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theatlantic.com
theatlantic.com
Don’t Forget That 43 Senate Republicans Let Trump Get Away With It
During former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment, even when Republicans insisted that the assault on the Capitol was an unfortunate consequence of heated rhetoric, most did not attempt to defend Trump’s conduct on the merits. Instead, they relied on the absurd technicality that the president was no longer in office, and therefore could not be convicted.That was the rationale of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who accused Trump of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty” and afterward voted to acquit. McConnell then suggested that Trump could be criminally prosecuted, comfortable in the suspicion that would never happen.Other Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, insisted that seeking accountability for an attempted coup would be “incredibly divisive,” and was therefore not worth doing. “The notion that we’re going to spend a week or two weeks on a trial on somebody who’s not even in office—it sounds to me like a waste of time,” Rubio told Politico in 2021.Senator Ted Cruz of Texas offered a more affirmative defense. After voting to acquit, Cruz said, “Donald Trump used heated language, but he did not urge anyone to commit acts of violence.” Whether they based their decision on the flimsy excuse that he was no longer president, or on the idea that he never meant to inspire the violence that followed his incitement, Trump’s defenders have always insisted that the former president acted recklessly but not deliberately.[David Frum: Kevin McCarthy, have you no sense of decency?]I do not recall these excuses simply to point out how pathetic they seem in hindsight, given the gravity of the allegations and the clarity we now have about Trump’s conduct. I raise them because the thinness of the Republican rationales for acquittal is strong evidence that any justification, no matter how strained, would have sufficed, and yesterday’s revelations are unlikely to change the minds of many Republican legislators now. It is nevertheless crucial to establish for posterity what happened and why. But make no mistake: If those who collaborated with Trump’s attack on American democracy escape accountability, the calculus of high-ranking administration officials next time will be that there is a greater price to pay for opposing a coup than supporting one.Yesterday’s sworn testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, before the January 6 committee, if sustained, would leave Trump’s enablers without even a pathetic sliver of an excuse for refusing to punish an attempt to overthrow the constitutional order. Hutchinson is just one person, and her testimony could be contested by future witnesses or revelations. A certain level of caution is warranted; it is not unheard of for people to lie under oath. With that said, the picture Hutchinson painted is shocking, if not surprising. According to Hutchinson, not only did Trump understand his own conduct as encouraging acts of violence, but he hoped to make it easier for the mob to reach its targets equipped to carry out those acts.The extent of Trump’s campaign to overturn the 2020 election has been clear since long before the Hutchinson testimony. The mob was Trump’s last resort, not his first. In the aftermath of his loss, Trump pressured GOP secretaries of state to not certify the election results; he pressed Republican state legislatures to overturn the election results; he demanded that the courts invalidate the results; and he tried to coerce Vice President Mike Pence to declare him the winner during a ceremonial counting of the votes. When all of that failed, Trump encouraged the mob that sacked the Capitol by telling its members they could “fight” to overturn the results, and that they had to do so, because “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” The justification for this was baseless allegations of voter fraud that both the president and his entourage knew to be false, even as they inundated their supporters with them.These actions amount to attempts to forcibly remain in power, and alone would have been sufficient reason to impeach him and bar him from office forever.[David A. Graham: The most damning January 6 testimony yet]Hutchinson’s appearance before the committee adds to these already damning facts insight into the former president’s personal motives and behavior, which were so pivotal to Republican senators’ weak rationales for acquittal. She testified that Trump believed the mob would turn violent, knew it was armed, and urged the Secret Service to allow the mob through with its weapons. In short, Hutchinson’s testimony indicates that Trump was not merely irresponsible or foolish at the rally; he deliberately riled up the mob with falsehoods of a rigged election in the hopes that it would successfully overturn the election results by force. Trump then refused to call off the mob, because he wanted it to complete its mission. Hutchinson also testified that she heard from a colleague that Trump physically assaulted a Secret Service agent in an attempt to get him to drive them toward the Capitol; the Secret Service later told the press that it would dispute that aspect of her testimony under oath. Whether or not that outburst occurred, the more significant aspect of Hutchinson’s testimony was Trump’s awareness of the mob’s capacity for violence and its intentions. “I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I overheard the president say something to the effect of, ‘You know, I don’t even care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me,’” Hutchinson testified. When the mob began to chant “Hang Mike Pence,” Hutchinson recalled, she overheard Meadows tell White House Counsel Pat Cipollone that “he thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.” Trump understood that the people the mob wanted to hurt were standing between him and power, and therefore did not want the mob sworn to place Donald Trump in power impeded by those who had sworn to defend the Constitution. As my colleague David Graham wrote, Trump’s allies’ defense of his conduct “has never been especially plausible, but Hutchinson’s testimony demolishes it.”Even without this information, the Senate should have convicted Trump. The plain facts are that the former president attempted to violently overthrow the government of the United States, and Senate Republicans ensured that he would face no consequences for doing so by acquitting him during his second impeachment. Their rationales for refusing to hold Trump accountable are laughable in hindsight, but also disturbing in their frailty, because history suggests that when attempts to seize power by force are not punished, they are both more likely to reoccur and more likely to succeed when they do. Attempting to seize power by violence was not sufficient to turn Republican senators against Trump when his influence was at its ebb; now that he has reasserted his grip on the party, there is little chance they will discover a reserve of courage. The only Republicans in elected office who were punished by the party in connection with Trump’s overthrow attempt were those such as Representative Liz Cheney, who was censured for speaking out against it.[Anne Applebaum: The reason Liz Cheney is narrating the January 6 story]Hutchinson’s testimony provoked the now tired ritual of Republicans soliciting favorable coverage from reporters by privately expressing their horror while publicly defending Trump; at this point, no one should be fooled by this. The truth is that Hutchinson’s testimony, had it been given at Trump’s second impeachment trial, may not have changed a single vote. Joining with Democrats to hold Trump accountable would have done too much damage to the party. Better to erode the foundations of American democracy than risk giving the rival party any advantage.This is cowardice, but also ideology: Since liberals are not Real Americans, it is no sin to deprive them of power by undemocratic means. In this view, Trump’s behavior might be misguided, but his heart remains in the right place, in that his mob sought to ensure that only those worthy to participate in American democracy can hold the reins of power, regardless of whom the voters actually choose.Although seven Republican senators broke ranks and voted to convict Trump, most of the caucus remained loyal to a man who attempted to bring down the republic, because in the end, they would have been content to rule over the ruins.
theatlantic.com
Kate Bush Is Eternal
Much of the music that defined my early-2000s adolescence was written before I could walk. Listening to CD-Rs filled with songs that had been ripped from the internet, my friends and I warbled to Pixies’ 1988 oddity “Where Is My Mind?,” moped to Tears for Fears’ 1982 dirge “Mad World” (and its 2001 cover by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews), and mewled to various versions of Leonard Cohen’s 1984 masterpiece “Hallelujah.” These songs had entered our teenage consciousness because they’d been featured in mind-blowing contemporary movies: Fight Club, Donnie Darko, and, of course, Shrek.[Read: Stranger Things won’t save Netflix]Today, visual media remain a portal between young listeners and older artists. Thanks to its placement in the new season of the Netflix sci-fi series Stranger Things, Kate Bush’s 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” has again become a global sensation. Pop radio stations are slotting Bush’s operatic trills between Harry Styles’s mumbles and Lizzo’s flute tooting. TikTok is replete with kids pretending to levitate over the tsunami-warning-like sound of Bush’s synthesizer. The song’s recent No. 4 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 . marked Bush’s highest placement ever in the U.S. In the U.K., it set a record for the slowest-ever rise from release date to No. 1 on the Official Singles Charts: 37 years.The comeback might seem to feed into a common complaint about modern popular culture: that innovation is dead and everything is recycled. Look elsewhere on the pop charts and you encounter new hits that refurbish such bygone aesthetics as ’90s house and 2000s Fergaliciousness. Read music-business news and you find indications that listenership for old songs is outpacing listenership for new ones. Bush’s track isn’t the only decades-old gem getting major shine in recent years. Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” charted because of The Batman. Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” did so because of a skateboarder drinking cranberry juice. Plus everyone is listening to vinyl! And watching Elvis!The funny thing is that history itself provides a reality check against that declinist narrative. Mostly, Bush’s chart comeback demonstrates her enduring awesomeness—and the changing way we share and quantify what we like. In a fascinating recent article, Billboard dissected the golden age of movies and TV turning old songs into fresh hits. That golden age is not now. It was more than 30 years ago, Andrew Unterberger writes: The period starts in 1987, when use in two hit film comedies (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Back to School) the year before brought The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” back to the Hot 100 for the first time in 23 years. Then, over the next half-decade, five more golden oldies — Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” (Stand by Me), Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” (Good Morning, Vietnam), The Contours’ “Do You Love Me” (Dirty Dancing), The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” (Ghost) and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Wayne’s World) — all hit the top 40 thanks to a new movie placement. Two years after that, one more scraped the bottom of the Hot 100, when a lightly remixed version of The Knack’s “My Sharona” hit No. 91, thanks to its use in Reality Bites. According to Billboard, this late-’80s-to-early-’90s flurry was due to “enterprising DJs and program directors” at radio stations who were attuned to the interplay between moviegoing and music listening. It ended because radio formats evolved and laws changed to allow corporate consolidation of stations, eroding the influence of major-market DJs picking songs by their own whim. Soundtracks became less likely to send already classic songs up the charts for a few decades. But, as my own CD-R memories indicate—and as anyone who first encountered Dick Dale through Pulp Fiction might attest—filmed entertainment kept educating young listeners.[Read: The biggest reason ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ is a hit]Streaming has, over the past decade, created an ecosystem in which obsession and oddity can be measured and monetized like never before. It has also reaffirmed that one of the most powerful ways to come to love a song is by experiencing it with cool visuals. When Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter inspired me to pirate “Where Is My Mind?” and play it on loop, no one was tallying that activity and adding it to Pixies’ Billboard numbers. When kids nationwide watched Encanto and then demanded that their parents’ Alexa incessantly stream “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” earlier this year, it gave Disney animation its first Hot 100 No. 1 in decades.How beautiful that Kate Bush is now benefiting from this dynamic. In sound and in cultural footprint, the beloved 63-year-old performer has always been forward-thinking, spectral, and adverse to cliché. The chugalugging beat and wind-riding melody of “Running Up That Hill,” not to mention the lyrical use of the word asunder, are the sole work of a songwriter-producer who has maintained creative independence in an industry that too often sidelines and exploits women. What’s more, the song fits on modern radio because so much of modern pop, including the spooky synths of The Weeknd and conceptual reveries of Billie Eilish, descends from her.Bush rarely speaks publicly, but in a short interview with the BBC’s Woman’s Hour last week, she sounded genuinely grateful and amazed at her resurgence. Yet how much of a miracle is it, really, that “Running Up That Hill” persists? It is only one of the very best recordings of all time. Scan the list of songs whose cultural legacy was cemented by some bit of visual media created long after their release, and you see a lot of brilliant, singular anthems. They stay in rotation not because of nostalgia but because they damn well should. “Bohemian Rhapsody” via Wayne’s World, “Hallelujah” via Shrek, “Dreams” via TikTok, and now Kate Bush via Netflix—in funny ways, in strange times, we’re reassured that greatness stays great.
theatlantic.com
The People v. Donald Trump
From the moment the attack on the Capitol began, on January 6, 2021, Donald Trump’s moral culpability was clear. That mob would never have assembled on the National Mall but for Trump’s decision to relentlessly lie about the results of the 2020 election.His legal culpability, however, was more ambiguous. We did not possess any evidence that he directly coordinated with the rioters prior to the invasion of the Capitol, and although his speech to the mob on January 6 itself admonished his followers to “fight like hell” and warned them that “you will never take back our country with weakness,” it also contained an explicit statement that they should march to the Capitol to “peacefully and patriotically” make their voices heard.Also hovering over the legal analysis was a prudential calculation. Former presidents shouldn’t be prosecuted under novel legal theories. If the government is going to prosecute, it should bring a case that’s easy to justify under existing precedent. Otherwise, the prosecution itself could be dangerous, further fracturing and destabilizing an already fragile American political culture.Those considerations are precisely why Trump’s conduct in the case of Georgia had seemed more obviously to involve potential criminal liability than his actions on January 6. In Georgia’s case, Trump was recorded telling Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” and then explicitly threatening Raffensperger with criminal sanctions if he didn’t accede to the president’s demand.Georgia criminal law appears on point. Its relevant criminal-solicitation statute states: A person commits the offense of criminal solicitation to commit election fraud in the first degree when, with intent that another person engage in conduct constituting a felony under this article, he or she solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or otherwise attempts to cause the other person to engage in such conduct. And which felony was Trump soliciting Raffensperger to commit? Among the most applicable is Georgia Code Section 21-2-566, which prohibits willfully tampering “with any electors list, voter’s certificate, numbered list of voters, ballot box, voting machine, direct recording electronic (DRE) equipment, electronic ballot marker, or tabulating machine.”[Peter Wehner: A withering indictment of the entire GOP]Indeed, at the request of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a special grand jury has been empaneled in Atlanta, and it is actively pursuing an investigation of Trump’s actions. On June 2, it questioned Raffensperger, and it has issued subpoenas to a number of other local officials.Even as the Fulton County district attorney looks into possible violations of state criminal law, Trump’s conduct regarding Georgia also implicated federal law. Most notable is his apparent violation of 18 U.S. Code Section 241, a law that prohibits a “conspiracy against rights,” which can include voting rights. As I’ve noted before, prior courts have found unlawful any effort to prevent the counting of ballots, failure to count votes, alteration of votes already counted, or changing of votes cast at voting machines.Given the legal ambiguity about Trump’s misconduct on January 6 and the clarity of both the evidence and the law regarding his efforts in Georgia, I’ve always thought that he faced greater legal jeopardy in the less spectacular case. Until yesterday, that is. Until Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, delivered riveting testimony to the January 6 select committee.The claim of most direct legal significance came when she described hearing Trump demand that the Secret Service remove magnetometers (or “mags”) that were screening the crowd for weapons. The area directly in front of his podium was not entirely full and, Hutchinson said, he wanted it filled for the sake of “the shot,” or photograph of the speech.Even though Trump was warned that the crowd possessed weapons, Hutchinson testified that he said, “I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f-ing mags away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here. Let the people in. Take the f-ing mags away.”Why is this so important? Since a 1969 case called Brandenburg v. Ohio, the Supreme Court has sharply limited prosecutions for speech that allegedly incites violence. In Brandenburg, the Court tossed out the criminal conviction of a Ku Klux Klan leader who had called for a march on Washington, D.C.; Florida; and Mississippi and threatened “revengeance” if the president continued to “suppress the white, Caucasian race.” The Court held that speeches threatening violence or disorder were protected by the First Amendment unless “such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”In a later case called Hess v. Indiana, the Court threw out a disorderly-conduct conviction for an anti-war demonstrator who was arrested after stating, “We’ll take the fucking street later (or again).” It reasoned that Hess’s words were not “intended to produce, and likely to produce, imminent disorder.”[Graeme Wood: The dumbest coup attempt]Let’s apply this test to Trump and January 6. We know that he directly summoned the mob with his tweet on December 19, 2020: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild.” We know that he directed his supporters to march on the Capitol, but we now also have evidence that he knew they were armed and that he did not believe they were a threat—to him. Then, once the attack on the Capitol was under way, he further inflamed the crowd by tweeting, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary.”In a series of messages on his social-media site yesterday, Truth Social, Trump denied Hutchinson’s claims. But his denials were on an app. Her allegations were under oath.The available evidence now tilts strongly toward the claim that Trump’s words were indeed “intended to produce” and did in fact produce “imminent disorder.” Yes, his speech still contained the admonition to march “peacefully and patriotically,” but that is thin gruel for the defense in the face of the other language in his speech and the totality of the circumstances.Remember, earlier on January 6, the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had told the crowd, “Let’s have trial by combat,” and he described the supposed stakes in vivid terms: It’s bigger than you and me. It’s about these monuments and what they stand for. This has been a year in which they have invaded our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion, our freedom to move, our freedom to live. I’ll be darned if they’re going to take away our free and fair vote. And we’re going to fight to the very end to make sure that doesn’t happen. Republican Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama also stood before the crowd on January 6 and said: Our ancestors sacrificed their blood, their sweat, their tears, their fortunes and sometimes their lives to give us, their descendants, an America that is the greatest nation in world history. So I have a question for you—are you willing to do the same? The crowd was known to be armed, had been deliberately worked into a frenzy, and was then knowingly sent straight to the Capitol. As I wrote last night, in this context Trump’s request that the crowd march on the Capitol peacefully “looks more like pro forma ass-covering than a genuine plea.”[David Frum: Kevin McCarthy, have you no sense of decency?]There is much more to investigate, including whether Trump worked directly or through proxies with the Proud Boys and others who led the invasion of the Capitol and have been charged with seditious conspiracy. In addition, in her questioning of Hutchinson, Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming raised the possibility that Trump’s allies were attempting to influence witnesses by contacting them and reminding them that Trump read transcripts and that, in the words of one witness, being a “team player” would help them “stay in good graces in Trump World.”As the investigation continues, the possibilities for prosecuting Trump are expanding. In addition to the Georgia investigation, the January 6 committee has produced evidence bolstering the case that Trump incited the violent attack on the Capitol. He was already in direct legal jeopardy in Georgia. Now we can add federal court in Washington, D.C., to the list of places where Trump faces the possibility of a serious and credible criminal case.
