Opinion | The Struggle to Stay Human Amid the Fight

I watched Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “Paths of Glory” last weekend, prompted by all the World War I centenary tributes. Set in the trenches near the end of the war, it’s a movie about a man who tries to maintain his integrity and his faith in humanity amid the stupidity, futility, cruelty and cynicism of war. It’s weirdly relevant today.

Kirk Douglas plays a French colonel named Dax who lives in the trenches and leads his men in battle. Far away in the palaces, pampered French generals order his exhausted men to take a nearly impregnable German position. One general hopes the assault will help him score political points. Another is promised a promotion. Something like 4,000 men are expected to die or be wounded for these objectives.

When the assault catastrophically fails, the generals look for scapegoats and decide to execute three enlisted men, more or less chosen at random, for alleged cowardice.

Colonel Dax is finally overcome with disgust and explodes at one of the generals: “You’re a degenerate, sadistic old man. You can go to hell!”

The general — cynical, crafty, bureaucratic, incapable of emotion — replies: “You’ve spoiled the keenness of your mind by wallowing in sentimentality. … You are an idealist, and I pity you as I would the village idiot. We are fighting a war, Dax, a war that we’ve got to win.”

It’s the eternal argument. When you are fighting a repulsive foe, the ends justify any means and serve as rationale for any selfishness.

Dax’s struggle is not to change the war or to save lives. That’s impossible. The war has won. The struggle is simply to remain a human being, to maintain some contact with goodness in circumstances that are inhumane.

Disillusionment was the classic challenge for the generation that fought and watched that war. Before 1914, there was an assumed faith in progress, a general trust in the institutions and certainties of Western civilization. People, especially in the educated classes, approached life with a gentlemanly, sporting spirit.

As Paul Fussell pointed out in “The Great War and Modern Memory,” the upper classes used genteel words in place of plain ones: slumber for sleep, the heavens for the sky, conquer for win, legion for army.

The war blew away that gentility, those ideals and that faith in progress. Ernest Hemingway captured the rising irony and cynicism in “A Farewell to Arms.” His hero is embarrassed “by the words sacred, glorious and sacrifice and the expression, in vain.” He had seen nothing sacred in the war, nothing glorious, just meaningless slaughter.

European culture suffered a massive disillusion during the conflict — no God, no beauty, no coherence, no meaning, just the cruel ironic joke of life. Cynicism breeds a kind of nihilism, a disbelief in all values, an assumption that others’ motives are bad. It makes it hard to see the good that remains.

Fussell wrote that the war spread an adversarial mentality. The men in the trenches were obsessed with the enemy — those anonymous creatures across no man’s land who rained down death. “Prolonged trench warfare, whether enacted or remembered, fosters paranoid melodrama,” he wrote.

The “versus habit” construes reality as us versus them — a mentality that spread through British society. It was the officers versus the men, and, when they got home, the students at university versus the dons. “Simple antithesis everywhere” is how Fussell captured the mentality. Along with it was what T.S. Eliot called a “dissociation of sensibility,” in which thoughts of tenderness and care are cut off from reason and calculation.

George Orwell wrote that he recognized the Great War mentality lingering even in the 1930s in his own left-wing circles — the same desire to sniff out those who departed from party orthodoxy, the same retelling of mostly false atrocity stories, the same war hysteria. As Christopher Isherwood put it, all the young people who were ashamed of never having fought in the war brought warlike simplicities to political life.

Some of the disillusioned drop out of public life, since it’s all meaningless. But others want to burn it all down because it’s all rotten. Moderation is taken for cowardice. Aggression is regarded as courage. No conciliatory word is permitted when a fighting word will do.

Today we face no horrors equal to the Great War, but there is the same loss of faith in progress, the reality of endless political trench warfare, the paranoid melodrama, the specter that we are all being dehumanized amid the fight.

At the end of the movie Dax returns to his barracks. His men have captured a pretty, innocent young German woman. She’s crying and terrified. They put her on stage, leer at her body and practically rape her with their eyes and catcalls.

