Editor's Note — March 12, 2015, 8:00 am

Introducing the April Issue

Fenton Johnson ponders the dignity of solitude, Andrew Cockburn investigates the incompetence of Citigroup, Rebecca Solnit argues that high school should be abolished, and more

HarpersCover302x410On Monday, March 9, Chris Soules, a farmer from small-town Iowa, proposed to Whitney Bischoff, a Chicago-based fertility nurse, on primetime television. Their engagement marked the finale of ABC’s The Bachelor, a dating reality show that averaged over eight million viewers per episode during its nineteenth season. The enduring popularity of The Bachelor and programs of its ilk—The Bachelorette, Millionaire Matchmaker—which assume that coupling up is so desirable that one would risk televised humiliation in pursuit of a mate, made me grateful for this month’s cover story, “Going It Alone.” Fenton Johnson’s Folio is an elegant meditation on those who live a life of solitude. Johnson’s solitaries are not sad singletons or romantic failures; rather, they are individuals for whom “solitude and silence are positive gestures.” “Bachelorhood is a legitimate vocation,” he writes. “Spinsterhood is a calling, a destiny.” Both states provide the opportunity to “encounter the great silence at the core of being, a silence that is both uniquely [one’s own] and one with the background hum of the universe.” If this encounter is often fraught, even painful, then so be it. “The path to liberation,” Johnson reminds us, “runs through suffering.”

Rebecca Solnit did not attend high school, a fact that she calls, in this month’s Easy Chair, “one of my proudest accomplishments and one of my greatest escapes.” After a traumatic year of middle school, Solnit skipped the eighth grade and spent the next two years at an alternative junior high, where she mingled with “hard-partying teenage girls who dated adult drug dealers, boys who reeked of pot smoke, and other misfits like me.” At the age of fifteen, she passed the G.E.D. test and enrolled at a local community college. “High school is often considered a definitive American experience,” Solnit writes, “one that can define who you are, for better or worse, for the rest of your life.” But she wonders whether it is in fact necessary—especially given how painful those four years can be. “Eight percent of high school students have attempted to kill themselves,” she notes. “That’s a lot of people crying out for something to change.”

Gretel Ehrlich’s Letter from Greenland is blunt and terrifying. “The news from the Ice Desk,” she reports, “is this: the prognosis for the future of Arctic ice, and thus for human life on the planet, is grim.” Ehrlich, who has been traveling to Greenland since 1993, has witnessed firsthand the devastation wrought by rising temperatures. At the moment, Inuit hunters are those most directly affected: it’s dangerous to follow walrus, ring seals, and polar bears—on which the hunters rely for food—across increasingly precarious sea ice. But, as Ehrlich reminds us, “what happens at the top of the world affects us all.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, Abdul Nasser Khantumani and his son Muhammed, who was seventeen at the time, were arrested in Pakistan. In early 2002, they were transferred to the newly opened detention camp at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, in Cuba, where they remained until 2009, when the Obama Administration determined that neither posed a risk to national security. In this month’s Report, Pardiss Kebriaei, the lawyer for both father and son since 2008, recounts, in painful detail, the ordeals both have suffered since their detention: forced separation, solitary confinement, and torture (Muhammed’s nose was broken by Pakistani interrogators; Abdul Nasser’s forehead was fractured by a guard in an American-run prison in Afghanistan). Kebriaei reveals that, despite the fact that the Khantumanis have been released from Guantánamo, their troubles are far from over.

Andrew Cockburn’s Letter From Washington investigates the nefarious regulatory influence of the megabank Citigroup, which, he writes, has been “involved in every speculative catastrophe of the past few decades.” In 1999, an earlier incarnation of Citigroup lobbied successfully for the repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act, and just last year the company overturned one of the most important provisions of the Dodd–Frank Act. It’s no wonder. As an outraged Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) pointed out in a speech on the Senate floor, seven current or recent high-level policy makers in the Obama Administration have close ties to Citigroup. What does this mean for the average American? To quote Dennis Kelleher, of the financial-reform group Better Markets, “taxpayers are now on the hook for high-risk derivatives trading.”