1 h
theatlantic.com
The Dust Devils of Mars
Beautiful images from another world, of a delicate, ephemeral phenomenon
2 h
theatlantic.com
If the January 6 Hearings Don’t Change Minds, Nothing Will
At the Global Fact international fact-checkers’ conference I attended in Oslo earlier this month, there were workshops on digital investigation, lectures on media literacy, even sessions devoted to hateful social media of the kind that sometimes gets directed at people who check facts for a living—and there are now many such people. Fact-checking is now a sophisticated, high-tech profession, with members in places all over the world—Colombia, Canada, South Africa, Taiwan. What they can do with tiny scraps of evidence is almost unsettling. Fact-checking websites and fact-checking columnists can tell you how to identify a video that has been manipulated, how to spot a fake social media account, how to geolocate an atrocity just by examining a single photograph that has appeared online.But despite all of this knowledge, fact-checkers can’t always get people to believe them. This isn’t their fault. As the writer Jonathan Rauch wrote last year in his prescient book The Constitution of Knowledge the production of verified information, as well as of public trust in that information, is a complex social process that relies on a huge range of institutions, from grand juries and inspectors general, to independent fact-checking operations and peer-reviewed academic journals. In many countries, and most dramatically in the United States, that complex social process has broken down, in part because of deliberate, targeted political assaults on precisely those institutions. And no wonder: For would-be authoritarians, the destruction of organizations dedicated to finding out what actually happened is an obvious part of the path to power. If leaders can convince people not to believe anything at all, then they can substitute the false narratives that justify their own limitless power. [Read: America is running out of time]In modern America, the best example of this phenomenon is the 35 percent of surveyed Americans—one third of the country, and two thirds of the Republican Party—who aren’t sure who won the 2020 election. As the pollster and analyst Sarah Longwell has explained, their doubts come not from their misunderstanding of specific vote counts, but from the context that they live in. Surrounded by social-media influencers and authority figures who have repeatedly attacked the veracity of the electoral process since 2016, they have come to treat with suspicion anyone who points out the absurdity of the many electoral conspiracy theories out there (Hugo Chavez manipulated the voting machines years after his death; Italian defense contractors altered the result via the internet). They simply feel doubt. Not only do facts and fact-checkers not change doubters’ minds, they harden their views. As a woman from Arizona told Longwell, “I think what convinced me more that the election was fixed was how vehemently they have said it wasn’t.”But if facts alone won’t make anyone reconsider their view of January 6, a deeper, more thoughtful, more nuanced effort to tell the story might—at least in theory. Rauch, Longwell, and the large community of fact-checkers who think about reaching that skeptical 35 percent have often argued that shouting about the objective truth will never work and that what is needed instead is the construction of trust. The designers of the January 6 committee’s hearings have taken that argument to heart. In essence, they have created a giant fact-checking project designed not only to write an accurate account of what happened in the run-up to the Capitol attack, but to convince people to believe it. The point is not to establish whether some detail that one witness reveals is true or false, but rather to tell a larger story, using a wide range of perspectives, delivered in a manner optimally designed to create trust. Towards that end, the hearings offer not just a single point or argument that can be disputed, but instead seek to embed all of the different facts into a coherent narrative. This is an evolving story, a puzzle being put together using a range of different pieces. The story begins not just when Trump lost the election, but when people whom he knew well—his daughter Ivanka, his adviser Jared Kushner, and Attorney General Bill Barr being the most notable—told him that he had lost. Having established that truth, the committee went on to show how, despite having been told that he had lost, Trump sought to steal the election anyway. Each phase leads to the next, and all of them are bound together by a single narrator: Representative Liz Cheney, the committee’s Republican vice chair, provides a single, authoritative voice that unifies the different parts of the story. Equally important is the fact that this narrative is being offered in a format that people can understand. Yes, these hearings are being run much like a Netflix series. They have a plot. It has twists and surprises—for example, the unexpected appearance of Cassidy Hutchinson, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’s executive assistant, who happened to be in several rooms where things were happening on January 6. “Episodes” sometimes end with cliffhangers—for example Cheney’s hints Tuesday that later hearings may reveal attempts to intimidate witnesses. Each set of hearings is short, offering the story in bite-sized chunks that people can absorb and then discuss before moving on. Bits of the story are sometimes leaked in advance on social media, in order to get the audience’s attention. Themes from one hearing recur in later hearings—for example, the many people around Trump who sought pardons, knowing that they had broken the law.These techniques have elicited some mockery, but the mockers are wrong. For most Americans, the format of a typical congressional hearing is hard to watch and harder to understand. The rules, made for a pre-television era, are nonsensical. The order in which things happen does not build the story or add tension. The politicians quizzing the witnesses might or might not be good at eliciting information. These formats might have worked 50 years ago, for audiences who were physically in the room and had more time and attention. They don’t work now. Instead, making the hearings seem less alien, and more like other television that Americans watch, is a way of building trust between the speakers and the audience.All of this material is being delivered on platforms that Americans actually use. It’s always been possible to watch congressional hearings on C-Span, though not many people do. The January 6 hearings are available, by contrast, on dedicated YouTube, Facebook and Twitter pages. Short highlight collections assembled by TikTok users have garnered millions of views. But although the pacing of the January 6 hearings is different from what most recent congressional committees have put together, the physical location is the same. This fact-checking operation isn’t being held just anywhere; it is taking place in the halls of Congress, with American flags, with familiar backdrops, with scenery that we know from the past. The formality with which each hearing begins and ends is also an important part of encouraging viewers to trust what they are seeing.[David A. Graham: The most damning January 6 testimony yet]Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this story is being told almost entirely by Republicans. Cheney might not be popular in her own party, but nobody can deny that she is a Republican, from a famous Republican family, whose interests cannot be described by anyone as purely partisan. The most important witnesses are Republicans close to Trump. The testimony of Trump’s children, Trump’s lawyers and Trump’s Cabinet cannot be wished away as something from a left-wing fever dream. Trump’s lawyers are effective because they are Trump’s lawyers. Cassidy Hutchinson, despite her youth and lack of celebrity, made a deep impression with her testimony partly because she followed in a long line of more famous Republicans, and partly because she was clearly a Republican insider herself. That gives her words more weight.Will those for whom Hutchinson’s testimony was so carefully designed even listen? Will any of the 35 percent change their position? At least a few of the early signs are positive: Some media outlets that the 35 percent are likely to watch, including Fox News, are willing to show and discuss the hearings. One polling company has already shown that three in five Americans have heard about the investigation and that majorities support the investigation and oppose the actions of Trump supporters who broke into the Capitol.But what really matters, in the longer term, is whether the remaining two in five eventually learn about the hearings and decide to watch them, and whether the one in five surveyed Americans who believe that Trump’s coup d’état was justified change their minds. The committee is making the most elaborate, careful and nuanced attempt to reach those Americans that anyone has yet designed. The presentation will be studied, and copied, for a long time.Aside from everything else, it seeks to restore a common framework for generating knowledge—that is, a network of people and institutions and fact-checking mechanisms whose overall story should resist even the attempts to cast doubt on one or another witness. Should, of course, is the operative word here. The Trump family, and Trump’s supporters, will indeed try to pick apart the committee's work, to break up the narrative, to criticize one line in someone’s testimony, to describe the whole effort as biased or unfair. They have already smeared Hutchinson, and won't stop there. But if the committee’s guess is right, it won’t be a single person’s testimony that matters—not Ivanka Trump’s, not Hutchinson’s—but rather the combined weight of dozens of witnesses. These accounts will at least make it difficult for anyone to defend Trump’s behavior on that day, and in the days that followed. Those who aren't convinced by this testimony never will be.
3 h
theatlantic.com
The New First Date
In the summer of 2020, Andy Rattinger went on a video date with a woman he met on an app. He had such a nice time that he planned a second date, dinner over Zoom, with her. He then suggested that they order identical London-themed Lego sets and build them simultaneously from their respective living rooms, while also talking on Zoom. The activity opened up conversations about her time in the U.K. and his passion for games and puzzles. “That pretty much sealed the deal,” Rattinger said. They soon met up in person and began a relationship that lasted several months.Rattinger, a 47-year-old film editor in Los Angeles, got divorced in 2017 and started dating again shortly before the start of the pandemic. Just as he was relearning how to date after 15 years, the rest of the world was learning how to date under lockdown. Previously, single people might have matched with someone on an app like Tinder, exchanged a few messages, then planned a date in person. But during the pandemic, meeting up in person meant taking a health risk. So some people started adding in a FaceTime, or several, before agreeing to meet up. Estimates on exactly how common this is vary, and much of the available data come from dating apps, which are eager to claim that video dating is here to stay. Still, there’s clearly been a steep increase in use since March 2020. A spokesperson for Hinge said that more than half of the app’s users had met a suitor on video, and a 2021 Match.com study reported that one in four single people had done so that year—compared with just 6 percent of people before the pandemic.[Read: The five years that changed dating]Some found video dates cringey and returned to cocktail bars and coffee shops as soon as health orders allowed. But others, having seen a new way, are still keeping FaceTimes in the mix. According to Match, 71 percent of people who’d met a romantic prospect on video said it had helped determine if they wanted to meet up in person. Zoom dates aren’t typically meant to replace in-person relationships. Rather, they are stepping-stones that allow daters to vet potential matches before dedicating time and energy to a night out. Among fans, these screener calls fulfill a desire for flexibility, efficiency, and control in dating—a field that, in the cultural imagination, tends to be dominated by spontaneity and chance.As anyone who has watched an episode of Sex and the City knows, viewers are captivated by the promise of an unplanned run-in on the sidewalk—or a near-fatal car crash—leading to love at first sight. Video dating continues the trend that app-based dating developed in wringing out much of that randomness. It enables daters to control exactly whom they meet in real life, screening out anyone who doesn’t match their ideal vision of a partner ​​before they’ve even been in the same room together. If the conventional wisdom once was that love happens when you least expect it, now love can also happen exactly when you most expect it, because the people video daters meet for dinner and drinks will have already passed multiple rounds of Zoom interviews.To a certain extent, dating is a numbers game, and video calls let people meet a high volume of suitors quickly. For example, chatting from home with people who live a long drive away is convenient, and saves time getting dressed, especially for those with busy schedules. “I think the video date should be the new first date—or I guess you could call it, like, a pre-date,” Gabi Conti, a writer and podcast host in Los Angeles, told me. In her experience, FaceTime dates were an efficient way to discern whether a potential match is “an F-boy”—that is, a guy whose central aim is to “F”—or otherwise incompatible, without first driving across L.A. What she lost in serendipity she gained in time saved. (She is now married to a man she met on Bumble.)These screener calls can also help those with safety concerns—whether related to COVID or harassment. Apryl Williams, an assistant professor of communication and media at the University of Michigan who has studied online dating during the pandemic, told me that virtual dates allow people with marginalized identities in particular to socialize and combat loneliness while also maintaining their boundaries. Over video they can get a sense of Does this person feel safe? before choosing to meet up in real life.Courtship was once an activity characterized by tight control—occurring within private spaces like family homes and with parental supervision. Then, around the turn of the century, as young people moved to cities and women began earning wages outside the home, it evolved to become much looser, playing out in public spaces like bars, according to Moira Weigel, an assistant professor in communication studies at Northeastern University and the author of Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating. In this later, unsupervised phase, courtship activities became more spontaneous. But during the pandemic, dating migrated back into the controlled, private space of the home.[Read: The ‘dating market’ is getting worse]The ways people date have long changed with the ways people work, Weigel argued in her book. So in a work-from-home moment (at least for the professional managerial class), it tracks that many are dating from home, too. In some ways, video dating is a modern, “McDonaldized” form of connection, offering a similar type of predictability and efficiency as the fast-food joint. But in other ways, it’s a callback to that older mode of at-home courtship. “Maybe you’re not with your mom and your aunt in the parlor, but you’re back in your home office slash living room,” Weigel said.Rattinger, for one, said he now meets dates on video before meeting in person about half of the time, depending on what his date prefers. Though there’s a lot to gain from meeting in real life, the flexibility and reduced pressure of going on a date with his dog by his side are pretty nice, he said. “In your own home, in your own environment, you feel a sense of comfort,” he said. “Or at least I do.”
3 h
theatlantic.com
Vodou Probably Isn’t What You Think
Though Alain Pierre-Louis grew up in a Haitian family that attended Catholic church services most Sundays, he always felt a spiritual pull toward something else. Vodou, a Haitian religion rooted in ancestral remembrance, nature, healing, and justice, was embedded everywhere in his Boston childhood—in the traditional rasin, or “roots,” music blaring from the living-room speakers, and in the Haitian-folkloric-dance performances he would go to with his relatives. But though the art influenced by Vodou was celebrated, the religion itself was considered taboo and a nonstarter at home. “There was no explanation; it was just, ‘No, you don’t need to learn that,’” Pierre-Louis, a 31-year-old environmental educator, told me. “[My parents] wanted me to embrace my culture except that part, our spirituality.”The anti-Vodou sentiment Pierre-Louis encountered from his parents is part of a long tradition of misinformation and discomfort about the religion. Tracing back to the 1600s, Vodou was founded as a unifying religion among enslaved Africans who had previously practiced different spiritual systems in their respective ethnic groups on the continent. Yet since its inception, it has been dogged by propaganda that paints it as diabolical sorcery—the perpetrators of chattel slavery led the earliest campaigns to portray Vodou as sinister. In his observations of the Africans living in Saint-Domingue (which would later become Haiti), the Martinican enslaver Médéric Louis Élie Moreau de Saint-Méry wrote, “In a word, nothing is more dangerous, according to all the accounts, than this cult of Vaudoux. It is founded on the extravagant idea, which can be made into a terrible weapon, that the ministers of the said being know and can do anything.” That characterization has endured for centuries, with modern-day popular culture depicting the religion’s followers as people who engage in black magic or demon worship. (One of the most common portrayals of Vodou in American film, for instance, is that of evil spells cast by practitioners using needle-poked dolls, a falsified representation of Vodou rituals.)But a contingent of Vodou devotees in the U.S. is trying to dispel those misconceptions and reclaim the public narrative about the religion. “I have taken some of my friends to ceremonies, and they come to understand Vodou differently … not from the perspective of Hollywood or white people,” Pierre-Louis said. “Vodou is very big on respecting nature, remembering the ancestors, and the rhythm and vibration through dance, song, and the drum. Vodou is energy.” He’s part of a growing group of Haitian Americans who are challenging harmful stereotypes about Vodou and creating communities to learn about this complex system of Black spirituality and cosmology for themselves.In 1804, Haiti became the first and only Black republic formed by people who had successfully overthrown their enslavers. One of the events credited as a major catalyst for the Haitian Revolution was a Vodou ceremony at Bwa Kayiman, a wooded area on the island. The leaders of the insurrection were Vodou practitioners, and it is believed that on that night they called on all of the Vodou lwa, or “spirits,” to guide and protect them as they took up arms in resistance.The fallout from that hard-won liberation was swift. In the anthology Vodou in Haitian Memory, the historian Brandon R. Byrd explains, “In a world dominated by slaveholding powers, the prevailing wisdom was that Haitians had all but eliminated their chances for future progress by liberating themselves from bondage and asserting their independence … By the late nineteenth century, journalists, businessmen, politicians, and travel writers from the United States and Western Europe came to identify Vodou as the primary cause and the most damning evidence of Haitian barbarism.” That scaremongering persists today, especially among the American evangelical Christians who establish churches and nonprofits across Haiti. Repeating a popular line of thought, for instance, the televangelist Pat Robertson falsely declared that the country’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake—which decimated its capital and killed hundreds of thousands of people—was caused by the Haitians who “got together and swore a pact to the devil” to attain their freedom. And recently, in videos posted to social media, Pastor Keion ​​Henderson, who heads the Lighthouse Church in Houston, blamed poverty and disease in Haiti on “voodoo.” (Henderson has since apologized.)Outsiders have held an oversize role in defining Vodou in the public consciousness, which has in turn affected the way many Haitians and Haitian Americans themselves view the religion. Father Jean Fritz Bazin, a Haitian Episcopalian priest in Miami, told me that in his conversations with fellow Haitian priests and parishioners, he’s found that they believe in Vodou, but only within the context of harm. For example, if someone experiences financial hardships, falls ill, or dies suddenly, Vodou is commonly blamed. “The Church becomes a refuge because people fear Vodou. [It] is presented as evil,” Bazin said. Christian churches in Haiti have long used Vodou as a recruitment tool by presenting it as “against God.” And when the religion was slandered as “uncivilized” by Western nations, past Haitian governments sought to allay foreign fears and exert control over practitioners by criminalizing Vodou in the country. Still, cultural remnants of Vodou are present in the everyday lives of many Haitian Christians—whether they admit it or not—according to Bazin. A popular saying on the island goes, “Haiti is 90 percent Catholic, 10 percent Protestant, and 100 percent Vodou.” For his part, Pierre-Louis was determined to explore Vodou for himself and delve more deeply into the religion that had always existed in his periphery. In college, he educated himself through academic texts, and he continued his learning under the tutelage of Haitian elders in Miami, where he now lives, and in Haiti, where he frequently visits. He became a houngan, a Vodou priest, and last year, he co-founded Lakou Ti Ayiti, a Haitian cultural organization that hosts online and in-person gatherings to teach Vodou philosophy, rituals, and art. A lakou, the Haitian Creole word for “family compound,” is a physical communal space where traditions and historical knowledge are shared and preserved. But Lakou Ti Ayiti’s digital component has expanded that reach exponentially. It “has springboarded how we educate and touch people worldwide,” said Pierre-Louis. “I have people from Brazil who’ve reached out to me, after seeing us hold on to our culture in the United States.”The same calling that gripped Pierre-Louis also came to Portsha Jefferson, a 50-year-old professional dancer and choreographer living in Oakland, California. At least once a month, Jefferson convenes performances, dance-movement sessions, or virtual lectures about Vodou. I attended one of her Zoom talks, which drew about 50 participants from across the U.S. and featured a discussion on Ezili Danto—the Vodou lwa who embodies motherhood and love for her children. The guest speaker, Charlene Désir, a manbo, or Vodou priestess, and professor of education, gave an impassioned address about how Danto was one of the lwa called on by Haitians ahead of the revolution that culminated in 1804, underscoring the importance of women in both the religion and Black liberation.A few days later, I spoke with Jefferson by phone about holding a public space to discuss and learn about Vodou, a religion that historically has been practiced in secret in this country, partly because of the stigma. “As Vodouisants we have a duty to uphold and preserve this tradition because there is so much misinformation,” she said, using the Haitian Creole term for a Vodou devotee. “We have to talk about the goodness of it, the healing in it. And so I created a digital lakou for us to come together, learn, study, and to be together.” Vodou scholars, healers, and practitioners are invited to lead discussions and workshops in Jefferson’s lakou; each of her gatherings tends to attract dozens of people from various backgrounds.Jefferson’s entry into Vodou was through dance—she took a Haitian-folklore-dance class in college where she learned about the deeper spiritual meanings connected to the movements. Her extensive research (and her mother’s revelation that Jefferson’s great-grandmother was from Haiti) then led Jefferson to take a trip to the country in 2003. After later attending a series of Vodou ceremonies in New York and Boston, Jefferson said that she felt called to become an initiate. In the book Nan Dòmi: An Initiate’s Journey to Vodou, the Haitian singer and anthropologist Mimerose Beaubrun writes that there are many openings and invitations into Vodou: “Dance is a passport that permits you to take long journeys into the unknown.” As such, Jefferson also runs Rara Tou Limen, a Haitian dance company, in her neighborhood. “Dance, for me, is Vodou and it’s a way of life,” she said. It’s “how you move, how you breathe.” Sharing her spiritual journey through dance and hosting her online lakou are how Jefferson says she can make a true image of Vodou accessible to a wide group of people.For Riva Nyri Précil, a 32-year-old visual artist and singer, working against hundreds of years of indoctrination to demystify this Haiti-born spirituality is no small feat. “There’s been so much work done against Vodou, so it’s a bold choice to do this in the open,” Précil, who was born in New York and raised in Haiti before moving back to the States as a teenager, told me. “I believe in practicing Vodou as my birthright as a Haitian. Vodou is our lifestyle. We practice it through the food we eat, the language we speak, and through our music.”Weeks ago, Précil hosted a celebration on a Brooklyn rooftop to honor Kouzen Zaka, the Haitian spirit of agriculture and farmers, for whom the month of May is feted. To her more than 99,000 Instagram followers, she extended an invitation encouraging them to bring offerings for Zaka—tobacco pipes, corn, and fruit—for a community-built altar. About 150 people showed up, some wearing Zaka’s signature denim clothes and straw hat. At one point in the evening, attendees formed a cluster dancing and singing to the rhythms of live drums. “It’s very fulfilling for me to do this work, because it’s necessary,” she said. “I’m inspired every day to learn more, create more, teach more, and to help others regain our identity proudly.” In asserting themselves as the ones who get to rightfully tell the Vodou story and correct decades of distortion, Haitian Americans like Précil are employing the same liberation ethos upon which the religion was born.
4 h
theatlantic.com
Why Trump’s Coup Was Destined to Fail
Yesterday Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, told the House’s January 6 committee that Donald Trump knew rioters were armed, and urged them to go to the Capitol anyway. But the most surprising element of her testimony was her claim that Trump lunged for the steering wheel of his armored limousine and tried to force his Secret Service detail to take him to the Capitol. “I’m the f-ing president,” she said he told his chief bodyguard. “Take me up to the Capitol now.” The agent refused. If true, I believe this would be the first known example of Trump’s physically exerting himself when not on a golf course. It would also be the first instance of his volunteering to join a melee, rather than just letting one erupt in his name at a safe distance.Coup leaders usually fail visibly, definitively, unambiguously. You don’t need committees to verify who led a coup when the plotters declare their seditious intent, as Hitler did in the beer hall, by punctuating it with a gunshot into the ceiling. I hope it does not sound like I am diminishing the gravity of January 6 when I say that it was among the dumbest coup attempts in history—not because it was destined to fail but because of the trivial reason it was destined to fail. That reason is Trump’s incredible laziness and complete aversion to personal risk. I struggle to think of another putsch that was doomed in quite this way. A whole party prostrated itself before its leader. Lawyers confected idiotic, barely-even-trying justifications. And thousands of people stood ready in the streets to escalate the violence and stop legitimate politics from proceeding. But Trump himself, the one plotter whose vigorous participation was absolutely necessary, seems to have spent most of that day watching TV and ignoring texts.The January 6 hearings, culminating yesterday with Hutchinson’s testimony, have thrilled many Trump opponents. They must be easily amused. Was there any doubt about Trump’s amorality? The most striking aspect of the timeline now established is not the revelation of guilt but the long-known fact that the country was saved by pure indolence. The protagonist of this coup de cons appears to have tried to topple the government without issuing the orders that would allow a coup to succeed. Such actions—say, telling the Joint Chiefs, “I’m in charge indefinitely; ignore Joe Biden,” or putting Mike Pence under house arrest, or canceling the upcoming inauguration—would have, in any other coup, rendered a House committee superfluous. Instead our slothful president watched the fight in the executive branch play out, and waited to see if someone else would do these things for him, and assume all legal blame. (I said he was slothful, not stupid.)Hutchinson told the committee that Trump thought Pence “deserve[d]” to be besieged by a crowd baying for his death, and Trump wanted to remove metal detectors in the area, because the armed mob was not after his enemies, and not him. These details sound like the Trump we have all grown to love and hate (and, frankly, are much more in-character than growling defiantly at his Secret Service agents, like Harrison Ford in Air Force One). This Trump is borderline sociopathic in his indifference to the suffering of others; willing to destroy any norm or institution that inconveniences him; and, in the end, unwilling to shift himself from a seated position except to receive the unconditional devotion of throngs of credulous supporters.Laura Ingraham of Fox News warned Meadows that by not stopping the sack of the Capitol, Trump was “destroying his legacy.” Efforts like these apparently left Trump unmoved. And why should he have been moved? No one has been better at predicting Trump’s legacy than Trump. The advice that Trump never received, and that might have gotten him to stop the rioting sooner, is the advice that many failed coup-plotters in other countries have failed to heed. Sir, you are subverting the government—an unambiguous criminal act that will, if unsuccessful, end with your imprisonment or even execution.He did not receive that advice, because it did not apply. I suspect that Trump committed serious crimes in the days or weeks after the election, and that no one would call those crimes sedition were it not for what came later. What came later was January 6, a real coup attempt, and on that day Trump outsourced all overt criminality. He avoided firing his own gun at the ceiling. He had bullied allies and enemies and made bad-faith arguments, and now welcomed the murder of the vice president. According to Hutchinson, he asked the Secret Service to remove obstacles to a coup. Does this act amount to insurrection? The Department of Justice, busily investigating Trump’s associates, seems to think the answer is maybe. The House committee has so far declined, wisely, to say either way.Some people confront these facts and see a stone-cold political criminal. I see a lazy bastard who could not believe his luck—that he had yet again managed to get others to do what he dared not do himself. Maybe Trump will be charged, and maybe those charges will stick. My worry is that what saved American government from existential disaster was not its political institutions (which nearly collapsed) or the honor of its people (who were as nutty and bestial as any). It was the lassitude and cowardice of a single orange-tinted individual who spent most of the coup doing … nothing. The next bastard might not be quite as gutless.