Then they make her sing. She sings a sweet little folk song called “The Faithful Hussar.” The men begin to quiet, then hum along, and then — thinking of home, of sweetness and humanity itself — they fall to weeping over what they’ve lost.

A little visitation of tenderness amid the fight.

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David Brooks has been a columnist with The Times since 2003. He is the author of “The Road to Character” and the forthcoming book, “The Second Mountain.”

 

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Opinion | Truth and Virtue in the Age of Trump

Remember when freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose? These days it’s just another word for giving lots of money to Donald Trump.

What with the midterm elections — and the baseless Republican cries of voting fraud — I don’t know how many people heard about Trump’s decision to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Miriam Adelson, wife of casino owner and Trump megadonor Sheldon Adelson. The medal is normally an acknowledgment of extraordinary achievement or public service; on rare occasions this includes philanthropy. But does anyone think the Adelsons’ charitable activities were responsible for this honor?

Now, this may seem like a trivial story. But it’s a reminder that the Trumpian attitude toward truth — which is that it’s defined by what benefits Trump and his friends, not by verifiable facts — also applies to virtue. There is no heroism, there are no good works, except those that serve Trump.

About truth: Trump, of course, lies a lot — in the run-up to the midterms he was lying in public more than 100 times each week. But his assault on truth goes deeper than the frequency of his lies, because Trump and his allies don’t accept the very notion of objective facts. “Fake news” doesn’t mean actual false reporting; it means any report that hurts Trump, no matter how solidly verified. And conversely, any assertion that helps Trump, whether it’s about job creation or votes, is true precisely because it helps him.

The attempt by Trump and his party to shut down the legally mandated Florida recount with claims, based on no evidence, of large-scale voting fraud fits right into this partisan epistemology. Do Republicans really believe that there were vast numbers of fraudulent or forged ballots? Even asking that question is a category error. They don’t “really believe” anything, except that they should get what they want. Any vote count that might favor a Democrat is bad for them; therefore it’s fraudulent, no evidence needed.

The same worldview explains Republicans’ addiction to conspiracy theories. After all, if people keep insisting on the truth of something that hurts their party, it can’t be out of respect for the facts — because in their world, there are no neutral facts.

So the people making inconvenient assertions must be in the pay of sinister forces. In Arizona, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has probably won a Senate seat on the strength of late-counted ballots. Did you know that the state G.O.P. has filed a freedom of information request for information on interactions between election officials and, you guessed it, George Soros?

It’s worth pointing out, by the way, that this rejection of objective facts and insistence that anyone insisting on inconvenient truths must be part of a left-wing conspiracy dominated the Republican psyche long before Trump. Most notably, the claim that the overwhelming evidence for global warming is a giant hoax, the product of a vast plot involving thousands of scientists around the world, has been G.O.P. orthodoxy for years.

True, the party’s presidential candidates used to be mealy mouthed about rejecting facts and endorsing conspiracy theories, rather than being full-throated crazy. But Trump is only going where many of his party’s senior figures have been for a long time.

Anyway, my point is that the rejection of any standard besides whether it helps or hurts Trump extends beyond true or false to basic values. In Trumpworld, which is now indistinguishable from G.O.P.world, good and bad are defined solely by whether the interests of The Leader are served. Thus, Trump attacks and insults our closest allies while praising brutal dictators who flatter him (and declares neo-Nazis “very fine people”).

And the same goes for heroism and cowardice. A genuine hero like John McCain, who was critical of Trump, gets dismissed as a failure: “He’s not a war hero. … I like people who weren’t captured.” Meanwhile, Miriam Adelson, whose service to the nation basically consists of giving Trump campaign contributions, gets the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Oh, and this, too, predates Trump. Remember how Republicans denigrated John Kerry’s war record?

As with so much about the current political scene, it’s essential to realize and acknowledge that this is not a symmetric, both-sides-do-it situation. If you say something along the lines of “truth and virtue are now defined by partisanship,” you’re actually enabling the bad guys, because only one party thinks that way.

Democrats, being human, sometimes have biased views and engage in motivated reasoning. But they haven’t abandoned the whole notion of objective facts and nonpolitical goodness; Republicans have.

