Editor's Note — October 20, 2017, 11:00 am

Inside the November Issue

Rebecca Solnit, J. C. Hallman, Vivian Gornick, Dale Maharidge, and more

For the last few years, Confederate monuments have been toppling throughout the South—a process that has only accelerated since the violence in Charlottesville in August. There have been fewer such disputes north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Yet New York City, which has never removed a statue for ideological reasons, may now tear down its bronze likeness of J. Marion Sims, the so-called Father of Gynecology. Sims owed much of his renown to a series of experimental surgeries he performed on young enslaved women during the 1840s. His contemporaries hardly blinked at this dubious arrangement—hadn’t the experiments allowed Sims to cure vesicovaginal fistula, a widespread and horrific disorder? But as J. C. Hallman reveals in “Monumental Error,” much of the surgeon’s career was an exercise in self-promotion and ethical corner-cutting, which left many of his patients mutilated or dead. At the same time, Sims always thought he was curing something. How, then, do we assess the legacy of such an ambiguous figure? How do we choose to memorialize the past with the full knowledge that, in Hallman’s words, “history is fluid, but bronze is not”? 

In “Pushing the Limit,” Alexandra Starr explores the U.S. Olympic Committee’s efforts to combat sexual abuse in sports. The extent of such misconduct, almost always by coaches, is staggering. The traditional response has been to quietly suspend abusers, or avoid the subject entirely—which is precisely what has protected such predators, Harvey Weinstein among them, for decades at a time. Now the U.S.O.C. has unveiled SafeSport, a watchdog group meant to investigate abuse claims. It seems like a step in the right direction, but Starr is skeptical about the group’s ability to transform sports culture, in which coaches are treated as household gods. Instead, SafeSport may well end up, as one former coach wearily put it, a “toothless tiger.”

While the Republican Party keeps struggling to absorb Donald Trump—it’s like an organ transplant gone awry—the Democrats, too, seem unsure of the best path forward. Should they rely on the old centrist approach (and the old centrist candidates), which blew up in their faces in 2016? Or should they recruit a whole new generation of Democrats and try to work outside the clapped-out party structure? Amanda Litman, the former Hillary Clinton operative at the heart of Lisa Rab’s “Star Search,” has put her chips on the second approach. Her organization, Run for Something, enlisted and coached millennial candidates for local office across the country in June. The electoral results were a mixed bag—but the organization’s success (if that’s the right word) may be measured by its slow-motion absorption by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

In “Bumpy Ride,” Dale Maharidge describes the reverse evolution of our infrastructure, as paved roads across the nation crumble, and municipalities turn to an unlikely solution: gravel. Vivian Gornick reckons with the shape-shifting masterpiece that is Sons and Lovers, and the ways in which a great novel seems to reconfigure itself each time we return to it. In “Preaching to the Choir,” Rebecca Solnit rehabilitates that hoary phrase. “To win politically,” she argues, “you don’t need to win over people who differ from you, you need to motivate your own.” And in “Bad Dog,” Rafil Kroll-Zaidi delivers a sad, sinister, exquisitely controlled work of fiction. (Note to canine lovers: this might not be your bowl of kibble, but give it a try.)

In Readings, we learn about the ideal skill set for a sex robot and the “small but keen Finnish knife with a reindeer-bone handle” that served the poet Joan Murray as a fetish object during her 1940 trek across New England. There is a miniature fiction by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, a poem by George Oppen, and an account of the 2012 trial of Pussy Riot, in which the mean-spirited plaintiffs pop up like action figures to denounce the three defendants. (Russian justice in action: “The dog vomits at the entrance to the courtroom; the judge steps over the puddle.”) Finally, we have a formidable troika of critics—Christine SmallwoodLidija HaasDayna Tortorici—and the usual cornucopia of enlightenment in Findings: “Dry climates produce languages with fewer vowels.” 

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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 TV meteorologists in a University of Texas survey who said they thought global warming was a “scam”:


A study concluded that commercial fish stocks may be gone by 2050 as a result of overfishing, pollution, and global climate change.

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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