Editor's Note — August 14, 2017, 11:33 am

Inside the September Issue

Seyward Darby on the women of the alt-right, Naomi Klein on our reality-television president, Alexandria Neason on Betsy DeVos’s war on public education, a story by John Keeble, and more…

The alt-right—a nice name for a small army of racist thugs—was out in force last week in Charlottesville, Virginia. Not surprisingly, things spun out of control, culminating in a terrorist attack on a peaceful crowd that led to numerous injuries and at least one death. What brought this parade of torch-bearing grotesques into the street? The impending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee—a reminder, as if we needed it, that the entire enterprise is underpinned by a toxic fantasy of white supremacy. Mixed in with these Aryan daydreams, however, is a less noted thread of misogyny, which Seyward Darby explores in this month’s cover story, “The Rise of the Valkyries.” The movement has hardly been shy about its distaste for women, whose “vindictiveness,” in the words of its kingpin Richard Spencer, “knows no bounds.” Nonetheless, the alt-right has a sprinkling of female pundits, preaching the gospel of family values and Caucasian destiny while sidestepping the contempt of their colleagues. Darby sketches out the movement’s distaff wing and spends some time with one of its rising stars, Lana Lokteff. An articulate and telegenic figure—David Duke, in his capacity as the neo-Nazi Roger Ebert, has praised her “movie-star quality”—Lokteff seems particularly adept at dodging the contradictions of her own position. Will she be the Pied Piper of the alt-right, bringing in the sort of female auxiliary that characterized the Ku Klux Klan? And can a woman ascend to the upper ranks of a movement that tends to view her only as a walking womb?

Elsewhere in the magazine, Alexandria Neason travels to ground zero in the battle between public schools and private-sector alternatives: Arizona. In “Class Dismissed,” she visits schools and listens to advocates from both sides, noting how the state has worked to funnel money and resources away from the public sector. It’s an outcome that would please the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos—but it is unlikely to benefit most of Arizona’s students. Meanwhile, Michael S. Collins ponders the troubled state of affirmative action in “A Matter of Degrees.” The author has been a beneficiary of affirmative action, and argues that the playing field must still be leveled in our supposedly post-racial nation: “I have come around to the idea that regardless of class, black Americans are still swimming with weights on.” Yet he recognizes the psychological fallout of such programs, and the way in which they stir up our deepest anxieties about race, class, and that great American will-of-the-wisp: meritocracy.

Ted Genoways delivers a deep-focus portrait of a Midwestern family farm in “Bringing in the Beans.” He also puts modern agriculture in a novel context: who knew that soybean farming was the brainchild of Henry Ford, who was less interested in vegan cuisine than in the little legume’s potential role as the savior of industrial chemistry? We also have a memoir of our era’s greatest living war photographer, Don McCullin, written by his longtime comrade-in-arms, Charles Glass. “All the Last Wars” is a touching recollection of trials shared in various combat zones over more than four decades—and includes an assortment of McCullin’s indelible images, ranging from Nigeria to Iraq, Berlin to Beirut, and beyond.

John Keeble contributes an excellent and quietly apocalyptic fiction, “Synchronicity,” and there are shrewd literary assessments by Christine Smallwood, Jonathan Dee, and Ruth Franklin. In Readings, Naomi Klein blasts away at reality television, which she calls “a kind of capitalist burlesque,” and we take a peek at the jury selection process for Martin Shkreli, the price-gouging prince of the drug industry, whose sheer lovability caused one potential juror to note, “I’m aware of the defendant and I hate him.” There is also a poem by Keith Waldrop, a letter by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and a riff on facial-recognition software in China—all of which is to say, beach blanket bingo for Harper’s Magazine readers!

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More from James Marcus:

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

Inside the May Issue

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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.

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.

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.

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.’ ”

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.

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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