What all of this means is that what’s going on in America right now isn’t politics as usual. It’s much more existential than that. You have to be truly delusional to see the Republicans’ response to their party’s midterm setback as anything but an attempted power grab by a would-be authoritarian movement, which rejects any opposition or even criticism as illegitimate. Our democracy is still very much in danger.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

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Commentary: Global leaders must adapt to Trump's post-midterm world

For Donald Trump’s first foreign trip since Americans voted in the midterm elections, the bleak weather in Paris appears to have matched the diplomatic mood. The U.S. president seemed subdued during his visit to mark the centenary of the truce that ended World War One, and insulted many Europeans when rain and traffic were cited as the reason for cancelling one of his visits to an American war cemetery.

Trump’s mood may have reflected his irritation at his Republican Party’s loss of control of the House of Representatives during the Nov. 6 congressional vote. However, Republican gains in the Senate, along with the lack of an obvious Democratic frontrunner to challenge him – at least for now – underscores the fact that the rest of the world has to accept that he might be re-elected in 2020. For leaders in Europe and beyond, that means planning for an ongoing world without wholehearted U.S. support, as well as a series of perhaps evermore tetchy meetings with a president where all sides find it ever harder to conceal any mutual loathing.

The divide in Paris between Trump and French host President Emanuel Macron and German counterpart Angela Merkel was striking in the extreme. Trump sat largely stony-faced through Macron’s speech that lambasted “nationalism” in a remarkably naked assault on the U.S. president and his worldview.

The happiest meeting of the summit, at least judged by smiles and handshakes, was that between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, another reminder of just how much more comfortable the U.S. leader often appears with dictators and strongmen rather than more democratic, centrist figures.

Like his effusive summit with Putin in Helsinki in July, the encounter suggested that Trump does not intend to let the official investigation into Russia’s election meddling during the 2016 presidential election dictate how he will handle meetings with the Russian president.

The optics in France may not particularly worry Trump. As his tweets from the Armistice Day ceremony demonstrate, he remains at least as focused on domestic U.S. politics as events elsewhere. Starting and sustaining spats with Western liberal politicians, he gives every appearance of thinking, does him no harm with his Republican political base. Those leaders who attack him most, he knows – particularly France’s Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – are also playing to their own political bases when they do so.

That will become more of a problem for Trump over time – despite his protectionist instincts and those of many of his supporters, his administration will need to work with other major nations to achieve international effects. Without that, the United States will inevitably see its influence continue to wane in most areas of the world, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and beyond.

But the truce centenary commemoration did more than show how Trump and Putin are the two figures most at odds with the European mainstream. A consummate showman himself, Macron delivered a weekend designed to showcase himself as the proponent of a different, much more internationalist worldview to his U.S. counterpart. The truth, though, is that even within the continent, that narrative is increasingly contested. When world leaders come back together for the G20 in Argentina later this month, it will be progressive Western leaders like Macron, Merkel and Trudeau who risk appearing most isolated and out of touch.

The G20 will bring together leaders from nations that include some that are increasingly adopting a Trump-like brand of aggressive nationalism and where attacks on independent media and minorities appear to be gaining ground. New Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro now takes his place on that list, alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, and, of course, Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. It’s a different question, however, as to whether that group can truly agree amongst themselves. If anything, the summit may simply serve to highlight their own differences.

China and the United States are locked in a confrontation over trade, while opposition from Congress makes it difficult for Trump to move too close to Moscow. That leaves plenty of opportunity for new diplomatic fireworks – although the breadth of views at the G20 makes it unlikely that there will be a repeat of this year’s G7 dynamic, which saw Trump isolated in the face of European and Canadian opposition. In Argentina, the U.S. president should at least be able to find himself the occasional ally.

The overarching lesson of the World War One gathering, however, is about the perception of declining American relevance. In truth, events in Paris would have been largely unaltered had Trump chosen not to show up at all.

There are disturbing parallels to a century ago, when U.S. non-involvement in the League of Nations helped undermine a fledgling international system in the aftermath of that catastrophic war. It took a mere two decades for the world to unravel into the next conflagration. In a perhaps faster moving new century, that’s an alarming thought.

