Easy Chair | Harper's Magazine - Part 2

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Easy Chair

A monthly space for the opinions and observations of a revolving cast of writers.

The Crisis of Our Constitution

Lost in this past electoral season, one of the most vicious and frightening in American history, is how shaky the very foundation of our democracy is. Throughout Trump’s deformation of…

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The Silicon Mystique

If I’m having trouble sleeping and feel like spinning my wheels in the dark, I like to meditate on the simulation hypothesis—the idea that we’re living inside a kind of…

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The Ghosts of Versailles

Ahundred years ago this month, the First World War shuddered to a close. The end came when the armistice took effect on the Western Front at 11 am on November…

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Share the Pain

Our plan was to walk toward the National Mall and visit a few museums along the way, but then we saw the scooters. Two of them were standing on the…

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Political Football

With the fall and another election season upon us, the one thing we can count on is a renewal of Donald Trump’s war on football. This has become an annual…

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Illiberal Values

Coming of age in the Seventies as a Midwesterner, a Mormon, and a resident of a town of about five hundred people, I didn’t get to meet a lot of…

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Unmusical Chairs

It’s often forgotten that the idea of the political spectrum—of politics having a left and right—has a physical origin. It comes from the seating arrangements at the National Assembly of…

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The Wizard of Q

In 2006, when the internet was younger and seemed to hold untapped artistic possibilities, I was asked to write a serial novel for Slate. The subject of the “book” was up to…

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Driven to Distraction

“Only connect” are the words that E. M. Forster is most famous for. What they actually meant to him, however, often fades behind a vague notion that his was a boosterish, pro-connection…

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Forget About It

In the uneasy months following 9/11, the Bush Administration provoked a minor controversy when it announced the name of a new office dedicated to protecting the United States from terrorism…

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Nobody Knows

When I was eighteen, I spent several months working as a bus girl at a diner. It was a cheerful-looking place, facing San Francisco Bay. The kitchen was L-shaped: the…

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The Uncertainty Principle

The first year of the Trump presidency is behind us. The unimaginable has become the historical. But time, the reputed healer of all wounds, has somehow only aggravated this one.…

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Strandings

The footage is eerie, a plunge through a dim world of lush seaweed, the underwater forests of the treeless Arctic. Objects swim into view: a bell, a small fish, a…

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On the Corner of Myth and Main

There was a time when I didn’t know that I lived in Middle America. When I was very young, growing up in eastern Minnesota, I thought I was just an…

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Preaching to The Choir

Once, on a river-rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, I traveled with a charming, good-humored man who happened to run an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He liked…

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The Spaceship and the Moose

A dozen of us sat and stood around the campfire, guests at a lodge in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. My wife and I were there to hike and sleep and celebrate…

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Now and Then

The present is by common definition the instant between the not yet and the already, a moment as narrow and treacherous as a tightrope. But you might instead define it…

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Apocalypse Always

As a teenager in the Mormon Church, I was led to believe I might live to see the world end — the fallen world of sin and imperfection, that is, which…

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Occupied Territory

One morning, as I walked on the quiet, mostly wooded King Mountain trail above San Francisco Bay, a dog not much smaller than I and possessed of much sharper teeth…

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Shopping-Mall Time Machine

I started hearing it about two years ago, and then I seemed to hear it constantly: people in their late teens and early twenties complaining, quite sincerely, that they felt…

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Facing the Furies

In 1979, a catchy Kenny Rogers song called “Coward of the County” made it to the top of the country charts. It’s about a man named Tommy, whose father, a…

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You Can Run …

I have a theory — not a very good one — that the reason Google is so hot to develop self-driving cars is that time behind the wheel is the…

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Tyranny of the Minority

Think of our democracy as a house we built in 1776, big enough only for Christian, property-owning white men. Over the next two centuries, various groups struggled to make it…

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A Grim Fairy Tale

So, it happened. Mythmaking beat math. Drama put data in its place. A candidate who styled himself a renegade outsider has become the forty-fifth president. It’s almost as though a…

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The Monument Wars

For years, whenever I was in New Orleans, I used to run past an equestrian statue just outside the voluptuously green City Park. Though it is situated at a major…

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Standing Rock Speaks

Only as a story will this make sense. One morning in August, craving company, I walked around the corner from my apartment in Livingston, Montana, and sat down at the…

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Coming Apart

In early 2015, fire ravaged a three-story building at the corner of 22nd and Mission in San Francisco. The blaze killed Mauricio Orellana, an immigrant from El Salvador, and destroyed…

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Psychedelic Trap

Driving into Cleveland on a warm July Saturday to secure my press credentials for the Republican National Convention, I get a text from a friend in California, a guy in…

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