Editor's Note — December 15, 2016, 2:46 pm

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

HarpersWeb-Jan2016-302x410Like 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.

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November 2018

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:


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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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