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Opinion | It’s Time to Make Video Games Safe for Children

Imagine that your daughter is playing Fortnite, and a troll in another country joins the game and begins sexually harassing her. Imagine that your son is watching his favorite video gamer live-stream an eSports game, and the streamer begins to shout obscenities.

Disruptive behavior like this has become routine in video games. The system that guides the appropriateness of content on these platforms is obsolete, and children who play video games are exposed to inappropriate and abusive behavior. To fix this, and make video games safe for children, we need a new content rating system for the eSports era.

With the rise of eSports, video games are no longer just a hobby, as they were in my elementary school days when I used to play Super Mario on my Super Nintendo. In eSports, professional gamers compete in video game leagues and tournaments like the Overwatch League and the International DOTA2 Championships, where the prize money can reach into the millions of dollars.

The eSports industry wants legitimacy in the world of sports, and it’s succeeding. Video games are evolving to a place where they are treated like athletic sports, and the gamers treated like athletes. Pro gamers sign yearly contracts with teams and practice for hours and hours to enhance their skills and build team strategies. Those who make it to the top enjoy worldwide fame, like South Korean pro gamer Lee Sang-hyeok, known as Faker, who has been called “eSports’ Michael Jordan.”

At the Asian Games 2018 in Indonesia, six video games were played as a demonstration sport. At the next Asian Games, in four years, gamers will be awarded medals. Even officials of the 2024 Paris Olympics are considering video gaming as a demonstration sport.

The final games at the League of Legends World Championship in 2018, which ended last weekend, attracted more than 200 million viewers. This year, thanks to streaming sites like Twitch and YouTube, game live-streaming will have an audience of 380 million viewers worldwide.

eSports platforms and video games are plagued by trolls. As eSports are rising to the same worldwide standing as athletics, and gamers are treated as athletes, the level of sportsmanship within video games is lagging far behind.

In the League of Legends, I can form a virtual team with players around the world in less than five minutes and play against millions of others. As soon as the match starts, someone types a message in the chatbox. “Feel like trolling,” the anonymous person says, and everyone else on the team knows what’s coming next. Soon, the troll who was supposed to be your teammate kills himself in the game and types obscenities — misspelled to avoid text filters — which flash across the screen. There’s nothing that my teammates or I can do about the troll. I tell the anonymous troll that I’ll report him. “LOL!” he says. I start another game, only to be trolled again.

The same toxicity plagues streaming sites like Twitch and YouTube, where people watch other gamers play. One pro gamer was playing a live public match on a Korean national TV channel, where thousands of children were watching. Forty seconds into the stream, his anonymous opponent typed a string of obscenities into the chatbox for all to see. In another stream, the N-word was used about 60 times. In another instance, a streamer used explicit and homophobic language when talking to a gay pro gamer.

Four years ago, in what became known as Gamergate, anonymous online miscreants harassed women in the video game industry, drawing worldwide outrage well before the #MeToo movement began. Today, 48 percent of gamers are women, and some — like Kim Se-yeon, known as Geguri, the first female gamer in the Overwatch League — make it to the pro level. But trolls pester female gamers with obscene, sexist and misogynistic language, without any consequences. In the world of gaming, there are no rules.

The most troubling aspect of this is that most games are intended for children and young adults. Approximately 64 million children in the United States play video games. We don’t allow our children to watch things on television that contain this kind of language or behavior, and we certainly don’t want them to think that the language and behavior of the trolls is acceptable.

My family moved to the United States two years ago from South Korea. My 3-year-old daughter loves learning English through YouTube videos and by playing puzzle video games. I fear that she’ll be exposed to this toxicity soon, unless we eliminate trolls, put a new ratings system into place and demand better of the video-gaming industry. There are very real dangers to be feared: In June, a 7-year-old girl’s avatar was sexually assaulted in a Roblox game.

