Annotation, Art — August 29, 2017, 1:24 pm

Trumpeter Storm

Donald and Melania Trump go to Texas. 

Photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images.

1: Hurricane Harvey, technically an active tropical cyclone, hit southeastern Texas late Friday night, in a deluge never before seen on that shore. The water came with 130 mile-per-hour winds that swept Houston and its surrounding towns—uprooting trees, collapsing road signs, smashing walls, and forcing more than 30,000 people from their homes. Some 450,000 are expected to apply for federal assistance; at least ten people are dead. Brock Long, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that, as rainfall continues to pour on rivers and bayous that are already teeming, Harvey has the “highest potential to kill the most amount of people and cause the most amount of damage” of any storm yet seen. Long told reporters that FEMA will be there for years. Greg Abbott, the Governor of Texas, announced that this is “one of the largest disasters America has ever faced.” As 12,000 members of the National Guard rushed to the scene and hundreds more volunteers joined the relief efforts, President Trump tweeted: “Thanks!”

2: Trump proceeded to continue with Twitter as usual; his next message was a retweet observing that The Washington Post “breaks down & admits the truth” about a “Black-clad antifa” attacking “peaceful right wing demonstrators in Berkeley.” By Sunday, however, his attention was back on the flood—perhaps noting its Biblical or at least primetime-worthy proportions. Or maybe the phrase “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” began to ring in his ears. In any case, by Tuesday morning, he announced to followers, “Leaving now for Texas!” His bags packed and his cap in hand, he flew off to where the cameras are.

3: In moments of crisis, presidents have been said to take on the role of “Comforter-in-Chief,” lending a shoulder to those afflicted by a harm that supersedes politics. (Harris County, of which Houston is the seat, went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.) One imagines that few of the townsfolk being pummeled by water would flick away a rescuing hand and offer a pamphlet on climate change. In desperate times, we accept help where it comes. And so, in full comforter mode, Trump decided to wear his most duvet-like jacket, with the seal of the president and, of course, a hood.

4: Trump’s water-resistance goes all the way down to his toes. He pulled on a pair of fine-looking Cat brand boots, possibly borrowed from his son Donald Junior, who has become known for his grippy footwear and overall outdoorsmanship. Junior, who was raised in a Trump Tower penthouse, knows what it means to commune with nature: he is a member of the National Rifle Association, and The New York Times reported that among his dozens of firearms is a Benelli Super Black Eagle II, used for hunting waterfowl. Waterfowl, or Anseriformes, as Papa Trump might like to know, comprise some 180 species; dozens are native to Texas, including the Ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis); the Cackling goose (Branta hutchinsii); and, likely of greatest interest, the Redhead (Aythya americana).

5: Speaking of hair, Melania’s looks perfectly coiffed. As she boards Air Force One, it’s difficult not to feel a little sad—for casualties of the tempest, of course, but also for what is surely to happen when Blow-Out Harvey blasts too strong. Yet the First Lady seems ever the optimist, ready for a change in the weather with her aviator sunglasses already on. Who knows what delightful change of fate might arrive if she just keeps thinking, “Sun!”

6: Now we come to an important message for readers of women’s magazines: the versatility of the black stiletto. It projects poise, balance, and better-than-you-ness, even in times of despair. But, wait, hold on a minute—a brief consultation with Vogue reveals that, slip factor aside, stilettos are out! “Why a Weird Heel Is the Shoe of the Season,” a June story reports. If only an aide had told Melania, a patternmaker’s daughter, she might have avoided some embarrassment. Perhaps she will put aside this misfortune and wade over to meet the women, as old as her husband, who until yesterday were sitting waist-deep in murky pools that filled the La Vita Bella assisted living center, in Dickinson. And Melania, taking the wrinkly hand of a person who has never worn Gabbana, will look deep into her eyes and say the same thing she told Harper’s Bazaar last year: “Of course, I always loved fashion—and I was always the tallest one and the skinniest one, so that helped.”

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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)

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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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