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    Chaos and Concessions as Kevin McCarthy Becomes Speaker

    More from our inbox:Should Babies Sit in First Class on the Plane?A Chatbot as a Writing ToolSupport Family Farms Haiyun Jiang/The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “McCarthy Wins Speakership on 15th Vote After Concessions to Hard Right” (nytimes.com, Jan. 7):So Kevin McCarthy is finally speaker of the House. It took 15 votes to get him there.But considering the concessions he had to make, the unruly nature of right-wing Republicans and the razor-thin margin, the next two years are likely to be a nightmare for Mr. McCarthy.Sometimes be careful what you wish for.Allan GoldfarbNew YorkTo the Editor:It’s easy to blame Republicans for the debacle of the House leadership vote and all its predictable miserable consequences. But where were the 212 Democrats in all this?Sure, I can see the rationale behind a show of support and unity for Hakeem Jeffries at the outset. He’s much deserving and would have done a fine job. But that’s a battle Democrats were never going to win.Deep into the voting rounds when it became apparent that there would be no win for Kevin McCarthy without further empowering the right-wing extremists, wouldn’t it have been smarter for Democrats to have gotten together to nominate some (any!) moderate Republican and hope to deny both Mr. McCarthy and the extremists their day?Democrats are just as bad as Republicans in putting party loyalty ahead of what’s best for the American people.Russell RoyManchester, N.H.To the Editor:Re “How a Battle for Control Set the Table for Disarray” (news article, Jan. 8):As Emily Cochrane points out, in getting elected speaker, Kevin McCarthy accepted making changes to the rules of the House that are not merely a weakening of the powers of the speakership, but also a danger to the country. If Congress cannot agree to raise the debt ceiling, the United States could default on its debt for the first time. The mere threat is a clear and present danger.Is it possible that some Republican members of the House could, even though they voted for Mr. McCarthy, nonetheless join Democrats in voting against the most dangerous changes in the rules?If, instead, all House Republicans regard their vote for Mr. McCarthy as a vote for the concessions he made to become speaker, then each and every one of them has as much responsibility for the damage these rules will do the country as the radicals who insisted on the changes.Jeff LangChapel Hill, N.C.The writer is a former chief international trade counsel for the Senate’s Committee on Finance.To the Editor:What a day. I imagine that the second anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection will go down in history as the day the Democrats commemorated all the patriotic heroes who fought to save our democracy, while simultaneously the Republicans in Congress could be seen doing their level best to destroy it.Sharon AustryFort WorthTo the Editor:It’s not just the far-right representatives who can disrupt the workings of the House. The concession to change the rules to allow a single lawmaker to force a snap vote to oust the speaker gives the Democrats a filibuster-like power.If they want to stop a particular vote for a Republican-sponsored bill, all the Democrats have to do is keep calling for votes to remove the speaker. That vote would take precedence until the Republicans give up and take their bill off the agenda.By insisting on having the power to disrupt the workings of the House, the far-right Republicans have given the same power to the Democrats.Henry FarkasPikesville, Md.To the Editor:Teachers seeking to explain to their students the meaning of a Pyrrhic victory, look no further than Kevin McCarthy!Peter RogatzPort Washington, N.Y.Should Babies Sit in First Class on the Plane? Brian BritiganTo the Editor:Re “Um, Perhaps Your Baby Will Fit in the Overhead Bin?” (Travel, Jan. 7):This article has particular relevance for me, as someone who has traveled more than 100,000 miles every year for the last 25 years. I have seen a number of variations on this theme of babies in first class.The alternative to having one first-class or business seat with an infant on one’s lap is to buy two seats or even three seats in coach, which allow for the parent to have the option of holding the child or placing the child in a travel seat. It would also be fairer for airlines to require that parents buy an actual seat for an infant when it comes to purchasing seats in business or first class.There is a clear difference between a domestic first-class cabin for a two-hour flight and an overnight transcontinental flight where the entire point of paying $5,000 for a seat is to be able to sleep so one may function the next day during back-to-back meetings.My heartfelt advice to those parents contemplating their options is to buy a Comfort Plus or premium coach seat for you as well as for your infant to have ample space and to be a good citizen.Ronnie HawkinsWashingtonTo the Editor:A few years ago, my husband and I flew on Scandinavian Airlines from D.C. to Copenhagen. There were perhaps half a dozen babies on the plane, but we heard not a peep from any of them for the length of the flight. Why? The plane had fold-down bassinets in the bulkheads, and people traveling with babies were assigned those seats.Of course, there are no surefire ways to prevent disruptive passengers, whether they’re children or adults, but the airlines in this country disregard their own role in this mess by making flying such a miserable experience for everyone.Debra DeanMiamiA Chatbot as a Writing Tool Larry Buchanan/The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “Fourth Grader or Chatbot?” (The Upshot, Jan. 4):I have been a teacher of writing for the past 38 years, and my first reaction to ChatGPT, a new artificial intelligence chatbot, was dread: How could I prevent my students from using this technology? My second reaction was to wonder how I might use it myself.Once we are done with denial and hand-wringing, teachers need to think about how we can use A.I. to help teach student writing. This tool can help generate ideas, offer suggestions, map out structures, transform outlines to drafts and much more that could demystify the writing process.The technology is here to stay; our job will be to advance the education of our students by using A.I. to develop their writing and thinking skills.Huntington LymanMiddleburg, Va.The writer is the academic dean at The Hill School in Middleburg.Support Family Farms Antoine CosséTo the Editor:Re “What Growing Up on a Farm Taught Me About Humility,” by Sarah Smarsh (Opinion guest essay, Dec. 25):I am just one generation removed from the family dairy farm, and my cousins still operate one in Idaho and their lives are tough. In the words of Ms. Smarsh, they’re “doing hard, undervalued work.”Ms. Smarsh makes a strong case against giant agricultural corporations and their “torturous treatment of animals.”Currently, the majority of farm production is driven by corporate greed. However, small-farm, organic-raised meat and produce are expensive alternatives, which are out of reach for low-income, food-insecure families.More moral, sustainable food production is a policy issue that our lawmakers should address. Ms. Smarsh is right: Family farms are being “forced out of business by policies that favor large industrial operations.”Mary PoundAlexandria, Va. More

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    Broad, Sunlit Uplands

    On June 18, 1940, Churchill delivered his celebrated “Finest Hour” speech. The British Army had been evacuated from Dunkirk. France, under Pétain, had decided to surrender. “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war,” Churchill told the House of Commons.“If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”Two of those phrases — “broad, sunlit uplands” and “the abyss of a new Dark Age” — should ring in our ears as we approach the end of this hinge year in history.Broad, sunlit uplands are the women of Iran tearing off their hijabs the way the people of Berlin once tore down their wall. And Ukrainian soldiers raising their flag over Irpin, Lyman, Kherson and other cities liberated from Russian barbarism. And Chinese protesters demanding — and gaining — an end to their regime’s cruel and crazy Covid lockdowns by holding up blank sheets of paper, where nothing needed to be written because everyone already knew what they meant.Broad, sunlit uplands were Emmanuel Macron’s victories over the fascistic Marine Le Pen in France. They were the defeat of nearly every election denier in the United States who ran to oversee voting at the state level. They were the drubbing of most of Donald Trump’s handpicked candidates in battleground midterm elections, including in states such as Georgia where non-QAnon Republicans won handily.Broad, sunlit uplands are a Covid fatality rate that, in America, no longer spikes a few weeks after case counts do. They are the demonstration that a lab-made fusion reaction can create more energy than it consumes. They are the lofting of a telescope that lets us peer far into the reaches of space and back to the beginning of time.This isn’t just a laundry list of the year’s good news. It is a demonstration of the capacity of people across cultures and circumstances to demand, defend and define freedom; to defy those who would deny it; and to use freedom to broaden the boundaries of what we can know and do and imagine.But it isn’t the only thing 2022 demonstrated. We continue to stare into the abyss of a new Dark Age, brought about not just by the malice of the enemies of freedom but also by the complacency and wishful thinking of its advocates.The complacent include those who imagined we could leave Afghanistan to the Taliban and suffer no wider consequences. But the perception of American weakness travels fast and far. Vladimir Putin’s second invasion of