The regulations and ratings systems now in place are not doing enough to stop the trolls. If an Elmo character shouts the F-word or kills his teammates in a game, it doesn’t affect the game’s rating, as provided by the industry’s self-regulating organization, the Entertainment Software Rating Board. The E.S.R.B. reviews how violent and sexual game content is, but not how toxic the gamers are becoming in the games. The Federal Trade Commission says on its website that “you may be able to block the player, or notify a game’s publisher or online service.” While I’ve blocked and reported hundreds of trolls to the video game companies, I’ve never heard back.

Even though this problem is widespread and many of the trolls live outside the United States, the F.T.C. and the rating board can take steps to make video game communities less toxic.

First, they need to clearly define what is and is not acceptable in video games and streaming sites. Video games should be rated based on the amount of trolling that happens, and streaming sites should be rated just as video games are. Streaming channels should be dynamically filtered based on the user. Children under a certain age should not be able to see videos that use explicit language or sexual visuals.

Second, the F.T.C. should run extensive tests on video games and streaming sites to understand the toxicity and trolling of gaming communities. To do so, it can work with gamers across the country to collect data, as well as work with game companies and streaming sites.

Third, the F.T.C. should require game companies and streaming sites to share public reports on how they are managing and preventing toxicity across their platforms. Whenever trolling occurs — especially in children’s games — the users and their parents should be notified, and the games or platforms should be required to address the trolling and share the steps that were taken to stop or prevent it.

The F.T.C. can apply these rules to companies outside of the United States that want to sell their products here, where 178 million players generate $30.4 billion in revenue every year.

Parents also need to shoulder some of the responsibility. In the United States, 91 percent of children ages 2 to 17 play video games. We need to protect our children by deleting the toxic games from their personal computers, consoles and phones. We need to share their stories online to expose the problem. It’s time to make the online world safe for them.

Won Sang Choi is an eSports fan who recently received an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

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Private equity firm Vista to buy software company Apptio for $1.9 billion: WSJ

(Reuters) – Private equity firm Vista Equity Partners is close to a deal to buy software company Apptio Inc (APTI.O) for $1.9 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

Shareholders of Apptio would receive $38 per share in the deal that could be announced as soon as Monday, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Vista and Apptio did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment late on Sunday.

Shares of Bellevue, Washington-based Apptio closed at $24.85 on Friday, and the reported offer price would represent a premium of about 53 percent.

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Opinion | Not Down for the Count on China?

Despite Mr. Trump's beating in last week’s midterm elections, President Xi Xinping may not want to breathe a sigh of relief just yet, as the sanctions against China are seen by many as having broad support, perhaps even among the soon-to-be bluer U.S. House of Representatives.

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Opinion | Remembering the Forgotten War

SANTA FE, N.M. — Although more than 320,000 Americans served in the Korean War — and more than 33,000 were killed in action — it is still our Forgotten War, a kind of also-ran in our historical consciousness.

Perhaps it’s because the war ended in stalemate. The closing battle lines were more or less where they started, along the 38th Parallel. “We died for a tie,” Korean War vets sometimes say, and there’s something deeply unsatisfying about that narrative. We Americans understand military victory, and we’ve come to understand loss, but we can’t quite get our heads around a draw.

The men who bled and died in Korea are now taking their bows. They have certainly not forgotten Korea, and they are rightly proud of their accomplishments there. They stopped a naked act of Communist aggression and opposed three malevolent dictators — Stalin, Mao and Kim — while helping South Korea take wing as a democracy. Many Korean War veterans seem mystified that aside from endless reruns of “MASH,” their deeds have been given such short shrift in our national culture.

A few months ago, I had the good fortune to visit South Korea with a large group of American veterans. The trip was part of a generous program, led by the South Korean government, to formally thank these now old men who helped save this tiny country from destruction and set it on the road to what it is now — a modern, technologically advanced society and a staunch American ally, with the world’s 11th-largest economy.

The South Koreans lavished them with free flights, five-star hotels, air-conditioned coaches, bullet train excursions. At the DMZ, across snarls of concertina wire, we gazed upon the police state that South Korea might have become. We were dazzled by the coruscating metropolis of Seoul, which, the last time these men saw it, lay smoldering in ruins. The veterans seemed tremendously moved to learn firsthand: They aren’t forgotten after all.

