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It’s chilling to watch Narendra Modi yuck it up in the U.S. Congress.

As recently as 2005, he was barred from entering the country over suspicions that he had either orchestrated the massacre of 1,000 Muslims in his home state of Gujarat in 2002 or turned a blind eye as rampaging Hindu mobs killed men, women, and children. In addressing a joint session of Congress, Modi sought to put any doubts about his commitment to equality and tolerance to rest. He celebrated modern India’s “founding fathers,” specifically naming Mahatma Gandhi, whose vision of a diverse, pluralistic India has long been anathema to Hindu nationalists like Modi. “Eight hundred million of my countrymen may exercise the freedom of franchise once every five years,” he said. “But all the 1.25 billion of our citizens have freedom from fear—a freedom they exercise every moment of their lives.”

One is tempted to ask: Who exactly would they be afraid of? The possibility that the Indian equivalent of the most vile kind of segregationist was in their midst seemed lost on America’s lawmakers, who gave him standing ovations and laughed at his jokes about congressional dysfunction, spelling bees, and yoga. And for all his talk of religious toleration, the reality on the ground is different. As Siddhartha Deb wrote in a long profile of Modi for The New Republic, “Modi’s new India has amped up its sectarian Hindu nationalism, unleashing an astonishing degree of violence against all those who might not subscribe to this worldview.”

Politics always requires a certain degree of dissociation. There seems to be a sense in India that Modi, though imperfect, should be given a chance after years of corruption and mismanagement by the Congress Party. American politicians, very much including Barack Obama, have to recognize the importance of maintaining good relations with Modi, the leader of an enormous country that can serve as a bulwark against both China and terrorism. But that doesn’t make the spectacle any less grim.

June 27, 2019

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This debate is taking place on Earth 2.

In the first hour of the first Democratic debate, the seemingly infinite number of Democratic presidential candidates on stage covered a lot of ground. They talked immigration and Iran, climate change and antitrust and gun control. Without ever really addressing it, they showed just how far the Democratic Party had shifted to the left over the past decade, with a public option now clearly emerging as the centrist position in health care. They even spoke in two languages!

One thing they didn’t really talk about—at least not directly—was President Trump. He was subtext, always, particularly on immigration and the possibility of war with Iran. But for the most part, his belligerence and incoherence was treated as a point of fact, rather than an unprecedented horror show.

It’s not hard to see who stands to gain from pointedly avoiding Trump on the debate stage. The party’s leadership wants to avoid impeachment proceedings at all costs, and they succeeded in the midterm elections in part because they focused so single-mindedly on issues like health care, rather than the daily barrage of tweets and scandals emanating from the White House.

But there’s also a sense that this debate is taking place in a parallel universe. Trump’s presence in the White House is a major catalyst for many of these crises, but the Democratic candidates thus far have largely avoided confronting it directly. The reluctance to speak his name feels almost mystical, as if saying it will summon his presence—or at least a tweet.

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This is Democratic speed dating.

The opening debate is always a “get to know you” debate. That’s especially true of the first of two opening Democratic debates, given that it’s frontloaded with candidates no one knows (Tim Ryan, John Delaney), candidates almost no one knows (Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio, Julián Castro), and candidates already in need of a campaign reset (Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke).

But it’s hard to make an impression when there are nine other people, many of them desperate, on the stage. The general strategy in the opening thirty minutes of the debate is for candidates to talk as fast as they possibly can, guaranteeing that they can maximize their short minute of allotted time. This is, of course, familiar to anyone who’s been in high school debate—a combination of nerves and peacocking, showing the audience just how much they know. This has been exacerbated by the manic opening of the debate, which has touched on issues from climate change to health care to antitrust, without much effort to try to get the candidates to actually talk to each other. (De Blasio, arguably the most desperate on the stage, is the only guy really trying to pick a fight.)

If there’s a byproduct of the pace of the debate so far, it’s that it does showcase just how many ideas the Democratic candidates have on the table. But mostly, it just showcases just how many candidates there are on the stage, and how many of them seem not that different from one another. (I’m looking at you, John Delaney and Tim Ryan.)

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Is cruelty a winner?

As the Democrats take the stage for the first debate, I am expecting—hoping, even—that there will be ample outrage over the warehousing of migrant children at the southern border.

The last week or so has seen an uptick in attention—because of the brutality at the Clint facility, because of the drowning deaths in the Rio Grande—on what has been the shame of a nation for most of the Trump administration. Several presidential candidates in Miami will be making the short trip to Homestead, a for-profit shelter for unaccompanied minors. The facility was, it must be said, first opened under Obama, but it was re-opened and doubled in size by Trump to cage hundreds of migrants in their teens.

Today, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar made separate visits there. Neither were allowed inside, but Warren stood on a step ladder and peered over the fence at what she said were kids being marched in lines. She turned to the assemblage of media and supporters and called it “a moral stain inflicted by Donald Trump.”

“Following a policy that can be boiled down to one basic idea—and that is maximizing the pain inflicted on families who flee to the United States to try to build some security and safety in their lives—is fundamentally and morally wrong.”

Warren’s right, of course, and it is refreshing to hear strong condemnations from one of the Dem frontrunners. But then I thought, is that going to matter?

Adam Serwer famously wrote last October that “the cruelty is the point,” that the through line that connects what seems like a chaotic carnival of policy misfires is the joy at inflicting pain on people Trump and his fans see as “other.” That premise has become almost universally accepted by those opposed to this administration and the Republican Party that embraces it—and so, it is likely that many in Miami will try to score points by voicing righteous and rightful outrage at the serial meanness of Team Trump. But is that outrage a winner for the campaign trail?

This question applies to both the primaries—where every Democrat will hopefully be vocally opposed to the Zero Tolerance “policy”—and the general, where the issue energizes the GOP while seeming to enervate Democrats. The last thing you want to do is exhaust your base, after all.

But beyond that: Does Trump’s cruelty engender a real feeling of powerlessness? Is opposing cruelty basically negative campaigning—campaigning without hope, when your best advisers will tell you to close with hope?

June 26, 2019

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Welcome to TNR’s coverage of the Democratic debates.

Yes, the debates are upon us, a mere 16 months before voters will cast their ballots to decide whether President Trump should get a second term. In that time, babies will be conceived and born, the earth will orbit the sun and then some, and Democrats will, with any luck, choose a champion from the two dozen candidates running for the nomination. It all begins tonight, with the first of two debates in Miami this week featuring the 20 candidates—ten each round—who qualified to participate by either polling at 1 percent in three surveys or receiving 65,000 individual donations.

The staff of The New Republic will be watching the proceedings, offering running commentary and post-debate analysis, and hopefully answering any questions readers might have. Who’s up, who’s down? Who, if anyone, seems qualified to stall America’s spiraling descent into a fiery wasteland overseen by Trumpian kleptocrats? And who is Eric Swalwell, anyway? Pop by TNR’s Minutes blog at 9 o’clock EST tonight and tomorrow night to find out!