Ukraine, on Feb. 24, happened about six months after that American fiasco. Recall that his first invasion of Ukraine, in February 2014, happened a few months after Barack Obama’s Syria debacle over his chemical weapons “red line.”The complacent include those who thought that we could trade our way to a form of perpetual peace — whether by bringing China into the World Trade Organization or outsourcing Europe’s energy needs to Putin or imagining we could strengthen Iranian “moderates” with sanctions relief. Dictatorships are rarely weakened by being enriched. Lenin may not have said that “capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them,” but it’s remarkable how the point never seems to be learned by successive generations of capitalists.The complacent include those supposedly sophisticated Republicans who never took a real stand against Trump — first on the grounds that he couldn’t win; then on the view that he could be a vehicle for conservative policy victories; then in the conviction that he would concede gracefully; then in the belief that impeachment after Jan. 6 was too extreme a remedy — only to see him infest the party with conspiracy theorists and lead it to its well-earned defeat.The complacent are those who think that no vital American interest is at stake in a Ukrainian victory or in the outcome of the Iranian demonstrations. Or that China’s recent travails, along with Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine, might dissuade Xi Jinping from trying to seize Taiwan. Or that a corner has been turned on inflation. Or that the surging wave of migration across the southern border, sparked by a collapse in governance throughout much of Latin America, is some peculiar right-wing obsession rather than a genuine crisis that will incite a furious populist backlash if it isn’t competently managed.As Britain was fighting for its life in 1940, much of America was still uncertain as to what, if anything, the moment demanded of it. Churchill laid out the choice: sunlit uplands, or the abyss. It remains our choice today.Happy holidays.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Trump and the Anti-Abortion Movement

    More from our inbox:Detained in AmericaHelping People in JailTreating Vote Counting as Live Sports Damon Winter/The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “The Pro-Life Camp Paid for Its Trump Bargain,” by David French (Opinion guest essay, Nov. 22):I appreciate the discomfort that Mr. French discusses. Electing Donald Trump president allowed him to appoint the conservative justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. But, he writes: “Trumpism is centered on animosity. The pro-life movement has to be centered on love, including love for its most bitter political opponents.”I wish that the pro-life movement, including Mr. French, would focus more broadly on what it claims to be about: pro-life. Most people I have known or spoken with who call themselves pro-life have told me that they favor capital punishment and expansive gun rights and oppose guaranteed access to physical and mental health care and aggressive efforts to control pollution and global warming, positions that threaten far more lives than does abortion.All lives are precious, not just fetal ones.Gordon F. BoalsSag Harbor, N.Y.To the Editor:David French’s essay was an interesting argument about the toxic influences of Donald Trump on the pro-life movement. It was also somewhat of an advertisement for a fantasied pro-life movement.Well before Mr. Trump was in office, some pro-life supporters bombed clinics offering abortion services and others murdered doctors and nurses. Many more severely harassed doctors and women walking into clinics.I do not believe that the hate and violence coming from the pro-life movement are because Mr. Trump hijacked it. It has been there all along. The recent election results have shown to me that the majority of Americans support abortion as a health care issue for women.Paul M. CamicLondonThe writer is a professor of health psychology at University College London.To the Editor:Thank you for publishing David French’s essay. As a pro-life Never Trumper, I felt my point of view was represented, and I think this stance might bring some hope for those who fear all pro-lifers. I appreciate The Times’s willingness to publish a point of view that balances two extremes.Kathie HarrisFayetteville, N.C.To the Editor:The problem with David French’s essay is that he ascribes humanistic motives to the pro-life forces and the politicians who want to ban abortion. Of course, there are true believers, both religious and secular, who think abortion is completely unacceptable.But most voters understand that this is a political battle for votes. And the prime example is the one Mr. French cited — Donald Trump. His conversion to the right-to-life side is a political convenience. It’s essentially no different from Herschel Walker’s abortion beliefs — good as a campaign issue, but, hey, keep out of my personal life.John VasiSanta Barbara, Calif.To the Editor:David French writes: “Walk into a crisis pregnancy center and you’ll often meet some of the best people you’ll ever know. These are the folks who walk with young, frightened women through some of the most difficult days of their lives.”On the contrary, crisis pregnancy centers are intentionally dishonest, using deception to trick women who actively seek abortions into making appointments there instead of abortion clinics. Once inside, they ply these women, who we all agree are often young and frightened and in some of the most difficult days of their lives, with outright lies about biology and her options, and then attempt to guilt her into making a choice she doesn’t want to make.Is tricking women and teenage girls into having unwanted babies really “pro-life”? What about the life these women want to live, a life that may not include parenthood then, or ever? Or is it just another tool in the tool kit of the forced birth movement?Alexandra EichenbaumSan FranciscoTo the Editor:I appreciate the compassionate tone of David French’s guest essay. I find it true that there’s an inherent spirit of unkindness in most pro-life messaging, demonizing the woman and the health care provider. In addition, red states are notorious for having strict and minimalist social services and income support programs for people who need them.If we seriously want young girls and women to carry unplanned pregnancies through to birth, many will need social services, mental health and income supports, as well as health care and job protection. And those who keep or adopt the children may need additional publicly funded support.So, if pro-life states say every embryo must be carried and delivered because every child is important, they must provide systems of care for these children and the families that raise them. Otherwise, it’s hypocrisy pure and simple, Trump or no Trump.Dale FlemingSan DiegoDetained in AmericaTwo Russian antiwar dissidents, Mariia Shemiatina and Boris Shevchuk, reuniting outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Pine Prairie, La.Emily Kask for The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “Russian Dissidents Fleeing to U.S. Find Detention, Not Freedom” (front page, Nov. 29):The outrageous and inhumane treatment experienced by two Russian political refugee doctors, Mariia Shemiatina and her husband, Boris Shevchuk, at the hands of ICE and in private for-profit prisons illustrates the need for drastic immigration reform.Since the same system has treated nonwhite refugees this way for years, we need to ask ourselves why these injustices have been allowed to fester.At the very least the Democratic lame-duck House must pass legislation that will provide proper oversight and enable early hearings so that those with legitimate claims can participate in the freedoms they risked so much to attain.Tom MillerOakland, Calif.The writer is a human rights lawyer.Helping People in JailDallas Garcia, the mother of an inmate killed in Harris County Jail, holding her son’s ashes.Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York TimesTo the Editor:Re “For a Growing Number of Americans, Jail Has Become a Death Sentence” (news article, Nov. 24):The reporting on Harris County, Texas, emphasizes the dire need for more programs supporting incarcerated individuals with a serious mental illness, substance abuse problems, intellectual and developmental disabilities or a brain injury — cycling through the system in the county and nationally. The percentage of such people in jails has grown over the last few years.The support services must include accessible and affordable housing options — safe shelters, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing and community-based behavioral health services.With better staffing and oversight of jails, these programs have the ability to prevent many tragic outcomes and needless deaths, disproportionately affecting those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color.Laurie GarduqueChicagoThe writer is director of criminal justice at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.Treating Vote Counting as Live SportsTo the Editor:Why is it that the media has to treat vote counting as if it were the fourth quarter of a football game and maybe there will be a miraculous surge by the losing team?The votes have already been cast. The results have happened already; we just haven’t opened all the boxes yet. Yes, the vote tallies will change, but that’s not due to anything any candidate or other partisan does or does not do after the polls have closed. The votes are in, or in the mail.Jay GoldmanWaltham, Mass. More

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    Politician, Thy Name Is Hypocrite

