Best columns: The U.S.
Trump’s many successes
When President Trump said last week he was “substantially ahead of schedule” in implementing his agenda, liberals laughed in derision, said Yascha Mounk. Most of the outsize promises Trump made on the campaign trail have failed to materialize: Obamacare has not been repealed, the wall isn’t being funded or built, and tax cuts remain a distant, unpopular fantasy. But “there is much more truth to Trump’s claim than the gleefully mocking responses to it would suggest.” Trump may not have built anything new of his own, but he’s been quite effective in his chosen role as a wrecking ball, as he destroys the Obama legacy and the norms of democracy and American foreign policy. Just as he promised, Trump has treated our European allies with disdain, withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, and is close to blowing up NAFTA and the Iranian nuclear deal. At home, Trump has used his bully pulpit to deepen our racial and cultural divisions and convince nearly 40 percent of the country that the press is the enemy, and even to hate the NFL. “If Trump can turn his base against the NFL, then what can’t he get them to do?” Trump is pursuing “a truly radical agenda,” and he may leave this country fundamentally changed.
Indifference in the face of genocide
After the Holocaust, much of the Western world adopted the slogan “Never again.” But our collective vow to stop genocides has always been more theoretical than actual, as we’re seeing once again in Myanmar (also known as Burma). The government’s forced expulsion of the country’s Rohingya Muslims from their homeland has been sickeningly brutal, with thousands of people slaughtered and hundreds of thousands fleeing across the border to squalid camps in Bangladesh. Last week, a Rohingya woman told journalists how Myanmar soldiers clubbed her in the face, tore her screaming infant from her arms, and threw him into a fire; while the child burned to death, they gang-raped her. “There is only one way to stop ongoing acts of genocide” such as this, which periodically reoccur throughout the world: “the application of American military force.” But the American public feels burned by past interventions abroad, and has no interest in sending troops or spending money to stop mass atrocities in Southeast Asia or Africa or the Middle East. We don’t see such interventions as worth the costs, so we do nothing. “When we make that choice, we expose ‘Never again’ as the lie that it always was.”
This is your brain on cellphones
Our addiction to our smartphones is “damaging American mental health,” said Heather Wilhelm. Today’s phones are so powerful, fast, and filled with dazzling images and alluring tidbits of information from social media and the internet that they are virtually impossible to resist. “Who among us hasn’t looked up at least once, smartphone in hand, slightly dazed, only to discover that precious bundles of minutes or hours have somehow slithered by, lost to all eternity, usually in exchange for no discernible enlightenment at all?” The average smartphone user checks in about 80 times a day; click on one Facebook or Instagram feed or web link, and down you go into the digital rabbit hole. Americans now “eat, sleep, and breathe media,” consuming some form of it 12 hours a day. Not surprisingly, scientific research has linked smartphone use to decreased concentration, lower problem- solving skills, and depression. For youngsters, smartphone addiction is truly disastrous, with the incidence of depressive episodes soaring by 60 percent. Why give kids under 12 what for them is “a very expensive portable internet porn finder/social-media stalking system/mean girls text center”? Adults should limit their kids’ smartphone minutes—and their own. Our collective mental health may depend on it. ■