Inside the March Issue
Andrew Cockburn on turning Texas blue, Masha Gessen on the spread of antigay ideology, Calvin Baker on how Obama negotiated America's racial tightrope, Mary Cuddehe on the dealth penalty as a conservative conundrum, a story by David Szalay, and more
Despite widespread street protests and some spine-stiffening from the judiciary, these are dark times for Democrats. The party has lost control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, and is clinging with its collective fingernails to whatever power it still holds at the state level. Yet Andrew Cockburn has found a glimmer of hope, and in an unlikely place. In “Texas Is the Future,” he recounts how a band of activists known as the Texas Organizing Project pulled off a Democratic coup in Harris County, expelling local G.O.P. grandees and racking up a 160,000-vote margin for Hillary Clinton in November. The secret? Cultivating a “shadow electorate” of Latino and African-American voters, who number in the millions but have been repeatedly burned by Democratic candidates in the past. If the party hopes to regain power at the state and national level, this is probably the template. But it will take work, patience, focus, and a willingness to really listen to the grievances of those voters the party has traditionally taken for granted.
Things look little better abroad. In “Family Values,” Masha Gessen chronicles her visit to the World Congress of Families in Tbilisi, Georgia, where opponents of gay rights gather to celebrate their victories. The author, who describes herself as “queer, Jewish, anti-Putin, and a critic of marriage as an institution,” is not the sort of person to receive a warm welcome at the W.C.F. Yet she attended as a kind of thought experiment: could she find any common ground with her hosts? (The answer is not encouraging.) In “City of Gilt,” meanwhile, Tanya Gold takes a tour of post-Brexit London, paying particular mind to Karl Marx’s old haunts. The metropolis strikes her as a glittering ruin, its exterior unable to conceal decades of neoliberal rot. Her indignation reaches a comic climax at Harrods, a shrine to conspicuous consumption jammed with goods so ugly that Gold can feel “only pity: for the maker, the buyer, the voyeur, the world.”
Indeed, as we wait for the latest insane, non-spell-checked edict from the Oval Office, it’s getting increasingly hard not to pine for the old days, prior to January 20. In “Black Like Who?,” Calvin Baker looks back at Barack Obama’s ascent and his exquisite navigation of America’s racial tightrope. This isn’t an evaluation of the former president’s policy record. The author is more interested in Obama’s symbolic role, for Americans both black (who saw him “as one of the last black firsts”) and white (who hoped that his presence in the White House could help to transcend the nation’s dismal racial history). “It is a history,” writes Baker, “from which both blacks and white wish to be redeemed—even if their pathways through it have often been mutually unrecognizable.”
Elsewhere in the issue, Mary Cuddehe looks at the unlikely transformation of the death penalty—or more accurately, its abolition—into a conservative cause. (The arguments, just for the record, are both moral and fiscal; enforcing the death penalty in Florida annually costs taxpayers $51 million more than lifetime imprisonment.) Manga makes its first appearance in Harper’s Magazine with Kazuto Tatsuta’s “Itchy Nose,” a peek into daily life at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, where workers in hazmat suits are still cleaning up after the disaster of the 2011 tsunami. There is also a new Easy Chair from Rebecca Solnit, whose previous columns just won a National Magazine Award. In Readings, we have journal excerpts from the late, great Christa Wolf, a dual interview with Allen Ginsberg and his father, a letter from Donald Trump’s grandfather (in which he begs not to be deported from the Kingdom of Bavaria!), and a snippet from the Simple Sabotage Field Manual of 1944. Bringing up the rear is a muted, marmoreal work of fiction by David Szalay and some shrewd critical appraisals from the likes of Christopher Beha, Nat Segnit, and Molly Fischer.
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