6 h
theatlantic.com
Corporate Climate Action Is an Employee Perk
Sign up for The Weekly Planet, Robinson Meyer’s newsletter about living through climate change, here.In February, Bank of America offered its employees a notable perk: If they had worked at the bank for at least three years, and made less than $250,000, then it would give them $4,000 to buy a new electric car. (Employees interested in merely leasing an EV could claim $2,000.) The move, attached to a company-wide round of salary increases, wasn’t the first time that the bank had made the offer; it had made a similar one in 2015, and again in 2020, although those incentives had also applied to gas-electric hybrids.Bank of America’s move isn’t going to make a major dent in climate change, but it’s also far from the worst piece of corporate climate action I’ve ever heard of. Many corporate actions to reduce global warming don’t actually help the climate—and if they involve carbon offsets, they can actually add carbon to the atmosphere. But about 15 percent of U.S. carbon pollution comes from cars and light-duty trucks, although gasoline use, and thus carbon emissions, is disproportionately concentrated among a small group of consumers who drive larger vehicles and live in rural areas (which likely doesn’t include many bank tellers or financial analysts). You’ve heard the spiel by now: Electric vehicles are cheaper to run and own than gas-burning cars in many states—but that’s provided that buyers can stomach the larger down payment. An employer-provided subsidy helps get there.Companies pursue climate action for a number of reasons, but Bank of America’s announcement helped clarify one of the least-discussed aspects of corporate climate action: It is a job perk. When companies try to look like they’re decarbonizing—or more broadly, doing right by the climate—it isn’t only out of their fealty to anxious asset managers. In many instances, it’s also because they want to retain their employees—and their largely left-of-center employees, in turn, want to feel like they’re working at a virtuous place.Bank of America’s offer makes this fact unusually prominent ($4,000 handouts make for good headlines), but you can see the same idea in some of the tech giants that first pursued aggressive climate action in the 2010s. When Google went “carbon neutral” in 2007, it was already sitting on a massive river of cash. It has since begun to power all of its data centers with renewable energy, slashing emissions. Apple and Microsoft have done the same. Some tech companies now aspire to go carbon negative; Frontier, an initiative housed inside the payments company Stripe, is paying early-stage to remove carbon from the atmosphere so as to help that carbon-sucking technology along. But these firms have (and had) something in common: They are competing in some of the country’s tightest labor markets, demanding highly technical talent from a relatively small pool of qualified workers. These disproportionately young, urban, and highly educated engineers and programmers skew to the left as their demographics would suggest, and so the bulk of tech workers are eager to see climate action.Nor has the recent movement been limited to tech companies. McKinsey sponsored Frontier, and dozens of Fortune 500 companies, including McDonald’s and United, have made some kind of net-zero pledge. This has been understood as corporate do-gooderism, but it’s also a type of employee perk. In part, that’s because education has become an even stronger predictor of one’s political beliefs in recent years, aligning some segments of corporate America and its workforce more closely with the left. At the same time, the need for companies to follow their employees’ wishes might be particularly acute right now, with labor markets across the United States so tight. In other ways, too, firms are taking actions that straddle the line between political statement and job benefit: Many companies have already committed to paying for their employees to travel out of state to receive an abortion.Yet even if labor markets slacken as surging oil prices and rising interest rates put added stress on the economy, competition in the tightest markets—for young, urban, highly educated, and (therefore) progressive talent—will remain. And those workers will continue to vote with their feet. In a way, corporate climate action at high-tech firms mirrors plummeting enrollment in petroleum-engineering programs: Young people have less interest than ever in despoiling the climate for their day job.Still, it’s worth attaching a few asterisks to this idea. First, just because corporate climate action appeals to employees doesn’t mean that it can’t be dishonest or insufficient. Many progressives (and a good number of conservatives) tend to cast aside corporate climate action as nothing more than “greenwashing.” I’m not saying that greenwashing doesn’t exist; rather, employees, not consumers, are the prime audience for greenwashing.I’m also not saying that the desire to look good is the only factor driving corporate climate action right now. High energy prices are clearly giving firms further incentive to look into decarbonization right now. With gasoline at about $5 a gallon in the United States (and significantly higher in Europe), companies have a further reason to investigate electrifying their vehicle fleet or buying clean power.That’s one reason I’m skeptical that Republicans will be able to stop these efforts. As Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s assault on Disney has shown, Republicans are now trying to make companies act less “woke.” Some of their suggested policies flow from a belief that executives and middle managers, sometimes empowered by the people in charge of large asset managers such as BlackRock, are acting outside of actual investors’ interests. But if corporate climate action is partially an epiphenomenon of the labor market, then even a widespread conservative regime is unlikely to fully undermine it.Last year, I wrote about the “green vortex,” the set of economic, technological, and financial forces that drove a virtuous cycle of decarbonization with only minor government intervention. It’s time to think of labor pressure—and the more generic employee desire for a “good employer”—as one of those key forces.
6 h
theatlantic.com
National Portrait Gallery and The Atlantic Announce “Perspectives: The Atlantic’s Writers at the National Portrait Gallery”
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and The Atlantic announce a new, multi-platform collaboration titled “Perspectives: The Atlantic’s Writers at the National Portrait Gallery.” As part of the reinstallation of the museum’s permanent-collection galleries, the Portrait Gallery and The Atlantic will highlight a selection of the country’s founding voices in literature, politics, philosophy, and culture with interpretive wall texts written by The Atlantic’s contemporary writers and editors. The project will premiere in person and online beginning July 1 with the reopening of the museum’s “Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900” exhibition, and it will coincide with the magazine’s 165th anniversary year.The collaboration will present commentary from The Atlantic’s writers reflecting on the work and legacy of prior Atlantic contributors whose portraits are on view at the museum, such as Louisa May Alcott, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis. The new wall texts, written by The Atlantic’s journalists, will draw connections between the magazine’s historic focus on abolition, its current engagement with social justice and civil rights, and the museum’s many portraits of diverse activists. Also included will be the likenesses of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, three of the founders who established The Atlantic in Boston in 1857.Visitors will be able to experience these portraits at the museum or virtually through an online tour, available now, complete with audio descriptions read by each author. Beginning July 1, eight portraits will be on view in “Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900” on the Portrait Gallery’s first floor, with five others installed in the museum’s second- and third-floor galleries. The online tour includes the 13 artworks on view in the museum alongside additional portraits for the project’s full suite of more than 20 sitters and a project video. Other newly interpreted portraits will be installed throughout the museum in the coming years.“History is always changing and evolving depending on who holds the pen,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “It’s a pleasure to collaborate with The Atlantic’s writers for their perspective on these historic figures.”“The Atlantic has been central to the intellectual, cultural, and political life of our country for 165 years,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, the magazine’s editor in chief. “Our partners at the National Portrait Gallery have performed a great service by highlighting our writers and their contributions to the progress of the American experiment.”“Perspectives: The Atlantic’s Writers at the National Portrait Gallery” is the latest endeavor between the museum and The Atlantic. The two entities will also collaborate on public programs in the coming year, and the Portrait Gallery will host writers on Season 4 of the museum’s PORTRAITS podcast.“Out of Many: Portraits from 1600 to 1900” is sponsored by Ann S. and Samuel M. Mencoff and the Terra Foundation for American Art.NOTE TO THE EDITORS:Portraits to be on display as of July 1Sitters & The Atlantic WritersLouisa May Alcott & Adrienne LaFrance, executive editorFrederick Douglass & George Packer, staff writerRalph Waldo Emerson & Vann R. Newkirk II, senior editorNathaniel Hawthorne & Ann Hulbert, literary editorJulia Ward Howe & Anna Deavere Smith, contributing writerMartin Luther King Jr. & Peter Wehner, contributing writerJohn Lewis & Ibram X. Kendi, contributing writerHenry Wadsworth Longfellow & Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chiefA. Philip Randolph & Caitlin Dickerson, staff writerCarl Sandburg & Anne Applebaum, staff writerHarriet Beecher Stowe & Drew Gilpin Faust, contributing writerHarry S. Truman & Yoni Appelbaum, deputy editorBooker T. Washington & Adam Harris, staff writerNational Portrait GalleryThe Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the nation’s story.The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G Streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at npg.si.edu and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.The AtlanticSince 1857, The Atlantic has been a magazine of ideas—a home to the best writers and boldest minds, who bring clarity and original thinking to the most important issues of the current times. Through its journalism, it aims to help its readers better understand the world and its possibilities as they navigate the complexities of daily life. Record audiences and numbers of subscribers have turned to The Atlantic’s exacting coverage of the pandemic and its consequences, of threats to global democracy and issues of race and inequity. Jeffrey Goldberg is The Atlantic’s editor in chief; Nick Thompson is the CEO. The Atlantic earned the top honor for magazines, General Excellence, at the 2022 National Magazine Awards.Press Contacts:Concetta Duncan | National Portrait Gallery202.633.9989, duncanc@si.eduAnna Bross | The Atlantic202.680.3848, anna@theatlantic.comCredits of Portraits Above: “Harry S. Truman, 1884–1972,” by Jay Wesley Jacobs / “Louisa May Alcott, 1832–1888.” Cast after: Frank Edwin Elwell; Foundry: Roman Bronze Works Inc. / “Richard Wright, 1908–1960,” by Carl Van Vechten / “Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910,” begun by John Elliott; finished by William Henry Cotton / “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–1882,” by Thomas Buchanan Read / “Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) 1835–1910,” by John White Alexander / “Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804–1864,” by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze / “Frederick Douglass, 1818–1895,” by Unidentified Artist / “Booker T. Washington, 1856–1919.” Cast after: Richmond Barthé; Foundry: Modern Art Foundry.
6 h
theatlantic.com
Leaving Office and Cashing In
Two weeks ago, retired Marine General John Allen resigned as the head of the prestigious Washington think tank the Brookings Institution, following revelations of what federal prosecutors allege was his unregistered lobbying for the government of Qatar. I briefly worked with Allen in the Obama administration, and his record of public service is lengthy and admirable. But after reading through both the court documents and media reporting on what happened, the problem that most worries me is what I perceive to be a dangerous sense of entitlement among some of our most senior public servants.That sense of entitlement undermines the esteem in which the American public holds its institutions. As the Tufts University professor Dan Drezner noted of the affair in comments to Politico: Retired military officers “feel like they’re making up for lost time. And the problem is because they’ve been in the military world, they have no idea what the rules are.”I spend a good deal of time with former senior government officials, both uniformed and civilian. Almost all of them are humble about their accomplishments, and have a good attitude about what they can expect in the private sector. But there are also exceptions.I have come across a few who reason that, having enjoyed success in either uniform or elsewhere in government, they should be rewarded for that achievement and status in the private sector. These people tend to make decisions, usually of a money-grubbing variety, that reflect poorly not just on themselves but on their peers and the institutions from which they hail.[Sarah Chayes: Look out, corruption ahead]I was reminded of the 2009 scandal that convulsed Britain after newspaper reports exposed lawmakers’ abuse of their parliamentary expenses. Members of the U.K. Parliament from all parties had sought reimbursements on everything from duck ponds to—and I am not making this up—moat cleaning. Altogether, lawmakers were shamed into paying back nearly £500,000, and more than a dozen parliamentarians were shamed into leaving their positions.The most persuasive explanation for such misconduct boils down to a gross sense of entitlement.We would be naive to assume we do not have the same problem here. Imagine a young person about to graduate from an Ivy League school, or a service academy, who decides on a life in public service. After a decade or more of climbing the ladder and serving as a senior congressional aide or field-grade military officer, they’ve achieved a good middle-class lifestyle, but something is amiss: When they look at their university peers who went into business, they all seem to be doing much better than they are, at least financially. I’m smarter than my friends who went into finance, the congressional aide or military officer thinks, but I can’t afford the vacations or country homes they can—it’s not fair. And they are right, in a sense. Few people in finance should make the salaries they do. But they are also wrong about making as much as they do. They, after all, voluntarily chose a life of public service—with an emphasis on that last word, service. There is honor in public service, more honor than in most private-sector jobs, but to expect a public-service job to pay as much as the highest-paid jobs in the private sector is unrealistic. A lieutenant colonel in the Army with 20 years of service makes roughly $120,000 a year and could then be eligible for retirement by, say, the age of 42. (The mean annual wage in the United States, by contrast, is about $58,000, and the average American expects to retire in his or her 60s.) A career in the military or on Capitol Hill ensures a very comfortable life by any reasonable measure. But it is not supposed to make anyone rich.I try not to judge the decisions people make about their career. Nor do I believe that we should go around placing too many formal restrictions on what former officials can and cannot do once they leave public service. But my stomach churns when I see government officials go to work directly in the industries most adjacent to their department or agency. Congress and each administration pass laws and issue guidance, but speak with any former senior official, and he or she can give you several examples of when the spirit, if not the letter, of these laws was blatantly violated by a former colleague.[David A. Graham: The unchecked corruption of Trump’s Cabinet]The questions then arise: When did that former official give advice on that arms sale, or that financial regulation, and in whose interest were they working? I’m not alone in finding such cases distasteful. If the outrage from their representatives in Congress is anything to go by, Americans do not like it when their public servants appear to be cashing in on their service, and our eroding trust in what had previously been highly esteemed institutions should concern us.I made my own transition to the private sector more than a decade ago—and it wasn’t easy or painless. At the age of 33, I had grown interested in the world of commerce generally but figured that I had a limited amount of time to start my career anew, and this narrowed my choices. I ended up at one of the elite strategy-consulting firms that hire a few people with postgraduate degrees like me each year and throw us up against the wall to see who will stick. I nearly fell off the wall before a colleague at the firm—an executive more senior than I, though seven years younger—took me under her wing and got me back on track.Now knowing something about how hard and uncompromising the private sector can be, I am sometimes astonished by the assumption some high-ranking officers have that they could have been just as successful at, say, JPMorgan or BlackRock as they were in the Army or the Marine Corps. The traits and experiences that lead to professional success in one field are rarely the same as those that lead to success in another.[Jay Cost: The swamp isn’t easy to drain]Neither the military nor the private sector is a perfect meritocracy, but I am always staggered to hear former colleagues in the military remark how great it is that a certain general is also the son of a retired general. Really? I wonder. You’re not a little embarrassed by this? Far too many military officers rise through the ranks thanks to powerful patrons. The same thing happens in the private sector, of course, but folks at the top of any organization should admit how big a part fortune played in getting them there. The advice I would give to any senior officials looking to join the private sector is, unhelpfully perhaps, to have done so 25 years earlier. Corporations love hiring junior military officers and government officials because they are still young enough to learn and have lower expectations of near-term compensation.More helpfully, I would advise those making the transition to stay humble. The most successful retired officers and senior officials I have seen, including those who were giving up senior posts as colonels or ambassadors, know what they do not know and are not afraid to admit as much. Such success tends also to apply to the people who roll up their sleeves afresh without resting on the laurels of their public service.My final piece of advice is that anyone who leaves public service should be prepared to stay gone. Public service is a privilege, and the minute we walk out that door, we cannot ever expect to walk back in. We should be grateful for the time we have been able to spend serving this country, and rather than obsess about the private-sector success of others, we should better appreciate the blessings we already have. That should be our only entitlement.
8 h
theatlantic.com
A Dangerous, Deranged, Seditious President
The portrait painted yesterday at the January 6 hearing by Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, wasn’t simply of a criminal president, but of a seditious madman.Even Republican members of Congress who have long supported Donald Trump told reporters, anonymously, that Hutchinson’s testimony was “worse than they imagined.” They were “stunned” and “left speechless.”If they were, they shouldn’t have been.According to Hutchinson, the president of the United States knew that his supporters attending the January 6 rally near the White House were armed—and he still wanted security removed from the area and the crowd to march to the Capitol. “I overheard the president say something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f— care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the f— mags [magnetometers] away. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol from here,’” Hutchinson said. Not long after that, Trump told the crowd that stormed the Capitol, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”Hutchinson also said she heard a conversation between White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Meadows: “I remember Pat saying something to the effect of ‘Mark, we need to do something more. They’re literally calling for the Vice President to be f— hung.’ And Mark had responded something to the effect of ‘You heard him, Pat; he thinks Mike deserves it. He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.’” Shortly after that, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution.”Hutchinson also said that Trump shattered a porcelain plate after learning that then–Attorney General Bill Barr said he’d found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election; on other occasions, Trump flipped tablecloths “to let all the contents at the table go onto the floor and likely break or go everywhere.” And at the end of the hearing, Representative Liz Cheney raised the prospect of witness tampering, quoting from witnesses who had been the targets of Mafia-style intimidation tactics.This new account of what Trump did leading up to, on, and after January 6 was shocking, yet not surprising. His behavior did not amount to an abrupt about-face by an otherwise honorable man, but was the last link in an almost unfathomably long chain of events—vicious, merciless words and unscrupulous, unethical acts that were said and done, many in public view, in ways that were impossible to deny. All the signs of Trump’s corruption and disordered personality were obvious for years.Perhaps the case against Trump presented by the January 6 committee and previous Trump loyalists—by now so overwhelming as to be unquestionable—will cause some members of Congress, academics, and “public intellectuals” in the right-wing infrastructure to distance themselves from Trump. Of course, until now Trump has crossed no ethical line Trump, has shattered no norm, that caused them to say “Enough!” Instead we’ve heard whataboutism and strained-to-the-breaking-point excuses.However this plays out, this needs to be said: For the past half-dozen years, the Republican Party and the American right—with a very few honorable exceptions— stood with Trump, defended him, and attacked his critics. Some went silent in the face of his indecency and lawlessness; many others gleefully promulgated his lies and conspiracy theories. Together they attempted to annihilate truth on his behalf, in his name, for their party, to seize and to hold power.Some comfort themselves by saying that they went along for the ride so they could promote their policy agenda. Others were afraid to speak up. Still others did it for ratings and money. Some Trump supporters were true believers. Some rationalized their deal with the (figurative) devil; others were more transparent and more cynical.Every Trump supporter has his story to tell, his defense to offer, his reasons he did what he did. Massive cognitive dissonance—in this case individuals and a political party that have historically championed law and order, “traditional values,” high ethical ideals, moral leadership in political leaders, and a healthy civic and political culture, defending at every turn a person who was indecent, cruel, vindictive, demagogic, unstable, and ultimately deranged—can produce some very creative justifications.No matter; the die is cast when it comes to the Trump presidency and those who made it possible. The events of January 6 were, in their own twisted way, a fitting denouement of the Trump presidency. It was so obvious, for so long, that this wouldn’t end well. Trump was the primary architect of the attack on the citadel of American democracy. But he had a lot of help along the way.Hutchinson’s testimony was a withering indictment of America’s 45th president. But it was also, if less directly, an indictment of his party, his supporters, his acolytes, those who went silent and those who spoke up on his behalf. He and they are ever twinned.
