Does she have a career? Does she have kids?"

Williams gazed at the small tabletop in front of her.

"Did she have a wedding? Did she have . . ."

It's pointless, always pointless.

For answers never come.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Trump is at war with the central ideal of the Republic

By michael gerson
Trump is at war with the central ideal of the Republic

WASHINGTON -- Sometimes it is necessary to begin with the obvious. The claim that America needs more Norwegian migrants and fewer Africans from “sh-thole countries” is racist. It is not the same as arguing for a higher-skilled immigrant pool. That argument might go something like: “We need a higher-skilled immigrant pool.”

President Trump, according to the compelling weight of evidence, treated African countries (along with Haiti and some other nations) as places of misery filled with undesirable people. That is a prejudice based on a stereotype rooted in invincible ignorance. Why not assume that men and women arriving from poor, oppressed and dangerous countries would love America all the more? Because, well, they are those kind of people. What kind of people? The ones who don’t look like Norwegians.

On this issue, Trump has not earned the benefit of a single doubt. His racial demagoguery in the Central Park Five case ... his attribution of Kenyan citizenship to Barack Obama ... his references to Mexican migrants as rapists and murderers ... his unconstitutional attempt at a Muslim ban ... his moral equivocation following the Charlottesville protests and killing ... his statement, reported by the New York Times, that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America ... all of these constitute an elaborate pattern of bigotry. Trump makes off-hand racist comments, he promotes racist stereotypes and he incites racism as a political strategy.

And still it is difficult for me to write the words: “The President of the United States is a racist.” The implications are too horrible. But unavoidable. It means, for starters, that the president is blind to the contributions of African migrants to our country. It means that the president has undermined American foreign policy across a strategic continent -- alienating people disproportionately prone to like the U.S and respect its global role. It means that many Americans of color understandably view Trump as the president of white America, leaving a legacy of distrust that will not quickly fade. It means that bigots also view Trump as the president of white America, providing energy and legitimacy to some of the worst people in the country.

And it means that the American president does not understand or appreciate the American story. It is the story of millions of migrants taken from Africa by force, stacked in ships like coal and transported to a “free” country that stole their labor, broke up their families and denied their humanity. The story of a great nation born with a fatal flaw -- a shameful racial exception to its highest ideals. The story of African-Americans who refused to accept their dehumanization, fought for the Union, came up from slavery, defied bombings, police dogs and water cannons to defeat segregation, demanded that the country be true to what it said on paper and made America a better place for all its citizens. This is one of history’s greatest stories of the human spirit. And Trump knows nothing of it. He is indifferent to our defining miracle. And there is no way to lead a country you do not comprehend.

Trump has revealed who he is. Now we reveal who we are. The perfunctory criticisms, self-indicting silences, half-hearted defenses and obvious lies provided by most elected Republicans have been embarrassing and discrediting. Loyalty to Trump now consists of defending the indefensible. His advocates are becoming desensitized to moral corruption. They are losing the ability to believe in anything, even in their own courage.

Yet some Republicans and conservatives will never be reconciled to the Trump presidency. The reason is not a matter of tender sensibilities but of deep conviction. Racism is not one issue among many, to be weighed equally with tax or trade policy. Trump is at war with the central ideal of the Republic -- a vision of strength through inclusion and equality that makes our country special and exceptional. The president is wrong -- repeatedly, offensively wrong -- on the centerpiece question of our history: Are there gradations in the image of God? The only acceptable, American answer is “no.”

This debate will now be decided on countless private battlefields of conscience. Somehow, unexpectedly, we are called to be part of the long American story, helping determine the nature and promise of our country. That is both a burden and an honor. We have no idea how this struggle will unfold. But we know how it must end: with a president who raises our sights instead of lowering our standards.

