Inside the February Issue
Kishore Mahbubani on the nonexistent China threat; Matthew Wolfe follows a search for a missing migrant; Ann Neumann asks if homicides among the elderly are acts of mercy or malice
Can the United States make peace with a China that is likely to become the world’s largest economy within a decade? Kishore Mahbubani, who wrote February’s cover story, thinks we can. In an essay that cuts through the noise of the China-threat industry, Mahbubani lays out a diplomatic path that would enable the United States to advance its own interests and at the same time keep China in check. Donald Trump’s anti-China rants may have gotten his supporters riled up, but his complaints, not surprisingly, have missed the mark. Mahbubani explains that although China has pursued unfair trade practices, it is not to blame for America’s trade deficit. Rather than imposing tariffs, which will only serve to make many essential goods less affordable to ordinary Americans, the US government should help its citizenry by investing in higher education and research and development. A similar strategy has served China well: 800 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, and the country now boasts the largest middle class in the world. Over that same period, the median income for American workers has remained stagnant. “It is clear to see that China’s leadership has a vision for its economy and people,” Mahbubani writes. “China’s leaders have, at the very least, taken steps to address them. It is time for the United States to do the same.”
The novelist Lionel Shriver appears in the pages of Harper’s Magazine for the first time this month with an essay that is sure to set some Twitter beaks out of joint. Who is really being punished when rebroadcasts of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion disappear from the airwaves? The perpetrators have already been banished from society, says Shriver, but erasing their art, and thereby penalizing the public, seems to her a bridge too far. “The contemporary impulse to rebuke disgraced creators by vanishing their work” she writes, “exhibits a mean-spiritedness, a vengefulness even, as well as an illogic. Why, if you catch someone doing something bad, would you necessarily rub out what they’ve done that’s good?”
In “Without a Trace,” Matthew Wolfe follows Javed Hotak, an Afghan refugee living in the United Kingdom and searching for his brother, Masood, who disappeared while trying to make his way to Germany. The international refugee crisis has ushered in an age of mass displacement, with thousands of migrants disappearing every year. But, unlike those who travel through conventional channels—and whose governments have the structures and means to look for them when they go missing—migrants occupy a gray space where no government is responsible for locating them. As a result, Javed, like other relatives of the missing, must take matters into his own hands. Traveling through Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, Wolfe recounts Javed’s anguished quest to find any information about his missing brother.
Ann Neumann reports on the tragic phenomenon of homicide-suicides among the elderly. Commonly labeled “mercy killings” by the media, these cases—usually husbands killing their ailing wives and then trying, and sometimes failing, to kill themselves—are far from romantic, and instead evince the desperation many elderly couples face. Neumann, an expert on end of life issues, tells the story of Philip and Becky Benight, a couple in Conestoga, Pennsylvania. In 2017, the Benights tried to end their lives together, but Philip survived and was prosecuted for Becky’s death. The story of the Benights, and the other cases Neumann documents, expose a broken system that is driving the elderly to kill each other under desperate circumstances.
The February issue also features a story, “First Daughters,” by Lucinda Rosenfeld, who imagines a post-election lunch date between two women who bear a striking resemblance to Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump. “Orphan Bachelors,” by Fae Myenne Ng, is about growing up Chinese-American in a family whose lives were sundered by the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Confession Program. Charles Glass interviews former and current government officials to reassess the involvement of both the Obama and the Trump Administrations in our failed Syria policy.—Ellen Rosenbush