    What’s worse — politicians passing a bad law or politicians passing a bad law while attempting to make it look reasonable with meaningless window dressing?You wind up in the same place, but I’ve gotta go with the jerks who pretend.Let’s take, oh, I don’t know, abortion. Sure, lawmakers who vote to ban it know they’re imposing some voters’ religious beliefs on the whole nation. But maybe they can make it look kinda fair.For instance Mark Ronchetti, who’s running for governor in New Mexico, was “strongly pro-life” until the uproar following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe. Now, his campaign website says he’s looking for a “middle ground” that would allow abortions “in cases involving rape, incest and when a mother’s life is at risk.”That’s a very popular spin. The public’s rejection of the court’s ruling, plus the stunning vote for abortion rights in a recent statewide referendum in Kansas, has left politicians looking for some way to dodge the anti-choice label. Without, um, actually changing. “I am pro-life, and make no apologies for that. But I also understand that this is a representative democracy,” said Tim Michels, a Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor, when he embraced the rape-and-incest dodge.Mehmet Oz, who’s running for Senate in Pennsylvania, used to support abortion access back when he wanted the world to call him “Dr. Oz.” But now that his day job is being a conservative Republican, he’s “100 percent pro-life.” Nevertheless, he still feels there should be an exception for cases of … rape and incest.We’ve come a long — OK, we’ve come at least a little way from the time, a decade ago, when Todd Akin, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, argued it was impossible for a woman to get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” And Akin did lose that race.The backtracking can get pretty creative — or desperate, depending on your perspective. In New Hampshire, Don Bolduc, who’s running for the Senate, was strongly anti-choice before he won the Republican primary. (“Killing babies is unbelievably irresponsible.”)Now, Bolduc the nominee feels a federal abortion ban “doesn’t make sense” and complains that he’s not getting the proper respect for his position. Which is that it’s a state issue. And that his opponent, Senator Maggie Hassan, should “get over it.”These days, it’s hard to sell an across-the-board rule that doesn’t take victims of forced sex into account. In Ohio recently, Senate candidate J.D. Vance tried to stick to his anti-abortion guns, but did back down a smidge when questioned about whether that 10-year-old Ohio rape victim who was taken out of state for an abortion should have been forced to have a baby.And then Vance quickly changed the subject, pointing out that the man accused of raping her was an “illegal alien.” This is an excellent reminder that in this election season there is virtually no problem that Republicans can’t find a way of connecting to the Mexican border.As sympathetic as all rape victims are, the exemption rule would not have much impact. No one knows exactly what proportion of pregnancies are caused by rape and incest, but the number “looks very, very small,” Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute told me.And what about, say, a young woman who’s already a teenage mother, working the night shift at a fast-food outlet, whose boyfriend’s condom failed? No suggestion for any special mercy there. You can’t help thinking the big difference is a desire to punish any woman who wanted to have sex.Another popular method of dodging the abortion issue is fiddling with timelines. Blake Masters, the ever-fascinating Arizona Senate candidate, originally opposed abortion from the moment of conception. (“I think it’s demonic.”) Now his revamped website just calls for a national ban once a woman is six months pregnant.And we will stop here very, very briefly to mention that the number of six-month abortions is infinitesimal.Whenever this issue comes up, I remember my school days, which involved Catholic education from kindergarten through college. Wonderful world in many ways, but there wasn’t much concern about keeping religion out of public policy. Especially when it came to abortion. Any attempt to stop the pregnancy from the moment of conception on was murder.That’s still Catholic dogma, you know. Politicians who think they can dodge the issue with their rape-and-incest exceptions appear to ignore the fact that as the church sees it, an embryo that’s the product of a rape still counts as worthy of protection.It took me quite a while to get my head around the abortion issue and I have sympathy for people who have strong religious opposition to ending a pregnancy.Some folks who hold to that dogma try to encourage pregnant women to have their babies by providing counseling, financial support and adoption services, all of which is great as long as the woman in question isn’t being forced to join the program.But anti-abortion laws are basically an attempt to impose one group’s religion on the country as a whole. It’s flat-out unconstitutional, no matter how Justice Samuel Alito feels.And the rape-or-incest exception isn’t humanitarian. It’s a meaningless rhetorical ploy intended to allow politicians to have it both ways.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Donald Trump and Herschel Walker: The Unholy Alliance

    WASHINGTON — This will sound quaint.In May 2016, The Washington Post ran the story of how Donald Trump, in his real estate days, would call reporters, pretending to be his own spokesman, to brag and leak nuggets about nonexistent romances with famous women. I thought that would knock him out of the race.The story hit on a Friday, so I scrambled to rewrite my column on the assumption that Trump wouldn’t last the weekend.But the scoop didn’t make a dent.The next day, The Times splashed a piece on the front page reporting that dozens of women had accused Trump of “unwelcome romantic advances” and lewd and “unending commentary on the female form.”Again, he emerged unscathed with his base.I still didn’t learn my lesson, though. That October, when the “Access Hollywood” tape showed Trump yucking it up about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women, noting that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” I once more figured he couldn’t survive as leader of the party of “family values” and the religious right.He could.Once, there were limits, things that could disqualify you from office, especially in the party that claimed a special relationship with Jesus.But those limits don’t exist anymore.Conservatives have sacrificed any claim to principle. In an unholy transaction, they stuck with Trump because there was a Supreme Court seat and they were willing to tolerate his moral void in order to hijack the court. They didn’t care how he treated women as long as he gave them the opportunity to rip away rights from women. They wanted to impose their warped morality, a “Handmaid’s Tale” world, on the rest of us.Christian-right leaders made clear that, no matter what Trump said or did to women, he was preferable to Hillary Clinton, who supported abortion rights.As Jerry Falwell Jr. said at the time, “We’re never going to have a perfect candidate unless Jesus Christ is on the ballot,” noting, “We’re all sinners.”Well, Falwell certainly was. Four years later, he was ousted from running Liberty University after a sex scandal of his own.Now, in Georgia, conservatives are turning a blind eye to sordid stories coming out about Herschel Walker, who demonstrates no qualifications for serving in the Senate. His sole credential is that he was once excellent at carrying a football.Story after story has emerged about reprehensible behavior and lies concerning women and children, and about falsifying his personal history.The Daily Beast asserted that while Walker wants to completely ban abortion, even in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother, comparing it to murder, he paid for a girlfriend’s abortion in 2009. Walker has called the story “a flat-out lie,” but The Beast talked to the unnamed woman and checked her financial records. She said she was just sick of the hypocrisy. Even his conservative influencer son, Christian, disparaged his father’s “lies” on Twitter.On Friday, The Times published a story confirming The Daily Beast’s reporting, and in a startling development added that in 2011, Herschel pressured the same woman to have another abortion. They ended their relationship when she refused; she had their son, now 10.There’s more: His ex-wife claimed he pointed a pistol at her head and told her he was going to blow her brains out; he has four children with four different women, but hadn’t publicly acknowledged three of them. His 10-year-old was one of those hidden.Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans should be ashamed to promote this troubled person for their own benefit.Privately, some Republicans are mortified by the Walker spiral, but they’re going to brazen it out for the win.Dana Loesch, the right-wing radio host, was blunt: “I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.”Republicans have exposed their willingness to accept anything to get power that they then abuse. As Lindsey Graham said out loud, with his fellow Republicans shushing him, they want a nationwide ban on abortion after 15 weeks. And Herschel Walker is key to that.Trump got to know Walker when he bought the New Jersey Generals in 1983, which Walker had joined after he won the Heisman Trophy and dropped out of the University of Georgia to turn pro.“In a lot of ways, Mr. Trump became a mentor to me,” Walker wrote in his memoir in 2008, “and I modeled myself and my business practices after him.” Trump led the cry “Run, Herschel, run!”Walker takes after his mentor with his lies, hypocrisy and know-nothingness on issues. Still worse, he’s following his mentor by denying his transgressions as a womanizer, even as he tries to smash women’s rights.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

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    Will U.S. Democracy Survive the Threats?

