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The United States today, of course, is a much larger society, with a complicated political system and unique ethnic and religious diversity, but we are following the same pattern of demographic change and backlash that has taken place elsewhere in the world. As a result, the stories of these smaller nations are instructive: They show how governments can suppress certain groups and inflame social divisions, or how they can reconnect and redefine their nation, building unity in the process. More practically, they also reveal the ways Biden can turn the poetry of his oratory into the prose of good governance, avoiding the pitfalls of his predecessor.

What separated those places that were better able to reconcile their differences? The historical evidence points to five areas where societies either inflame tensions or pivot to greater coexistence — valuable case studies for Biden and the White House.

1. Ideology

State ideologies have the power to unite or divide a multi-ethnic population. It all depends on the boundaries a state draws around its “people,” and how inclusive or exclusive that definition is.

Sometimes the boundaries are literal, such as with residential segregation. Throughout its modern history, Bahrain — which features a mix of Sunni and Shi’i natives who are outnumbered by a variety of guest workers and naturalized immigrants — has maintained distinct neighborhoods for its sects and newcomers. In Mauritius, Indian-origin Mauritians who marry African-origin Creoles are re-classified as part of the lower-status Creole minority, who tend to live in specific parts of the island. Sometimes the boundaries are rhetorical and practical, such as the way that the Singaporean state assigns a “race” to every citizen — Chinese, Malay, Indian or Other — which appears on all identity documents and government forms.

America has long been subject to similar forms of segregation and racial classifications, all of which reinforce our differences. Before Trump entered the 2016 presidential race, there was the sense that the country was bridging some of these divides. Many Americans perceived the election of President Barack Obama as the triumph of an American ideology of equal opportunity over a history stained by white supremacy. But Trump reversed that progress. His “America First” ideology reflected and stoked a desire for higher status among many white Americans who felt threatened by moral narratives of diversity and multiculturalism. And his flirtations with white nationalist groups undercut the universalist approach many Americans sought from their government and fueled conflict and violence.

Societies that pivot back toward coexistence embrace ideologies that transcend ethnic and religious boundaries. In Singapore, despite maintaining subtle Chinese predominance, the government proactively promotes a universalist message that seeks to unite its people behind a civic identity. In historic New York, equal voting rights and access to civil service jobs helped integrate the once-reviled Irish population and paved the way for later waves of other “white ethnic” immigrants.

Biden was elected by many Americans who sought greater equality, greater civility or felt exhausted by our country’s incendiary culture wars. He has already emphasized that his Cabinet appointees should “look like America” and has prioritized racial equity and humane immigration policies in his early executive actions. However, Biden must now work to craft a shared sense of purpose and identity that is as welcoming to newcomers as it is for the status-craving white Americans who supported his opponent.

2. Education

Governments hold the power to socialize children with inclusive or exclusive school programs.

Policymakers must make decisions about national languages, school integration, textbook content and military conscription. In societies pivoting toward coexistence, school is a formative experience that exposes children to the differences among them but also what they hold in common as they come of age, pursue their passions and learn the same material.

On one extreme, the government of Singapore closely regulates the image of the country in everything from art museums to children’s picture books. This enforces unity, but stifles truth and borders on propaganda. On the other extreme, the United States has very little national coordination of learning, principally because American schools are governed locally. While this allows for more local control, it also produces an inconsistent approach to social and civic curricula and reinforces the inequities and segregation of residential patterns.

Schools can also be exclusive or reinforce customs or content that exclude. Last January, Trump proposed funding religious schools with taxpayer dollars and advocated for prayer in American public schools, which could alienate certain subgroups of students. Last September, Trump established the 1776 Commission to provide American children with a “patriotic education” about U.S. history. Without a single practicing historian, the committee released an unsigned and divisive report last month that decried “progressivism,” “identity politics” and universities.

While the Biden administration is limited in its ability to alter local education policies or the content of history textbooks, the federal government could invest in community colleges as reskilling institutes that bring disaffected laborers into contact with new industry. It could also rethink schools as centers that provide comprehensive social, health and community services to families. These kinds of initiatives connect disparate social groups, reduce social exclusion and build hubs of local community. Biden could also support a national service program for U.S. youths, which some American civil society groups are advocating for in an attempt to promote cross-boundary interactions, civic education and social solidarity in service to the nation. Such a new national service program could offer mentorship to youngsters or services to vulnerable communities. This would not only help participants come together, but the people they serve, too.

3. Culture

Because its politics are so subtle, culture is perhaps the most powerful way to heal divisions in society. Music, food, sports, art, literature and the renewal of secular traditions like Thanksgiving bring people together and, in societies that pivot to coexistence, give countrymen something to share.