Michael Gerson’s email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The coup that succeeded

By richard cohen
The coup that succeeded

The Wall Street Journal celebrated the new year with wonderful news. “We’re pleased to report that there hasn’t been a fascist coup in Washington,” announced a Jan. 1 editorial. True enough, but as two Harvard professors point out in a new book, coups are so 20th century. Democracies perish, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt point out, by a kind of civic Alzheimer’s. They forget to function.

This has been the case in Poland, Hungary, Venezuela and Turkey, to name just four countries under odious regimes. As for the United States, a kind of coup has already succeeded. Truth has been commandeered by the state and dispatched to a new gulag. It is called Fake News.

The first casualty of war, the saying goes, is truth. But with Trumpism, truth is not collateral damage, it is the enemy itself. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of the senate’s dwindling anti-Trump caucus -- Flake himself is about go into honorable retirement -- put his finger on a useful historical analogy. In an upcoming speech he likens Trump to Joseph Stalin. It turns out that the late Soviet dictator also liked to call the media the “enemy of the people.”

Flake says he is about to expound on his insight in a senate speech. It is virtually a sure thing few of his colleagues will listen, because they will think, in the manner of the Wall Street Journal editorial, that the comparison is overdrawn. This is somewhat true. Trump has murdered no dissidents and has yet to airbrush deposed aides from official photos -- although Bannon’s day may be coming.

Still, one has to zero in on Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, to fully appreciate Flake’s warning. In her demeanor and her willingness to straight-face the preposterous, she’d bring an appreciative smile to Stalin’s face. He has seen her type before.

After Trump denounced a Wall Street Journal story as “FAKE NEWS!” Sanders followed up with a tweet of her very own. The Journal had quoted Trump as saying, “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” the North Korean dictator. Trump, who was being interviewed by the Journal when be brought up Kim, quickly protested. He did not say “I,” he insisted. He had said “I’d.”

The White House provided a tape to substantiate its contention. The Journal then provided one of its own. “I?” “I’d?” Hard to tell. I’d go with the Journal, but Trump’s version is not all that farfetched

What is, though, is the reason he gives for the Journal’s account: “They just wanted a story.” Then Sanders followed up: “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. FAKE NEWS IS AT IT AGAIN! FALSELY QUOTING PRESIDENT TRUMP.”

Now I must summon someone I will call Kurt. He was the Washington-based press spokesman for East Germany back in the Cold War days, and he helped arrange my trip to East Berlin. I found that city to be dour, gray and dingy, while just across the wall, West Berlin was, as Sinatra sang of Chicago, a “toddling town.” Kurt protested, but when I asked him if he had ever been to West Berlin, he said no -- but he knew my account was false nonetheless. Was Kurt lying? Hard to say. He lived in an environment where truth was what the government said it was.

Sanders is a latter-day Kurt, mouthing the Trumpian party line. The newspaper she accused of publishing “FAKE NEWS” is owned by Trump’s pal, Rupert Murdoch, who is an occasional White House visitor and counselor. The paper is capable of making a mistake -- what one isn’t? -- but for it to purposely “FALSELY” misquote the president is as preposterous as Kurt insisting East Berlin outshone West Berlin.

In its new year’s editorial, the Journal had a point. Some of the predictions for the Trump regime now seem a touch hysterical (Et tu, Cohen?). But the president has succeeded in blurring, if not eradicating, the distinction between truth and lies so that not only he but virtual bots such as Sanders or cabinet members -- those fawning intellectual Munchkins who would make Stalin himself blush -- utter lies as a matter of course.

This is the coup that has succeeded. The lie has been institutionalized. It is not the exception, but the run-of-the-mill response to any challenge. The lie no longer shocks. It often amuses, and complacent Republicans either look the other way or jump gleefully on the bandwagon of deceit. This, not the tax bill, is Trump’s most consequential first year achievement. The fascists may not have taken over the government, but the liars have.

Richard Cohen’s email address is cohenr@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump rejects American ideals of diversity

By eugene robinson
Trump rejects American ideals of diversity

WASHINGTON -- President Trump’s intent could not be more explicit: He wants immigration policies that admit white people and shut the door to black and brown people. That is pure racism -- and the Republican Party, which traces its heritage to Abraham Lincoln, must decide whether to go along.