    More from our inbox:Women, ‘Stay Loud’A Childhood HomeGet a Living WillIllustration of the American flag.Illustration by Matt ChaseTo the Editor:Re “Democracy Challenged,” by David Leonhardt (front page, Sept. 18):Your excellent, and frightening, article suggests that our democracy is facing two simultaneous crises: Republicans who refuse to accept defeat in an election, and a growing disconnect between political power and public opinion. But there is a third, equally serious danger.While it is critical to get rid of dark money (reversing Citizens United) and gerrymandering, and to set term limits on the Supreme Court, an equally significant element of the current nightmare is coming from social media.Indeed, the degree to which social media has not only ginned up but actually created some or much of the current social-cultural-political zeitgeist is not well understood or acknowledged. For all the positives it provides, social media has become a cancer on society — one that has metastasized and continues to do so, often with the full knowledge (and even complicity) of social media companies.If we are going to begin arresting, and then (hopefully) reversing, the crisis described in the article, we need to address the social media issue as urgently as we need to address the overtly political ones. Addressing the latter without the former simply will not do the job.Ian AltermanNew YorkTo the Editor:Our democracy and our constitutional republic are not only challenged, but are on the verge of collapse. Should the Republicans capture the House and the Senate in the midterm elections, I believe that it will be a long time before we have another free and fair election in this country.The G.O.P. has stacked state houses with MAGA Republicans who, if given the chance, will do what Donald Trump wanted done in 2020: refuse to certify the will of the voters. In other areas we are rapidly losing our freedoms. We are in danger of losing the right to choose whether or not to bring a child into the world, the right to read or watch whatever we choose, and in many cases, the right to vote.The Republican Party has developed into a race-baiting, hateful group of people, inspired and directed by Mr. Trump, and Americans need to beware the consequences of electing more of their ilk at the local, state and federal level.Henry A. LowensteinNew YorkTo the Editor:“Democracy Challenged” is a chilling portrait of the bitter ideological civil war raging in America today. While not a conflict exacting physical wounds for the most part, it is for many of us emotionally exhausting, compounded by the realization that no obvious relief or solution is evident. It is almost impossible to watch cable news or read the daily papers without feeling despondent about the widening philosophical gulf separating the two parties.It is ironic that Democratic-leaning states contribute more to the federal government than they receive, in effect subsidizing Republican state policies that Democrats strongly oppose.I look forward to future articles in which I can hopefully discover a nugget of hope.Howard QuinnBronxTo the Editor:Thank you for all of your efforts to highlight the challenges to democracy and fair elections, but what I believe you are failing to do is sell democracy. You assume that democracy will sell itself. It won’t. There was a time when it would, but not today.Not only do you need to sell democracy — that is, emphasize its benefits — but you also need to highlight the cons of the alternative.We must sell democracy as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.Dan BuchanCheyenne, Wyo.To the Editor:While David Leonhardt is correct, of course, that the Republican Party’s increasing inclination to refuse to accept defeat in an election constitutes an existential threat to our democracy, so, too, does the likelihood that some of the large number of election deniers now running for statewide or local positions of electoral authority will prevail in November.Such a calamitous result would mean that if the outcome of a subsequent election is called into question by a defeated, victimized Democrat with legitimate cries of foul, it will be met with derision and scorn by the faux patriot MAGA crowd, and upheld by judges and justices whose allegiance to one man outweighs any sense of loyalty to the Constitution they might once have held sacrosanct.Edward PellSanta Monica, Calif.Women, ‘Stay Loud’ Ruth Fremson/The New York TimesTo the Editor:“Trolls in Russia Schemed to Divide Women’s March,” by Ellen Barry (front page, Sept. 19), is a thorough, well-researched piece about how Russian trolls deliberately created discord within the Women’s March and across the women’s rights movement more broadly.While the details may be shocking to many, it’s old news that women are in the sightlines. Whether the actors are foreign or domestic, we’ve long been the targets of disinformation, harassment and violence, against our bodies and our freedoms.We’ve had to create programs like Digital Divas and Digital Defenders to combat disinformation, because it is still happening and only going to get worse as we fight back. In addition to digital spaces, we’re leaning on proven analog tactics, including get-out-the-vote training, phone banking and postcard mailing.Thousands of women, including many who have never volunteered before, are active ahead of the critical midterm elections to get people registered to vote and educated on the issues. We saw in the abortion referendum in Kansas last month how our efforts can succeed.Silence us, they will not. Women more than ever need to stay loud in the battle for equality. Neither a Russian bot nor a domestic terrorist will silence us into submission.Emiliana GuerecaLos AngelesThe writer is the founder and president of Women’s March Foundation and Action.A Childhood Home Marine BuffardTo the Editor:Re “Your Childhood Home Is in Front of You. Do You Go In?,” by Mark Vanhoenacker (Opinion guest essay, Sept. 12):I enjoyed this article, which described the pull toward one’s childhood home. As a psychiatrist, I begin my journey with patients by asking about their earliest years.“Who lived with you during your childhood?”“Were there any disruptive moves or departures?”By exploring these distant memories, I begin to understand their path to my office, and how I can help them shape a healthier future.If looking back is a positive experience, I may encourage those struggling with insomnia to imagine a virtual tour of their earliest home, focusing on even the most minute details. “What do you see as you look around your bedroom?”As a busy working mom, I find that this technique has helped me return to sleep despite my anxious mind, a soothing recall of a childhood filled with safety and love.Jennifer ReidMoorestown, N.J.Get a Living Will Emiliano PonziTo the Editor:Re “The Space Between Brain Death and Organ Donation,” by Daniela J. Lamas (Sunday Opinion, Sept. 18):It behooves everyone to make their wishes clear regarding organ donation (like on a driver’s license). Just as important, if not more so, is that each of us make our wishes clear regarding life support and other artificial means: respirator, feeding tube, etc.Making our wishes known in a living will not only has cost-saving implications but also assures our dignity.Pankaj GuptaEdison, N.J.The writer is a geriatrician. More

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    Some Women Fear Giorgia Meloni’s Far-Right Agenda Will Set Italy Back

    Some fear that the hard-right politician, whose party is expected to be the big winner in the election on Sunday, will continue policies that have kept women back.ROME — Being a woman, and mother, has been central to the political pitch of Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right politician who is likely to become Italy’s prime minister after elections on Sunday.She once ran for mayor seven months pregnant because she said powerful men had told her she couldn’t. Her most famous speech includes the refrain “I am a woman. I am a mother.” She often talks with pride about how she started a party, Brothers of Italy, and rose to the top of national politics without any special treatment.But as happy as women’s rights activists are about that fact that a woman could finally run Italy, many wish it was essentially any other woman in Italy. They fear that Ms. Meloni’s hard-right agenda, her talk about preventing abortions, opposing quotas and other measures will set back the cause of women.“It’s not a gain at all and, indeed, a possible setback from the point of view of women’s rights,” said Giorgia Serughetti, who writes about women’s issues and teaches political philosophy at Bicocca University in Milan.More than in neighboring European Union countries, women in Italy have struggled to emerge in the country’s traditionally patriarchal society. Four out of 10 Italian women don’t work. Unemployment rates are even higher for young women starting careers. Female chief executive officers lead only a tiny percentage of companies listed on Milan’s stock exchange, and there are fewer than 10 female rectors at Italy’s more than 80 universities.And for many Italian women, finding a suitable work-life balance becomes nearly impossible once children enter the equation. Affordable, all-day, public child care is nonexistent in many areas, and women paid the highest price during the pandemic, staying home even after periods of lockdown when schools were shut.All national and international indicators suggest that if women in Italy worked more, gross domestic product would largely benefit and increase.