8 h
theatlantic.com
How the Rest of the World Is Returning to the Office
Across much of the industrialized world, with notable exceptions, everyday life has returned to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy. Travel restrictions have largely been lifted. In the West at least, masks have mostly disappeared from shops and public transport. Restaurants, theaters, museums, sports stadiums, and concert halls are once again brimming with locals and tourists alike.But one place hasn’t reverted to its pre-pandemic status. Starting in March 2020, COVID-19 forced hundreds of millions of office workers around the world out of their workplaces and into their living rooms, kitchens, and, for the luckier among them, home offices. So began the great remote-work experiment that nobody asked for—one that is still going on for many white-collar workers. Only now, it’s by choice and habit. Despite the fact that many workplaces have reopened their doors, a significant proportion of workers—not to mention some of their employers—have been reluctant to return to the office five days a week. Some have sworn off ever going into an office again.In the United States, about a third of office workers had returned to fully in-person work by the end of the first quarter of this year, according to unpublished data shared with me by Future Forum, a research group at Slack that surveyed more than 10,000 knowledge workers across six countries. And the rest of the world isn’t rushing back to the office either: Only 26 percent in Britain, 28 percent in Australia, 32 percent in Germany, and 35 percent in France have done so. Japan is a bit of an outlier—there, more than half of white-collar workers are back in the building—but elsewhere, most employees either continued working fully remotely or split their time in a hybrid model; more than three-quarters of those canvassed in a separate, published survey from Future Forum said they liked this flexibility. Although exclusively remote working is still common enough in the U.S., Australia, and Britain (where about a quarter to a fifth of workers don’t go into an office at all), the practice has dwindled in Germany, Japan, and France (averaging about one in 10).The type of industries a country has, and the makeup of its workforce, account for some of the differences. Wealthier countries tend to have more of the kinds of employment that lend themselves to remote work. When I asked experts about the main reasons driving preferences for hybrid and remote work, the most common answer had to do with commuting. Although those who live within walking distance of their workplace may find it convenient to return to the office, many others who have to brave traffic congestion in cars or journeys on crowded public transportation may be less inclined, especially five days a week. This is particularly true in countries such as Britain, where before the pandemic, workers would on average spend more than an hour commuting each day—time that has since been repurposed for catching up on sleep, doing household chores, or caring for family members and pets. In London, despite an extensive mass-transit system, nearly three-quarters of workers say they’ll never go back to their pre-pandemic ways.The question of returning to fully in-person work also comes down to very practical considerations such as the size of peoples’ homes, their living situations, and the reliability of their internet connections. Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economist and a co-founder of the WFH Research project, told me that rates of remote working are relatively low in Southern European cities, for example, because apartments tend to be smaller there than they are elsewhere on the continent. The same may be true of countries such as Japan, where notoriously cramped living quarters have also made remote work less desirable. Age and family circumstances also play a role: Young people are generally more eager to return to the office, but workers with children tend to place a premium on working from home at least part of the time.Differences aside, one trend is clear: Around the world, office workers prefer a hybrid model that allows them to split their time between home and the office by having an option to work remotely at least two days a week, according to a WFH Research survey of nearly 33,000 workers across 25 countries. So valuable did those surveyed consider this flexibility that, on average, they’d trade a 5 percent pay raise to have it.[Read: There’s a perfect number of days to work from home, and it’s 2]“Flexibility is now basically table stakes for the vast majority of the knowledge-worker population,” Brian Elliott, the executive leader of Future Forum, told me. This shift is forcing employers to rethink not only where work happens, but also when. Although an emphatic 79 percent of people want flexibility about location, Elliott added, an even more significant 94 percent want flexibility about their schedule.“Most people do value the interaction they get, and the networking and the socializing and the learning that they get, in the office; they just don’t want to do it five days a week,” Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago and a co-founder of WFH Research, told me. The presenteeist bureaucratic model that has defined office work over the past several decades “has certainly broken,” Davis added, “and I don’t expect it to return.”That isn’t a belief that all companies, let alone world leaders, seem to share. Many top executives have stressed office-working as important for cultivating collaboration and innovation (despite the fact that nonexecutive employees are nearly twice as likely as executives to be working from the office five days a week, according to the Future Forum survey). Another striking discrepancy emerges in employer and employee attitudes about how efficient remote work is: More than half of the business leaders surveyed for Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index expressed fears that productivity had taken a hit as a result of the shift away from in-person work, but 80 percent of employees surveyed said they were just as, if not more, productive.[Read: Why managers fear a remote-work future]This new age of work may favor workers more than their bosses. If a business such as Tesla mandates that its employees return to full-time office work, those employees do not lack other options. (In Elon Musk’s case, this uncompromising message may have had less to do with an antipathy toward remote working than as a way of shrinking the payroll without having to make formal job cuts.) Not only have numerous companies already announced longer-term flexible-working arrangements, but some are also using them as a recruitment tool to draw talent from their competitors.In May, Airbnb said that its careers page received 800,000 visits following the company’s announcement that the majority of its roughly 14,000 U.S. domestic and international employees would have the flexibility to continue working from home, or anywhere else, on a permanent basis. Future Forum’s survey found that those who don’t get the flexibility they’re looking for are more than twice as likely to say that they will “definitely” look for a new job in the next year. Jane Parry, an associate professor in the business school at Britain’s University of Southampton, told me that work arrangements are becoming a top issue for job candidates in interviews.As employers reckon with what a shift to more flexible working arrangements will mean for the future of the office, they must also consider the impact that resisting this move could have on business. This is particularly true of companies in countries such as Japan and Germany, which are already experiencing shrinking workforces as a result of aging populations. According to Steffen Kampeter, the head of the BDA, Germany’s employers’ association, accommodating arrangements and “respectful attitudes toward the wishes of employees … to keep them in the organization” will now be “the new normal.”Whether the change proves permanent is another question. As my Atlantic colleague Derek Thompson writes, if a looming recession materializes, that could put power back in the hands of employers, giving them the leverage to halt or reverse a global shift to hybrid work. But the way many of the experts I spoke with see it, the trend already has an unstoppable momentum.Recession or no recession, “top talent is always in demand,” Future Forum’s Elliott said. “If you lose the wrong people in a downturn, things get worse, not better.”
9 h
theatlantic.com
Reindeer Have a Special Eye Color Just for Winter
Of all the eyeballs in Glen Jeffery’s office, only a very small minority are his.“Oh, I’ve got an office full of eyes,” Jeffery, a neuroscientist at University College London, told me. Over Skype, he fished one of his favorites out of an opaque vial: About the size of a golf ball and fringed with white tissue, it looked a bit like a poached egg with a slate-hued yolk. The prized specimen was a reindeer eye, an organ that has captivated Jeffery for decades because of the beguiling metamorphosis it undergoes each year in the animals’ Arctic home.During the summer, when the sun spends months above the horizon, the inner parts of the animals’ eyes, a structure called the tapetum lucidum, gleam a shimmering gold. But as the landscape dips into the perpetual darkness of winter, their eyes turn a rich blue. The change isn’t easily noticeable in live reindeer, simply strutting about. But the first time Jeffery dissected both summer and winter eyes in his lab and spotted the difference, “I nearly fell off my seat,” he said. “I’d never seen an animal able to change its tapetum.”That was about 20 years ago. In the time since, Jeffery and his colleagues have discovered that the eyes’ transformation serves a pretty important role: It tunes the organs to the colors of light most relevant to each season, enhancing the reindeer’s ability to detect short, blue wavelengths of light that dominate the Arctic’s dreary winters, then flipping the eyes back to the summer shade that guides them through sun-soaked months. The changeup—a malleability that’s never been documented in another animal, before or since—turns traditional notions of animal vision on their head. “We think of the eye as a pretty inflexible organ,” Kate Myrna, a veterinary ophthalmologist at the University of Georgia, told me. “You’re born with what you get; if anything, your vision gets worse over time.” But rule-breaking reindeer don’t just use their eyes to make sense of the world, as other animals do. They also use the world to make their eyes make more sense.[Read: Norway’s radioactive reindeer]The reindeer’s color-changing feat is subtle enough that it eluded the notice of scientists for many years. The tapetum lucidum, is wedged in the back of each eye behind the retina, where it helps many nocturnal mammals better see their surroundings at night. Humans lack a tapetum, but many of us have seen one of its tricks: The tapetum is what makes cat, dog, and raccoon eyes glow in nighttime photographs. It reflects light that passes through the retina back toward it, giving the front of the eye a second opportunity to glimpse it—and, in the case of cameras, ping-ponging a brilliant flash back out. “It’s like having night-vision goggles that nature gives you,” Myrna told me.Reindeer take those night-vision goggles and tint them on a seasonal schedule, upping their powers further. The tapetum is composed of a bunch of long collagen fibers, lined up lengthwise and suspended in fluid. In the summer, when the animals’ eyes shine gold, the tapetum’s fibers are packed loosely, giving the collagen “quite good reflectivity over a wide range of wavelengths,” jibing well with all the light that’s in the sky, says Robert Fosbury, an astronomer at University College London who has been collaborating with Jeffery to untangle the physics governing seasonal reindeer vision. Red, orange, yellow, green—all sorts of colors of light knock up against the tapetum and bounce right back, as if ricocheting off a standard bathroom mirror.But the catch-all rainbow-reflectivity of the tapetum, so handy in summer, gets far less useful as the Earth’s orbit plunges the planet’s North Pole into winter. Twilight—a time when light from the sun, passed through ozone, gets filtered until it’s mostly blue—can stretch up to 11 hours at a time, casting the snow-draped tundra in tones of teal. Reindeer tapeta extracted in summer (top left) and winter (bottom left), juxtaposed with photos of the Arctic sky in summer (top right) and winter (bottom right). Credit: Robert Fosbury And so the reindeer’s eyes adjust. The fibers of the tapetum, once lax and disorganized, huddle closer until they almost touch. This narrows the range of light that the tapetum can reflect, tightening around blue wavelengths, in lockstep with the fading sun. “It gives a higher-contrast view,” Fosbury told me, essential to navigating the light-starved snow. “Without this extra blue sensitivity, they would see very, very little.” Tasty lichens would be nearly impossible to spot; predators would become an unavoidable peril. Considering how important the tapetum’s changeability is to reindeer, “other animals that live in a similar situation might have a dynamic, color-changing tapetum” as well, says Fabiano Montiani Ferreira, a veterinary ophthalmologist at the Federal University of Paraná, in Brazil. “Which is very exciting.”[Read: Reindeer herders in the Russian Arctic]Exactly how the tapetum’s fibers close in on one another isn’t yet clear, even two decades in. Fosbury and Jeffery are fairly certain that the fluid in that part of the eye somehow evacuates the tapetum in the winter, cramming the collagen threads together. One possibility is that a prolonged change in eye pressure could be carrying it out: In the persistent darkness of Arctic winters, reindeer pupils end up wildly dilated, expanding to more than 13 times their summer size—an attempt to maximize the amount of light that enters the eye—for weeks or months at a time. The effort blocks a set of tubes necessary to drain fluid from the eye, causing the front of the organ to swell like a balloon. The expansion pushes back on the tapetum, and wrings it out like a sponge.But it’s not the only possible explanation. “A change in fluid balance” could also sap liquid from between the fibers and pack them in close, Caroline Zeiss, an ophthalmic pathologist at Yale, told me. Such a process might be the closest analog to a new experiment Fosbury recently performed in the lab to test how the tapetum might change. He left several reindeer eyes that had been dissected during the summer out in the open air to dry, until most of the fluid suspending the fibers of the tapetum had evaporated. The collagen threads bunched together—and pivoted the structures’ reflective powers from most colors to almost entirely blue within about an hour and a half—a super-sped-up version, Fosbury thinks, of what happens in reindeer noggins in the wild, whether by dehydration or a sponge-like squeeze.Regardless of how it happens, the color shift may not be easy for reindeer to cope with. Jeffery has started to wonder whether repeatedly toggling back and forth between gold and blue leaves behind some eyeball wear and tear. Add to that the agonizingly long stints of pupil dilation, and reindeer might experience something verging on mild glaucoma throughout much of their lives. And with humans continually encroaching on their habitats, the animals are starting to have other problems, too. Several years ago, Jeffery and his colleagues discovered a group of reindeer whose tapeta shone not blue, not golden, but green in the winter, an intermediate shade that he believes has been tainted by intermittent exposure to light pollution. Should that futz with the eyes’ ability to transition cleanly between seasons, it could leave the reindeer stuck in visual limbo, neither “properly light or dark adapted,” Jeffery said. Even reindeer’s flexible eyes, so much like night-vision goggles, may be no match for actual human tools, conjured by us to co-opt the night.
theatlantic.com
This Fall Will Be a COVID Vaccination Reboot
In one sense, this is how it was always supposed to go: When viruses evolve, vaccines should follow, and sometimes try to leap ahead. The COVID-19 shots that the U.S. has used to inoculate hundreds of millions of people are simply so new that they’ve never had to undergo a metamorphosis; up until now, their original-recipe ingredients have stood up to SARS-CoV-2 well enough. But the virus they fight has changed quite radically, and this fall, the vaccines will finally, finally follow suit.Today, an advisory committee to the FDA recommended that our current slate of shots be updated to include a piece of an Omicron subvariant, with the aim of better tailoring the vaccine to the coronavirus variants that could trouble us this fall. Neither the agency nor its outside expert panel has yet reached consensus on which version of Omicron will be the best choice, and whether the next round of shots will still contain the original version of the virus as well. Regardless, a new formulation with any bit of Omicron will constitute a bet that these ingredients will better protect people than another dose of the original vaccine recipe, whose protective powers have been fading for many months.[Read: The U.S. is about to make a big gamble on our next COVID winter]The virus’s own mutational hijinks will determine, in part, how well that wager pays off. But for it to work at all, people have to actually get the shots. “A vaccine without vaccination is an exercise in futility,” says Stephen Thomas, the director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Health Equity. The protective power of COVID shots will depend heavily on their reach: The more people who get them as recommended, the better they’ll work.Here in the U.S., vaccine enthusiasm has a pretty dire prognosis. Fewer than half of the vaccinated Americans eligible for a first booster have opted for one; an even paltrier fraction of those who could get second and third boosters are currently up-to-date on their shots. Among high-income countries, the U.S. ranks embarrassingly low on the immunity scale—for a nation with the funds and means to holster shots in spades, far too many of its residents remain vulnerable to the variants sweeping the globe, and the others that will inevitably come.Those numbers are unlikely to budge in future inoculation rounds, unless “we do something very dramatically different,” says Kevin Schulman, a physician and economist at Stanford University. The next round of vaccines could start its roll out by early October, depending on its contents, making this autumn the first COVID-shot update of the rest of our lives—and marking one of the ways we’ll have to permanently incorporate SARS-CoV-2 into our thinking. The round of shots rolled out this fall, then, won’t just be a sequel to the injections of the past year and a half; it will be a chance for a true cultural reboot. By year’s end, America will likely set a vaccine precedent, either breaking its pattern of injection attrition or further solidifying it, and letting the virus once again lap us.From the beginning, the messaging on COVID boosters has been a bungled mess. Originally, it seemed possible that a duo of doses, perhaps even a single shot, would be enough to block all infections, and bring pandemic precautions to a screeching halt. That, of course, was not the case. With the virus still spreading last summer and fall, experts began heatedly debating what purpose extra doses might serve, and who should get them—and if they were needed at all. Caught in the cross fire, the FDA and CDC issued a series of seemingly contradictory communications about who should be signing up for extra shots and when.[Read: Vaccines are still mostly blocking severe disease]Then BA.1—the original Omicron subvariant—arrived. This variant was so mutated that it was tough to stave off with one or two original-recipe doses alone, and suddenly far more experts agreed that everyone would benefit from an immunity juice-up. By the end of 2021, the U.S. had a catchall booster recommendation for adults (and has since expanded it to kids as young as 5), but whatever the benefit of a booster might be, much of the public had disengaged. Many had been infected by then, and even people who had gladly gotten doses one and two couldn’t muster the same urgency or enthusiasm again. “The feeling was, I’ve already gotten one series of shots—I’m not just going to keep getting more,” especially with no obvious end to the injection rigamarole in sight, says Stacy Wood, a marketing expert at North Carolina State University who, with Schulman, has written about the challenges of promoting COVID-19 vaccines.The shots have also become much harder to get. Mass vaccination sites have closed, especially affecting low-income and rural regions, where there’s a dearth of medical centers and pharmacies. Pandemic funds have dried up, imperiling shot supply. Ever-changing recommendations have also created an impossible-to-navigate matrix of eligibility. Since the booster rollout began, recommendations on when to boost and how many times have shifted so often that many people haven’t realized the shots were actually available to them, or were mistakenly turned away from vaccination sites that couldn’t parse the complex criteria dictating who was allowed an extra dose. Pile onto that the persistent problems that have stymied initial vaccinations—a lack of paid sick leave, fears of side effects, the hassles and costs of scheduling and traveling to a shot—and it sends a message: The shots can’t be so necessary if they’re this cumbersome to get.The country’s loosened stance on the pandemic as of late has reinforced the shots’ optional status. With COVID death rates near their all-time low—thanks largely to vaccines—infections, which have now hit a majority of Americans, continue to be dismissed as manageably “mild.” Mask mandates, testing programs, and gathering restrictions have evaporated. And so have what vaccination requirements existed.[Read: America created its own booster problems]“People just aren’t as concerned,” says Mysheika Roberts, the health commissioner of Columbus, Ohio. “The fear of the virus has changed a lot.” Of the 230,000 vaccines Roberts’s team has delivered to her community since December 2020, only 16,000 have been boosters. In an atmosphere of mass relaxation, the urgency of more vaccines—a reminder of the pandemic’s persistent toll—simply doesn’t register. Compared with the pandemic’s early days, we’re now “fighting complacency and fatigue” that wasn’t bogging us down before, says Angela Shen, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Immunization ennui has created cracks into which anti-vaccine misinformation has quickly seeped. “It allowed the dominance of the negative messages,” Schulman told me, with a fervor that pro-vaccine messages have yet to match.With any vaccine, “there’s going to be a certain percentage drop-off each time you ask people to come back in,” says Elaine Hernandez, a sociologist and health demographer at Indiana University Bloomington. But America’s approach to boosters took that natural chasm and stretched it further out. This year, well-timed boosters, delivered in advance of winter, could blunt the wave that many experts forecast will begin to crash over the nation by year’s end. Recent modeling suggests that SARS-CoV-2 could kill up to 211,000 people from March 2022 to March 2023—making new vaccines essential to stem the tide. As things stand, the U.S. has little planned from now until the fall to make this booster push more successful than the last, and communicating the shots’ benefits will be far more difficult than it was in 2021, when the vaccines were fresh. If anything, the next rollout threatens to be one of the most constrained distribution efforts yet: COVID funding remains in congressional limbo, and federal officials have fretted that “we’re not going to have enough vaccines for every adult who wants one” this fall. If the current trends continue, “I don’t think we’re going to do any better” than the boosting rates the country has already clocked, Shen told me.That doesn’t have to be the case. With our first several vaccine rollouts, “we messed up,” Thomas, of the University of Maryland’s Center for Health Equity, told me, because the nation’s priorities were misaligned. Although billions of dollars were funneled to pharmaceutical companies so they could develop COVID vaccines in record time, no proportionate allocation of resources went to ensuring that those shots actually found their way into arms. And so, too many of them did not.The fall boosters will reignite those communication challenges, and add some of their own. The new formulation, selected months ahead of schedule, remains an inherent gamble. “We need an updated shot,” Shen told me. That decision has to happen now, in order for boosters to be manufactured by fall. But there’s no telling what Greek-letter threat will be ping-ponging around the globe by the time winter sets in, or how good a match the shots will be. Whatever Omicron variant is slotted in may no longer be pertinent by the time October begins. If BA.1 is the agency’s choice, that’s already the case. A BA.4- or BA.5-inspired shot might feel more current—but such a selection could push the entire timeline back: Some vaccine makers have already said they might need more time to cook up those shots en masse.Still, introducing (or reintroducing) vaccinated people’s bodies to any Omicron spike should broaden their defenses, even if the variant isn’t a perfect match for the version of the virus they see next. Should the FDA select a two-spike shot that includes the original variant as well, it will also offer immune systems a reminder of the SARS-CoV-2 morphs they’ve encountered before. The new message has to be that “the virus has changed, and now the vaccines have changed,” says Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota.The shots’ selling points, though, won’t be the same across the country. From the beginning, people have gotten vaccines for different reasons, on different schedules; attempting to collapse that diversity now may fail to actually bring people together. “The local variation is just remarkable,” Hernandez told me. Policies specific to one location just can’t be expected “to work the same way somewhere else.”For enthusiasts—people who can’t wait to dose up again—health officials might do well to play up the novelty of the autumn vaccine recipe, the hottest new model to hit the shelves. “The upgrade mentality is compelling,” Wood, of North Carolina State University, told me. “People like to have the most cutting-edge thing.” That won’t fly with everyone, however. Newness was the very thing some people feared about the COVID vaccines to begin with, Wood pointed out; highlighting an unfamiliar version of an already foreign-seeming product could exacerbate those concerns. To revamp communications around the new recipe, experts might even consider moving away from the term booster, a word people have come to link with the peak of pandemic crisis, and simply refer to regularly reformulated COVID vaccines as “another annual shot,” Schulman told me. A term like that might help soften “the emotional tone,” he said. People are already used to getting shots in the fall, thanks to the flu—a COVID vaccine could piggyback on that routine.[Read: America’s flu-shot problem is also its next COVID-shot problem]And in many of the communities that Thomas has worked with, people aren’t hinging their vaccination decisions heavily on the shots’ exact formulation, he said. Far more important is “who’s delivering it.” Any successful vaccination effort, he said, survives on maintaining trust long-term. “Once you have trust, everything flows from there.”His own efforts to increase vaccination have built on that principle—which has meant shifting the venues in which people expect to receive their shots. For more than a year, he and his colleagues have been been partnering with Black barbers and stylists across the country to turn hair salons into COVID immunization sites, where regulars can stop in for a trim, a shave, and a jab, all while getting their questions answered in a space that feels familiar and safe. The experts talking up the shots are often shop owners—“people they know from the community,” Thomas told me. “It’s about wrapping the message in a way that’s nonthreatening.” The same goes, he told me, for just about any vaccination drive. Many people are just eager to keep their loved ones safe, he told me, and want to hear that that’s possible to achieve from a nonjudgmental source. Messages like “Don’t let COVID come to your family reunion” and “Are your kids max-boosted?” partnered with images of grandmothers and children strongly resonate.Whatever the scale, the more infrastructure that’s around to support continued immunizations, the better. Reopening vaccination venues, with the help of renewed federal funds, this fall would help; so would reigniting outreach that brings shots to low-resource communities. Wrigley-Field notes that another crucial priority is maintaining access to vaccines, including first doses—the foundation on which boosters build. “There is this assumption that people have had their chance, and that mass vaccination sites and outreach campaigns are no longer needed,” she told me. “And I think that is just so wrong.” In Minnesota, she’s been working to deliver vaccines with the help of leaders from local mosques and pharmacies; a year and a half in, “we still find people who want to get their first shots when we talk with them,” she told me. “And there are people who know they want boosters, but haven’t had the opportunity, and people who are on the fence, but can decide to get it pretty quickly in a conversation where they can ask their questions.”For all the discussions that people have been having about what to put into our next vaccines, Thomas told me, “I’ve not heard anything about how that’s going to be communicated and rolled out.” Those conversations, he said, need to launch now, or risk never getting off the ground at all.