Silly me. The GOP seems to have made its choice, judging by the weaselly response from most of the Republicans who were in the Oval Office on Thursday when Trump made vile and nakedly racist remarks.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., heard the president clearly: Trump referred to African nations as “shithole countries,” a shocked Durbin reported. At another point, discussing potential relief for groups of immigrants -- including Haitians -- who are losing their temporary permission to remain here, Trump reportedly said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

According to Durbin, Trump asked why the U.S. wasn’t welcoming more immigrants from places such as Norway, whose prime minister had visited the White House the day before.

To Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the president’s message apparently came through. His colleague Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who was not at the meeting, said Graham told him that Durbin’s account was “basically accurate.” Graham himself would say only that “I said my piece directly” to the president and that “I’ve always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals.”

Other Republicans at the meeting cravenly claimed deafness or memory loss. Perhaps they simply agree with Trump’s race-based immigration approach.

Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., issued a joint statement saying they “do not recall ... specifically” the “shithole countries” slur; Perdue later went further, flatly denying the words were spoken. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she did not recall “that exact phrase.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. and Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., apparently have been stricken mute.

I mention them all because they deserve to be enshrined in a Hall of Shame.

I suppose I should also mention that Trump now denies making the statements, but there is absolutely no reason to believe him. On the subject of immigration he has been remarkably consistent: At another White House meeting last month, according to The New York Times, the president said that Haitians “all have AIDS” and opined that once Nigerians saw the United States, they would never “go back to their huts.”

Trump ridiculously told reporters Sunday that “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever interviewed.” In fact, his long history of racism is well documented, going all the way back to the 1970s, when he and his father were sued by the Justice Department -- Richard Nixon’s Justice Department, no less -- for refusing to rent apartments to African-Americans.

Without the support of Republicans, Lyndon Johnson never could have pushed through the landmark Civil Rights legislation that outlawed discrimination and put an end to Jim Crow. That was then; this is now, when minorities overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates because they perceive the GOP as indifferent or hostile.

There is nothing inherently racist about the free-market conservatism that Republicans cherish and advocate. But there is everything racist about the white ethnocentric theory of American identity that Trump champions with remarkable frankness.

That’s what the immigration battle is really about. When Trump and his allies say they want to end “chain migration” -- in which family members sponsor other family members for entry -- they mean they want to halt the influx of immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries. When Trump says he wants to bar Haitians and Africans, he aims to admit fewer black people. When he pines for more Norwegians, he wants to welcome more white people. (Not that Norwegians, at the moment, are that eager to move to Trump’s America.)

Republicans say they want a “merit-based” system of immigration. That has a nice, neutral sound. Who can argue against merit?

But Trump has made clear that what he means to do is halt or reverse the demographic trends that are making this nation increasingly diverse -- trends that are wholly consistent with American history.

A century ago, there were nativists who railed against Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigration, claiming that unwashed hordes from poor countries were “mongrelizing” the nation. We now have a president who rejects American ideals of diversity and inclusion in favor of racial purity.

Sens. Cotton and Perdue, Secretary Nielsen, Reps. McCarthy, and Goodlatte, do you want a race-based immigration system, too? Please don’t pretend you didn’t hear the question.

Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Ladies, let’s be reasonable about #MeToo or nothing will ever be sexy again

By alexandra petri
Ladies, let’s be reasonable about #MeToo or nothing will ever be sexy again

Ladies, please.

(Puts up feet on table in a sage fashion.)

Well, it has been a fun (glances at watch) three months that we have been doing this thing where we stop letting harassment and assault get swept under the rug, and it has been nice, certainly, to watch those tumbrils of condemned men rolling through the streets toward the guillotine (or, as she is all-too-aptly termed, the Hungry Lady!), but I think we must be reasonable now and stop before any more good men are made to suffer. Before all future films are robbed of that certain (BEG ITAL)je ne sais quoi(END ITAL), that (BEG ITAL)frisson(END ITAL), that -- other French word, which gives them their palpable raw erotic charge.

