Editor's Note — January 10, 2019, 1:44 pm

Inside the February Issue

Kishore Mahbubani on the nonexistent China threat; Matthew Wolfe follows a search for a missing migrant; Ann Neumann asks if homicides among the elderly are acts of mercy or malice

Can the United States make peace with a China that is likely to become the world’s largest economy within a decade? Kishore Mahbubani, who wrote February’s cover story, thinks we can. In an essay that cuts through the noise of the China-threat industry, Mahbubani lays out a diplomatic path that would enable the United States to advance its own interests and at the same time keep China in check. Donald Trump’s anti-China rants may have gotten his supporters riled up, but his complaints, not surprisingly, have missed the mark. Mahbubani explains that although China has pursued unfair trade practices, it is not to blame for America’s trade deficit. Rather than imposing tariffs, which will only serve to make many essential goods less affordable to ordinary Americans, the US government should help its citizenry by investing in higher education and research and development. A similar strategy has served China well: 800 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty, and the country now boasts the largest middle class in the world. Over that same period, the median income for American workers has remained stagnant. “It is clear to see that China’s leadership has a vision for its economy and people,” Mahbubani writes. “China’s leaders have, at the very least, taken steps to address them. It is time for the United States to do the same.”

The novelist Lionel Shriver appears in the pages of Harper’s Magazine for the first time this month with an essay that is sure to set some Twitter beaks out of joint. Who is really being punished when rebroadcasts of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion disappear from the airwaves? The perpetrators have already been banished from society, says Shriver, but erasing their art, and thereby penalizing the public, seems to her a bridge too far. “The contemporary impulse to rebuke disgraced creators by vanishing their work” she writes, “exhibits a mean-spiritedness, a vengefulness even, as well as an illogic. Why, if you catch someone doing something bad, would you necessarily rub out what they’ve done that’s good?”

In “Without a Trace,” Matthew Wolfe follows Javed Hotak, an Afghan refugee living in the United Kingdom and searching for his brother, Masood, who disappeared while trying to make his way to Germany. The international refugee crisis has ushered in an age of mass displacement, with thousands of migrants disappearing every year. But, unlike those who travel through conventional channels—and whose governments have the structures and means to look for them when they go missing—migrants occupy a gray space where no government is responsible for locating them. As a result, Javed, like other relatives of the missing, must take matters into his own hands. Traveling through Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, Wolfe recounts Javed’s anguished quest to find any information about his missing brother.

Ann Neumann reports on the tragic phenomenon of homicide-suicides among the elderly. Commonly labeled “mercy killings” by the media, these cases—usually husbands killing their ailing wives and then trying, and sometimes failing, to kill themselves—are far from romantic, and instead evince the desperation many elderly couples face. Neumann, an expert on end of life issues, tells the story of Philip and Becky Benight, a couple in Conestoga, Pennsylvania. In 2017, the Benights tried to end their lives together, but Philip survived and was prosecuted for Becky’s death. The story of the Benights, and the other cases Neumann documents, expose a broken system that is driving the elderly to kill each other under desperate circumstances.

The February issue also features a story, “First Daughters,” by Lucinda Rosenfeld, who imagines a post-election lunch date between two women who bear a striking resemblance to Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump. “Orphan Bachelors,” by Fae Myenne Ng, is about growing up Chinese-American in a family whose lives were sundered by the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Confession Program. Charles Glass interviews former and current government officials to reassess the involvement of both the Obama and the Trump Administrations in our failed Syria policy.—Ellen Rosenbush

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Editor's Note December 13, 2018, 2:10 pm

Inside the January Issue

Fred Turner explains how the internet subverts democracy; Michel Houellebecq admires Donald Trump; Barry Lopez reports from Antartica

Editor's Note November 19, 2018, 3:32 pm

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Editor's Note October 19, 2018, 8:00 am

Inside the November 2018 Issue

Jonathan Taplin on the progressive states’-rights movement; John Cleese proselytizes; Ana Marie Cox on the tragedy of Ted Cruz; a personal history of the Holocaust

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February 2019

Without a Trace

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What China Threat?

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Going to Extremes

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What China Threat?·

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Within about fifteen years, China’s economy will surpass America’s and become the largest in the world. As this moment approaches, meanwhile, a consensus has formed in Washington that China poses a significant threat to American interests and well-­being. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), has said that “China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” The summary of America’s 2018 National Defense Strategy claims that China and Russia are “revisionist powers” seeking to “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.” Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has said, “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-­of-­government threat, but a whole-­of-­society threat . . . and I think it’s going to take a whole-­of-­society response by us.” So widespread is this notion that when Donald Trump launched his trade war against China, in January 2018, he received support even from moderate figures such as Democratic senator Chuck Schumer.