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Kevin McCarthy, Have You Left No Sense of Decency?
In the last few minutes of today’s January 6 committee hearing, Representative Liz Cheney presented evidence of possible witness intimidation. Several witnesses, she reported, had received messages from shadowy persons purportedly close to former President Donald Trump that implicitly warned of consequences to follow if those witnesses told the truth about his conduct.That is one sort of attempted cover-up. The most effective cover-up of the January 6 conspiracy is not the one being organized in the shadows but the one taking place in broad daylight.Everybody in any way connected to the investigation anticipates that if Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in November, these hearings will be shut down. Congressional Republicans who took the other side against Trump have lost their political careers: Liz Cheney is now a pariah within a party that has a place for Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. The hearings happened only because the Democrats held a majority in the House, and the hearings will continue only so long as that majority remains in place.So the United States has arrived at a bizarre and terrifying predicament. On the ballot in November’s elections is not only the usual stuff of politics—inflation and taxes, infrastructure and national defense—but also this supreme question: Should Americans know the full truth about the former president’s attempt to overturn by violence an election he lost?[David Frum: The one witness at the January 6 hearing who matters most]The Republicans do not have to be the cover-up party. That’s a choice. In fact, the story of the hearings has been the courage and integrity of many individual Republicans, culminating most spectacularly with the heroic testimony of the former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. But as an institution, the party has to date made a pro-Trump cover-up its policy. This policy of protecting the ex-president involves excusing the worst political crime in the history of the presidency—what looks more and more like a fully planned attempt to hold on to the highest office in the land, first by fraud, then by force. A coup d’état.One of the things we’ve learned about his administration is that Donald Trump did not get much value from his true believers. They usually turned out to be too crazy, too crooked, or too stupid to gain and exercise power for him. He got most value from the weak and the supine who could wield some power more or less competently. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is on record and on audio condemning Trump’s coup at the time that it happened. Since then, he has shriveled into the enabling role he has played over the past 18 months.As we saw with Senator Mitch McConnell’s willingness to let a gun-safety bill advance through the Senate, even cold-blooded politicians are not always wholly amoral actors. They are also not wholly indifferent to their future reputations. That’s one of the reveals of these hearings: that even many people who were prepared to walk a long way down Trump’s corrupt and authoritarian road were not willing to go along with a violent overthrow of the Constitution.[David A. Graham: The most damning January 6 testimony yet]So Americans must start asking and keep asking: Leader McCarthy, will you be part of the cover-up? Will you try to protect Trump when the matter is handed over to the Department of Justice?When all of this is finished, a few heroes will stand out: Hutchinson and Cheney, at the top of the list. Some downright villains, too. And the many dupes and fools. But most apparent of all will be the people who were weak and venal until the hour of decision—and then either went along with a president’s wrongdoing, as did Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, staring helplessly into his phone, or sided with the Constitution under violent attack, as Vice President Mike Pence did.Is there any of that last flicker of decency and independence alive in the Republican who may soon lead the House majority? Or is McCarthy a worm through and through?We’ll know soon, when voters mark their ballots. The future of American democracy may turn on the answer.
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Today: January 6 Chaos, Russia’s War Against Civilians
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.Here in the United States, Russia’s atrocities against Ukraine have been pushed off the front pages by news about controversial Supreme Court decisions and some of the most shocking revelations from the January 6 hearings to date. But the Russians are determined to remind the world that they intend to continue their campaign of murder and destruction against civilians.First, here’s more from The Atlantic. The most damning January 6 testimony yet The 10-year-old tweet that still defines the internet Lessons from 40 men in egalitarian relationships It was easy to be distracted from the bombs exploding over civilians in Ukraine because of the political bombs that went off today on national television, when the former White House assistant Cassidy Hutchinson testified in front of the January 6 committee. I will discuss her testimony in more detail tomorrow, but these revelations went beyond anything Americans saw even during Watergate, and maybe beyond anything they ever learned about a modern president.This was not Alexander Butterfield talking about taping systems or John Dean warning about “a cancer on the presidency.” This was pure chaos: Hutchinson described President Donald Trump, in the days after his loss and during the attempted insurrection on January 6, aswas a raging, irrational tyrant, throwing food against the walls of his office, assaulting a Secret Service officer, and demanding to be taken to the riot in front of the Capitol even after he was informed that the mob was armed.His culpability in the events of January 6, 2021, should now be beyond question. These revelations should change how the citizens of the United States view what happened not only during the January 6 insurrection, but during Trump’s presidency. If this doesn’t do it, nothing will. More on Hutchinson’s revelations tomorrow.But now let’s get back to Ukraine: Yesterday, as President Joe Biden met with the leaders of the G7, the world’s most prosperous democracies, Russian missiles slammed into a shopping mall in Kremenchuk, Ukraine, killing and wounding dozens.A shopping mall? Vladimir Putin isn’t even bothering at this point to pretend this is anything but a war of imperial conquest. Instead, he has decided that the Ukrainians must be brutalized into submission and punished for resisting his rule. Putin once claimed that he was trying to save his brothers and sisters in Slavic Orthodox Ukraine from Nazis—which was always a patently ridiculous claim—but now he gibbers about how he’s like a modern Peter the Great. His bid to create a new (Soviet? Christian? Russian?) empire has devolved into nothing more than the homicidal fury of a humiliated old Mafia boss hiding behind the walls of the Kremlin.The Russian people still support this war, although I do, sometimes, wonder about officers and men of the Russian military. Over the course of my career, including while working at the Naval War College, I came to know a fair number of officers who’d served in both the Soviet and Russian armed forces. They are steeped in the history of World War II. They know about the 12 Soviet “Hero Cities,” honored for their resistance to the Nazis—and they know that Kyiv and Odesa are among them.And yet these men are soaking the same ground with the blood of the descendants of their own ancestors. They are piling Ukrainian bodies on top of Soviet bones already in the Earth put there by Hitler’s armies more than 80 years ago. Intentional attacks on civilians are crimes against humanity, and the mall attack is one more addition to a long list of apparent war crimes committed by the Russians since the start of their invasion. But what can be done? At the United Nations, not much. Russia is a nuclear-armed rogue state with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council—and a veto against ever being ejected from that body. Before this pitches you into despair, try to keep a few things in mind. Perhaps most important, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced this problem. When the United Nations system was created at the end of World War II, the seat now held by Russia was occupied by the Soviet Union, an aggressive, nuclear-armed nation ruled by Joseph Stalin, a genocidal psychopath. For the duration of the Cold War, the United States and its allies had to do business with a succession of Soviet leaders who had blood on their hands and buckets of it sloshed over their desks.We persevered. The democracies outlasted the tyrants, and if we stand firm and stay calm, we can do it again. The costs of fighting the Cold War were high; the costs in this second cold war are going to be high as well.Remember, too, that the Russians have already lost this war. Putin’s initial plan of capturing Ukraine blew up in his face within a few days of his order to invade. His goal is now to partition the country, expanding Russia’s occupation in the east while pummeling civilians until President Volodymyr Zelensky relinquishes more territory. The international community is already doing a lot to prevent this, including widespread sanctions, and the U.S. and NATO can do more by accelerating our assistance to Ukraine, including the weapons and training they need to fight back.The United States and NATO must thread a narrow needle here. We cannot lose our nerve and tell Ukraine to settle, because that is a decision only Ukrainians can make. But we must also resist Putin’s attempts to bait the West onto the battlefield, to widen the war and give Putin a new crusade that could rally Russia and lead to a nuclear conflict that not even Putin seems to want.It should be clear by now that the Russian president is neither a smart strategist nor a level-headed leader. Our assistance to Ukraine and our pressure on Russia must be constant, relentless, and painful—but it must all be inflicted on our terms, not those the Kremlin would prefer.Further Reading: Only Ukrainians will decide when the war is over Where Russia’s declinist rage isn’t enough Today’s News At least 50 people were found dead in an abandoned tractor trailer in San Antonio, in what appears to be a migrant-smuggling operation. They were crossing the U.S. border from areas including Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. The leader of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, vowed to pursue a second referendum on Scottish independence, even though the United Kingdom is expected to continue to withhold consent. Ghislaine Maxwell is set to be sentenced today for her role in facilitating Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls. Dispatches Galaxy Brain: Charlie Warzel explains why he can’t stop watching videos of crypto profiteers getting owned. I Have Notes: Nicole Chung explores how to think about writing and creative work during a crisis. Up for Debate: Conor Friedersdorf rounds up reader responses on Dave Chappelle, what makes a joke harmful, free expression, and the pain of being mocked. Evening Read Why I’m Talking About My Abortion The Atlantic By Jemele HillI had an abortion when I was 26 years old. I was not raped. I wasn’t the victim of incest. I was not in the midst of a life-threatening medical emergency. I simply had no desire to give birth to a child.I’ve never shared my abortion story publicly until now.Read the full article.More From The Atlantic The conservative women radicalizing Amish literature A rescue package for Joe Biden Scenes from Glastonbury 2022 Culture Break Illustration by Robert Beatty Read. If you want to be transported to another place, The Narrowboat Summer will do the trick. Or try another recommendation from our summer reading list.Watch. The second season of Only Murders in the Building, a show that combines the comforts of the mystery genre with a self-awareness of its tropes, begins today on Hulu.Play our daily crossword.Join Adrienne LaFrance on Wednesday, June 29, at 12:30 p.m. ET for a conversation about life after Roe v. Wade with the legal historian Mary Ziegler and the constitutional lawyer David French. Register here, and reply to this email with your questions for the panel.The internet remains undefeated. When the news broke that the January 6 committee was calling a surprise witness today, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara threw it out there: “Who is testifying tomorrow?” Twitter users decided to have some fun with the answer, and nominated Frankie Pentangeli, Joe Valachi, Henry Hill, JFK Jr.,, and even Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Markinson from A Few Good Men. Personally, I went for the niche choice of Hanover Fiste, the corrupt witness who becomes a raging monster in the weird but classic 1981 Canadian-American animated feature Heavy Metal. But few people got the joke, so let me suggest seeing it if you haven’t already. It’s not great, but if you’re up for some nostalgia, you can stream this ’80s time capsule on many sites.— TomKatherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
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‘How You React Is the Only Thing You Can Control’
This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.Laughter as SolaceVictor learned the value of joking about serious subjects amid a family tragedy: My son Aidan was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma in 2018 at the age of 14. In 2019 we were told his cancer had spread to his lungs. There was nothing that could be done for him. We brought him home to spend his last days with us. We spent a lot of time watching TV together, especially shows about superheroes. One show that stands out is The Boys on Amazon Prime, because of a particular episode. There is a scene where one of the superheroes visits a boy with cancer in the hospital as part of his Make-A-Wish. The boy becomes upset because the superhero was not the one he wanted to meet. Aidan laughed at the scene but he laughed even harder when the Superhero, who is the fastest runner in the world, told the boy he can teach him to run. The boy who was still upset responded, “Can you teach me to outrun cancer?” My initial response was of shock because I didn’t think cancer was funny, but seeing Aidan’s response allowed me to appreciate the power of humor or dark comedy and its ability to make light of difficult situations. Lisa writes that she’s grateful to have a child who shares her sense of humor: I am one of those people who has been told many times, “You’re funny. No, I mean it, you’re really funny.” Maybe I really am. I have thought of joining Twitter to simply share humor. However, I am self-aware enough to understand this is said only by those people who know me and give the benefit of doubt to the stuff I say, otherwise known as grace. Not too long ago, I was having a serious conversation with my child. We were discussing hormones and how they play a part in upsetting our emotions, especially during puberty and menopause. The topic of suicide came up, and my child asked if I had ever had any thoughts along those lines. We had been talking for a while and know each other well. My reply: “I think I would kill your father before I killed myself … What if I’m not the problem?” We laughed. A lot. Out of context, this is obviously a very dark thing to think, much less to say out loud to your child. Now you see why I could never be on Twitter—instant cancellation and probably urgent texts, screenshots, and calls to my husband. Humor requires all of us to be nonbinary in our thinking. It is ironic that the most stridently accepting of everyone’s “TRUTH” often can’t find their funny bone. Humor got Laura through a dark moment, too: When my father died, his wake was appropriately somber … at first. He’d had a long stretch of debilitation as a result of cancer and chemo, and my gentle, sweet dad succumbed. What was wonderful was the laughter, though, as memories of my always-smiling, frequently laughing father started to bubble up. The family and friends gathered to remember him began to talk louder, laugh more, and reminisce about his sense of humor. As we all got sillier, a sudden group self-awareness took over and we all hushed at the impropriety of laughing after death. Until, again as if we were one body, the group realized that was what Dad would have wanted. (I could feel him in the room with us, impatient at our seriousness.) Now, as I help a friend cope with end-stage cancer (again), what strikes me anew is how he and I find relief from the seriousness of his situation in silly jokes about death, his difficulty walking and breathing, and what both of us fear and dread. Humor (we all have different senses of it) helps us cope with what we fear. Emily’s dad gave her the same gift: Nothing should be off the table to make jokes about. My dad had one of the darkest senses of humor; he made off color jokes all the time, especially when it came to death. He absolutely believed that everything was funny. If you tried to tell him a joke wasn’t funny, then THAT was funny. My dad had some tough experiences as a young person, so humor for him became how to get through it. It wasn’t an act, though. It wasn’t “Let’s laugh so we don’t cry.” He honestly just learned how to find it all, everything, worth laughing about. As Oscar Wilde said, “Life is too short to be taken seriously.” Which isn’t a denial of dark things or hard things; it is learning to coexist with them so as to not live in fear. When my dad died quickly and unexpectedly from Covid in 2020, at 64, it was his humor that helped us get through it. His ability to make you laugh at the exact wrong moment is why I far more often think of him and smile or laugh than I think of him and cry. He, more than anyone, would find his own death hysterical. He would be furious, for sure, but I know he would have us rolling making jokes about it, too. Before his death, I didn’t know it was possible to laugh and cry at the same time about the same thing. Life is only misery and suffering if you can’t learn to laugh about misery and suffering. Val appreciates being around others who can both dish it out and take it: Among jokesters, we all take our turn in the barrel. We tell a joke about someone’s nationality or job or hobby—then someone tells a joke about something near and dear to us. We grin and bear it and sometimes have to admit, “Hey! That’s funny!” No blood, no foul. Only people with absolutely NO sense of humor should ever be truly offended by a joke. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you have no standing to laugh at others. I generally find such people to be difficult to be around. I also don’t think they lead very “fun” lives. I think joke tellers need to be sensitive to their audience. It’s definitely possible to go too far or injure people’s feelings. If you don’t know your audience well, it’s possible to strike a little too close to a nerve. This is why I like to be with people with good senses of humor. Still, one always has to be careful about hitting below the belt. The Pain of Being MockedReb writes with mixed feelings: This comic [strip] came out when I was in junior high school, and it has stuck with me in the nearly 40 years since. I’ve pulled it up as a reminder many times in my life when either I, or someone else, overreacted. However, I do believe that laughing at a joke is implicit approval of it. I was often the butt of jokes at school—about my speech, physical appearance, and impairment—and yes, it was harmful to my self-image and my willingness to interact with others. Even if you are not directly named in the joke, if you see yourself in it, it can sting, and if others approve of it, that can be harmful. How you react is the only thing you can control, so maybe you react publicly to object to that harm. As an individual that seems right and fair. I don’t tend to listen to comedians. I have denied them a platform from which to present to me. But is ignoring (or not explicitly rebuking) a comedian (or politician) who says things I find hurtful to me or others also a form of implicit approval? I think, perhaps, it is. To the question “Have jokes ever made your life worse?” Adam answers, “Good Lord, yes.” He writes: I grew up in the U.K. in the 1990s, and I’m a cisgender guy who’s mostly attracted to other guys. I would absolutely not have *dreamed* of coming out at school. You know the one thing I dreaded more than anything else? Not being simply abused, verbally or physically (although both would certainly have happened), but being *ridiculed*. That was the thing I feared the most and would have found most harmful, and it would certainly have happened, as I’d seen it happening to others, whether they were out or just perceived to be gay. The very word gay was a pervasive catchall term of abuse and ridicule. Being straightforwardly attacked, in a strange way, contains a compliment: You are at least being acknowledged as important enough to fight with. But being ridiculed has no such backhanded compensation. Being ridiculed is the mortal enemy of empathy. It makes you less than a person. It was the one thing I absolutely could not deal with, so I spent a lot of my life trying to hide a lot of who I was. Comedy is no sideline or bystander in this issue, either. It’s absolutely no coincidence that the period in which it became increasingly socially unacceptable to attack people for their sexuality––around the 2000s to 2010s––was exactly the time society stopped tolerating comedy which did the same. From the 1970s to the 1990s, there was a vein of “comedy” in the U.K. which more or less entirely focused on insulting people for their identity. Bernard Manning was the most notorious of these “comedians,” and if you go looking, you’ll find quite a lot of debate in serious newspapers and so on about him and this genre of comedy, which very much mirrors the current one, with the term politically correct replacing the current term woke for exactly the same purpose. The “jokes” that were directed at normal, everyday women and minorities by normal, everyday people were the same ones these “comedians” told on TV and the popular club circuit. They were very influential. It took a concerted effort by liberals to shift attitudes to the point that, finally, this kind of “humor” was generally no longer considered acceptable, and thankfully still isn’t. History suggests that the best approach is to do the hard labor of shifting people’s attitudes. Samantha recounts awful abuse that she encountered growing up: High school, for me, was hell. Depression, anxiety, and stifling academic pressures absolutely played a role, but so did overt bigotry wrapped up as humor. Every time I tried to challenge my classmates and even my teachers on the horrible things they said about me or other minority groups, I would be treated with an eye roll and a mocking laugh about how I just “didn’t understand humor” and “overreacted to everything.” I learned to keep my head down while people laughed so they didn’t see me crying. What are some of the things my classmates and teachers alike thought were “hilarious”? A student kept calling me, “Hey, Jew!” I asked her to please call me by my name. A different student responded with a laugh, “Jews don’t have names. They only have numbers!” We watched a documentary about life in prison camps in North Korea. A scene showed a child so hungry that he dug through animal manure for a single piece of corn. My class erupted in laughter at the idea of a starving, tortured child being forced to eat poop. “Jokes” about people raping me. “Jokes” about me burning in a gas chamber. “Jokes” about how people who self-harm should just kill themselves. “Jokes” about wanting to gun down Romani people. This isn't humor; this is bigotry, cruelty, and bullying. Lia explains why she is upset with Dave Chappelle: I am Asian American and transgender. In school I used to get called “eggroll” behind my back, because I was a chubby teenager. I think my life would probably be better if I hadn’t known … Some might say that this is bullying, not comedy. But humor is just a tool, and a tool can be used to various ends. The kids who made fun of me certainly thought these were jokes. If pressed, I wouldn’t be surprised if they would have said, “We’re just kidding.” But is “It’s a joke” a proper response to being told that you’ve hurt someone? When you turn an idea into a joke, you create a premade set of words that anyone can repeat. The joke that Asian men have small penises, which classmates directed at me countless times, is not something that just anyone would come up with on their own. How many middle-school boys are going around doing cross-cultural examinations of relative phallic size? But they heard the joke, and some vague feeling of hatred or phobia that lived inside of them found an easy way to slip out into the world and make itself known. It’s not great that they had those negative feelings inside them to begin with, but by putting those feelings into words, they’ve actively made another person’s life worse as well. I looked up some of the anti-trans jokes and comments that Dave Chappelle has made. They made my heart sink. When Chappelle says, “I