“Half of Italian women do not have economic independence,” said Linda Laura Sabbadini, a statistician and director of new technologies at Italy’s National Institute of Statistics. “That can’t just be cultural; politics clearly hasn’t done enough for women so far.”Ms. Meloni has presented herself as someone who will help, but on key issues to women, the coalition has been vague and short on details. And a coalition partner, Matteo Salvini of the anti-immigrant League party, has admired Victor Orban, the conservative prime minister of Hungary, and his family policies. The League’s leader recently said that Mr. Orban had drafted the “most advanced family policy” giving “the best results at the European level.”Matteo Salvini, right, then the Italian interior minister, next to Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary at a news conference in Milan in 2018.Marco Bertorello/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesMr. Orban has encouraged Hungarian mothers to procreate prolifically to counter the dropping birthrate. This month, the Hungarian government passed a decree that would require women seeking an abortion to observe fetal vital signs before moving forward with the procedure.Concerns have emerged in Italy that Ms. Meloni’s center-right coalition could make it harder for women to have abortions in a country where the procedure has been legal since 1978 but is still very difficult to obtain.Asked about the law, Ms. Meloni, who has said her mother nearly aborted her, vowed in an interview that she “wouldn’t change it” as prime minister, and that abortion would remain “accessible and safe and legal.” But she added that she wanted to more fully apply a part of the law “about prevention,” which, she said, had been effectively ignored until now.Critics fear that approach would allow anti-abortion organizations to play a more prominent role in family-planning clinics and encourage even more doctors to avoid the procedure. Only about 33 percent of doctors perform legal abortions in Italy, and even less, 10 percent, in some regions.Laura Lattuada, an actress in Rome, said she was concerned that the abortion law could be chipped away with Ms. Meloni in power.“She’s constantly saying she wants to improve it, but I am not sure that her conception of protecting women and the family corresponds to the improvement of women’s rights,” she said.Abortion is hardly the only issue that has given activists pause. Italy introduced and has progressively extended the so-called pink quotas, a mandated percentage of female representation in politics and boardrooms. Many women say quotas in politics better reflect the population, while quotas in companies help overcome “old boys” networks, giving women equal access to higher paying jobs. They also give women greater visibility, they said.A mural in Rome painted by a street artist known as Harry Greb showing Ms. Meloni and other Italian politicians.Fabio Frustaci/EPA, via ShutterstockMs. Meloni is against the quotas. She argues that as a woman, she climbed the political ladder on her own and is now poised to run the country. She says that she is proof that women don’t need government interference to enforce diversity.Her supporters agreed.“They never gave her anything, she took it. She won on her own,” said Lucia Loddo, 54, who was waving a banner supporting Ms. Meloni at a rally in Cagliari. She said that for women, Ms. Meloni’s ascent “is the most beautiful thing. All of the men have been disasters. She is prepared.”About 25 percent of Italian woman voting on Sunday are expected to cast their ballots for Ms. Meloni, though pollsters failed to ask women whether her gender was a factor in their vote, which is itself telling of the attention given to women voters here. Ms. Meloni is polling at least 25 percent nationally, the highest of any candidate.Ms. Meloni has won voters over with her down-to-earth and straight-talking manner (she often speaks in Roman dialect). But the secret to her popularity has less to do with her personality or policy proposals than that she was essentially the lone leader of a major party to stay in the opposition during the national unity government of Mario Draghi.That allowed her to campaign in a country that is perennially looking for someone new as a fresh face, even though she has been in Parliament for nearly two decades and was a minister in a past government.In that time, Italy has had a lackluster track record in empowering women in the work force, and experts say something else needs to be done.“We have to create the conditions for employment because we are at the bottom of the list in Europe,” said Ida Maggi of Stati Generali delle Donne, an association working to get women’s issues on the electoral agenda. It makes Italy “look bad,” she said.One area where Ms. Meloni and even her most committed critics agree is the need for more nursery schools. The government of Mr. Draghi last year allocated billions of euros to build nurseries and extend child care services. But the problem is by no means solved.In many Italian regions, a shortage of free nursery schools, along with short school days and three-month vacations, make sit difficult for working mothers to juggle their schedules. Even though many women are staying at home, the country has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe, something Ms. Meloni’s center-right coalition has pledged to redress.Speaking to supporters in Milan this month, Ms. Meloni said that she and her allies would work toward getting free child-care services, part of “a huge plan to boost the birthrate, to support motherhood.” With only 400,000 births last year, Italy was going through more than a demographic winter, she said: “It’s an ice age.”Ms. Meloni addressing supporters in Piazza Duomo in Milan in September.Piero Cruciatti/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“I don’t want this nation to disappear,” she said, adding that the problem should not be solved through immigration. “I want our families to have children,” she added to a roar of applause.But critics are not convinced her party, or likely coalition, is entirely committed to the cause of women.Polls carried out last year show that while the majority of Italians said more should be done to reach gender equality, those numbers were considerably lower among supporters of Brothers of Italy and the League.One campaign video for a candidate from the Forza Italia party, another coalition ally, was roundly mocked for promising a salary to women who don’t work outside the home. The party is led by Silvio Berlusconi, who, Ms. Meloni said in the interview, put her “in difficulty as a woman” with his sex scandals when she was a young minister in his government.After decades of unfulfilled campaign promises, there is skepticism writ large that any of the parties will really champion women’s causes.Promises about “the needs and priorities of women” — including free day care and subsidies for families — tend to vanish once it’s time to actually put measures in place, said Laura Moschini, whose organization, the Gender Interuniversity Observatory, has drafted a “handbook for good government” highlighting women’s concerns.Those issues have discouraged women from voting, and the possibility of electing Ms. Meloni as the first female prime minister is not motivating women. Heading into the election on Sunday, polls suggest that more than a third of Italian women probably won’t vote.Ms. Meloni with Mr. Salvini, left, and Silvio Berlusconi at the center-right coalition’s closing rally in Rome on Thursday.Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press“I’m disgusted by the entire political system,” said Laura Porrega, who described herself as a “desperate housewife” because she wasn’t able to find a job. “When they want your taxes, they remember your name, but I’ve gotten nothing from the country at all.” she said.Ms. Serughetti, the Bicocca professor, said that women “don’t see their interests being represented,” so they’d rather abstain.“The decision of women not to vote is a sort of protest to this order of things,” she said.Jason Horowitz More

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    Cómo fue que cuentas rusas ayudaron a desmantelar la Marcha de las Mujeres

