Editor's Note — September 18, 2017, 1:04 pm

Inside the October Issue

Marilynne Robinson, Andrew Cockburn, Ben Mauk, Elisabeth Zerofsky, Eileen Myles, and more…

Whatever his faults (and they are far too numerous to list here), Donald Trump certainly has a gift for monopolizing the national news—for putting it in an egregious, fact-free headlock. Add to that the disappearance of regional papers across the country, and we can easily forget that vital events are still unfolding in our backyards. In “All Over This Land,” we have tried to put local politics back at center stage. The forum features a distinguished roster of contributors, including Edwidge Danticat (on immigration protests in Miami), Paul Theroux (on the Hawaiian microcosm), Jesmyn Ward (on health care in Mississippi), Marilynne Robinson (on Iowa’s lurch to the right), Lydia Davis (on dipping her toe into small-town government), Lisa Elmaleh (on eminent domain in West Virginia), and Steve Mumford (on fishermen in Maine). The tone is alternately indignant, wry, hopeful, despairing. Yet all of the pieces remind us that much of what goes on inside the Beltway is political theater—a kind of Kabuki for cable-news junkies—while real life transpires elsewhere, anywhere.

In “States of Decay,” Ben Mauk and photographer Balazs Gardi venture into America’s nuclear heartland, where the crumbling remains of our once thriving uranium industry have yet to be bulldozed out of existence. The old mines and waste sites are what we might generously call picturesque ruins. Yet even these Ozymandian eyesores are still capable of emitting toxic levels of radiation, and some may even reopen for business, should the industry emerge from its decades-long swoon. Elisabeth Zerofsky ventures further afield in “Everyman’s War,” to Lithuania and Estonia—where paramilitaries are preparing to fight off the Russian hordes. And in “Crime and Punishment,” Andrew Cockburn explores the possibility that the Saudis, whose connivance in the 9/11 attacks has been suspected for years, will finally face their accusers in court.

By now it may appear that Harper’s Magazine is your one-stop-shop for long-form dystopia. Not true! We revel in the lighter side as well—just take a look at Tom Bissell’s essay on the resurgence of Saturday Night Live. Technically speaking, of course, this resurgence is owed to the election of Donald Trump, so there is a whiff of dystopia after all. But Bissell is typically astute about the show’s long evolution, and about its fated intersection with our pernicious POTUS. In the end, he argues that Trump’s “brand of comedy—cruel and joyless and denuded of laughter—has become his cultural revenge.” 

In Readings, we have a chronicle of canine coitus by Eileen Myles, a skinny poem by Dawn Lundy Martin, some dirty realism by Samanta Schweblin, and a frank confession by the Louisville Courier-Journal that the paper had incorrectly referred to a hot dog as a “sandwich” on multiple occasions between 1887 and 1966. (Take that, fake news!) Michelle Dean delves into the nightmare logic of the rebooted Twin Peaks, and David Means delivers some fictional fisticuffs in “Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950.” Last but not least, there is another superb Easy Chair essay from Walter Kirn, in which he suggests that in this fight-or-flight moment for American civilization, “an affinity for or awe of certain creatures might be more motivating than fear for ourselves.”     

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It has become something of a commonplace to say that Mike Pence belongs to another era. He is a politician whom the New York Times has called a “throwback,” a “conservative proudly out of sync with his times,” and a “dangerous anachronism,” a man whose social policies and outspoken Christian faith are so redolent of the previous century’s culture wars that he appeared to have no future until, in the words of one journalist, he was plucked “off the political garbage heap” by Donald Trump and given new life. Pence’s rise to the vice presidency was not merely a personal advancement; it marked the return of religion and ideology to American politics at a time when the titles of political analyses were proclaiming the Twilight of Social Conservatism (2015) and the End of White Christian America (2016). It revealed the furious persistence of the religious right, an entity whose final demise was for so long considered imminent that even as white evangelicals came out in droves to support the Trump-Pence ticket, their enthusiasm was dismissed, in the Washington Post, as the movement’s “last spastic breath.”

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Just after dawn in Lhamo, a small town on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau, horns summon the monks of Serti Monastery to prayer. Juniper incense smolders in the temple’s courtyard as monks begin arriving in huddled groups. Some walk the kora, a clockwise circumambulation around the building. Others hustle toward the main door, which sits just inside a porch decorated in bright thangka paintings. A pile of fur boots accumulates outside. When the last monks have arrived, the horn blowers leaning out of the second-floor windows retire indoors.

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The truth—that thing I thought I was telling.—John Ashbery To start with the facts: the chapter in my book White Sands called “Pilgrimage” is about a visit to the house where the philosopher Theodor Adorno lived in Los Angeles during the Second World War. It takes its title from the story of that name by Susan Sontag (recently republished in Debriefing: Collected Stories) about a visit she and her friend Merrill made to the house of Adorno’s fellow German exile Thomas Mann in the Pacific Palisades, in 1947, when she was fourteen. It seemed strange that the story was originally …
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