am not saying... trans women aren’t women. I’m just saying that those pussies that they’ve got … y’know what I mean? I’m not saying that’s not pussy, but I’m saying that’s, like, Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy, y’know what I mean?” my reaction is not as a progressive, finding his ideas problematic. My reaction is as a trans person, feeling hurt. When I came out as transgender to my mom in college, she threatened to disown me. When I visited her on Christmas that year, she was deep in drink, and laughed at me and groped my breasts and said, “Oh my God, these are real? You look almost like a woman.” Then she told me how she would never be disappointed in me again for the rest of her life, because she learned to stop expecting anything good to come from me, and drank some more. Yes. I know what you mean, Dave. If I were a student at Duke Ellington School, what recourse would I have? One thing I could do is keep quiet, and keep hurting to myself, every time I see that a man who has insulted me has been honored as a Great Man and has had a building named after him. Another thing I could do is vandalize the building. But I don’t think that’s a very good idea, since I’d be taking into my own hands the destruction of something that belongs to a community. Ultimately, I think, the only democratic thing I could do that is fair to myself and fair to the community is to object to the dedication. Is that the stifling of free speech, or is it the most civil form of grievance possible for a student? Olive draws distinctions among jokes: For me, what makes a joke harmful is not its content or its response, but its intent. A joke told for the sake of hurting other people (not offending or making angry, but causing anguish) is what can be harmful. If a joke makes me angry, it’s usually because it hurt my ego a little and I can recognize that’s not all that bad. But a joke that’s only a thinly veiled insult or bigoted dog whistle defended by “It’s only a joke. Why are you mad?” can be harmful. Jokes show people what’s considered acceptable to say, and communicating to the world that it’s okay to be hateful does more harm than good. It should be up to the people telling the jokes to measure their own intentions and read the room. Forethought can be put in to consider if a joke will hurt or offend. If it’ll be hurtful, or rile up people with hateful views, a little self-censorship isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if it’ll only offend, it should be told to everyone who needs to hear it. A joke that causes someone to lose their job is ridiculous. But people do have a right to not like a joke. A joke being met with a comment saying it’s not funny isn’t “cancel culture.” Freedom of speech should go both ways, to the people telling jokes and the people complaining, as long as neither has any expectation of a person losing their livelihood. Standing Up for JestersKathy defends comics from offended audience members: I love stand-up comedy. I’m particularly drawn to those who are controversial. Dave Chappelle, Doug Stanhope, Chris Rock, and Patton Oswalt have made me laugh, made me think, made me reflect on myself. Louis C. K. is still one of my favorite storyteller comedians. He’s dark, makes me uncomfortable, but he really makes me laugh! And I’m laughing at myself most of the time! Anytime I’ve heard an “offensive” joke, sure, I think, Hmmm … That’s a little wrong. But I also reflect on the joke, find the truth in the humor, feel where it’s affecting me, and see if maybe I’ve got something worth rethinking, healing, or changing. Maybe there’s an old belief or wound the joke is challenging. That’s all mine. I don’t yell at the comedian. It’s not their fault I feel the way I do about their jokes. Matt is sympathetic to comics, too: I always look at comics as trying to make people laugh, not expressing their straight opinions. Often, dirty, vulgar, offensive jokes are targeting that balance between being funny because they’re so taboo and going too far. I hesitate on assigning deeper meaning to most jokes in those categories because the comic is performing. It is up to each comic to have the tact to make their jokes in a way that is effective. If they don’t, they won’t be successful in their career. If jokes that are truly offensive and inappropriate are successful, that is a reflection of the audience, and the comic is just a mirror. If you respect the comedian, take a minute to see if you can’t hear what they’re really saying. Figure out why it bothers you so much and try laughing at yourself. Laughter is the best medicine. Jim wants comics to be given a wide berth as artists: If one considers jokes as art, and professional comedians as artists (which I do), then often they lead social culture more than being defined by it. I don’t appreciate all art. I don’t appreciate all jokes. But I appreciate the artists’ courage and willingness to venture into risky territory. Artists who are too perverse, edgy, or ahead-of-their-time often don’t experience the appreciation of their work in their lifetime. That is their punishment. If society tries to impose a greater punishment than that on comedians or artists, then that society will rob them of their courage to be risky and will end up with safe, largely uninspired art. Errol defends comics who mock what they find ridiculous: My all-time hero in comedy has been Lenny Bruce, the guy before George Carlin, who would literally be arrested onstage and taken to jail, banned from certain countries, and essentially facing constant lawsuits throughout his life because he said things like “cocksucker.” He saw through a ridiculous filter on society and risked his life and freedom to expose it. That’s what comedy is. It’s making fun of something you think is ridiculous. The freedom to spotlight that is key to equality and true progressivism. You are very unlikely to be harmed by something that someone says sometimes in your life. That’s living with other people. The world does not revolve around one person, nor does it revolve around one group of people. Life is fleeting, and to spend so much time and energy and anger and pain on a joke is to squander the only gift the universe has given you. In the case of stand-up comedians, the remote’s right there. You don’t have to watch, pay for, or listen to anything you don’t want to. You can tell your phone, “I’m not interested in ___.” Greg is the founder of a comedy club and offers this advice: We need to bring back the word tacky. When a comedian tells a joke that feels a little icky, that seems like it might go over the line a bit, critics jump to offensive immediately, or say that the language does harm, or, God forbid, makes them feel unsafe. Joke tellers might feel less attacked and be less defensive if those critics expressed their displeasure by saying the joke was simply tacky. That’s it. It easily sums up the ideas of it being in poor taste, not being very funny, or just being a bit ugly. But without the accusatory tones of prejudice, bias, racism, and making the world a worse place. Should We Even Be Talking About This?Paul castigates me for airing different viewpoints about Chappelle, rather than simply condemning him: Chappelle’s “comedy” carries the same potential for negative influence on public sentiment that Fox News has. It will lead to more transphobia, more intolerance, more hate, and more violence toward the LGBTQ community and transgender people as well. I find the cavalier attitude people such as you have—with no practical, real-world experience with what you write about—to be disgusting and offensive. I think you should try interviewing people who are trans and parents of transgender children about how they feel about this topic. I think you will be in for a rude awakening. I am the parent of two wonderful, beautiful, smart, talented, and kind transgender young people. They are the apple of my eye, and I will support and fight for them ’til my dying breath. I suggest you try walking a day in my shoes. But you can’t. You’re a close-minded transphobe who doesn’t understand what it means to protect someone you love who is part of a vulnerable and now legally targeted group. Megan goes further, urging The Atlantic to fire me. “Because you continue to give a platform to Conor Friedersdorf despite his numerous demonstrably terrible, harmful opinions,” she writes, “yet another cishet white man has yet another opportunity to widely disseminate his completely irrelevant opinion on why things that demonstrably harm marginalized people whose marginalization he materially benefits from Aren’t That Bad, Actually (TM).” While I didn’t actually express the opinion that Megan describes, I do disagree with anyone who’d stop us from exchanging all these views––open conversation is the path to tolerance and equality. In contrast, Darren wants to keep me around: You seem more willing than most to take us, and yourself, outside our comfort zone and ask the uncomfortable questions that need to be asked. That quality—of taking us all out of our comfort zones—is exactly what makes comedy so essential to the work of democracy. I gave a TEDx talk in 2020 on the topic of “The Politics of Laughter” in which I argued that you simply can’t have democracy without comedy. Put differently, if we lose comedy, we lose democracy. I’d even go bigger and say that if we lose comedy, we lose humanity. As a professor, I work on some pretty grim topics (human-rights violations, genocide, etc.) and the only thing that gets me to the end of the day without fail is a sense of humor. A good joke is like a true friend. I look on with great dismay as a growing chorus of people advocate limits on what comedians can say and what they can tell jokes about. Laughter brings us together in a moment of community, and so silencing comedians will only serve to tear us apart. Comedy has only made my life better, personally and professionally. In fact, comedy only made my life worse one time, when I was attacked by a crowd simply because I told an incite joke. (Sorry, had to end on a bad pun.) And John says that in a world of terrible acts, targeting jokes for punishment is inapt and counterproductive: My real problem with all this is simply that while good, moral, and honest people are now walking on eggshells for fear of being the next canceled person for some unspecified, unnormalized offense, plenty of people are saying and doing the most outrageous things and most decidedly not being canceled. We are amplifying those voices dramatically. Actual, outright enemies of Democracy are growing in strength every day, and we are still having this stupid conversation. My advice to the entire Twitterati is to stop this bullshit right now. It doesn’t help anybody living in the real world; it makes for great fodder for the right-wing culture war. And it is mistargeted, badly.
theatlantic.com
The Most Damning January 6 Testimony Yet
Cassidy Hutchinson’s account of Donald Trump’s behavior destroys any defense the president once had.
theatlantic.com
The Conservative Women Radicalizing Amish Literature
On a chilly morning this past January, the writer Lucinda J. Kinsinger strapped her baby daughter into her car seat and drove two-plus hours from her home in rural Oakland, Maryland, to Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. She was headed to a day-long women writers’ gathering at a private residence, where the atmosphere ended up being part networking event, part craft workshop, part casual mom hang (a trio of babies sat gumming toys for the duration). All clad in floor-length dresses, the 15 or so women present talked about topics that would be familiar to most writer moms, such as sticking to deadlines when domestic duties called and how to nurture a love of writing and reading in their children. But then they asked one another a question perhaps less expected: If writing was such a meaningful part of their lives, why did they avoid the topic with their church friends?The women are all members of Conservative Anabaptist churches, and they’re part of a growing network of professional female writers intent on enhancing the quality of Plain Anabaptist literature. In Christian terminology, Plain refers to Anabaptist sects like Conservative Mennonites, Hutterites, and the Amish. The groups share roots in Radical Reformation-era Switzerland, a period rife with religious movements whose leaders claimed Martin Luther hadn’t gone far enough in his efforts to revolutionize Christianity. The word Anabaptist is derived from their founding belief that only baptisms performed on adults were legitimate, a deeply heretical position at the time. Today, Plain Anabaptists have many beliefs in common, including pacifism, strictly defined gender roles, a “plain” style of dress, and a wariness of individualism and technology. But because each church is self-governing, there’s a wider array of practice than outsiders might readily pick up on. For example, some Mennonite churches leave technology usage up to members’ discretion while others explicitly disallow unfiltered internet or social media. And some Amish churches might permit laptops for work purposes, but not smartphones. (TV is verboten across the spectrum of Conservative Anabaptism.)Historically, Anabaptist literature has largely consisted of “idealized Sunday-school stories,” as Kinsinger put it to me. A high degree of cultural conformity, plus a desire to maintain a wholesome image, means there’s typically been little room for storytelling that doesn’t reflect positively on the collective. There is a sense “that writing is just a little bit of a suspicious pursuit, and you shouldn’t do it unless you have a really good reason and you write something that’s maybe specifically evangelistic, about Jesus, about your Christian life,” Dorcas Smucker, a former newspaper columnist from near Harrisburg, Oregon, told me over Zoom. “If you can maybe prove that it really blessed somebody, then okay.”But a new crop of ambitious Plain women writers like Kinsinger is striving to create a literary canon that shows true Plain life, warts and all. Smucker is compiling her seventh book of personal essays based on the columns she wrote for The Register-Guard, which cover both the mundane––like berry picking with her family––and weightier topics like a relative’s death by suicide. (The death happened generations ago, but “my aunt was very upset at me,” Smucker told me of that essay’s original publishing.) Shari Zook is a blogger and the author of a memoir that deals with marital conflict, depression, and crises of faith; she has also written openly about her husband’s struggle with pornography and his resulting suspension from church leadership. The author of a book about recurrent miscarriages, Stephanie J. Leinbach, maintained a blog about the challenges of parenting a child with severe epilepsy––or did, until her Mennonite church sent out guidance forbidding social media, prompting her to shut her site down. (She continues to email her work to subscribers, which is seen as less public.) Meanwhile, the memoirist and food writer Sherry Gore does something many might find surprising from a religious woman who wears a bonnet and an apron: She posts selfies to Instagram.These women are deeply committed to their religious values, but they sometimes struggle to reconcile them with their professional aspirations. They’re a part of a community that believes that “a woman should learn in quietness and full submission” and that they cannot “assume authority over a man,” as it says in 1 Timothy, but they also want to be a public voice. They strive to live simply and to not set themselves apart from the group, in accordance with what they view as New Testament commands, but they write about themselves and engage in self-promotion to get their work noticed. In a culture where large families are the norm, day care is virtually unheard-of, and the standards for domesticity are high, they pursue a career that requires spending long stretches of quiet time alone.[Read: How a polarizing best seller became required reading for Orthodox Jewish women]In the face of such tension, loose constellations of support have formed. The women email or WhatsApp one another, promote one another’s work on their blogs, and meet up at writers’ groups in Anabaptist strongholds across the Midwest or at the annual Christian Light Writers and Artists’ Conference, in Virginia (a sample seminar title from this year’s conference: “Turning Life Experiences Into Stories”). They commiserate when others in the community chide them for spending their time on something so untraditional or dismiss their writing as a hobby, or when projects don’t come to fruition. “We email each other all the time, checking on, like, ‘How are you doing after that post blew up in your face? How are you doing in your church situation?’” Zook told me. “There’s a whole bunch of encouragement and joy that is happening behind the scenes.”Professional Plain women writers are not an entirely new phenomenon. Smucker remembers her mother reading books by Christmas Carol Kauffman and Clara Bernice Miller, both of whom wrote lightly fictionalized stories about their Plain upbringings. Kauffman’s and Miller’s works are predecessors of Amish fiction, a popular romance subgenre often pejoratively dubbed “bonnet rippers” because the covers invariably feature a young female model wearing a gauze head covering and a wistful gaze. Often marketed toward middle-aged evangelical female readers, the stereotypical bonnet romance features a chaste courting scenario between two Plain teenagers; sometimes, the protagonist finds herself tempted by the trappings of mainstream culture, perhaps in the figure of an intriguing “English” stranger, as the non-Amish are called, but rarely does she ever flee the Amish entirely.But few popular writers of Amish fiction are Plain themselves, and this newer generation of Plain writers is almost universal in its dismissal of the genre, which is “written by people who do not know the culture,” Smucker said. The Amish writer and artist Amy Schlabach told me over the phone that she worries that the genre simultaneously demonizes the Amish (by focusing too much on things like shunning) and fetishizes them. Once, Schlabach saw an ad in her local paper for a book talk given by the non-Plain author Shelley Shepard Gray and decided to attend, because she’d recently enjoyed Gray’s series set in Gilded Age Chicago. She hadn’t realized Gray also wrote Amish fiction. At the event, Schlabach struck up a conversation with a non-Plain fan of Amish fiction, who began waxing poetic about how “romantic” it was to do laundry with a Maytag wringer washer. “I was like, It’s just laundry!”The Plain women writers of today are not content to churn out the same old evangelizing, moralistic stories. Their role models are thinkers like Dickens, Steinbeck, and Austen––hardly salacious by 21st-century standards, but containing far more conflict than your average Amish romance novel or inspirational Christian text. And they view literature as a tool to broaden one’s mind (college attendance is uncommon, particularly for women, but it’s becoming slightly more accepted in certain Mennonite circles; it’s still rare for an Amish person to attend school beyond the eighth grade). Growing up in a Mennonite household, Leinbach recalls being able to “disappear” inside a story. “I wanted to make magic for other people in the same way that I found magic between the covers of my favorite books,” she told me. Many of these women dream of writing the Great American Anabaptist Novel, even if that means depicting flawed characters or posing questions that aren’t neatly answered by scripture. “I’ve been talking for years about writing Mennonite fiction,” Smucker, who was raised in an Amish family and married into a Mennonite one, told me. “Not only because I want to develop that skill, but because if I’m going to fuss and rant about Amish fiction, I really ought to provide an alternative.”Providing that alternative, though, can be complicated. These women recognize that there are some practical advantages to being Plain writers, such as having a ready-made audience of voracious, Netflix-less book buyers. “With marketing, it’s wonderful because there’s such a network,” Smucker said. “If I published a new book, I have no trouble getting the word out in the Mennonite world, because there’s just connections everywhere.” But though it’s easy to reach others like them, many of these women strive for a broad, diverse readership. “I wish I could get a book accepted by a non-Mennonite publisher or press,” Leinbach told me, mostly because she craves a more rigorous editing process. In Kinsinger’s memoir Anything But Simple, she writes of an aspiration somewhat at odds with simplicity: “to be listed on the New York Times bestseller list, to be placed in anthologies and translated into Portuguese, to be discussed in colleges 120 years from now.”What’s more, writing rarely pays well, and can pull you away from your family even when your home life is your material. “It’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be to juggle everything with a baby,” said Kinsinger, who, in addition to her three published works (two memoirs, one children’s book), develops creative-writing curriculums for Christian Light, a religious publisher and homeschooling resource, and writes a column for Anabaptist World. She and the other women I spoke with cut corners to make sure they have time for both writing and housework. They outsource their sewing, or buy produce rather than grow it all themselves, or ditch cloth diapers for disposable ones. In some cases, their choices have elicited judgment specifically from other homemakers. “The times that I’ve been criticized for writing came from women,” Leinbach said. But she, like many of the other women I spoke with, has learned to tune out most of the communal disapproval, whether explicit or inferred. “I have decided that when it comes to what people think about my writing, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m answerable to God and to my husband for how I use my time,” she said. “And if both of them are happy with me, then it doesn’t matter what other people think.”A number of Conservative Mennonite and Amish leaders––who are all laymen, chosen by lot––recognize the tension in being Plain and pursuing writing. “It has more to do with the tone of the writing,” Henry Schlabach, an Amish minister from Wayne County, Ohio, said. (Amy Schlabach, his sister-in-law, translated his responses from Pennsylvania Dutch.) “Are they sharing personal experiences or promoting themselves?” Ryan Jarmon, a minister at a Conservative Mennonite church in Coleman, Michigan, expanded on this in an email: “Anabaptists strive to be practical, humble people. They generally have a strong work ethic and value excellence in what they do. However, there is a feeling that success in writing or singing (really the only common artistic forms in our communities) can lead to pride,” a serious infraction.Jarmon also wondered about the subject matter of the new work coming out. “There has been an increase of personal ‘tell-all’ stories about neglect or abuse of various sorts,” he wrote. “While some feel there is value in opening up and sharing these experiences in a discreet manner, these books are generally quite controversial. We acknowledge that we have our flaws, but we prefer positive and encouraging writing rather than muckraking expose.” None of the men who weighed in thought there was any particular issue in being a woman writer.Regardless of whether there’s a consensus on the theological gender-specific issues with writing, Conservative Anabaptist women writers still face unique work-life barriers. Maybe it would be easier for them if they were part of the mainstream; they could hire a housekeeper, boast about their accomplishments online guilt-free, or write about anything they please, no matter how transgressive. But these women don’t want to escape; their whole lives are bound up with their communities. “My people are so rich and warm,” Kinsinger said. “I love them so much.” Broadly speaking, they view many of their restrictions as grounded in wisdom rather than unnecessarily onerous. “There’s so much out there that people are really slaves to,” Amy Schlabach said. “It’s really freeing to not be under those obligations.” Even Leinbach is sanguine about having to give up blogging because of the social-media ban: “Doesn’t make it easy,” she said. “But I’m okay with it. I don’t hold any resentment.”From the outside, the dilemma of Plain communities might seem like the parable of the little Dutch boy: If they don’t keep that finger firmly plugged in the dike, their society will be inundated and destroyed by modernity, whether the subtle creep of American individualism or the more overt one of technology. But Plain people have been navigating these tensions––between public and private, sacred and profane, analog and high-tech, personal desires and communal ones––for centuries. In the future, further shifts will undoubtedly occur. The range of acceptable subjects for writing might widen slightly, and the wariness of social media might lessen. But like the Dutch boy, they will continue to restrict themselves so as to prevent catastrophe, even if that sometimes involves sacrifice, because they value their way of life too much. The water will still come in, of course––it always does––just in a trickle, not a flood.