Despite significant residential segregation and severely racialized politics, Indian- and African-origin Trinidadians come together over curried chickpea doubles, roti flatbread, cricket, the steel drum and soca music. Its annual Carnival — a tightly held tradition among Afro-Caribbeans — has inspired many Indo-Trinidadians and there is now a “Chutney Carnival” prelude each year. Once developed to create separate spaces for each ethnic group, incrementally the two Carnivals overlap, co-inspire and co-evolve.

Americans have no shortage of cultural activities that similarly hybridize and transcend our political and ethnic boundaries. However, governments can sponsor traditions that reinforce divisions and offend some subgroups, as when Trump leaned into the debate over the presence of Confederate memorials in the American South and condemned athletes for kneeling during the national anthem in peaceful protest. Though symbolically meaningful, escalating these debates has only divided the country further.

Rhetorically, Biden should seek out and lean into those cultural attributes that allow Americans to discover and recognize that which we share—utter obsession with sports, a deep pool of musical talent, a passion for the outdoors. Meanwhile, federal agencies dedicated to the arts and humanities could devote their resources to work that invokes the hybridity and co-evolution of American culture. The Department of the Interior could, for example, unite Americans in a climate-concerned “green corps” that bring outdoors enthusiasts and conservationists toge ther for good.

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4. Commerce

Commercial relations either reproduce social disparities and segregation in the economic sector or overlook them for the sake of mutual benefit.

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Many social conflicts spill into debates over scarce resources. In Bahrain, Shi’i Bahrainis are less likely to hold comfortable government jobs, particularly in the country’s sprawling security sector. In Mauritius, African Creoles were historically less likely to hold land in the heavily agricultural economy. The United States still experiences racialized poverty and inequality, welfare chauvinism, and divisive politics around reparation and affirmative action for ethnic minorities.

In societies that pivot to coexistence, markets feature useful interdependencies that place diverse countrymen into contact with each other for shared gain—a sale, a service provided, a helpful consultation. More meritocratic systems of promotion reduce inequality and diverse workplaces double as centers for social bridging and alternative forms of belonging. Large employers therefore have a major role to play in national unification; they are now more trusted than the government.

For Biden, “Build Back Better” infrastructure programs could double as opportunities for social bridging when they bring together cross-sections of America to achieve a common goal. Indeed, the airports, highways, tunnels and bridges they build to connect our country can be dedicated to that greater ideal. The White House could also convene large employers to form a coalition of businesses that pledge to follow a set of best practices for cultivating inclusion and mutual understanding in the workplace.

5. Threat

The fifth pivot relates to whether the state’s identification of threats is external and thereby unifying or internal and thereby divisive.

Over the course of the late 20th century, American solidarity was fueled by the looming threat of Soviet-led Communism. This worked well in Hawai‘i, too, where Native Hawaiians were wary of American imperialism and eventually bonded with immigrant-origin Asians under the United States’ oppressive assimilation laws in the early 20th century.

Trump tapped a similar sense of external threat during his presidency, when he set China up as a U.S. enemy. But that did not unify Americans because he focused more of his energy targeting his personal political enemies domestically. Worse, he also blamed people living in the country, immigrants in particular, for America’s woes. According to a recent poll, Americans now believe fellow countrymen represent the country’s greatest threat.

In identifying “the virus” as America’s primary scourge, Biden managed to find an external threat that posed no internal divisions. While politics still managed to spur arguments over masks and other public health restrictions last year, the president is seeking to leverage broad interest in a vaccine. He has turned the effort to vaccinate the country — perhaps up to 1.5 million people per day — into a kind of moon shot, a shared national goal in which everyone plays a small part.

Indeed, a further equalizer today is that many Americans are feeling isolated and excluded. The Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health could also explore what loneliness does to our mental and physical well-being and begin to treat our lack of cohesion as much as a public health crisis as a crisis of national solidarity.

***

Relatively uncontroversial, each of these recommendations engages the government to help people, as Biden urged in his inaugural address, to “open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” to “show a little tolerance and humility,” and to “stand in the other person’s shoes.” They could also be scaled down to the local and state level if mayors and governors decided to implement them as well.

But there is something broader Biden can do: He should establish national unity as one of his criteria for governance, much as he has already done with environmental sustainability.

The federal government conventionally asks: What is the environmental impact of our actions? To what extent are our actions sustainable? How can we modify existing actions to make them more sustainable? Biden should ask three analogous questions related to the cohesion that binds American citizens together: Does our action reinforce or break down social boundaries between Americans? How can our action be adjusted to strengthen the sense of connection between people? After our action, will the people trust this institution more and be inclined to participate in its efforts?

Unity is foundational to everyday life, so the ideal venues for its cultivation are the places we frequent like schools and workplaces, parks and grocery stores, houses of worship and health care providers. The government administers many of these venues or influences their operation.

Ultimately, the goal of Americans and their leaders should be to expand the sense of who “we” are. This goes far beyond who holds American citizenship; it is a question of the people with whom we perceive to share a common experience, such that we may identify them as an extension of ourselves, that we may empathize with their plight, and that we may expect them to listen to our own.