By and large, though, these stoic, thick-skinned men have come to accept that their achievements will probably always play second fiddle to those of World War II, the marquee event their uncles and older brothers and cousins — the “Greatest Generation” — fought.

Recently I’ve gotten to know one of these Korean War veterans. His name is Franklin Chapman, known as Jack; he’s a retired college security chief and part Cherokee Indian who lives here in Santa Fe. In December 1950, on a subzero night in the mountain wilds near North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir, Mr. Chapman’s convoy, part of the Seventh Infantry Division, came under withering attack by the Chinese. Nearby, the American operator of a 75-millimeter recoilless rifle, mounted on the back of a truck, lost his nerve and abandoned his post in a panic.

A captain stomped among the men, demanding a volunteer to take over the gun. Private Chapman, a 17-year-old string bean from Oklahoma, raised his hand. To this day, he doesn’t know why. “Maybe I was brave,” he told me. “Maybe I was stupid.”

Climbing aboard the truck, Private Chapman could see hundreds of Chinese pressing in, with bugles blaring and bullets sputtering across the snow. He swiveled the big gun and fired.

Manning a weapon as lethal as this, Private Chapman knew it was only a matter of time before the Chinese found him. They shot him in the left arm, then the right leg, then the right arm. A medic treated his wounds, and Private Chapman climbed back on the truck.

This time he was hit in the hip, then took numerous pieces of shrapnel. He had just finished reloading when a bullet struck his forehead, embedding itself in his skull. It knocked him off the truck, rendering him unconscious. The Chinese overran his unit and cut it to pieces. The engagement, known as the Battle of Hellfire Valley, had ended.

Hours later, Private Chapman awoke to find himself with 10 other captives, hunched on the dirt floor of a farmhouse. Chinese guards marched them on mountain trails for 19 days until they reached a place called Kanggye, near the Manchurian border. Private Chapman languished there for nearly three years.

When he returned from the war, no parades or celebrations greeted him. His heroics weren’t written up in newspapers or magazines. He quietly went about his life. He joined the Air Force and served for nearly 16 years. When he kept having debilitating headaches, a surgeon removed the bullet lodged in his skull. He keeps it as a relic.

Mr. Chapman, who is 85 and mostly homebound, suffers from neuropathy in his feet from frostbite, a common malady among Korean War veterans. His body is a miscellany of aches from his war wounds and his years in the prison camps. He has also experienced PTSD, although through most of his life the condition wasn’t dignified with a name. It seems somehow apt, for a Korean veteran, that he now suffers from severe memory loss. Sometimes he can’t recognize his own daughter. But his recollections of his war experiences are stark and vivid.

Men like Jack Chapman are gradually exiting our stage. They’re unassuming, uncomplaining men who answered the call and fought for a principle, long ago and far from home, in a war that was not “officially” a war — a war that curiously became a dormant account in our public memory bank. Stalwart and humble old soldiers like Jack Chapman are the reason, on this Veterans Day, we should make the Korean War the Remembered War.

Hampton Sides is the author, most recently, of “On Desperate Ground: The Marines at the Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle.”

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Opinion | Let the People Vote

The United States finally has the pro-democracy movement that it needs.

Last week, ballot initiatives to improve the functioning of democracy fared very well. In Florida — a state divided nearly equally between right and left — more than 64 percent of voters approved restoring the franchise to 1.4 million people with felony convictions. In Colorado, Michigan and Missouri, measures to reduce gerrymandering passed. In Maryland, Michigan and Nevada, measures to simplify voter registration passed. “In red states as well as blue states,” Chiraag Bains of the think tank Demos says, “voters overwhelmingly sent the message: We’re taking our democracy back.”

Of course, there is still an enormous amount of work to do. Voting remains more difficult here than in almost any other affluent country. On Election Day, I had to wait in line for 45 minutes, even though I have a job that gives me the luxury of voting in the middle of the day.

