Editor's Note — June 20, 2017, 11:45 am

Inside the July Issue

Zadie Smith, Masha Gessen, Rebecca Solnit, Joseph O’Neill, and more…

“We have been warned not to get under one another’s skin, to keep our distance,” Zadie Smith writes in this month’s cover essay. Her nominal topic is appropriation—the borrowing of cultural goods that is either cross-pollination or pure plunder, depending on your point of view. At first, in her consideration of the Jordan Peele film Get Out and the Dana Schutz painting Open Casket, Smith seems to regard such behavior as little more than psychic cannibalism. White Americans want to get inside the black experience—without, of course, coping with police violence, redlining, or what is by now bred-in-the-bone bigotry. Yet Smith’s ultimate conclusion is far more complicated. The antagonism between races (a misnomer to begin with) is inseparable from a tragically warped intimacy. To be oppressed, she writes, “is not so much to be hated as obscenely loved. Disgust and passion are intertwined. Our antipathies are simultaneously a record of our desires, our sublimated wishes, our deepest envies.” She then goes further, wondering whether her own biracial children are the rightful heirs of black culture and black pain—and whether any such system of color-coded inheritance makes sense in the first place.

In “The Reichstag Fire Next Time,” Masha Gessen looks back at the dismal history of political crackdowns. Many of these, she recounts, have been preceded by specific catalyzing events—the most famous being the Reichstag fire of 1933, which gave the Nazi Party a green light to destroy its opponents. (“There is no mercy now,” Adolf Hitler declared at the time. “Anyone standing in our way will be cut down.”) Are we on the verge of such an autocratic spiral in this country? If so, what sort of event would precipitate it? The obvious answer is a large-scale terrorist attack on American soil. In Gessen’s view, however, our panicked anticipation of such a disaster is distracting us from what is going on right before our eyes. “That we seem so certain of the outlines of the Reichstag fire to come,” she writes, “reveals the fact that it has already occurred.” A crackdown, she argues, is sometimes a slow-drip affair, and the death of a civil society may well be accomplished by a thousand legislative and regulatory cuts.

In his latest Letter from Washington, Andrew Cockburn describes the efforts of the punch-drunk Democratic Party to reconstitute itself—or at least get up off the canvas and prepare for the next round. As always, there is the fundamental friction between the Washington-based bureaucracy and the grassroots activists in the deep-red hinterlands of Kansas, Nebraska, or Georgia (where Jon Ossoff may yet sail to victory in the state’s Sixth Congressional District). Garret Keizer revisits the great Paterson Silk Strike of 1913 in “Labor’s Schoolhouse,” and ponders what lessons might be derived from that exemplary show of solidarity and subsequent defeat. “Ghost Nation” is a scrupulously reported account of the slow-motion holocaust unfolding in South Sudan—where, as Nick Turse notes, the Trump Administration “seems unwilling to offer even an honest assessment of the carnage, much less take any action.” And in “The Weekly Package,” Kim Wall describes how Cubans, deprived by their own government of internet access and the resulting cornucopia of pop-culture delights, have found the most cunning of analog solutions. (Hint: it gets delivered in a crimson velvet pouch.)

It was Bill O’Reilly’s sexual conduct that finally got him ejected from the Fox News mother ship. But we should be no less alarmed, writes Matthew Stevenson, by O’Reilly’s role as America’s favorite historian, whose most recent book, Killing the Rising Sun, sold more than a million copies last year. As Stevenson demonstrates, this account of the Pacific War is a tissue of errors, distortions, and heavy-breathing jingoism, culminating in a fact-free pep rally for nuclear weapons (which incinerated Hiroshima’s red-light district while mostly leaving intact the nearby munitions plant and shipyard).

Elsewhere in the magazine, we have “The Mustache In 2010,” a wonderfully idiosyncratic story by Joseph O’Neill, and a look at Lenin’s afterlives by Sheila Fitzpatrick. In Readings, Ellen Ullman demystifies the world of programming and decries its deeply male bias, which tilts the terrain toward boyish nerds and clueless mansplainers. There is also Marcel Proust complaining about his noisy neighbors from the sanctity of his cork-lined cloister, Oli Hazzard’s “Early Modern Love Poem,” and an advisory from the Russian Foreign Ministry. When in Uzbekistan, the traveler is told, “do not abuse or insult your listener’s mother.”

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More from James Marcus:

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

Inside the March Issue

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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:


Scolded dogs look guiltier if they are actually innocent.

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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