Also in this issue: Alexandra Starr on the predatory recruiting practices used to lure young African athletes to the United States; Scott Horton on The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture; Christine Smallwood on Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant; and an excerpt from Maggie Nelson’s new book, The Argonauts.

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Rebirth of a Nation

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The Tragedy of Ted Cruz

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Rebirth of a Nation·

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Donald Trump’s presidency signals a profound but inchoate realignment of American politics. On the one hand, his administration may represent the consolidation of minority control by a Republican-dominated Senate under the leadership of a president who came to office after losing the popular vote by almost 3 million ballots. Such an imbalance of power could lead to a second civil war—indeed, the nation’s first and only great fraternal conflagration was sparked off in part for precisely this reason. On the other hand, Trump’s reign may be merely an interregnum, in which the old white power structure of the Republican Party is dying and a new oppositional coalition struggles to be born.

Illustration by Taylor Callery (detail)
Blood Money·

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Over the past three years, the city of South Tucson, Arizona, a largely Latino enclave nestled inside metropolitan Tucson, came close to abolishing its fire and police departments. It did sell off the library and cut back fire-truck crews from four to three people—whereupon two thirds of the fire department quit—and slashed the police force to just sixteen employees. “We’re a small city, just one square mile, surrounded by a larger city,” the finance director, Lourdes Aguirre, explained to me. “We have small-town dollars and big-city problems.”

Illustration by John Ritter (detail)
The Tragedy of Ted Cruz·

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When I saw Ted Cruz speak, in early August, it was at Underwood’s Cafeteria in Brownwood. He was on a weeklong swing through rural central Texas, hitting small towns and military bases that ensured him friendly, if not always entirely enthusiastic, crowds. In Brownwood, some in the audience of two hundred were still nibbling on peach cobbler as Cruz began with an anecdote about his win in a charity basketball game against ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. They rewarded him with smug chuckles when he pointed out that “Hollywood celebrities” would be hurting over the defeat “for the next fifty years.” His pitch for votes was still an off-the-rack Tea Party platform, complete with warnings about the menace of creeping progressivism, delivered at a slightly mechanical pace but with lots of punch. The woman next to me remarked, “This is the fire in the gut! Like he had the first time!” referring to Cruz’s successful long-shot run in the 2011 Texas Republican Senate primary. And it’s true—the speech was exactly like one Cruz would have delivered in 2011, right down to one specific detail: he never mentioned Donald Trump by name.

Cruz recited almost verbatim the same things Trump lists as the administration’s accomplishments: the new tax legislation, reduced African-American unemployment, repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court. But, in a mirror image of those in the #Resistance who refuse to ennoble Trump with the title “president,” Cruz only called him that.

Photograph of Ted Cruz © Ben Helton (detail)
Wrong Object·

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e is a nondescript man.

I’d never used that adjective about a client. Not until this one. My seventeenth. He’d requested an evening time and came Tuesdays at six-thirty. For months he didn’t tell me what he did.

The first session I said what I often said to begin: How can I help you?

I still think of what I do as a helping profession. And I liked the way the phrase echoed down my years; in my first job I’d been a salesgirl at a department store counter.

I want to work on my marriage, he said. I’m the problem.

His complaint was familiar. But I preferred a self-critical patient to a blamer.

It’s me, he said. My wife is a thoroughly good person.

Yawn, I thought, but said, Tell me more.

I don’t feel what I should for her.

What do you feel?

Photograph © Joseph S. Giacalone (detail)

Percentage of Aquarians who are Democrats:


Scolded dogs look guiltier if they are actually innocent.

Nikki Haley resigns; Jamal Khashoggi murdered; Kanye visits the White House

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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