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theatlantic.com
Why I’m Talking About My Abortion
I had an abortion when I was 26 years old. I was not raped. I wasn’t the victim of incest. I was not in the midst of a life-threatening medical emergency. I simply had no desire to give birth to a child.I’ve never shared my abortion story publicly until now. I describe this time in my life in detail in my forthcoming memoir, Uphill, which will be released in October. I know that I’m likely to be attacked for being candid about my decision. But I’m choosing to share some of my experience now because, like so many women in this country, I am angry, appalled, and disgusted about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that previously guaranteed federal constitutional protections for abortion rights.More than ever before, women who want an abortion or have had an abortion need to know that they aren’t alone; a large number of women have been in the same position. So much of the conversation about this issue is entirely too fixated on who deserves the right to have an abortion. But every woman should have a right to an abortion—not just those who are facing grim and horrific circumstances. Women should not have to justify why they want the power over whether and when they give birth. The government shouldn’t force them to have a child, any more than it should force them to be sterilized. They just need access to safe care.[Read: When a right becomes a privilege]When I had my abortion, I was a sports journalist at the Detroit Free Press, in Michigan. I was financially able to support a child. I have no doubt that my family would have been present for me. The man I was involved with at the time would have provided support. His family would have been there for us too. However, I didn’t see a long-term future with him. And given that my mother and father never married—and I knew their tumultuous history very well—I didn’t want to bring a child into an unstable relationship.Besides, my career meant everything to me. I was pursuing my dream of being a sports journalist. I understood clearly that having a child would have drastically limited the future I saw for myself. Parenting would be difficult to fit into my lifestyle because, as a college beat reporter, I was on the road for nearly eight months a year covering Michigan State football and basketball. The Spartans men’s basketball program was turning into a powerhouse and had won the NCAA championship in 2000. That gave me the chance to cover a team that was nationally prominent. That experience, I hoped, might get me that much closer to my goal, which at the time was to become a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. I didn’t want to sacrifice my body or devote my time to raising a child. I wanted to travel the world. I wanted the freedom to live wherever I wanted and to navigate my career without having to factor a child into my plans.I’m aware that some people will read this and think that I was selfish. Women are judged harshly for pursuing their goals as ambitiously as men do. Some people will probably call me irresponsible. But mistakes happen. Just because an unwanted pregnancy occurs—and it doesn’t matter if it’s within the context of a relationship, a one-night stand, or a “situationship”—that doesn’t mean a woman should be punished by being forced to have a child she doesn’t want to raise.For years, I battled a secret guilt about my abortion. It wasn’t because I wondered whether I had made the right decision. I felt guilty because I never had any regrets and worried that this somehow made me inhumane. It took me some time to realize that I shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting control of my body and life. Women consider and choose abortion for a variety of reasons, and sometimes one of those reasons is that childbirth simply isn’t something they wish to do. That’s the meaningful thing about choice: You have the right to make a decision based purely on what you think is best for yourself.Although I’m married, in my late 40s, and still childless, I have never thought that I missed an important window of opportunity. I have not wondered what my life would be like now if I had carried a child. I did not agonize over the decision. I actually made it, with the full support of my then-boyfriend, mere hours after discovering I was pregnant. That was not because I took the decision lightly. I simply knew what was right for me. I understand the moral complexities of the abortion debate and respect the people who would make a decision different from mine. But above all, I would defend their right to choose.I went to an abortion clinic in Southfield, which is a suburb just outside of Detroit. At the clinic, I received a vacuum aspiration, also commonly known as a suction abortion. The entire process took about an hour, from the time I walked into the examination room. I had some spotting and mild cramping after the procedure, but I was otherwise fine in a few days.[Janice Wolly: My first pregnancy]I am relieved and grateful that this service was available to me, but had Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court’s latest abortion ruling, been in place at the time, I would have been absolutely terrified. Michigan is one of nine states that had anti-abortion laws preceding Roe v. Wade. A 1931 law in the state banned abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest. A court injunction has temporarily barred enforcement of that law. Although Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has vowed to protect abortion rights and filed a motion with the state’s Supreme Court that, I hope, will allow her to keep her promise, the state legislature’s Republican majority wants to reinstate the archaic 1931 law.Future generations of women will not have the same right to an abortion as I had. That I have fewer rights as a woman today than I did when I had an abortion more than 20 years ago is a pitiful commentary on the direction of this country. When I had my abortion, I was operating from a position of privilege because I had stable employment and no children to care for. The loss of abortion rights will devastate other women and their families. According to the CDC, the abortion rate is higher for Black and Hispanic women than it is for white women, and most abortion seekers have other children.I wish I could offer more comforting words to girls and women in this moment, especially to those in the two dozen or so states where abortion will soon be, or has already been, largely banned. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling was regressive and political, and those states that have trigger laws banning abortions should know that these laws will not stop abortions. Women will always try to decide what is best for their bodies, whether it’s legal or not.The pain so many women are feeling right now is unshakeable. Our status in America—our very freedom—has been irrevocably diminished. Yet sharing our abortion stories carries enormous power. No woman needs to think of herself as immoral because she had an abortion or wants an abortion. What’s immoral is telling women that they don’t deserve bodily autonomy.
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theatlantic.com
The 10-Year-Old Tweet That Still Defines the Internet
Though everybody complains about Twitter, no one can deny that it has brought some amazing phrases into our lives—things we can’t imagine having read in any other place, or at any other time in history. Near the top of any list of the most treasured sentence fragments posted there, the now-defunct account @Horse_ebooks would have several entries. Twitter users still recirculate strange classics like “(using fingers to indicate triangular shape) SMELL SMELL SMELL GOOD NEW NEW NEW slice drink MATCH SPARKLER (thrown in air) STARS STARS STARS.” But the best-known @Horse_ebooks tweet, posted 10 years ago today, was astounding in its clarity and salience. It described both the internet and our entire human world. “Everything happens so much,” @Horse_ebooks tweeted on June 28, 2012.The tweet was an immediate success, generating thousands of retweets and spreading across the site like a copy-pasted prayer. Its renown has only grown since then. Over the past 10 years, “Everything happens so much” has been turned into a shrine and a site of pilgrimage for those who spend their lives in front of a computer. When the news is not just bad but overwhelming, people search out “Everything happens so much” and reply to it or repost it to their feeds, often with a note like “now more than ever” or “the eternal mood.” These messages acknowledge what feels like ancient wisdom: The absolute best we can say about this moment in time is that everything is happening, as it always has and always will, so much.The reposts of the tweet provide, in combination, a cryptic catalog of recent history’s most dizzying events. A retweet on January 30, 2017 likely had something to do with President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and the subsequent protests at New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport. One from September 25, 2019, seems connected to the announcement of the first Trump impeachment inquiry. The replies and references to “Everything happens so much” in March 2020 marked the onset of the pandemic, while a February 24, 2022, reply surely commemorates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.When the sacred tweet first appeared, it was understood to be the product of an algorithm. The account, @horse_ebooks, had started as a spambot, pulling text from an e-commerce site and posting it as marketing. It developed a following because it was poorly written, and because its random phrases sometimes read like the mystical mumbles of a sleeping fortune-teller. But then in September 2013, just 15 months after “Everything happens so much,” fans of @Horse_ebooks learned the truth: The “bot” had, in fact, been dead for years. In 2011, the account had been taken over and turned into a performance-art project run by Jacob Bakkila, and his friend Thomas Bender. Bakkila had purchased the account from the e-commerce spammer, and started tweeting snippets of found—but carefully selected—text from all over the internet, including instructional e-books and scans of public records. Bakkila told The New Yorker’s Susan Orlean that he couldn’t remember exactly where his most famous tweet had come from, but thought the original context might have been, “Everything happens so much faster when you’re retired.” In chopping that sentence in half, Orlean noted, Bakkila had made it koan-like. “I was trying to wrest wisdom from these wisdomless piles of information,” he agreed.For many fans, the reveal ruined everything. “We believed we were watching the digital work mutter happily to itself about us, its anxious masters,” my colleague Robinson Meyer wrote at the time. “We thought we were obliging a program, a thing which needs no obliging, whereas in fact we were falling for a plan.” The fact of this disappointment betrays a funny optimism, circa the early 2010s, about the power and promise of passing human intelligence through a machine in order to distill or expand it. By the middle of the decade, we’d figured out what really happens when computers are programmed to make use of wells of human-generated content: They end up spewing hate speech, or collecting invasive amounts of data, or producing racially biased outputs. But for a time, @Horse_ebooks seemed to be doing just the opposite. It was sifting through our mess of online chatter and transmuting it into aperçus that could be beautiful and oddly true. “Unfortunately, as you probably already know, people,” it said in July 2012. “We all agree, no one looks cool,” it tweeted five months later. And then: “Avoid situations.” Finally, the “algorithm” turned out to be just some guy, whose identity was revealed in coordination with a same-day performance at a Manhattan gallery.We seem to have gotten over the insult. With time, @Horse_ebooks regained its status as a mysterious source of wisdom and art, and “Everything happens so much” came to be a mantra. Twitter users have called it the “general tweet of the decade” and “the defining text of our age.” It has been used as the title for essays, songs, at least one novel, and an orchestral arrangement. Recently, I emailed Bakkila to ask how he feels about this legacy. “Whenever someone uses a Horse_ebooks tweet from 2012 to respond to the everything that, despite our efforts, continues to happen so much, they’re adding another sedan to the infinite re-re-recontextualized pileup,” he responded. “It’s as good as any way I’ve seen to respond to the shocking future we live in.”Oddly, our shocking future has ended up producing a moment of renewed wonder at the mystery of machines and their connection to humanity. When a writer tried to reanimate his dead girlfriend with an AI text generator, some found it haunting and beautiful. When a Google engineer became convinced that a company chatbot had become sentient—a conclusion he arrived at “in his capacity as a priest, not a scientist,” as The Washington Post’s Nitasha Tiku reported—that was fascinating, too. OpenAI’s GPT-3 and DALL-E 2 programs, which produce realistic text and images, have enchanted not just nerds, but everyone; the latter was used to create a cover for the current issue of Cosmopolitan, showing a woman in a slim-fitting spacesuit marching toward the viewer. An OpenAI employee, quoted in the magazine, described that picture with stars in her eyes: “That badass woman astronaut is how I feel right now: swaggering on into a future I am excited to be a part of.”That sentence was published during the eight-week span between the revelation that Roe v. Wade would be overturned and last week’s official declaration that it was. The only response I could muster to reading it was to use the public version of DALL-E, now called Craiyon, to generate nine slightly different images of Carrie Bradshaw jumping off a cliff. At this particular moment, our AI toys aren’t doing a very good job of reflecting us at all. They are just doodling absurdities.If @Horse_ebooks did share some real, human wisdom, maybe that’s because it had a real, human author. “Everything happens so much” captures the way that horror recurs even as it always feels final. When the Roe decision came down, I was knocked off my feet, even though we knew it would happen and even though it had kind of already happened before, and I was also knocked off my feet that time. The tweet can always be said to describe “this week”; it always makes sense to be “really feeling this today”; and it is constantly the case that it “has never been more true than now.”
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theatlantic.com
How to Change the Way Men See Chores
One of the exasperating features of everyday gender inequality is that couples can be aware of imbalances in doing housework, state a dislike of them, and yet fall right into them anyway.The discrepancy shows up most obviously in the amount of time men and women spend on tasks such as cleaning and caregiving, including when both work full-time. Yet even many couples who pride themselves on a fair distribution of duties aren’t so balanced when it comes to carrying the harder-to-quantify “mental load,” the taxing work of managing a household and anticipating its many needs. (Same-sex couples tend to be more egalitarian, but can end up in lopsided arrangements as well.) Today, men in different-sex relationships contribute more than they did in the 1960s and ’70s (a low bar), but often take on a “helper” role under the “manager” role of their female partner, who’s saddled with noticing what must be done.The job of noticing is a recurring theme of Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home, a new book by Kate Mangino, a gender expert who works with international nonprofits. Mangino is aware of how American society could be made more equitable among genders—say, with paid parental leave and universally affordable child care. But she recognizes that individual couples have households to oversee now, and offers tactics for couples to bust out of that irksome helper/manager dynamic.Some of her observations are derived from an enlightening series of interviews she did with 40 men—most of them American and most of them in committed relationships with women—who are truly equal partners, which Mangino defines as “intentionally [taking] on half the physical and emotional load of their household.” (Finding these equal partners was a challenge; many men who initially identified themselves as such to Mangino became ineligible after their partner said otherwise.) I recently spoke with Mangino about what she learned from these couples and others. The conversation that follows has been lightly edited and condensed.Joe Pinsker: The status quo, in which men don’t do as much housework as women, could seem like it’s nice for men. But you argue that men stand to benefit from making partnerships more equal. How so?Kate Mangino: When I started interviewing these 40 men who already live as equal partners, I asked them, “Have you felt like you had to give anything up?” And I only had to ask that to the first five or eight of them, because their response was so strong: “No, I’ve gained.” Specifically, I heard them say that they get to be their own authentic self—they don’t have to perform masculinity and feel like a failure if they don’t make a certain amount of money; they have a fantastic relationship with their partner; they have very close relationships with their kids. They said that by participating fully in the household, maybe they gave up being able to play golf on Saturday afternoon, but that exchange was well worth it.Pinsker: As I read your book, a theme I noticed is the importance of giving dads lots of time on their own with kids. As we think about how to prompt men to share in doing cognitive labor, it seems like one principle is to let them fend for themselves and then see everything they need to manage and account for.Mangino: Absolutely. One of the men I interviewed mentioned that his wife is a nurse who works three 12-hour shifts a week. And he told me that because she works in the ER, he can’t call her at work, so he’s all by himself. He learned very quickly that if he doesn’t have food stocked ahead of time, he has to drag two very little kids to the grocery store, which would be miserable, so he realized he needed to run to the store the night before she goes to work. He learned to plan ahead and to notice.I think you can replicate this in other households. Maybe if Mom has an office to go to, great—she can go and you only call her if someone is bleeding. Otherwise, you give her her space.[Read: ‘Mom brain’ isn’t a joke]Pinsker: In a similar vein, you note that parent group chats, which can be a great source of information and emotional support, are more common among moms than dads. How would more dad group chats promote more equal partnerships?Mangino: Moms are probably part of many different chats at any given moment—I can get a crazy amount of information within about three minutes from all my mom chat groups. Dads don’t have access to that. When they need information, they either ask their partner, which just puts more weight back on her, or they have to do their own research online. So establishing dad networks would be great. Like if a dad’s at a playground, he can put out a message to the dad group: Where’s the best sledding hill? You don’t have to bother Mom.There’s all these micro-decisions we make throughout the day around parenting, and our chat groups really help us with those. Just like moms can put out on their chats, I feel like a bad mom because I just served Kraft mac and cheese for dinner, dads would benefit from that too.Pinsker: The men you interviewed who were equal partners didn’t all have the same backgrounds, but you noticed some patterns: Some were raised by single mothers; some had a strong sense of morality, perhaps from religion; some got caregiving experience in childhood; some had experiences of feeling discriminated against; and some had negative role models who they were reacting to. What do you think people who don’t have many or any of those life experiences can do to cultivate the same understanding that these men have?Mangino: To be honest, when I first started mapping their backgrounds, I was disappointed because I expected to find more commonalities than I did. But I think that’s actually a positive, because I hear a lot of people say, as an excuse for not doing more around the house, “It just wasn’t the way I was raised.” And these 40 men, they weren’t raised to be equal partners either. Only two of them came from households where parity was role-modeled to them. Thirty-eight of them found it on their own. So that excuse just doesn’t hold a lot of weight. If anyone’s interested enough in rewriting gender norms, they can.Pinsker: So the idea is that these men’s experiences led them to fully grasp the scope of gender inequality, which is what sparked their changes in behavior?Mangino: Yes. And I would say that it required repetition. None of these men had an “aha” moment that changed their life. It was, you know, summers with an uncle as a kid and then it was a girlfriend in high school and then it was a professor in college. Some of them said that they feel like they would hold themselves to high standards even if their partner didn’t require it. And several also said, My partner holds me accountable and won’t let me slip, and that helps tremendously.[Read: A smarter way to divide chores?]Pinsker: Speaking of those partners, you wrote that most of them deliberately sought out egalitarian men. Lots of men say that they’re feminists, but how did these women actually find the ones who meant it?Mangino: They noticed several things. First, couples who lived together before marriage obviously had experience of how they treat their home and how much they pitch in. Several women told me, He had his own place when we were dating, and I would see how he took care of his space and if he took pride in his home. Another indicator was if they had female friends and female co-workers, which was a sign that they had meaningful exposure to the challenges women face at work and outside it.Also, they said that they didn’t just have one conversation about gender inequality, but that it was brought up regularly. And it wasn’t just brought up by the woman—the man raised these issues too, and wasn’t just reacting to when the woman brought them up. These women also noticed if their boyfriend at the time asked them about their work—not just a superficial question like “How was work today?” but specific questions to really figure out what does she do, what does she love about her job, what is her expertise. That seemed to be another indicator that these men would be extremely supportive.Pinsker: One last tactic I liked from your book was the idea of reflecting on who you look to, intentionally or not, as a role model for gender norms, and then intentionally picking new role models if necessary. Could you talk about why you think this is useful?Mangino: Changing gender norms is hard, so we’re going to need help. We’re going to need friends that we can look to and say, I’m struggling with this problem—I wonder how they handle it. Because a lot of our default role models, like our parents or religious leaders perhaps, tend to be almost assigned to us—society decides who our role models are. But as we grow up, we have the agency to pick new ones.