    Linda Sarsour despertó el 23 de enero de 2017, entró a internet y sintió náuseas.El fin de semana anterior, había ido a Washington para estar al frente de la Marcha de las Mujeres, una movilización contra el entonces presidente Donald Trump que superó todas las expectativas. Las multitudes se habían congregado antes del amanecer y para cuando ella subió al escenario, se extendían a lo lejos.Más de cuatro millones de personas de todo Estados Unidos habían participado, según cálculos posteriores de los expertos, que decían que esta marcha era una de las protestas de un solo día más grandes en la historia del país.Pero luego algo cambió, al parecer de la noche a la mañana. Lo que ella vio en Twitter ese lunes fue un torrente de quejas centradas en ella. En sus 15 años de activista, en su mayoría defendiendo los derechos de las personas musulmanas, había enfrentado respuestas negativas, pero esto era de otra magnitud. Una pregunta comenzó a formarse en su mente: ¿realmente me odian tanto?Esa mañana, sucedían cosas que Sarsour no podía ni imaginarse.A casi 6500 kilómetros de distancia, organizaciones vinculadas con el gobierno ruso habían asignado equipos para actuar en contra de la Marcha de las Mujeres. En los escritorios de las anodinas oficinas de San Petersburgo, los redactores estaban probando mensajes en las redes sociales que criticaban el movimiento de la Marcha de las Mujeres, haciéndose pasar por estadounidenses comunes y corrientes.Publicaron mensajes como mujeres negras que criticaban el feminismo blanco, mujeres conservadoras que se sentían excluidas y hombres que se burlaban de las participantes como mujeres quejumbrosas de piernas peludas. Pero uno de los mensajes funcionó mejor con el público que cualquier otro.En él se destacaba un elemento de la Marcha de las Mujeres que, en principio, podría parecer un simple detalle: entre las cuatro copresidentas del evento estaba Sarsour, una activista palestinoestadounidense cuyo hiyab la señalaba como musulmana practicante.Linda Sarsour, una de las líderes de la Marcha de las Mujeres, en enero de 2017. A los pocos días, los troles rusos la atacaron en internet.Theo Wargo/Getty ImagesDurante los 18 meses siguientes, las fábricas rusas de troles y su servicio de inteligencia militar se esforzaron por desacreditar el movimiento mediante la difusión de relatos condenatorios, a menudo inventados, en torno a Sarsour, cuyo activismo la convirtió en un pararrayos para la base deTrump y también para algunos de sus más ardientes opositores.Ciento cincuenta y dos cuentas rusas distintas produjeron material sobre ella. Los archivos públicos de las cuentas de Twitter que se ha comprobado que son rusas contienen 2642 tuits sobre Sarsour, muchos de los cuales llegaron a grandes audiencias, según un análisis de Advance Democracy Inc., una organización sin fines de lucro y apartidista que realiza investigaciones y estudios de interés público.Muchas personas conocen la historia sobre cómo se fracturó el movimiento de la Marcha de las Mujeres, que dejó cicatrices perdurables en la izquierda estadounidense.Una coalición frágil al principio, entró en crisis por la asociación de sus copresidentas con Louis Farrakhan, el líder de la Nación del Islam, ampliamente condenado por sus declaraciones antisemitas. Cuando esto salió a la luz, los grupos progresistas se distanciaron de Sarsour y de las copresidentas de la marcha, Carmen Pérez, Tamika Mallory y Bob Bland, y algunos pidieron que dimitieran.Pero también hay una historia que no se ha contado, que solo apareció años después en la investigación académica, de cómo Rusia se insertó en este momento.Durante más de un siglo, Rusia y la Unión Soviética trataron de debilitar a sus adversarios en Occidente al avivar las tensiones raciales y étnicas. En la década de 1960, oficiales de la KGB con base en Estados Unidos pagaron a agentes para que pintaran esvásticas en las sinagogas y profanaran los cementerios judíos. Falsificaron cartas racistas, supuestamente de supremacistas blancos, a diplomáticos africanos.No inventaron estas divisiones sociales, Estados Unidos ya las tenía. Ladislav Bittman, quien trabajó para la policía secreta en Checoslovaquia antes de desertar a Estados Unidos, comparó los programas de desinformación soviéticos con un médico malvado que diagnostica con pericia las vulnerabilidades del paciente y las explota, “prolonga su enfermedad y lo acelera hasta una muerte prematura en lugar de curarlo”.Hace una década, el presidente de Rusia, Vladimir Putin, supervisó un renacimiento de estas tácticas, con el fin de socavar las democracias de todo el mundo desde las sombras.Las redes sociales proporcionaban ahora una forma fácil de alimentar las ideas en el discurso estadounidense, algo que, durante medio siglo, la KGB había luchado por hacer. Y el gobierno ruso canalizó secretamente más de 300 millones de dólares a partidos políticos en más de dos docenas de países en un esfuerzo por influir en sus políticas a favor de Moscú desde 2014, según una revisión de la inteligencia estadounidense hecha pública la semana pasada.El efecto que estas intrusiones tuvieron en la democracia estadounidense es una cuestión que nos acompañará durante años. Las redes sociales ya estaban amplificando los impulsos políticos de los estadounidenses, dejando tras de sí un rastro de comunidades dañadas. La confianza en las instituciones estaba disminuyendo y la rabia aumentaba en la vida pública. Estas cosas habrían sido ciertas aun sin la interferencia rusa.Pero rastrear las intrusiones rusas durante los meses que siguieron a esa primera Marcha de las Mujeres es ser testigo de un persistente esfuerzo por empeorarlas todas.Después de las elecciones de 2016, la operación de desinformación rusa de la Agencia de Investigación de Internet cambió el enfoque de Donald Trump y Hillary Clinton a objetivos más amplios de Estados Unidos.James Hill para The New York Times‘Refrigeradores y clavos’A principios de 2017, la operación de troleo se encontraba en su fase imperial y rebosaba confianza.Las cuentas de la Agencia de Investigación de Internet, una organización cuya sede se encuentra en San Petersburgo y es controlada por un aliado de Putin, se había ufanado de impulsar a Trump a la victoria. Ese año, el presupuesto del grupo casi se había duplicado, según comunicaciones internas hechas públicas por los fiscales estadounidenses. Pasó más de un año antes de que las plataformas de las redes sociales realizaran una amplia purga de cuentas de títeres respaldados por Rusia.Para los troles, era una hora clave.En estas condiciones propicias, sus objetivos pasaron de la política electoral a algo más general: la meta de agudizar las fisuras en la sociedad estadounidense, dijo Alex Iftimie, un exfiscal federal que trabajó en un caso de 2018 contra un administrador del Proyecto Lakhta, que supervisaba la Agencia de Investigación de Internet y otras operaciones de troleo ruso.“Ya no se trataba exclusivamente de Trump y Clinton”, dijo Iftimie, ahora socio de Morrison Foerster. “Era más profundo y más siniestro y más difuso en su enfoque de explotar las divisiones dentro de la sociedad en cualquier número de niveles diferentes”.Había una rutina: al llegar a su turno, los trabajadores escudriñaban los medios de comunicación de los márgenes ideológicos, de la extrema izquierda y de la extrema derecha, en busca de contenido extremo que pudieran publicar y amplificar en las plataformas, alimentando las opiniones extremas en las conversaciones principales.Artyom Baranov, quien trabajó en una de las filiales del Proyecto Lakhta de 2018 a 2020, concluyó que sus compañeros de trabajo eran, en su mayoría, personas que necesitaban el dinero, indiferentes a los temas sobre los que se les pedía que escribieran.“Si se les asignaba un texto sobre refrigeradores, escribían sobre refrigeradores, o, digamos, sobre clavos, escribían sobre clavos”, dijo Baranov, uno de un puñado de antiguos troles que han hablado públicamente sobre sus actividades. Pero en lugar de refrigeradores y clavos, era “Putin, Putin, luego Putin, y luego sobre Navalny”, en referencia a Alekséi Navalny, el líder de la oposición encarcelado.El trabajo no consistía en exponer argumentos, sino en provocar una reacción visceral y emocional, idealmente de “indignación”, explicó Baranov, psicoanalista de formación, a quien se le asignó escribir publicaciones en línea sobre política rusa. “La tarea es hacer una especie de explosión, causar controversia”, agregó.Cuando una publicación lograba enfurecer a un lector, dijo, un compañero de trabajo comentaba a veces, con satisfacción, Liberala razorvala. Un liberal fue destrozado. “No se trataba de discutir hechos o dar nuevos argumentos”, dijo. “Siempre es una forma de hurgar en los trapos sucios”.El feminismo era un objetivo obvio, porque se consideraba una “agenda occidental” y hostil a los valores tradicionales que representaba Rusia, dijo Baranov, quien habló de su trabajo con la esperanza de advertir a las personas de que fueran más escépticas con el material que hay en línea. Desde hace meses, las cuentas rusas que pretenden pertenecer a mujeres negras han estado investigando las divisiones raciales dentro del feminismo estadounidense:“El feminismo blanco parece ser la tendencia más estúpida del 2k16”“Mira cómo Muhammad Ali calla a una feminista blanca que critica su arrogancia”“No tengo tiempo para tu basura de feminista blanca”“Por qué las feministas negras no le deben su apoyo a Hillary Clinton”“UN POCO MÁS FUERTE