Weekly Review — January 25, 2017, 5:49 pm

Weekly Review

Donald Trump is sworn in as president, Kellyanne Conway punches a man in the face, and journalists photograph a trash-can fire

WeeklyReviewJK-captionAt a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump, a WWE Hall of Fame inductee who has been named in at least 169 federal lawsuits, placed his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible, swore he would preserve the Constitution, and ascended to the presidency of the United States.[1][2][3] “Amazingly,” said Trump, “it rained.”[4] Trump delivered a sixteen-minute inaugural address, the first in American history to use the words “bleed,” “ravages,” and “carnage.”[5] Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, who swallows at least 35 sticks of cinnamon-flavored Orbit gum a day and has tweeted for five years that Dippin’ Dots are “not the ice cream of the future,” said the inauguration’s audience, which was smaller than the previous two inaugural crowds, was the “largest audience ever, period.”[6][7][8] The White House website published a biography of Trump that stated he had the most electoral-college votes of any Republican president since 1988, a time period encompassing only one Republican president.[9] In a speech to 400 CIA employees, Trump, who recently tweeted that the behavior of U.S. intelligence agencies made him feel he was “living in Nazi Germany,” said that he was on their “same wavelength,” prompting applause from the audience members whom Trump had brought with him to the event.[10][11][12] At an inaugural ball attended by the bounty hunter and reality-television star Duane “Dog” Chapman, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway punched a man in the face.[13][14] In demonstrations across Washington, groups of protesters lit a limousine on fire and broke the windows of a Bank of America, a white supremacist who said “sure” when asked whether he liked black people was punched in the face, a man marched with two alpacas and a llama to demand better trade policies, and at least 10 journalists simultaneously photographed a trash-can fire.[15][16][17][18]

Several of Trump’s associates were reported to be under investigation for having ties to Russia, and a Russian mining company minted a two-foot-wide commemorative coin featuring Trump’s portrait and the words “In Trump We Trust.”[19][20] The Trump Administration said that it would be open to military cooperation with the Russian government, which would break current U.S. law, and Russia, which recently announced it was withdrawing its forces from Syria, signed a 49-year lease with the Syrian government guaranteeing it an air base and more berths for its warships.[21][22] Iran warned that it would resume its nuclear program if Trump didn’t honor the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Trump has pledged to break.[23] In one of his first executive actions, Trump backed out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have created a free-trade bloc between a dozen Pacific-Rim countries.[24] The dollar’s value dropped in Asia, Australia said it was open to China joining the trade agreement, and China announced it was prepared to lead the world.[25][26][27] “The Americans,” said an adviser to German chancellor Angela Merkel, “will get the Trump they elected.”[28]

In the largest protest in U.S. history, Americans in 600 cities marched through the streets carrying signs that read, “Really?,” “Not usually a protester but geez,” “This is really bad,” “So bad even introverts are here,” “[internally screaming],” “We f#cked up bigly,” “There will be hell toupee,” “Honestly there are too many problems with this administration to adequately summarize in one sign,” “Literally everything about this is so awful that I have no idea where to even start,” “Donald Trump uses Comic Sans,” “Mike Pence likes Nickelback,” “I’ve seen sturdier cabinets at IKEA,” “Just, ugh,” “I wish this were fake news,” “Trump is an offense to human dignity,” “the gays have had it,” “my Mama don’t like Trump and she likes everyone,” “this is fucked up,” “I can’t believe I left the Soviet Union for this shit,” “I can’t believe we are still protesting this,” “this is our cuntry,” “Sorry world, we will fix this,” “if Britney can make it through 2007, we can make it through this,” “Chin up, fangs out,” “Tits forward,” “Add pumpkin spice to racism so white women will care,” “Unite the states of America,” “We shall overcomb!,” “We are the resistance!,” “free Melania!”[29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38][39][40]