You understand of course what I am saying.

I was sitting at a luncheon the other day when a friend casually remarked, “When is this #MeToo nonsense going to end? When will movies be sexy again?”

“Indeed,” I said. It was not that I am clairvoyant, although I am literally clairvoyant. But now, you see, it is ending. Or at least, I would like it to be ending, which is much the same thing.

When we were only coming for people who had actually done bad things and, indeed, admitted as much, it was fine. But now we are going into bars and scooping up any men who have done anything, be it ever so slight: a smile, a look, forcing a woman to live under his desk in a secret room and refusing to tell her what year it is, offenses of WILDLY DIFFERENT DEGREES that I am just lumping together as though I think all of them might be possibly acceptable if you did them outside the office.

First they came for men I did not like, some of whom had beards that did not look good, others of whom were conservative media personalities, and still others of whom combined those characteristics. But then it started to spread until we were even ruining the careers of people who were accused of minor offenses, like saying “good morning” with a weird emphasis, or eating a sandwich while maintaining eye contact with someone who wasn’t their wife, or emailing a woman a respectful compliment.

Oh no, have none of these things happened? My mistake. I am worried that they will, which is just as bad.

My point is, there is a spectrum. There are some things that are not as bad as other things -- yet these feminists don’t agree! There is no distinction made. (That is, there have been distinctions made, but this could cease at any moment.)

There was an anonymous list, definitely to be used as a weapon in the inevitable War on Men, not just as a tool to be shared among people who wanted to know whom to avoid when they were trying to make their way in their chosen field. Now a small part of the patriarchy is at risk. And let me say this for the patriarchy: It has never done anything to me, and I think we should consider that before we sentence it to death.

This needs to stop, the sooner the better. It is exactly like what has happened in the past with Joseph McCarthy: The Senate is forming a committee and rounding up people suspected of seditious anti-American activities. Well, that is to say, it isn’t quite like that, but there is a list involved, and every time a list is involved I know whom they will come for next. This is why Santa is so frowned-upon in my household.

Understand that there is a problem, but women need to stop being victims. There are two ways for this to happen: One is for men to stop harassing women. Another is for women just to ignore the problem and carry on. That second approach has been tried for many years and was, I thought, successful. Let’s go back to that. It is much easier for women to stop complaining than it is for men to have to change their behavior and give women the basic respect they accord colleagues they do not want to sleep with.

Once someone tried to harass Margaret Thatcher, and she hit him with an ax and said, “NOT ON MY WATCH, YOU SCALAWAG, OR I WILL DO TO YOU WHAT I HAVE DONE TO THE ECONOMY.” This is another correct way to proceed, and more women should take a page from her book. (All women are in a position to do this and suffer no consequences. They should not think twice.)

What’s worse, movies are being ruined by all of this nonsense. There is nothing less erotic, if we must be frank, than consent (a process that I assume involves a lot of paperwork). I know “consent” cannot simply mean that both parties demonstrably want something to be happening before they proceed, or it would be alarming that it was not included in everything before.

The foundation of every romantic comedy ever made is workplace harassment. Movies are full of women who are just trying to do their jobs and a man won’t stop hitting on them, from “His Girl Friday” to the present day. That is half the charm of James Bond, as a franchise.

Eros is a one-sided relationship between a man and an object. If this is taken from us, what will remain? Literally nothing. At least, I cannot think of anything, which I assume is the same.

What about the chase? What about when you hunt women with bows across your immense private forest and if they do not outrun you they must live as your concubine for a thousand days? What about the traditions of courtship, of (BEG ITAL)primae noctis(END ITAL)? Where is the room for that? Where is the presumption of innocence? Where is the reassuring sense that you can pretty much do what you like as long as you mean well, and it will be understood that you are not making anyone’s life worse?