PARA LAS FEMINISTAS BLANCAS DE ATRÁS”En enero de 2017, mientras se acercaba la Marcha de las Mujeres, probaron distintos enfoques con distintas audiencias, como lo habían hecho previo a las elecciones presidenciales de 2016. Publicaban como mujeres trans resentidas, mujeres pobres y mujeres contra el aborto. Desacreditaban a quienes marchaban por ser peones del multimillonario judío George Soros.Y se burlaron de las mujeres que planeaban participar, a menudo en términos crudamente sexuales. En coordinación, a partir del 19 de enero, 46 cuentas rusas lanzaron 459 sugerencias originales para #RenameMillionWomenMarch, un hashtag creado por un conductor de pódcast de derecha de Indiana:La Marcha de: ¿Por qué nadie me quiere?La marcha de las mujeres fuertes que se hacen las víctimas constantementeLa Marcha de la Solitaria Señora de los GatosEl campamento de los cólicosLa Convención de Mujeres BarbudasViejas rotas arengandoEl camino de las lágrimas liberalesEl festival de las perras de Coyote UglyMientras tanto, otra línea de mensajes más efectiva se desarrollaba.Sarsour recordó el abrumador torrente de ataques. “Imagínese que todos los días al levantarse son un monstruo”, dijo.Brad Ogbonna/Redux‘Fue como una avalancha’Como una de las cuatro copresidentas de la Marcha de las Mujeres, Sarsour llegó con un historial, y con carga.Sarsour, hija de un tendero palestinoestadounidense de Crown Heights, en Nueva York, se había convertido en la voz de los derechos de los musulmanes después de los atentados del 11 de septiembre. En 2015, cuando tenía 35 años, un perfil del New York Times la ungió —“una chica de Brooklyn con hiyab”— como algo raro: una potencial candidata araboestadounidense a un cargo de elección pública.En 2016, el senador Bernie Sanders la invitó a un evento de campaña, un sello de aprobación de uno de los progresistas más influyentes del país. Eso molestó a los políticos pro-Israel en Nueva York, que señalaron su apoyo al movimiento de boicot, desinversión y sanciones, que busca asegurar los derechos de los palestinos aislando a Israel. Los críticos del movimiento sostienen que amenaza la existencia de Israel.Rory Lancman, entonces concejal de la ciudad del barrio de Queens, recuerda su inquietud cada vez mayor cuando ella comenzó a aparecer con regularidad en los eventos en los que se apoyaban causas de izquierda no relacionadas con Israel, como los salarios justos, donde, en su opinión, “su verdadera agenda estaba tratando de casar una agenda antiisraelí con diferentes causas progresistas”.Para Lancman, demócrata, la noticia de que Sarsour era una de las líderes de la Marcha de las Mujeres le pareció “desgarrador —esa es la palabra—, que el antisemitismo se tolere y racionalice en espacios progresistas”.Eso era la política de siempre, y Sarsour estaba acostumbrada a ello: la larga disputa entre los demócratas sobre las implicaciones de criticar a Israel.Pero 48 horas después de la marcha, hubo un cambio de tono en línea, con el surgimiento de publicaciones que describían a Sarsour como una yihadista radical que se había infiltrado en el feminismo estadounidense. Sarsour lo recuerda muy bien, porque se despertó con un mensaje de texto preocupado de una amiga y fue en Twitter para descubrir que era tendencia.No todas las respuestas negativas fueron orgánicas. Esa semana, las cuentas rusas de amplificación comenzaron a circular publicaciones centradas en Sarsour, muchas de las cuales eran incendiarias y se basaban en falsedades, ya que afirmaban que era una islamista radical: “Una musulmana que odiaba a los judíos y estaba a favor del Estado Islámico y en contra de Estados Unidos”, a la que “se había visto mostrando el cartel del Estado Islámico”.Algunas de estas publicaciones fueron vistas por muchas personas. A las 7 p. m. del 21 de enero, una cuenta de la Agencia de Investigación de Internet identificada como @TEN_GOP, un supuesto estadounidense de derecha originario del sur del país, tuiteó que Sarsour estaba a favor de imponer sharía o ley islámica en Estados Unidos, haciendo eco de una popular teoría de la conspiración antimusulmana que Trump había ayudado a popularizar en la campaña.Este mensaje cobró impulso y acumuló 1686 respuestas, se retuiteó 8046 veces y obtuvo 6256 “me gusta”. Al día siguiente, casi de manera simultánea, un pequeño ejército de 1157 cuentas de derecha retomó la narrativa y publicó 1659 mensajes sobre el tema, según un análisis realizado por la empresa de análisis online Graphika en nombre del Times.Vladimir Barash, jefe científico de Graphika, dijo que el patrón de interferencia era “estratégicamente similar” a la actividad de los troles en las vastas protestas anti-Putin de 2011 y 2012, con cuentas falsas “tratando de secuestrar la conversación de manera similar, a veces con éxito”.“Hay algunas pruebas circunstanciales de que aprendieron en un contexto doméstico y luego trataron de replicar su éxito en un contexto extranjero”, dijo Barash.Las cosas estaban cambiando sobre el terreno en Nueva York. En la Asociación Árabe Estadounidense de Nueva York, la organización sin fines de lucro de defensa a los migrantes que Sarsour dirigía en Bay Ridge, comenzó a llegar una gran cantidad de correo de odio: tarjetas postales, reclamos escritos a mano en papel de cuaderno, su foto impresa y desfigurada con equis rojas.“Se trataba de un nivel totalmente nuevo, y se sentía extraño, porque venía de todo el país”, dijo Kayla Santosuosso, entonces subdirectora de la organización sin fines de lucro, que recuerda haber llevado el correo a Sarsour en cajas de zapatos. Sarsour, a quien preocupaba haberse convertido en “un lastre”, renunció a su puesto en febrero de ese año.Para la primavera, la respuesta contra Sarsour se había convertido en un espectáculo de política divisoria. “Era como una avalancha”, dijo. “Como si estuviera nadando en ella todos los días. Era como si nunca saliera de ella”.Cuando fue invitada a dar el discurso de graduación de la Facultad de Salud Pública de la Universidad de la Ciudad de Nueva York (CUNY, por su sigla en inglés), el furor comenzó con semanas de antelación. Llamó la atención del polemista de extrema derecha Milo Yiannopoulos, quien viajó a Nueva York para una protesta que atrajo, como escribió un reportero del Times, “una extraña mezcla, incluyendo judíos y sionistas de derecha, comentaristas como Pamela Geller y algunos miembros de la extrema derecha”.“Linda Sarsour es una bomba de relojería del horror progresista, amante de la sharia, que odia a los judíos”, dijo Yiannopoulos a la multitud.Sarsour recuerda el momento previo al discurso de graduación como particularmente estresante. A medida que se acercaba, tuvo visiones de una figura que salía de las sombras para matarla, “alguna pobre persona desquiciada que se consumía en los rincones oscuros de internet, que sería alimentada por el odio”.Las cuentas de los troles rusos formaron parte de ese clamor; desde más de un mes antes de su discurso, un puñado de cuentas de amplificación gestionadas por la mayor agencia de inteligencia militar de Rusia, el GRU, hicieron circular expresiones de indignación por su elección, a menudo con el hashtag #CancelSarsour.Cuando Yiannopoulos habló, @TEN_GOP tuiteó las frases más jugosas —la línea “bomba de relojería del horror progresista”— y acumuló 3954 retuits y 5967 likes.Pronunció su discurso de graduación sin incidentes. Después, parece ser que los troles esperaron que dijera o hiciera algo divisorio. Y eso sucedió a principios de julio cuando, envalentonada tras su aparición en la CUNY, exhortó a la audiencia musulmana fuera de Chicago a rebelarse contra las políticas injustas del gobierno, que describió como “la mejor forma de yihad”.En el islam, la palabra “yihad” puede denotar cualquier lucha virtuosa, pero en el contexto político estadounidense es inextricable del concepto de guerra santa. Un político más pragmático podría haber evitado utilizarla, pero Sarsour se sentía como la de antes. “Así es como soy en la vida real”, dijo. “Soy de Brooklyn y soy palestina. Es mi personalidad”.Para los troles rusos, era una oportunidad.La semana siguiente, las cuentas rusas aumentaron de manera considerable su volumen de mensajes sobre Sarsour y produjeron 184 publicaciones en un solo día, según Advance Democracy Inc.Una vez más, el público respondió: cuando @TEN_GOP tuiteó: “Linda Sarsour pide abiertamente a los musulmanes que hagan la yihad contra Trump, por favor, investiguen este asunto”, recibió 6222 retuits y 6549 me gusta. Las cuentas mantuvieron un intenso enfoque en ella durante el mes de julio, cuando produjeron 894 publicaciones durante el mes siguiente y continuaron hasta el otoño, descubrió el grupo.Y una vez más, la reacción se extendió por las redes sociales. Los manifestantes acamparon frente al restaurante de parrilla kosher donde su hermano, Mohammed, trabajaba como gerente, exigiendo que fuera despedido. Dejó el trabajo y, finalmente, Nueva York.Su madre abrió un paquete que le llegó por correo y gritó: era un extraño libro autopublicado, titulado A Jihad Grows in Brooklyn, que pretendía ser la autobiografía de Sarsour y estaba ilustrado con fotografías familiares.