Editor's Note — July 21, 2016, 3:35 pm

Inside the August Issue

Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, fiction by Diane Williams, and more

HarpersWeb-Cover-2016-08-302x410In this month’s cover story, Tom Wolfe attacks the charismatic cult of Noam Chomsky and the long reign of his theory that human beings are born with an innate ability to acquire languages. “It no longer mattered whether one agreed with Noam Chomsky’s scholarly or political opinions or not,” writes Wolfe, “for fame enveloped him like a golden armature.” For thirty years Chomsky had insisted that some empiricist would come along and prove him right. But in 2005, Daniel L. Everett published a paper that didn’t so much refute Chomsky’s conception of a language organ as dismiss it entirely. Wolfe tells the story of the man who proved Chomsky wrong, precipitating the great linguist’s fall from his “plateau on Olympus.”

But as Walter Kirn reflects in this month’s Easy Chair, some experts are best left alone. At a cocktail party with a highly skilled surgeon, Kirn learns how patient-satisfaction surveys sometimes prevent doctors from providing the best possible care. According to Kirn, “the customer is always right, even if the customer is stupid or addicted to prescription narcotics” might well sum up what happens when insurance benefits are linked to ratings, but it’s also the great lesson of this year’s election season. In an era of aggregated content, “the spoils have a way of flowing to the middlemen.” No wonder, he writes, that the most outrageous political populist “is just another billionaire businessman, a man whose chief qualification seems to be that he lacks the technocrat’s competence and expertise.”

Martin Amis affirms Kirn’s disappointment with the “horizontal, spreading expanse of averaged cultural mulch” in his aghast review of two books “by” Donald Trump: The Art of the Deal (1987) and Crippled America (2015). Devoid of content or style, Trump’s bloated, distracted rages-to-riches stories “from which the rags have been tastefully excised” read like the “naked manifestations of advanced paranoia.” “We remember the bitter witticism about democracy,” Amis writes, “The people have spoken. The bastards.” But we cannot “let Trump be Trump,” he warns, lamenting the necessity, and urgency, of such obvious advice.

In his Miscellany on archery, Reeves Wiedeman meets Olympic athletes who, rather unlike Trump, devote years of their lives to accuracy and precision. Archery is in the middle of an unprecedented boom, and getting pretty good, Wiedeman discovers, is not too hard. (The actress Geena Davis almost qualified for the 2000 Games.) Getting great, however, is terribly difficult; the tension between body and mind is such that, during a competition, even an elite archer is liable to lose the feeling in her arms. All the drama is in an archer’s head, Weideman writes, which makes this a uniquely a tough sell as a spectator sport. As one archery buff put it, “even parents will tell you that after fifty arrows, they’re falling asleep.”

Also in this issue: Art Spiegelman pens an appreciation of Si Lewen’s Parade; Christine Smallwood reviews A.S. Byatt’s Peacock & Vine: On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny, Jamie James’s The Glamour of Strangeness: Artists and the Last Age of the Exotic, and Alfred Döblin’s Bright Magic: Stories; and Michael Wood contemplates the unlikely return of the Brat Pack.

Single Page

More from Ellen Rosenbush:

Editor's Note October 19, 2018, 8:00 am

Inside the November 2018 Issue

Jonathan Taplin on the progressive states’-rights movement; John Cleese proselytizes; Ana Marie Cox on the tragedy of Ted Cruz; a personal history of the Holocaust

Editor's Note September 13, 2018, 11:00 am

Inside the October 2018 Issue

The printed word in peril; poems by Ben Lerner; among Britain’s anti-Semites 

Editor's Note August 21, 2018, 10:58 am

Inside the September Issue

Garret Keizer on organized labor post-Janus; Rohini Mohan on religious conflict in India; Katie Booth on doctors learning how to treat Deaf patients; Micah Hauser on scams targeting the undocumented; and more

Get access to 168 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada



November 2018

Rebirth of a Nation

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Tragedy of Ted Cruz

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Rebirth of a Nation·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

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·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

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·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

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·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.


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

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


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.”

Subscribe Today