Enough is enough, I say, and mean. I read something by a French person that said “ONE DAY MORE,” and that is what I think men deserve. Let us return to business as usual now, before any more valuable masculine careers are damaged. There is nothing brave about any of this speaking out. It is just a mob. No one criticizes or threatens women who speak in public, certainly not myself, right now.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Does the Fed need a new playbook?

By robert j. samuelson
Does the Fed need a new playbook?

WASHINGTON -- The record of economists, including those at the Federal Reserve, over the past half century has been discouraging. The two greatest blunders are well-known: policies that fed double-digit inflation in the 1970s, reaching a peak of 13.5 percent in 1980; and the more recent failure to prevent the 2008-09 financial crisis and Great Recession, sending unemployment to 10 percent.

Unfortunately, there are many other lapses. Economists generally have been unable to predict the onset of recessions. Since at least the 1970s, they have routinely missed turning points in productivity, for better or worse (”productivity” is economist-jargon for “efficiency”). More recently, they’ve been surprised by the plunge in long-term interest rates and by a lengthy stretch of low inflation.

The dirty secret of economics is how much economists don’t know. Their ignorance is increasingly relevant, because there is growing agitation among economists to stage a grand debate over the role of monetary policy -- how the Fed influences interest rates, credit conditions and the money supply.

“Fed Is Urged to Rewrite Its Playbook,” headlined a recent New York Times story. It explained: “[A] growing number of experts, including some Federal Reserve officials, say it is time for the Fed to consider a new approach to managing the economy.”

What would that be? One proposal would have the Fed create 4 percent inflation, roughly double the present rate, by pumping more money into the economy. This approach, the argument goes, would stimulate spending and give the Fed greater latitude to cut interest rates in case of recession (higher inflation generally leads to higher interest rates).

It’s an awful idea. The purported advantages are mostly academic; they make for good scholarly discussions but are of dubious value in the real world. The truth is that economists hardly have a clue what the short- and long-term consequences of raising inflation to 4 percent would be. Indeed, they don’t even know whether they could hit that target. Markets might keep inflation lower; or an overzealous Fed might unleash so much money that inflation spurts higher.

Proposals like these constitute busy-work for economists. They can write research papers, organize conferences and, of course, implement new policies. Luckily, not all economists have drunk the Kool-Aid. “The Fed is not going to adopt a 4 percent inflation target,” former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke recently told a conference. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Since World War II, the Fed’s finest hours have involved undoing its own mistakes. Under Paul Volcker, the Fed crushed double-digit inflation in the early 1980s. A quarter century of solid economic growth followed, overseen by Alan Greenspan. Bernanke’s quick response to the financial crisis (along with Treasury Secretaries Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner) arguably averted a second Great Depression. This, obviously, is a big deal. In the 1930s, unemployment peaked at 25 percent.

No one denies that the Fed’s goals are ambitious and not always compatible. By law, it’s supposed to pursue “stable prices” and “maximum employment” -- terms undefined by Congress. (The Fed has defined price stability as 2 percent inflation; maximum employment is reckoned as an unemployment rate of about 4.6 percent.)

In addition, as Harvard economist Martin Feldstein argued recently in the Wall Street Journal, the financial crisis emphasized the importance of preventing crashes in financial markets: those for stocks, bonds and other instruments.

“The combination of overpriced real estate and equities [stocks] has left the financial sector fragile and has put the entire economy at risk,” Feldstein wrote. If prices crashed, they could weaken confidence, slow spending and cause a recession, he warned. The contradictions are clear. Low interest rates may boost job creation, but they may also fuel financial speculation.

Perhaps some brilliant economist will devise a theory that reconciles all the Fed’s potentially contradictory goals. But it hasn’t happened yet, and we should resist the seductive notion that there’s some superior system that, as the Times’ story put it, would constitute “a new approach to managing the economy.”