Shanghai Broadcasting Building, by Cui Jie (detail) © The artist. Courtesy private collection
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Without a Trace·

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In December 2015, a twenty-­two-year-­old man named Masood Hotak left his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, and set out for Europe. For several weeks, he made his way through the mountains of Iran and the rolling plateaus of Turkey. When he reached the city of Izmir, on the Turkish coast, Masood sent a text message to his elder brother Javed, saying he was preparing to board a boat to Greece. Since the start of the journey, Javed, who was living in England, had been keeping tabs on his younger brother’s progress. As Masood got closer to the sea, Javed had felt increasingly anxious. Winter weather on the Aegean was unpredictable, and the ramshackle crafts used by the smugglers often sank. Javed had even suggested Masood take the longer, overland route, through Bulgaria, but his brother had dismissed the plan as excessively cautious.

Finally, on January 3, 2016, to Javed’s immense relief, Masood sent a series of celebratory Facebook messages announcing his arrival in Europe. “I reached Greece bro,” he wrote. “Safe. Even my shoes didn’t get wet.” Masood reported that his boat had come ashore on the island of Samos. In a few days, he planned to take a ferry to the Greek mainland, after which he would proceed across the European continent to Germany.

But then, silence. Masood stopped writing. At first, Javed was unworried. His brother, he assumed, was in the island’s detention facility, waiting to be sent to Athens with hundreds of other migrants. Days turned into weeks. Every time Javed tried Masood’s phone, the call went straight to voicemail. After a month passed with no word, it dawned on Javed that his brother was missing.

A screenshot of a December 2015 Facebook post by Masood Hotak (left), in Istanbul
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Going to Extremes·

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When Philip Benight awoke on January 26, 2017, he saw a bright glow. “Son of a bitch, there is a light,” he thought. He hoped it meant he had died. His mind turned to his wife, Becky: “Where are you?” he thought. “We have to go to the light.” He hoped Becky had died, too. Then he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again, Philip realized he wasn’t seeing heaven but overhead fluorescents at Lancaster General Hospital. He was on a hospital bed, with his arms restrained and a tube down his throat, surrounded by staff telling him to relax. He passed out again. The next time he came to, his arms and legs were free, but a drugged heaviness made it hard to move. A nurse told him that his wife was at another hospital—“for her safety”—even though she was also at Lancaster General. Soon after, two police officers arrived. They wanted to know why Becky was in a coma.

Three days earlier, Philip, who was sixty, tall and lanky, with owlish glasses and mustache, had picked up his wife from an HCR ­ManorCare nursing home. Becky had been admitted to the facility recently at the age of seventy-­two after yet another series of strokes. They drove to Darrenkamp’s grocery store and Philip bought their dinner, a special turkey sandwich for Becky, with the meat shaved extra thin. They ate in the car. Then, like every other night, they got ice cream from Burger King and drove to their home in Conestoga, a sparse hamlet in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Philip parked in the driveway, and they sat in the car looking out at the fields that roll down to the Susquehanna River.

They listened to the radio until there was nothing more to do. Philip went into the house and retrieved a container of Kraft vanilla pudding, which he’d mixed with all the drugs he could find in the house—Valium, Klonopin, Percocet, and so on. He opened the passenger-­side door and knelt beside Becky. He held a spoon, and she guided it to her mouth. When Becky had eaten all the pudding, he got back into the driver’s seat and swallowed a handful of pills. Philip asked her how the pudding tasted. “Like freedom,” she said. As they lost consciousness, the winter chill seeped into their clothes and skin.

Illustration by Leigh Wells (detail)
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“Tell Me How This Ends”·

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America in the Middle East: learning curves are for pussies.
—Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, June 2, 2015

In January 2017, following Donald Trump’s inauguration, his national security staffers entered their White House offices for the first time. One told me that when he searched for the previous administration’s Middle East policy files, the cupboard was bare. “There wasn’t an overarching strategy document for anywhere in the Middle East,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told me in a coffee shop near the White House. “Not even on the ISIS campaign, so there wasn’t a cross-governmental game plan.”

Syrian Arab Red Crescent vehicles in eastern Ghouta, March 24, 2018 (detail) © Anas Alkharboutli/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Amount Arizona’s Red Feather Lodge offered to pay to reopen the Grand Canyon during the 2013 government shutdown:

$25,000

In England, a flutist stole 299 rare bird skins from an ornithology museum in order to pay for a new flute.

The 70th governor of Ohio was sworn in on nine Bibles, which were held by his wife.

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“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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