Editor's Note — May 15, 2017, 1:30 pm

Inside the June Issue

Michael Glennon on Trump’s war with the security state, Helen Ouyang on health care in the Black Belt, Rebecca Elliott and Elizabeth Rush on the battle over New York City’s flood zones, a story by Nell Zink, and more…

During the recent presidential campaign, Donald Trump regularly described America’s intelligence agencies as fumblers—unless they were snapping at Hillary Clinton’s ankles, in which case they were ardent patriots. (The G.O.P. candidate told a frothing crowd in New Hampshire that he was “actually, really, very proud” of the FBI for reopening its investigation of Clinton’s emails just days before the election.) Relations between the security bureaucracy and Trump have only worsened since then—culminating, most recently, in the firing of FBI director James Comey. Many liberals have hoped that the CIA, FBI, and NSA, all of them in the presidential doghouse, would push back against the Trump’s worst excesses. But in “Security Breach,” Michael J. Glennon warns against viewing the security state as a heroic firewall. These agencies were not created to keep the other branches of government in check, despite their mad metastasizing during the postwar decades. They were never intended, in Glennon’s words, “to be a coequal of Congress, the courts, and the president.” Nor do they have unspotted records when it comes to the preservation of civil liberties (to say the least). We may delight in their guerrilla war against Trump, fought with leaked intelligence and heat-seeking inquiries, but once we have licensed them as the last best hope of democracy—well, be careful of what you wish for.

In “Where Health Care Won’t Go,” Helen Ouyang chronicles an outbreak of tuberculosis in Marion, Alabama. This small town is located in the so-called Black Belt—a ribbon of rural counties with a long history of racism and poverty—and not surprisingly, health care is in short supply. Once the first case was discovered, state authorities intervened, but the epidemic has yet to be contained. “It’s not looking good,” the state’s tuberculosis controller said. Ouyang’s story points to a deeper, ongoing crisis in this country: Americans living outside of urban areas frequently have few health-care options or none at all, which is exactly what sets the stage for a mini-epidemic like Marion’s. What we are left with is a vicious cycle of illness and economic impoverishment. “We’re not progressing at the same rate as everybody else around us,” a local physician wistfully told the author. “We’re just kind of stuck.”

Not that city dwellers everywhere have it all that easy. In “Stormy Waters,” Rebecca Elliott and Elizabeth Rush explore the battle over New York City’s flood zones—those portions of the Big Apple that are likely to be inundated during the next apocalyptic hurricane. The precise delineation of these zones has led to a cartographic tug-of-war between FEMA, whose predictions are suitably dire, and real-estate developers, who would have to shell out enormous sums to make their buildings flood-resistant. Meanwhile, Daniel Brook looks at a post-apocalyptic metropolis in “Here A City Shall Be Wrought.” His subject is Beichuan, China, which was destroyed by a 7.9-magnitude earthquake in 2008, then quickly reconstructed in a new location fourteen miles away. The spanking-new Beichuan is, in Brook’s words, an experiment in “time-lapse urbanism,” which he finds both “enviable and cloying.” More disturbing is the ruin of the old city, which has been left intact as a memento mori and symbol (at least in the eyes of party officials) of Communist solidarity.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Gary Greenberg ponders the mathematics of predicting war, and Julia Harte asks: “When can the legal system hold accountable those who occupy the highest offices in the land?” In Readings, we have interviews with Syrian refugees, a thousand-year-old poem by Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali bin Hisn, a parliamentary debate over rhododendrons, and a list of memorable names that parents have recently tried to bestow on their children, including “Tiny Hooker,” “Cholera,” “Ghoul Nipple,” and the relatively innocuous “Satan.” Last but not least, there is Matthew Bevis on John Ashbery, Christine Smallwood on New Books, and a hilariously vicious fiction by Nell Zink, her first story for the magazine.

Single Page

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

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


Combustion Engines·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On any given day last summer, the smoke-choked skies over Missoula, Montana, swarmed with an average of twenty-eight helicopters and eighteen fixed-wing craft, a blitz waged against Lolo Peak, Rice Ridge, and ninety-six other wildfires in the Lolo National Forest. On the ground, forty or fifty twenty-person handcrews were deployed, alongside hundreds of fire engines and bulldozers. In the battle against Rice Ridge alone, the Air Force, handcrews, loggers, dozers, parachutists, flacks, forecasters, and cooks amounted to some nine hundred people.

Rice Ridge was what is known as a mega-fire, a recently coined term for blazes that cover more than 100,000 acres. The West has always known forest fires, of course, but for much of the past century, they rarely got any bigger than 10,000 acres. No more. In 1988, a 250,000-acre anomaly, Canyon Creek, burned for months, roaring across a forty-mile stretch of Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness in a single night. A few decades on, that anomaly is becoming the norm. Rice Ridge, for its part, swept through 160,000 acres.

At this scale, the firefighting operation is run by an incident management team, a group of about thirty specialists drawn from a mix of state and federal agencies and trained in fields ranging from aviation to weather forecasting and accounting to public information. The management teams are ranked according to experience and ability, from type 3 (the least skilled) to type 1 (the most). The fiercest fires are assigned to type 1s. Teams take the name of their incident commander, the field general, and some of those names become recognizable, even illustrious, in the wildfire-fighting community. One such name is that of Greg Poncin, who is to fire commanders what Wyatt Earp was to federal marshals.

Smoke from the Lolo Peak fire (detail) © Laura Verhaeghe
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)

Chance that a homeless-shelter resident in a major U.S. city holds a full- or part-time job:

1 in 5

Turkey hunting was deemed most dangerous for hunters, though deer hunting is more deadly.

The unresolved midterms; Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III replaced; the debut of the world’s first AI television anchor

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