And this country also suffers, unfortunately, from an anti-democracy movement: Leaders of the Republican Party — out of a fear of the popular will — keep trying to make voting harder. They have closed polling places, reduced voting hours and introduced bureaucratic hurdles.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

Amid last week’s mostly good news, Arkansas and North Carolina passed new voter-identification measures that are clearly intended to hold down African-American turnout. Most outrageously, top Republicans, including President Trump and Senator Marco Rubio, are arguing that Florida should not carefully count all of the votes from this year’s election.

Over all, though, the election was an excellent one for American democracy. The battle has now been fully joined: Progressive activists have come to understand the importance of promoting and protecting democracy. Most citizens — across the political left, center and right — agree.

Before the midterms, the leaders of Indivisible, the big progressive grass-roots group, conducted a national survey of its members — people who had marched, knocked on doors or otherwise gotten politically involved over the past two years. The survey included a list of issues, and asked which should be the Democrats’ top priorities after the midterms. It included health care, gun safety, the environment, civil rights, reproductive rights, taxes, the courts, education and criminal justice reform. And there was a landslide winner. But it wasn’t any of those issues, important as they are.

The winning issue was democracy.

Some 69 percent of respondents named it in their top three priorities. Health care finished a distant second, at 48 percent. Then came the environment (43 percent), judicial nominations (32 percent) and civil rights (29 percent).

“It comes from this general concern about democratic institutions not being reflective of the will of the people,” Ezra Levin, a co-founder of Indivisible, told me. Leah Greenberg, also a co-founder, says, “We have to unrig the rules.” Best of all, the success of the recent ballot initiatives shows that these attitudes exist among many centrists and conservatives, too.

True, some pro-democracy changes are not realistic anytime soon. Trump and this Senate won’t enact a new federal Voting Rights Act, nor will they grant the full rights of citizenship to the residents of Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. But many other changes are feasible.

At the state level, a wave of new governors and legislators will soon take office, and they can accomplish a lot. States that don’t have automatic voter registration should adopt it. (Hey, Governor Andrew Cuomo: Isn’t New York supposed to be a progressive leader?) States that have not yet created nonpartisan offices to draw congressional districts should follow the examples of Colorado, Michigan and Missouri.

If governors and legislators won’t act, citizen activists should, using ballot initiatives. Most of these measures will pass, in both blue states and red. Arizona, Florida and Ohio, among others, could hold initiatives to establish automatic registration, Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos has noted. Still other states could follow Florida’s lead and re-enfranchise people with felony convictions.

This is also a moment to think ambitiously about a pro-democracy agenda. Any Democrat considering a 2020 run for president should be working on a democracy plan, much as any Democrat running in 2008 had a health care plan.

My own wish list includes universal voting by mail, which some parts of the West already use — and which lifts turnout much more than automatic voter registration alone. I would also like to see more places lower the voting age to 16 for local elections, as a few Maryland cities have. If you’re old enough to operate a lethal two-ton vehicle, you’re old enough to have a say in your community’s future.

More democratic participation won’t solve all of the country’s problems. But it will solve some of them. The United States has low voter turnout for a reason: Our system — with workday elections, long voting lines and cumbersome registration rules — is designed to discourage mass participation. That same system once barred women, African-Americans and 18-year-olds, among others, from voting.

The system has changed before, and it can change again. It is already starting to.

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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Opinion | The Closing of Rural Hospitals

To the Editor:

“A Hospital Die-Off Hits Rural America Hard” (The Upshot, Oct. 30) encapsulated the continuing crisis. But one entity has been given unfettered power to keep these hospitals on the brink of closing. The private insurance market forces hospitals to jump through hoops to receive even 30 percent of the cost for services provided, and these hospitals are in no position to object.

Further, efforts to make up for such losses by innovating and creating new revenue streams have been met with strong pushback, including refusal to contract with facilities. These closings benefit those who seek to confine health care delivery to population centers.

Rural hospitals pay dividends enjoyed well beyond their communities. There is little doubt that if private insurance providers are not held accountable for their actions, we will witness the continued extinction of America’s rural communities.

Michael P. Murtha
Tallahassee, Fla.
The writer is president of the National Alliance of Rural Hospitals.

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