Over the decades, the share of our society with whom we feel this connection has dwindled. While anxiety about demographic change is real, we have also become more isolated with the closure of houses of worship, the shuttering of neighborhood bars, the bankruptcy of local newspapers and the expansion of the workday. The internet has also atomized our associational life into ever more nuanced subcultures, narrowing the groups of people with whom we co-identify and converse. Our separation from one another has been deepened as we live through a pandemic.

But unlike the other majority-minority societies I have studied, the United States is a vast country with unfathomable ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. This is an enormous strength, because it means our politics are not about a single warring race or religion versus another. And while racial disparities and separation exists, the U.S. features ever more intermarriage and immigration has been a consistent part of our national history since its inception. We also share a baseline American experience: We are each cognizant of our family’s journey to this country, of the dreams we all chase, of the struggles we have all confronted at one point or another. Unlike the other societies I have studied, we have a richer pool of resources with which to cultivate our unity.

It won’t be easy. The cultivation of national unity is a multi-decade endeavor that cannot be just a Biden administration initiative. It must be ingrained into the lifetime work of the government at all levels — something unseen in any of the countries I’ve studied.

Right now though, Biden has the moral foundation, the institutions and the biography to channel the United States toward a future of coexistence. But it will take more than passionate rhetoric; it will require devoted action to secure and create institutions of equal status and belonging. And it will require the discipline to resist temptations to engage in the culture wars of the last 20 years that have leveraged our divisions for short-term electoral gain. This unification, this reimagining of our country, is the greatest social challenge of our times.


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Queen sits alone at funeral for Prince Philip to set example

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Other royals who are in family bubbles are sitting together.

The service began with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entering the chapel ahead of the coffin, followed by Philip’s children and three of his eight grandchildren, as a four-member choir sang “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Inside the Gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service was to be simple and somber. There will be no sermon, at Philip’s request, and no family eulogies or readings, in keeping with royal tradition. But Dean of Windsor David Conner will say the country has been enriched by Philip’s “unwavering loyalty to our queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.”

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Philip spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific during World War II. Several elements of his funeral have a maritime theme, including the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which is associated with seafarers and asks God: “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea.”

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.


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FBI says it interviewed FedEx mass shooter last year

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The shooter was identified as Brandon Scott Hole, 19, of Indianapolis, Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt told a news conference. Investigators searched a home in Indianapolis associated with Hole and seized evidence, including desktop computers and other electronic media, McCartt said.

Hole began firing randomly at people in the parking lot of the FedEx facility late Thursday, killing four, before entering the building, fatally shooting four more people and then turning the gun on himself, McCartt said. He said he did not know if Hole owned the gun legally.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” he said. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

McCartt said the slayings took place in a matter of minutes, and that there were at least 100 people in the facility at the time. Many were changing shifts or were on their dinner break, he said. Several people were wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital.

“You deserved so much better than this,” a man who identified himself as the grandson of Johal tweeted Friday evening. Johal had planned to work a double shift Thursday so she could take Friday off, according to the grandson, who would not give his full name but identifies himself as “Komal” on his Twitter page. Johal later decided to grab her check and go home, and still had the check in her hand when police found her, Komal said.

“(What) a harsh and cruel world we live in,” he added.

Smith, the youngest of the victims, was last in contact with her family shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, family members said in social media posts late Friday. Dominique Troutman, Smith’s sister, waited hours at the Holiday Inn for an update on her sister. “Words can’t even explain how I feel. … I’m so hurt,” Troutman said in a Facebook post Friday night.

Weisert had been working as a bag handler at FedEx for four years, his wife, Carol, told WISH-TV. The couple was married nearly 50 years.

President Joe Biden said he had been briefed on the shooting and called gun violence “an epidemic” in the U.S.

“Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation,” he said in a statement. Later, he tweeted, “We can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence and save lives.”

A FedEx employee said he was working inside the building Thursday night when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop.” He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole’s bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology. A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that officers seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole’s home after responding to the mother’s call. Keenan said the gun was never returned.

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McCartt said Hole was a former employee of FedEx and last worked for the company in 2020. The deputy police chief said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility. He said police have not yet uncovered a motive for the shooting.

Police Chief Randal Taylor noted that a “significant” number of employees at the FedEx facility are members of the Sikh community, and the Sikh Coalition later issued a statement saying it was “sad to confirm” that at least four of those killed were community members.

The coalition, which identifies itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the U.S., said in the statement that it expected authorities to “conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor.”

Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, a national advocacy group for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said in a statement that the shootings marked “yet another senseless massacre that has become a daily occurrence in this country.”

Nikore remarked that gun violence in the U.S. “is reflective of all of the spineless politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby.”