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The Printed Word in Peril·

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In February, at an event at the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center in New York, while sharing the stage with my fellow British writer Martin Amis and discussing the impact of screen-based reading and bidirectional digital media on the Republic of Letters, I threw this query out to an audience that I estimate was about three hundred strong: “Have any of you been reading anything by Norman Mailer in the past year?” After a while, one hand went up, then another tentatively semi-elevated. Frankly I was surprised it was that many. Of course, there are good reasons why Mailer in particular should suffer posthumous obscurity with such alacrity: his brand of male essentialist braggadocio is arguably extraneous in the age of Trump, Weinstein, and fourth-wave feminism. Moreover, Mailer’s brilliance, such as it was, seemed, even at the time he wrote, to be sparks struck by a steely intellect against the tortuous rocks of a particular age, even though he labored tirelessly to the very end, principally as the booster of his own reputation.

It’s also true that, as J. G. Ballard sagely remarked, for a writer, death is always a career move, and for most of us the move is a demotion, as we’re simultaneously lowered into the grave and our works into the dustbin. But having noted all of the above, it remains the case that Mailer’s death coincided with another far greater extinction: that of the literary milieu in which he’d come to prominence and been sustained for decades. It’s a milieu that I hesitate to identify entirely with what’s understood by the ringing phrase “the Republic of Letters,” even though the overlap between the two was once great indeed; and I cannot be alone in wondering what will remain of the latter once the former, which not long ago seemed so very solid, has melted into air.

What I do feel isolated in—if not entirely alone in—is my determination, as a novelist, essayist, and journalist, not to rage against the dying of literature’s light, although it’s surprising how little of this there is, but merely to examine the great technological discontinuity of our era, as we pivot from the wave to the particle, the fractal to the fungible, and the mechanical to the computable. I first began consciously responding, as a literary practitioner, to the manifold impacts of ­BDDM in the early 2000s—although, being the age I am, I have been feeling its effects throughout my working life—and I first started to write and speak publicly about it around a decade ago. Initially I had the impression I was being heard out, if reluctantly, but as the years have passed, my attempts to limn the shape of this epochal transformation have been met increasingly with outrage, and even abuse, in particular from my fellow writers.

As for my attempts to express the impact of the screen on the page, on the actual pages of literary novels, I now understand that these were altogether irrelevant to the requirement of the age that everything be easier, faster, and slicker in order to compel the attention of screen viewers. It strikes me that we’re now suffering collectively from a “tyranny of the virtual,” since we find ourselves unable to look away from the screens that mediate not just print but, increasingly, reality itself.

Photograph (detail) by Ellen Cantor from her Prior Pleasures series © The artist. Courtesy dnj Gallery, Santa Monica, California
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Among Britain’s Anti-Semites·

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This is the story of how the institutions of British Jewry went to war with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. Corbyn is another feather in the wind of populism and a fragmentation of the old consensus and politesse. He was elected to the leadership by the party membership in 2015, and no one was more surprised than he. Between 1997 and 2010, Corbyn voted against his own party 428 times. He existed as an ideal, a rebuke to the Blairite leadership, and the only wise man on a ship of fools. His schtick is that of a weary, kindly, socialist Father Christmas, dragged from his vegetable patch to create a utopia almost against his will. But in 2015 the ideal became, reluctantly, flesh. Satirists mock him as Jesus Christ, and this is apt. But only just. He courts sainthood, and if you are very cynical you might say that, like Christ, he shows Jews what they should be. He once sat on the floor of a crowded train, though he was offered a first-class seat, possibly as a private act of penance to those who had, at one time or another, had no seat on a train.

When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, the British media, who are used to punching socialists, crawled over his record and found much to alarm the tiny Jewish community of 260,000. Corbyn called Hez­bollah “friends” and said Hamas, also his “friends,” were devoted “to long-term peace and social justice.” (He later said he regretted using that language.) He invited the Islamist leader Raed Salah, who has accused Jews of killing Christian children to drink their blood, to Parliament, and opposed his extradition. Corbyn is also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a former chair of Stop the War, at whose rallies they chant, “From the river to the sea / Palestine will be free.” (There is no rhyme for what will happen to the Jewish population in this paradise.) He was an early supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its global campaign to delegitimize Israel and, through the right of return for Palestinians, end its existence as a Jewish state. (His office now maintains that he does not support BDS. The official Labour Party position is for a two-state solution.) In the most recent general election, only 13 percent of British Jews intended to vote Labour.