The Fed is not omnipotent. The best it can do under the present state of knowledge is to muddle along, selecting its priorities and embracing new policies (low interest rates, bond purchases) that respond to what seems the most urgent need of the moment. This is essentially what the Fed has been doing for the last decade, and for all its shortcomings, it has contained inflation and worked reasonably well.

What we should fear is some over-ambitious economic program that promises to make us better off but does the opposite.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

Will Trump exhaust our democratic capacities?

By e.j. dionne jr.
Will Trump exhaust our democratic capacities?

WASHINGTON -- Political leaders in democracies have a few core obligations. They are charged with solving today’s problems and preparing their nations for the future. They are responsible for creating some sense of shared purpose and mutual respect among their citizens -- above all a common commitment to preserving the very freedoms on which democracy depends.

Within this context, citizens exercise their right to argue about how to define the public interest, how to identify the central problems, and how to choose among competing values.

Given my social democratic leanings I would assert, for example, that equal opportunity -- including the opportunity to participate fully in self-government -- demands a far greater degree of economic security and equality than we currently enjoy. This is particularly true when it comes to access to health care, education, family time away from paid labor, and the chance to accumulate wealth.

You might push back and say that my proposals toward these ends impinge more than they should on individual freedom and require higher levels of taxation than you are willing to put up with. Or you might insist that I am focusing too much on economics and that promoting better personal values society-wide is more conducive to the nation’s well-being than any of my programs for greater equity.

And, yes, we might quarrel about who has a right to join our political community and become part of our nation. We should not pretend that our current battles about immigration are unique to our time. In the United States, we have been wrangling over immigration since at least the 1840s. I suspect (and may God preserve our republic) we will be having at least some contention around this subject in the 2140s as well.

Such debates can be bitter, but democracy’s health depends on our ability to hold our passions against each other in check and to offer each other at least some benefits of the doubt.

As the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt emphasize in their timely new book, “How Democracies Die,” democracy requires “mutual toleration,” which is “the understanding that competing parties accept one another as legitimate rivals,” and “forbearance,” which means that politicians “exercise restraint in deploying their institutional prerogatives.”

Which, alas, brings us yet again to President Trump, who (no matter how much we want to) cannot be avoided at this moment because he threatens the conditions under which democracy can flourish.

Our current debate is frustrating and not only because Trump doesn’t understand what “mutual toleration” and “forbearance” even mean. By persistently making himself, his personality, his needs, his prejudices and his stability the central topics of our political conversation, Trump is blocking the public conversation we ought to be having about how to move forward.

And while Trump’s enablers in the Republican Party will do all they can to avoid the issue, there should now be no doubt (even if this was clear long ago) that we have a blatant racist as our president. His reference to immigrants from “sh--hole countries” and his expressed preference for Norwegians over Haitians, Salvadorans and new arrivals from Africa make this abundantly clear. Racist leaders do not help us reach mutual toleration. His semi-denial 15 hours after his comment was first reported lacked credibility, especially since he called around first to see how his original words would play with his base.

But notice also what Trump’s outburst did to our capacity to govern ourselves and make progress. Democrats and Republicans sympathetic to the plight of the Dreamers worked out an immigration compromise designed carefully to give Trump what he had said he needed.

There were many concessions by Democrats on border security, “chain migration” based on family re-unification, and the diversity visa lottery that Trump had criticized. GOP senators such as Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., bargained in good faith and were given ample reason by Trump to think they had hit his sweet spot.

Trump blew them away with a torrent of bigotry. In the process, he shifted the onus for avoiding a government shutdown squarely on his own shoulders and those of Republican leaders who were shamefully slow in condemning the president’s racism.

There are so many issues both more important and more interesting than the psyche of a deeply damaged man. We are capable of being a far better nation. But we need leaders who call us to our obligations to each other as free citizens. Instead, we have a president who knows only how to foster division and hatred.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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