Editor's Note — January 18, 2017, 1:19 pm

Inside the February Issue

May Jeong on the peace process in Afghanistan, Anthony Heilbut on black America’s civil war over gay rights, Alice Gregory on the world of miniatures, a story by John Edgar Wideman, a resister’s guide to Trump, and more

Harpers-Magazine-February-2017-2A few days from now, barring an act of God or a verifiable Blu-Ray release from the Kremlin’s video arm, Donald Trump will be sworn in as president of the United States. The time for rhetorical shouts and murmurs is over. Inveighing against Trump, whining about the sheer unlikeliness of his ascent, won’t do any good—indeed, such pure animus seems to make him stronger. What’s needed instead is some calm, shrewd, practical thinking about the best path forward: a guide for the politically perplexed. And that is what we have tried to provide with our new forum. Eleven distinguished writers have contributed to “Trump: A Resister’s Guide,” each with a distinct approach to the current, soul-crushing conundrum. Corey Robin and Wesley Yang wrestle with the failures of neoliberalism and meritocracy, while Tim Barker urges us to resist the divide-and-conquer techniques that have served the Right so well for decades. Katrina Forrester takes on the antifeminist backlash, Lawrence Jackson proposes a novel model for resistance—the old-school Afrocentrism that animated Baltimore politics during the 1980s—and Sarah Schulman, an ACT UP veteran, shares the lessons of that earlier struggle. All this plus similarly perceptive pieces from Celina Su, Kate Crawford, Simone White, and a two-part invention from Nimmi Gowrinathan and Valeria Luiselli.

Elsewhere in the issue, May Jeong chronicles the tentative, collapse-prone peace process in Afghanistan, which should pose an interesting problem for an isolationist president with some trigger-happy associates. In “The Number That No Man Could Number,” Anthony Heilbut explores a civil war in black America, which pits the intensely conservative Pentecostal church against its gay parishioners. “Mistaken Identities” shines a light on a little-known government racket: the use of bogus travel documents to deport aliens, often to countries in which they have never previously set foot. On a lighter note—so essential in these dark times—Alice Gregory guides us through the cloistered, myopic, and immensely pleasurable world of miniatures, those doll-house-scaled micro-objects that, as the author declares, “have always filled me with a devious and urgent covetousness.” (Of course you want them!) We also have a long poem by Graham Foust, described by Ben Lerner in his introduction as an aesthetic love child of Wallace Stevens and Johnny Cash.

In Readings, Cyrus Console buys a mouse, Eileen Myles and Jill Soloway square off for a frank exchange about their relationship (Soloway: “I wasn’t just her femme girlfriend, I was her dumb femme girlfriend”), and we get an advisory from Finland’s World Wife-Carrying Championship. Justin E.H. Smith reviews the history of vindictive nationalism (is there any other kind?), Sam Sacks gives a thorough body frisk to Paul Auster’s latest novel, and Walter Kirn delivers an ornery Easy Chair column on the “freedom to be led astray, which it would be folly to restrict, lest it foster complacency and tempt the devil.”

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More from James Marcus:

Editor's Note April 12, 2018, 5:58 pm

Inside the May Issue

Rebecca Solnit, Rick Moody, Rachel Cusk, Jonathan Dee, and more

Editor's Note March 19, 2018, 12:18 pm

Inside the April Issue

Thomas Frank, Elaine Blair, Andrew Cockburn, Lidija Haas, Corey Robin, and more…

Editor's Note February 12, 2018, 11:15 am

Inside the March Issue

Rebecca Solnit, Katie Roiphe, Sallie Tisdale, and more

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October 2019


Good Bad Bad Good·

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About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Life after Life·

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For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Constitution in Crisis·

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America’s Constitution was once celebrated as a radical and successful blueprint for democratic governance, a model for fledgling republics across the world. But decades of political gridlock, electoral corruption, and dysfunction in our system of government have forced scholars, activists, and citizens to question the document’s ability to address the thorniest issues of modern ­political life.

Does the path out of our current era of stalemate, minority rule, and executive abuse require amending the Constitution? Do we need a new constitutional convention to rewrite the document and update it for the twenty-­first century? Should we abolish it entirely?

This spring, Harper’s Magazine invited five lawmakers and scholars to New York University’s law school to consider the constitutional crisis of the twenty-­first century. The event was moderated by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown and the author of How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon.

Secrets and Lies·

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In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Power of Attorney·

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In a Walmart parking lot in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 2015, a white police officer named Stephen Rankin shot and killed an unarmed, eighteen-­year-­old black man named William Chapman. “This is my second one,” he told a bystander seconds after firing the fatal shots, seemingly in reference to an incident four years earlier, when he had shot and killed another unarmed man, an immigrant from Kazakhstan. Rankin, a Navy veteran, had been arresting Chapman for shoplifting when, he claimed, Chapman charged him in a manner so threatening that he feared for his life, leaving him no option but to shoot to kill—­the standard and almost invariably successful defense for officers when called to account for shooting civilians. Rankin had faced no charges for his earlier killing, but this time, something unexpected happened: Rankin was indicted on a charge of first-­degree murder by Portsmouth’s newly elected chief prosecutor, thirty-­one-year-­old Stephanie Morales. Furthermore, she announced that she would try the case herself, the first time she had ever prosecuted a homicide. “No one could remember us having an actual prosecution for the killing of an unarmed person by the police,” Morales told me. “I got a lot of feedback, a lot of people saying, ‘You shouldn’t try this case. If you don’t win, it may affect your reelection. Let someone else do it.’ ”

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:


A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A federal judge authored a 69-page ruling preventing New York City from enforcing zoning laws pertaining to adult bookstores and strip clubs.

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“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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