“Digo, imagínense que todos los días al levantarse son un monstruo”, comentó Sarsour”.Los grupos progresistas se distanciaron de Sarsour, a la izquierda, y de sus compañeras copresidentas de la marcha, Tamika Mallory y Carmen Pérez.Erin Scott/ReutersA la caza de fantasmasResulta enloquecedoramente difícil decir con certeza qué efecto han tenido las operaciones de influencia rusas en Estados Unidos, porque cuando se afianzaron se apoyaron en divisiones sociales reales. Una vez introducidas en el discurso estadounidense, el rastro ruso desaparece, como el agua que se ha añadido a una piscina.Esto crea un enigma para los especialistas en desinformación, muchos de los cuales dicen que se ha exagerado el impacto de las intervenciones rusas. Después de las elecciones presidenciales de 2016, culpar a Rusia de los resultados no deseados se convirtió en “la salida emocional”, dijo Thomas Rid, autor de Desinformación y guerra política: historia de un siglo de falsificaciones y engaños.“Te juegan una mala pasada”, dijo Rid, profesor de la Escuela de Estudios Internacionales Avanzados de la Universidad Johns Hopkins. “Te conviertes en un idiota útil si ignoras las operaciones de información eficaces. Pero también si la ensalzas contando una historia, si la haces más poderosa de lo que es. Es un truco”.Las divisiones al interior de la Macha de las Mujeres ya existían.Las discusiones intestinas sobre la identidad y el antisemitismo habían tensado al grupo desde sus primeros días, cuando una de sus organizadoras, Vanessa Wruble, quien es judía, fue expulsada después de lo que describió como tensas conversaciones con Pérez y Mallory sobre el papel de los judíos en el racismo estructural. Pérez y Mallory han rebatido esa versión.Y la incomodidad con Sarsour había disminuido el entusiasmo entre algunos progresistas judíos, dijo Rachel Timoner, la rabina principal de la Congregación Beth Elohim en Park Slope, Brooklyn.Recordó haber salido en defensa de Sarsour contra los ataques “racistas e islamófobos”, solo para descubrir, cada vez, que surgía una nueva tormenta de fuego, a menudo como resultado de algo inflamatorio y “en última instancia indefendible” que Sarsour había dicho.A medida que pasaban los meses, dijo la rabina Timoner, los judíos comenzaron a preguntarse si estaban siendo excluidos de los movimientos progresistas.En 2018, se desató una nueva crisis interna por la asistencia de Mallory al Día del Salvador, una reunión anual de la Nación del Islam encabezada por Farrakhan.Mallory creció en Harlem, donde muchos veían positivamente a la Nación del Islam y a su fundador, como cruzados contra la violencia urbana. La presionaron para que rechazara a Farrakhan, a lo que se negó, aunque dijo que no compartía sus posturas antisemitas. Después del asesinato del padre de su hijo, explicó: “Fueron las mujeres de la Nación del Islam quienes me apoyaron”.“Siempre las he llevado cerca de mi corazón por esa razón”, dijo.Después de eso, el tejido de la coalición se rompió, de manera lenta y dolorosa. Sarsour y Perez se mantuvieron al lado de Mallory, y en poco tiempo, los grupos progresistas comenzaron a distanciarse de las tres. Bajo una intensa presión para que dejaran de ser las líderes, Sarsour, Perez y una tercera copresidenta, Bland, lo hicieron en 2019, un movimiento que, según dicen, estaba planeado desde hace tiempo.Las cuentas rusas aumentaron su producción en torno a Farrakhan y las lideresas de la Marcha de las Mujeres esa primavera, con 10 a 20 publicaciones al día, pero no hay pruebas de que fueran un motor principal de la conversación.Más o menos en ese momento, perdemos de vista la mayoría de los mensajes rusos. En el verano de 2018, Twitter suspendió 3841 cuentas vinculadas a la Agencia de Investigación de Internet y conservó 10 millones de sus tuits para que pudieran ser estudiados por los investigadores. Unos meses después, la plataforma suspendió y guardó el trabajo de 414 cuentas producidas por el GRU, la agencia de inteligencia militar.Con ello, se silenció un coro de voces que, durante años, habían ayudado a dar forma a las conversaciones estadounidenses sobre Black Lives Matter, la investigación de Mueller y los jugadores de la NFL arrodillados durante el himno nacional. El registro de los mensajes en torno a la Marcha de las Mujeres también se rompe ahí, congelado en el tiempo.La explotación rusa de Sarsour como figura divisoria debe entenderse como parte de la historia de la Marcha de las Mujeres, dijo Shireen Mitchell, una analista de tecnología que ha estudiado la interferencia rusa en el discurso afroestadounidense en línea.Ella comentó que las campañas rusas eran expertas en sembrar ideas que fluían hacia el discurso principal, después de lo cual, agregó, podían “solo sentarse y esperar”.“Es la preparación de todo eso, empezando por el principio”, dijo Mitchell, fundadora de Stop Online Violence Against Women. “Si esos miles de tuits causan una división entre los grupos que importan, si abren y permiten esa división, ya no es una grieta. Se convierte en un valle”.Otros consideraron que el papel de Rusia era marginal y entraba en los límites de un debate estadounidense necesario.“Es una pena que Linda Sarsour haya dañado ese movimiento intentando inyectar en él ideas nocivas que no tenían razón de ser en la Marcha de las Mujeres”, dijo Lancman, el exconcejal. “Por desgracia”, añadió, los rusos “parecen muy adeptos a explotar esas fisuras”.La rabina Timoner sonaba triste, al recordar todo lo que había pasado. Las heridas que se abrieron entre los progresistas aquel año nunca han terminado de cicatrizar, dijo.“Hay mucho dolor judío aquí”, dijo. “Esos bots rusos estaban hurgando en ese dolor”.La Marcha de las Mujeres continuó bajo un nuevo liderazgo, pero durante los meses de controversia, muchas mujeres que habían sido impulsadas por la primera marcha se alejaron.“No puedo recordar todas las historias negativas, solo recuerdo que había muchas”, dijo Jennifer Taylor-Skinner, una mujer de Seattle que, después de la marcha de 2017, dejó su trabajo en Microsoft y fundó The Electorette, un pódcast orientado a las mujeres progresistas. Ella nunca ha recuperado ese sentimiento de unidad.“Solo de pensarlo, todavía me siento un poco desvinculada de cualquier movimiento central”, dijo. “Aquí se estaba formando una posible coalición que se ha roto”.Una réplicaSarsour, de 42 años, había regresado a su oficina en Bay Ridge la primavera pasada, cinco años después de la primera Marcha de las Mujeres, cuando se enteró, por un reportero, de que había sido víctima del gobierno ruso.En la actualidad, rara vez la invitan a las plataformas nacionales y, cuando lo hacen, suele haber protestas. El rumor que había en torno a ella como futura candidata política se ha calmado. Sabe cómo se la ve, como una figura polarizadora. Se ha adaptado a esta realidad, y se ve a sí misma más como una activista, en el molde de Angela Davis.“Nunca voy a conseguir un trabajo de verdad” en una organización sin fines de lucro o corporación importante, comentó. “Ese es el tipo de impacto que estas cosas tienen en nuestras vidas”.Los datos sobre los mensajes rusos relacionados con la Marcha de las Mujeres aparecieron por primera vez a finales del año pasado en una revista académica, donde Samantha R. Bradshaw, experta en desinformación de la American University, revisó la injerencia del Estado en los movimientos feministas.Ella y su coautora, Amélie Henle, descubrieron un patrón de mensajes por parte de influentes cuentas de amplificadores que buscaban desmovilizar el activismo de la sociedad civil, impulsando las críticas interseccionales al feminismo y atacando a los organizadoras.Los movimientos, sostiene Bradshaw, son estructuras frágiles, que a menudo no están preparadas para hacer frente a campañas de sabotaje con buenos recursos y respaldadas por el Estado, especialmente cuando se combinan con algoritmos que promueven contenidos negativos. Pero los movimientos sociales saludables son esenciales para las democracias, dijo.“No vamos a tener una esfera pública robusta si nadie quiere organizar protestas”, dijo.Sarsour no es una académica, pero lo entendió bastante bien.“Señor, ten piedad”, dijo, al echar un vistazo a las conclusiones de Bradshaw.Sarsour trató de entenderlo: todo ese tiempo, el gobierno ruso la tenía en la mira. Hacía tiempo que creía saber de dónde venían sus críticos: la derecha estadounidense y los partidarios de Israel. Nunca se le ocurrió que pudieran provenir de un gobierno extranjero.“Pensar que Rusia va a usarme es mucho más peligroso y siniestro”, comentó. “Me pregunto cómo se beneficia Rusia de aprovechar mi identidad para debilitar movimientos contra Trump en Estados Unidos, me parece”, hizo un pausa. “Es solo que… vaya”.Entender lo que hicieron los troles rusos no cambiaría su posición.Aun así, la ayudó a entender esa época de su vida, en la que había estado en el centro de una tormenta. No eran únicamente sus compatriotas los que la odiaban. No fueron solamente sus aliados los que la repudiaron. Eso había pasado. Pero no era toda la historia.Llamó a Mallory.“No estábamos locas”, dijo.Aaron Krolik More