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theatlantic.com
The Political Survival Plan That Biden Needs
Inflation is surging, a recession is looming, the culture war is raging, Republican gains in Congress are surely coming, and Joe Biden’s poll numbers are slumping.The Biden presidency began with Plan A: campaign from the center, govern from the left. That plan has now exhausted whatever potential it had. On his present course, President Biden is in danger of being remembered as the intermission between Act I and Act II of the collapse of American democracy.Biden needs a Plan B, fast.What would a Plan B look like? It should be built on five pillars:Pillar One: Combat inflation. Nothing is more devastating to incumbent presidents than inflation. Of those in office during the age of stagflation, one resigned (Richard Nixon); the other two both faced devastating primary challenges and then were defeated in their bids for a second term (Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter). The story can be told in greater detail, but the pattern is the pattern.Most of the fight against inflation will be directed from the Federal Reserve, over which a president has no control, but there are things that Biden can do. He can put a stop to the infantile refrain from some in his party that inflation is being driven by price gouging by meatpackers and oil companies. The Democrats’ progressive base may enjoy the corporation-bashing, but it’s an insult to everyone else’s intelligence. And because it is nonsense, it will not deliver results.On the affirmative side, Biden can undo Trump’s tariffs and jettison his own buy-American regulations. Freer trade brings more competition, and more competition will bring lower prices.He can also demonstrate commitment and leadership on energy. The oil-and-gas-development pipeline is slower than the political cycle. But Biden can at least make himself visible as a champion of faster return to market of oil refineries and natural-gas pipelines. He can connect this leadership to a strong message of support for a green transition by the 2040s, including the streamlining of approvals for nuclear plants, an indispensable partner of renewable-energy sources like wind and solar.[Read: How a recession could weaken the work-from-home revolution]Those are measures for the future. For the present, he needs to affirm to anyone who will listen this clear, true message:Gasoline prices and oil-industry profits are high in the 2020s because they were too low in the 2010s to pay for the new investment that America needed. The U.S. inherited a gathering energy-supply crisis from Donald Trump—and that crisis arrived when Trump’s friend and political ally Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. The new Biden plan will encourage oil and natural-gas investment today, reduced oil and natural-gas prices tomorrow, and the green transition the day after that.Pillar Two: Get ready for a possible recession. Recessions are not as fatal to incumbents as inflation: Dwight Eisenhower survived the recession of 1953–54 to win a second term in 1956; Ronald Reagan survived the severe recession of 1981–83 to win in 1984.But any possible Biden recession will be tougher politically than Eisenhower’s and Reagan’s because it will arrive, if it arrives, later in Biden’s term. Eisenhower’s and Reagan’s recessions started early in their first year in office. If it comes, Biden’s recession will start late in his second year or early in his third. A hypothetical 2022 or 2023 recession could also be protracted, because it will not end until the Federal Reserve is satisfied that inflation has been snuffed out. That may take a while.We know what Biden has already done. He’s already pumped a huge amount of federal spending into the economy: his large COVID-relief bill and his big infrastructure bill, all atop the previous COVID spending by the Trump administration. That was an underappreciated political success for Biden’s Democratic constituencies. At this point, however, more fiscal stimulus would only provoke more interest-rate increases by the Federal Reserve—even assuming that a soon-to-be-more Republican Congress will allow them, which it will not.So what can Biden do? Get ready to go on defense. The coming more-Republican Congress will want to do many, many things that will be very, very unpopular. Biden’s least-bad move will be to focus the public mind as best he can on those unpopular Republican actions. (Their best move, conversely, will be to restrain themselves and let the recession finish off Biden. But their own internal dynamics will make that difficult to execute, especially under the weak House leadership of Kevin McCarthy.)A recession in 2022 or 2023 may not end by November 2024. But if Biden can recast that election as a referendum on repealing the Affordable Care Act or some other Republican plan, he will do better than if he just keeps pleading for one more pull on a busted fiscal-stimulus lever.[Read: The Democrats’ midterm identity crisis]Pillar Three: Act the peacemaker in the culture war. If Joe Biden won a mandate for anything in November 2020, it was to restore some normality to American politics. Biden can claim some limited success here. The COVID pandemic has abated; COVID-emergency measures can be relaxed; children have returned to school. But the Supreme Court’s activism on gun rights and abortion has now reignited the culture wars that Biden was elected to calm. Biden has an opportunity to position his party as the party of social peace against Republican cultural aggression.But there are three culture-war issues that Biden has not calmed—indeed, that his administration has in some ways inflamed. The angriest of those flash points is crime. At the beginning of the pandemic, Americans raced out to buy millions of guns supposedly to protect themselves from one another. Instead, they are horribly harming one another. The years 2020 and 2021 saw a generational surge in violent crime, made worse by the 40 million new guns bought in those two years.The United States desperately needs now to empower police and local law enforcement to restore order. The Supreme Court’s gun jurisprudence has made it harder to protect the public from violence. But raising the consequences for carrying a firearm in public within whatever regime of legal permission the Court still allows is possible. Law enforcement is mostly a state and local matter, but Biden can talk about it. And he can make clear that states that experiment with constitutionally compliant versions of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg–style stop-and-frisk laws to check for illegally carried weapons will not face federal legal challenges.A second culture-war issue that Biden has not calmed is immigration. At least 3 million people have more or less walked into the country across the southern border under his administration. The perception, largely correct, that border enforcement had collapsed sent a message to the whole planet: Try your luck now. It also sent a message inside the United States: Nobody is in control. As always, that message is triggering the extreme political response I warned about in The Atlantic in 2019: “If liberals insist that only fascists will enforce borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals refuse to do.” The borders must be enforced, and Biden must be seen trying to enforce them.The third culture war is one that the Biden administration actually more or less started on its own initiative. On his first day in office, Biden issued an order that forbade “discrimination on the basis of gender identity.” Last week, the administration went even further, issuing regulations that federal law against sex discrimination in higher education will now redefine “sex” to also mean “gender identity.”Biden has thus put the weight of the federal government behind the claim that “man” and “woman,” “boy” and “girl,” are categories that depend purely on the self-identification of the individual. This is not a broadly accepted idea in American society, and its practical implications—particularly for women’s sports—are even less accepted. Biden did not have to charge into this fight, but he did, and he’s losing it. Maybe he cannot now entirely retreat, but he can retrench and let the federal government follow public opinion more closely. The attempt to force opinion in a direction that the Biden administration wishes to go is stoking a backlash that may overwhelm a lot more than Biden himself.[Read: Why Biden shouldn’t run in 2024]Pillar Four: Defend democracy first. The work of the January 6 select committee is clarifying beyond doubt that the violent attack on the Capitol was only one piece of a larger scheme to overturn the 2020 election. The crux of the plan would be action inside the states to rewrite election laws and alter election administration in ways that would substitute the wishes of the majority party in state legislatures for the democratic votes of the people in a presidential election.Many of those who put their hopes in Biden imagined that they were voting, first and foremost, to defend American democracy. It is dismaying how little Biden has done to realize that hope.Barton Gellman warned last year in The Atlantic that the next attempted coup is already under way. The Biden administration has declined to make a priority of protecting the voting system from a repeat in 2024 of the Trump scheme from 2020. The House of Representatives passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act in December. The law would address many of the defects and deficiencies exploited by the Trump presidency. The bill has stalled in the Senate, and the Biden administration shows no sign of caring or intervening. The defense of democracy should have been priority No.1 all along. It’s been shunted to priority zero. There’s still time to enact something before congressional Republicans start doing Trump’s dirty work for him. Do that something, and soon.Pillar Five: Clarify the 2024 ticket now. In 2020, Joe Biden delivered a 13-point swing among white men—the single largest move of any major voting bloc between the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020, and an absolutely crucial precondition for the defeat of Trump.Who will hold that bloc of men in a 2024 contest against Donald Trump? That’s the pre-eminent electoral question for every supporter of U.S. democracy in this hour of crisis. For many, Biden’s age calls into question whether he can or should run again. The only clean and simple way to replace Biden is for him to step aside in favor of Vice President Kamala Harris. If the polls are right, however, she probably won’t hold those men and will therefore lose. Yet if Democrats try to replace both her and Biden, they will likely trigger an all-out party brawl spiced by accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia—an even more certain guarantee of disaster.So unless some clever person has a plan to reenact the 1944 Democratic convention and—without shattering the party—replace a seemingly doomed VP with a more electable one (North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper springs to mind as a suitable candidate today), then Democrats have to make up their mind to consolidate quickly and unanimously around Biden. And no more anonymous comments to reporters about his waning capacities.Admittedly, five pillars is a lot of pillars. But Islam has five, and with them it swept the world from Morocco to Indonesia. All the Democrats have to do is hold a few swing states. It won’t be easy. It can be done.
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theatlantic.com
British Unionists Fought Irish Unity. They Should Welcome It.
In July 1996, I climbed onto my muddy pony in our small farm in County Armagh and headed down the road. It was a rare sunny and warm day in Northern Ireland. I didn’t get far before I was blocked by a large tree that had been felled over my path. A farmer living nearby had taken his chainsaw and cut it down, closing the rural road in protest.That summer, men fiercely attached to unity with Britain undertook similar action across Northern Ireland, cutting down trees and forming barricades on highways. These men, belonging to the Orange Order—a society that commemorates the battlefield victories of the Protestant Dutch nobleman William of Orange over the Catholic King James II 300 years prior—had been prevented by the police and local residents for the second year running from marching with banners and bands through a predominantly Catholic neighborhood of a nearby town.My family lived near the last ardently Protestant village before the green hills rolled south, becoming wilder and more heathered, eventually leading to Irish Republican Army strongholds that straddled the border between Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, a separate country. The Orangemen would not dare go down there to shut roads, so they closed the roads leading to our village. That summer, I asked myself the same question I’m sure many in my Protestant community did privately: If the Orangemen were angry with Catholics, why did they block the roads in Protestant areas?To the outside world, and the American TV cameras that arrived in Northern Ireland that summer to cover the standoff, social breakdown over the Orangemen’s march route likely seemed arcane. But in a place as acutely sectarian as Northern Ireland, everything is political—even walking down the street. Back then, the nearby town’s Catholic residents, republicans dedicated to seeing an end to British rule in Northern Ireland, would not tolerate provocative, bigoted marching bands through their neighborhood. To the Orangemen, among the more extreme Protestant unionists fiercely dedicated to maintaining Northern Ireland’s British status, the street they wanted to go through wasn’t just a street: All roads fell under the British government’s authority, and so the street in question was ‘The Queen’s Highway,’ as we heard repeatedly in angry speeches that summer. Barred from their planned march, the Orangemen hoped instead that blocking roads in Protestant areas would bring Northern Ireland to a standstill. The reality on the ground was an eerie realization of the insulation of Protestant communities, many of which are today hemmed in by their own, more radical elements.Twice this spring, the hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) effectively paralyzed Northern Ireland’s devolved government by refusing to back the election of a speaker. The political deadlock risks upending a fragile, quarter-century period of relative peace. It is the latest episode in an ongoing, years-long saga of political dysfunction triggered in large part by questions over the post-Brexit status of Northern Ireland. Much has been written about the machinery of Brexit, the issues regarding border checks, and the Northern Ireland protocol. In essence, to preserve peace in Northern Ireland, Britain and the European Union agreed that goods transported between Northern Ireland and the republic would not be inspected, thereby avoiding the need for border posts. The result has been that goods are checked when they move between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom—within a sovereign state. The deal has sparked dismay among unionists who argue that it erodes their ties to the U.K., while republicans oppose moves to erect new border infrastructure on the island of Ireland.Zoom out from the noise of the latest disagreements, however, and the truth is that unionist disruption will one day have to bow to the inevitable: Irish unity. It’s time for Northern Ireland’s Protestants—the community I grew up in—to talk about it. To prepare, even, for life in a united Ireland.Northern Ireland’s very formation a century ago was the result of gerrymandering. As predominantly Catholic Ireland was granted independence from British rule, anxious Protestants living on the north of the island demanded guarantees that they would never be abandoned by London. As such, Catholic-majority counties were sliced off the province of Ulster to create a Protestant-majority entity: Northern Ireland. Local voting was switched from proportional representation to a first-past-the-post system, and voting districts were drawn such that Protestants were confident of future rule.The 1998 Good Friday Agreement that essentially brought an end to the Troubles calls for a referendum, or “border poll,” on Northern Ireland seceding from the U.K. and becoming a part of a united Irish state. London’s representative to Northern Ireland would make the call on when the time is right, and a popular vote would be held in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But demographic change in Northern Ireland since its creation in 1921 means that Protestant domination is no longer guaranteed: Catholics, most of whom identify as republican, have increased in numbers compared with largely unionist Protestants. If a border poll were held today, given recent survey results, a majority of people in Northern Ireland might—by a tiny margin—vote for a united Ireland.May elections brought, for the first time, an Irish nationalist party to the head of Northern Ireland’s government, with Sinn Fein—the former political wing of the IRA—taking the most number of seats. Effectively, the presumptive first minister of Northern Ireland’s government does not believe that Northern Ireland should exist. Sinn Fein has vowed to push for the border poll.How unionists respond to these developments in the coming months and years will be crucial. The Protestant community cannot in good faith defy the wishes of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland, should they demand a border poll, and then vote for reunification. In 2022 and beyond, few arguments for enforced rule against the wishes of the people could stand ethical examination, or indeed the legal requirements of the Good Friday Agreement.Protestants should instead look toward life in Ireland as a religious minority, prepare for it, accept it. The prospect is something few have openly discussed, but that discussion needs to become a dominant part of our community’s political and social conversation if we are to avoid the bloodiest transition toward the inevitable.There is much less to be anxious about these days. Ireland has undergone a remarkable evolution, and is today a more religiously diverse, culturally open, and socially progressive place than in years and decades past. Fears over being discriminated against by powerful civic organizations run by the Catholic Church, for example, or facing bias when applying for jobs and leadership positions are less justified. If anything, for younger, outward-looking Protestants, a united Ireland—happily part of the European Union—offers a brighter future than the U.K. does.The Catholic Church’s control over many elements of life, including schools, hospitals, and social welfare, has been drastically scaled back. Scandals over pedophilia by priests and subsequent cover-ups have reduced its power across Ireland. The country has evolved into one of the most pluralist and liberal democracies in the world. Few examples attest to this more clearly than its 2015 popular vote in favor of gay marriage, and then a vote to legalize abortion in 2018. Ireland scored 97 percent in this year’s global freedom report on civil and democratic rights by Freedom House. Being a religious minority in Ireland would be preferable to almost anywhere else on Earth. A city wall separates Londonderry's Catholic and Protestant communities. (Credit: H. Christoph/ Ullstein / Getty) Northern Ireland’s Protestant community is not unified, and the divisions that began during the 1990s’ peace process have deepened into a schism that will show itself more bitter in the coming years, as the prospect of Irish unity grows more tangible. Moderate unionists, those who would prefer to stay within the U.K. and who view themselves as British, prioritize functioning local government and working across the floor with republican counterparts to provide services for their community and reduce violence. They are the legacy of the David Trimble and John Hume unity that brought peace to Northern Ireland, a feat recognized by the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize. These Protestants, among whom I count myself, will surely mourn the eventual loss of their British identity but reject the fighting talk and obfuscation of the DUP and other more extreme groups. An increased vote share for the cross-community, progressive Alliance Party, much of which came from traditionally unionist voters, shows this most clearly. Young Protestants care about gay rights, economic access to Europe, the environment, and functioning government as much as their national identity.Yet for people on the most extreme end of Protestant unionism, their very cultural basis rests not on the Protestant faith, Ulster Scots culture, or British nationalism but on Protestant dominion over Catholics. Each change since the peace process of the 1990s has felt to them like a painful capitulation. The early release from jail of IRA prisoners convicted of murdering members of the security forces was especially traumatic, while other reforms have chipped away at institutions that Catholics felt unjustly marginalized them, such as the police force. All of these shifts have served as regular reminders that one of the last corners of the British empire was never realistically going to be able to remain what it was designed to be—British- and Protestant-dominated.The Orange Order of Northern Ireland was never about celebrating the Protestant faith, or our Scottish roots. It was about celebrating Protestant victories over Catholics. As time has passed, those attitudes are dying out. Orange meeting halls across Northern Ireland these days struggle to attract young recruits, hosting instead old men whose grandsons are more concerned with day-to-day life than commemorating bygone religious victories. Peppered across Northern Ireland’s rural communities, Orange halls, looking like little churches, are rusting, tall grass growing up around them. Membership has cratered.The legacy these more radical elements of Protestant politics in Northern Ireland have left their younger generation is not a safeguarding of the union with Britain, but rather a noisy minority, spoiling for a fight and making the inevitable Irish unification more likely to be violent and painful. As momentum toward Irish unity gains pace, it’s time for them to get out of the way and let a younger generation of modern, moderate, democratic Protestants embrace their future within a new Ireland. Failing to do so would make as much sense as chopping down Protestant trees.
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Roe Was Flawed. Dobbs Is Worse.
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.I’m a conservative (or what used to be called a conservative) who always thought Roe v. Wade was the product of judicial activism. But overturning it is even worse.But first, here’s more from The Atlantic. America is sliding into the long pandemic defeat, Ed Yong writes. We’re about to see just how pro-life Republicans actually are. The Constitution is whatever the right wing says it is, Adam Serwer argues. As of last Friday, American women lost the constitutional right to choose an abortion, ending a protection that’s nearly 50 years old.Like most Americans, I think abortion must remain legal—but with restrictions. I am conflicted about abortion because of things that happened in my own family, but when it comes to the law, let’s stipulate that over the half century that Roe kept abortion legal, even some of its defenders thought it might be a shaky decision—the product of judicial activism. They were right: Roe was the product of an activist Court. But then, so was Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.How, conservatives fume, can anyone argue that dumping Roe and “throwing it back to the states” is “activism”?Here’s the answer: Years of political change matter. Decades ago, abortion became accepted as a right by a broad majority of the country. Justice Samuel Alito and the other five conservatives on the Supreme Court were not handing back abortion to the states as if it were some open question for a debate; they knew exactly what was going to happen in states with “trigger” laws the minute they ruled. Despite their legal rationale, these justices were taking sides in a culture war on behalf of a minority of Americans with whom at least some of them happen to agree.Alito, in particular, had been strategizing for years about this single issue: As The New York Times reported, in 1985, before he was on the Court, Alito took “umbrage” at a judge’s comments that “forcing women to listen to details about fetal development before their abortions” would cause them emotional distress. “Good, [Alito] wrote: Such results ‘are part of the responsibility of moral choice.’” (As my Atlantic colleague Adam Serwer has written, “The cruelty is the point.”)But somehow, in 2022, we’re supposed to believe that now-Justice Alito approached Dobbs with a dispassionate constitutional eye.Anti-abortion conservatives huff that the Court has regularly overturned hideous decisions, such as Dred Scott, Plessy, or Korematsu (which wasn’t really overruled but finally disavowed in a 2018 ruling). Roe, they argue, is just another bad case that was due for reversal.This is reasoning in a vacuum, as if nothing happened over the course of 50 years. Chief Justice John Roberts himself once said that Korematsu was wrong when decided, and “has been overruled in the court of history.” True indeed. And Roe, even if poorly decided, has been affirmed in that same court; again, a majority of Americans believe in a right to abortion in all or some cases, and have for a half century. Even now, if the goal was to remedy a Roe overreach, the majority could have found a way to do so while leaving abortion rights intact. This was apparently Roberts’s position, but he was brushed aside by the five other conservative justices.It’s true that abortion is not in the Constitution. A lot of things aren’t in the Constitution, including the “right to be left alone,” but that hasn’t stopped Americans from recognizing that such rights exist. More to the point, the historical incoherence of Alito’s opinion—and Clarence Thomas’s ominous warning that the Court should review and potentially unravel other rights—suggests that no one in the majority really cares all that much about whether Roe was rightly decided. They care about abortion and other liberal changes in American life (such as gay marriage, apparently), and they may well intend to roll them all back.In 1973, liberal justices decided that abortion was a right, and so ruled. In 2022, conservative justices decided that abortion not only isn’t a right, but that it shouldn’t be.But only one of these is activism?Related: They really did it. Roe is the new Prohibition. Today’s News A Russian missile struck a Ukrainian shopping center with more than 1,000 people inside, killing at least 13 and wounding dozens more. The Supreme Court ruled that a former high-school football coach who regularly offered prayers after games had a constitutional right to do so. The WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial is set to start this Friday in Moscow, more than four months after she was first detained in the country for possession of cannabis vape cartridges. Dispatches Work in Progress: Derek Thompson explains why air travel is a disaster right now. The Third Rail: David French argues that the pro-life movement’s work is just beginning. Humans Being: Only Murders in the Building, which returns tomorrow for its second season, has all the comforts of the mystery genre, but also a critical self-awareness of its tropes, Jordan Calhoun writes. Unsettled Territory: The return of Patrice Lumumba’s tooth reminds us that today’s ceremonial gestures do not remedy yesterday’s devastation, Imani Perry argues. Famous People: Lizzie Plaugic and Kaitlyn Tiffany summer in the Hamptons—sort of. Evening ReadI Witnessed One of the Ocean’s Rarest PhenomenaBy Sam Keck Scott (Originally published in Hakai Magazine) The sky was moonless and overcast, leaving no stars to steer by. Alone at the helm in the middle of the Arabian Sea, somewhere between Oman and India, I could see nothing in the ink-black night save for our ship’s dimly lit compass rolling on its gimbal mount as we heaved and swayed through three-meter seas. But half an hour into my shift, the sails above me began to glow, as if the moon had risen. Read the full article.More From The Atlantic Joe Biden’s commitment to press freedom faces a test. Dear Therapist: “My daughter-in-law is posting nasty things about me online.” America wasted its chance to push the economy forward. Culture BreakRead. Spend a few minutes with Tiana Clark’s poem “Considering Roe v. Wade, Letters to the Black Body.”Two recent books, Voice of the Fish and Undrowned, offer respite for when you feel at odds with being human.Watch. Elvis, which just opened in theaters, is a mess. That’s exactly how it should be.Or start Abbott Elementary (available on ABC and Hulu), a pick from our list of highly bingeable TV comedies.Listen. This week on How to Start Over, our hosts explore the barriers to making friends as an adult.Play our daily crossword.I was a young guy in the ’80s and I loved the original Top Gun, even though I knew it was just a Navy recruiting ad with a paper-thin plot. But if there was ever a time for the pure escapism of a popcorn movie, it’s now. I recently saw Top Gun: Maverick, and I enjoyed it, despite the military and international-relations expert parts of my brain screaming at me that the entire scenario was ludicrous. (I taught at the Naval War College for 25 years; I can’t just turn that off.) If you’ve already seen the movie, the most intriguing explanation of the absurd plot is in this essay—but it has major spoilers, so be careful!— TomKatherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
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