Corbyn freed something. The scandals bloomed, swiftly. In 2016 Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West, was suspended from the party for sharing a Facebook post that suggested Israel be relocated to the United States. She apologized publicly, was reinstated, and is now a shadow women and equalities minister. Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a political supporter of Corbyn, appeared on the radio to defend Shah and said, “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” For this comment, Livingstone was suspended from the party.

A protest against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in Parliament Square, London, March 26, 2018 (detail) © Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images
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Nothing but Gifts·

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If necessity is the stern but respectable mother of invention, then perhaps desperation is the derelict father of subterfuge. That was certainly the case when I moved to Seattle in 1979.

Though I’d lived there twice during the previous five years, I wasn’t prepared for the economic boom I found upon this latest arrival. Not only had rent increased sharply in all but the most destitute neighborhoods, landlords now routinely demanded first, last, and a hefty security deposit, which meant I was short by about fifty percent. Over the first week or so, I watched with mounting anxiety as food, gas, and lodging expenses reduced the meager half I did have to a severely deficient third. To make matters even more nerve-racking, I was relocating with my nine-year-old son, Ezra. More than my well-being was at stake.

A veteran of cold, solitary starts in strange cities, I knew our best hope wasn’t the classifieds, and certainly not an agency, but the serendipity of the streets—handmade for rent signs, crowded bulletin boards in laundromats and corner grocery stores, passersby on the sidewalk; I had to exploit every opportunity that might present itself, no matter how oblique or improbable. In Eastlake, at the edge of Lake Union between downtown Seattle and the University District, I spied a shabby but vacant one-story house on the corner of a block that was obviously undergoing transition—overgrown lots and foundation remnants where other houses once stood—and that had at least one permanent feature most right-minded people would find forbidding: an elevated section of Interstate 5 just across the street, attended by the incessant roar of cars and trucks. The house needed a new roof, a couple of coats of paint, and, judging by what Ezra and I could detect during a furtive inspection, major repair work inside, including replacing damaged plaster-and-lath walls with sheetrock. All of this, from my standpoint, meant that I might have found a solution to my dilemma.

The next step was locating the owner, a roundabout process that eventually required a trip to the tax assessor’s office. I called the person listed on the rolls and made an appointment. Then came the moment of truth, or, more precisely, untruth, when dire circumstance begot strategic deception. I’d never renovated so much as a closet, but that didn’t stop me from declaring confidently that I possessed both the skills and the willingness to restore the entire place to a presentable—and, therefore, rentable—state in exchange for being able to live there for free, with the length of stay to be determined as work progressed. To my immense relief, the pretense was well received. Indeed, the owner also seemed relieved, if a bit surprised, that he’d have seemingly trustworthy tenants; homeless people who camped beneath the freeway, he explained, had repeatedly broken into the house and used it for all manner of depravity. Telling myself that inspired charlatanry is superior to mundane trespassing—especially this instance of charlatanry, which would yield some actual good—I accepted the keys from my new landlord.

Photograph (detail) © Larry Towell/Magnum Photos
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Checkpoint Nation·

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Laura Sandoval threaded her way through idling taxis and men selling bottles of water toward the entrance of the Cordova International Bridge, which links Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. Earlier that day, a bright Saturday in December 2012, Sandoval had crossed over to Juárez to console a friend whose wife had recently died. She had brought him a few items he had requested—eye drops, the chimichangas from Allsup’s he liked—and now that her care package had been delivered, she was in a hurry to get back to the Texas side, where she’d left her car. She had a …
Checkpoint on I-35 near Encinal, Texas (detail) © Gabriella Demczuk

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