FedEx Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith called the shooting a “senseless act of violence.”

“This is a devastating day, and words are hard to describe the emotions we all feel,” he wrote in an email to employees.

The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in the city in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March. In other states last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses in the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the community must guard against resignation and “the assumption that this is simply how it must be and we might as well get used to it.”


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Gaetz ex-girlfriend feared alleged sex-trafficking victim taped call for feds

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Gaetz’s former girlfriend has played a bit role in the unfolding public drama — she is the woman who sent the lawmaker a nude video of her performing a hula hoop dance that he showed to other members of Congress.

But two of her friends, who declined to be identified publicly because of the sensational nature of the case, say she now suspects she was being set up when the alleged victim and another woman involved in the case called her to discuss the lawmaker in what she fears might have been a recorded conference call. The call took place sometime after Greenberg was indicted for the sex crime in August.

The friends did not provide details about exactly what was discussed, but one recounted that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend said she was opposed to talking to authorities and is now worried that prosecutors might try to charge her with obstructing justice in order to get to Gaetz.

Tim Jansen, an attorney for Gaetz’s former girlfriend, declined to comment about his client. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, also declined to talk. Gaetz has strongly denied allegations he engaged in any sex crimes.

The three women on the call were all present on a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas that authorities think may shed light on the allegations against Gaetz. Also present on that trip: Gaetz and two other Florida Republican political players, former Orlando-area aviation authority member and Gov. Ron DeSantis fundraiser Jason Pirozzolo and former state Rep. Halsey Beshears.

POLITICO is withholding the names of the women who went to the Bahamas, including his ex-girlfriend, because of the sensitive nature of the case and the allegations that while there, some of the women engaged in prostitution.

As the investigation intensified this winter, Beshears abruptly resigned in January as Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary — a post that made him the state’s top business regulator — noting he had contracted Covid-19. About that time, federal authorities seized the iPhones of Gaetz and his former girlfriend.

Federal authorities are examining the Bahamas trip to see if it violated the Mann Act, which forbids transporting people across state lines to engage in prostitution. One woman on the trip told POLITICO that no one engaged in prostitution.

The alleged victim in the sex-trafficking case had turned 18 almost nine months before the Bahamas trip. But Gaetz has acknowledged he’s the subject of a federal investigation into whether he had improper involvement with her as a 17-year-old.

A source familiar with the investigation wouldn’t say whether the alleged victim was cooperating with authorities. But when asked if she has been talking for months with the federal government, the source said “100 percent.”

While the alleged sex-trafficking victim is key to the case against Greenberg and the allegations against Gaetz, the lawmaker’s ex-girlfriend could play a pivotal role in the investigation of the trip, as well as other related controversies.

Gaetz was criticized for allegedly showing the hula hoop video to congressional colleagues, and he was also accused of engaging in revenge porn against his former girlfriend. But two of her friends say the woman, in her early 20s, did not object to him showing it to friends — provided he didn’t send it to others or post it on social media — because she was proud of her appearance and performance.

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“This is the best I will ever look in my life,” a friend who saw the video recalled her saying. “That’s how she is. It’s not revenge porn.”

The former girlfriend first met Gaetz while she attended college in the Orlando area in 2017. Greenberg, who established contact with her on the SeekingArrangement website — a dating website that connects women with so-called sugar daddies — made the connection. Soon after, she began dating Gaetz, although the relationship was not exclusive, friends said.

Gaetz later got her a job interning in the office of another Republican member of Congress, but that member let her go when it was discovered she was a Democrat, according to Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who promptly hired her when Gaetz told him of the matter.

Soto, who is not involved in the investigation, would not name the Republican lawmaker or comment about the case. But he said the woman was a hard worker in his office and that he had no complaints about her, other than some inquiries about whether Gaetz’s relationship with the intern was inappropriate.

“We wanted to protect her privacy from the media. She was just an intern,” Soto said. “I’ll also say she was fired by a Republican for being a Democrat. I found it offensive that she was fired for her political beliefs.”

Gaetz and the ex-girlfriend continued to date until well after the Bahamas trip in 2018. Friends said the two remained on good terms, although she was a source of friction between the lawmaker and Beshears. Beshears had apparently been taking her out on dates in Tallahassee, including a trip to the Florida State University president’s skybox at Doak Campbell Stadium, mutual friends said.

At the time, Beshears had recently been left by another girlfriend after she learned about the Bahamas trip. Beshears, then a state legislator, had flown several of the women on his private plane, which was briefly detained by U.S. Customs upon its return to Florida for questioning about the ages of several of the young women on the trip.

“Here was Halsey with three young women who could have been his daughters, and a Customs agent was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?‘” said a source who was familiar with the incident.

Speaking to the partying group and the drama surrounding them, a different mutual friend said: “Tallahassee is like high school. But no one ever graduates.”


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