Inside the January Issue
James Marcus on Donald Trump, Austin Smith on the Green Bay Packers, Richard Manning on the water crisis in Flint, Jeremy Miller on the war on wolves, Jennifer Szalai on Zadie Smith, a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and more
Like many Americans, I arrived at the office on November 9 with what felt like a terminal hangover. This wasn’t the result of too much liquor—a definite temptation the night before, as Hillary Clinton’s supposedly impregnable margin melted away and the anchors on MSNBC and CNN developed a fresh set of worry lines. No, this was another sort of hangover: a stunned attempt to absorb a political toxin, compared to which absinthe (or, hell, gasoline) was mere mother’s milk. Trump had won. This childish monster of self-regard would be moving into the White House, possibly with the bronze bust of his own head that decorated his Atlanta campaign office. The weeks since his victory have offered little in the way of reassurance. His farcical Cabinet appointments, his flagrant cronyism, his refusal to divest himself of his business empire—which, as the constitutional scholar Lawrence Tribe has pointed out, makes him a virtual “emoluments magnet”—are all deeply discouraging.
Hence our January cover, a likeness of the pouting president behind bars. Trump has surely bent or broken the law with sufficient frequency to merit some quality time in stir: the Trump University litigation alone would probably have earned him a fraud conviction if he hadn’t settled. But the cover can be taken figuratively, too, as an image of containment. Whatever the Russians or the rebellious electors do, Trump is likely to occupy the Oval Office. Damage control will be a necessity for the next four years. So will resistance, in all its many-splendored forms—an argument made in my own Editor’s Notebook and in Rebecca Solnit’s meditation on commemorative statuary. Discussing the proliferation of Trump piñatas during his campaign, she affirms the symbolic value of smashing a papier-mâché POTUS: “Such acts testify to people’s ability to make—and break—their own monuments, to write their own history under the most repressive conditions.”
Elsewhere in the issue, Richard Manning takes a look at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan—and instead of flagellating the municipal government, he puts the community’s woes in the context of baked-in and nearly ineradicable racism. A child of Flint himself, Manning is familiar with the town’s postwar Golden Age. He is also skeptical about easy narratives of decline and fall, especially when they involve real estate. (Speaking of which: care to buy a house in the West Bank? Our annotation, “House Hunters Transnational,” by Jamie Levin and Sarah Treleaven, may give you pause.)
In “The Lords of Lambeau,” Austin Smith ponders the household gods of his youth, the Green Bay Packers. Having grown up on an Illinois dairy farm, he always counted himself an “honorary Wisconsinite,” and the Packers constituted a sort of head-butting role model. They were also, during his childhood, in the midst of a prolonged losing streak, which only made them more attractive: paupers who might well turn back into princes with a single field goal. The moment they did so, beating the Patriots in the 1996 Super Bowl, they lost much of their charm for Smith. So has the sport itself, increasingly identified with brain damage, scandal, domestic abuse, and a dated idea of American masculinity. And yet the author can’t let go, compulsively watching the Packers on TV and, for the first time, attending a game at Lambeau Field with his equally ambivalent father.
Scott Ritter explores the strange, sad, sequestered lives of political turncoats in “The Trouble With Defectors.” Spies have a certain glamor for us—defectors are traitors by definition, even when their motives are heroic, which is occasionally the case. In “The Notes of Patrick Modiano,” Peter de Jonge pulls back the curtain on the Nobel laureate’s earlier, obscure career as a writer of pop-music lyrics. Jeremy Miller chronicles our nation’s de facto war on wolves—a slaughter enabled by a little-known loophole that allows hunters to mow down endangered species as long as they’re not sure exactly what they’re shooting at. We also have treats from Isaac Bashevis Singer (“A Window to the World,” which has never appeared in English before) and Robert and Aline Crumb (a full-color comic strip about fiscal shock and awe). Add to that reviews by Christine Smallwood, Gary Greenberg, and Jennifer Szalai, plus a formidable Readings section, and you’ve got a 2,000th issue to reckon with.