Imagine an alternate reality where the first term of President Barack Obama coincided with one of the greatest periods of government austerity in recent memory. Imagine total government spending under his watch had the steepest annual decline in three decades. Imagine total government employees fell by the fastest rate in more than 60 years. Imagine that in his last two years, federal spending and federal employment grew by the slowest annual rate since the 1950s.
Now open your eyes. Welcome to Austerity USA. Total government employment -- that's federal, state, and local -- has indeed fallen by the sharpest annual rate since the 1940s. It's now at 2006 levels and declining.
Total government spending has fallen by the sharpest rate since the 1970s. It is now at 2008 levels and declining.
Meanwhile in Washington, federal spending (which has grown every year since then 1960s) is increasing at its slowest pace in half a century, and federal employment is in true decline. Eighteen months removed from the start of the Census, it's shrinking at its fastest rate since the mid-1950s.
Obama's tenure has coincided with a recession that shrunk total government in two ways. First, the economics of the Great Recession devastated state and local government tax revenue, requiring rounds of cuts that resulted in decreased overall government spending and employment. Second, the politics of the Great Recession destroyed the case for stimulus in the aftermath of the Recovery Act, and Washington's attempts to fill the revenue holes in total government were blocked when we voted scores of fiscal conservatives into Congress in 2010. The upshot is that in the last 12 months, President Obama has presided over one of the most remarkable periods of total government austerity in the last 50 years.
Some of this austerity was given to us. Some of this austerity we chose.
As the Recovery Act, which was passed partly to offset state and local
cuts, wound down, state and local government demand fell "through
the floor," said Adam Hersh, an economist with the Center for American Progress.
"The real collapse of spending has been at the level of state and local public services and investments," Hersh said. "Even as the economy grew 4.2% since the start of the Obama administration, state and local spending contracted 5.2%." Here's the graph he shared with The Atlantic. The plunging green line tracks change in nondefense state and local spending since Obama took office.
What's the matter with shrinking government? Nothing at all, you might say. State and local governments are expensive and inefficient, and those workers might be put to better use making things rather than regulating things. Fair enough. But with interest rates now at historical lows, it's a little surprising that we're choosing this moment to not borrow more money from eager investors to spare total government from its own sharp knives and make downpayments on things we know we need, like roads and broadband. President Obama isn't fully responsible for this era of premature and self-inflicted austerity. He's the president of the United States, not the states, themselves. But, for better or worse, it's his record now. Who would have guessed?
What if the problem isn’t the president—it’s the presidency?
I. A Broken Office
Donald Trump often appears to be a president in rebellion against his office. A president, we have come to expect, hastens to the scene of a natural disaster to comfort the afflicted. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, President Trump arrived tardily and behaved unseriously, tossing rolls of paper towels at storm-battered residents as if he were trying to drain three-point shots.
We have come to expect that when the national fabric rends, the president will administer needle and thread, or at least reach for the sewing box of unity. After white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia, shouting “Jews will not replace us,” President Trump’s instinct was to emphasize that there were good people among the neo-Nazis.
Ross Douthat's views on the pope are intensely unpopular. But has he identified a fundamental tension in the Church?
Across every continent, in every country, Catholics “find themselves divided against one another,” writes the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in his new book, To Change the Church. On one side stand the orthodox, who see doctrine and tradition as the best antidote to a changing world. On the other stand the liberals, who yearn for a Church that focuses on pastoring rather than enforcing rigid rules. This “widening theological and moral gulf,” Douthat argues, is potentially “wider than the chasm that separated Catholicism from Orthodoxy, and later from Lutheranism and Calvinism.”
That’s a bold claim to make. After all, the schisms of East and West, Catholic and Protestant, were world-shaking, often bloody events. But in today’s Church—and specifically in this pope—Douthat sees the possibility that the Roman Catholic Church will once again break apart.
The peppy mixed messaging of I Feel Pretty is only the latest reminder: American culture doesn’t fully know what it’s talking about when it talks about attractiveness.
Every once in a while I’ll re-watch an old episode of Friends, because it’s familiar and soothing and there. The other day, Netflix served up one of those flashbacks the show would sometimes air to poke light fun at the friends and at the visual absurdities involved with being alive in the ’80s: Rachel in chintz, Ross and Chandler in tragicomic Flock of Seagulls bouffants, etc. Watching the meta-nostalgia, I was reminded of the existence of a minor character who nonetheless plays a major role in the show’s universe: Fat Monica.
Fat Monica is technically just a younger—and slightly larger—version of Standard-Issue Monica; what becomes wincingly clear, though, as the Friends flashbacks play out, is that Fat Monica differs from the other Monica not just in scale, but in kind. Padded by her former girth, Monica Geller—the person who categorizes her hand towels and designates committees for the planning of birthday parties and is, in general, in thorough control of her life and her Type-A-tastic self—undergoes a transformation: Her voice gets higher. Her movements become jerking and awkward. She giggles a lot, uncomfortably. Remember when, in those late-series episodes of Family Matters, Steve Urkel would go into that flashing box and emerge as the suave Stefan Urquelle? Fat Monica’s metamorphosis is a little like that, but in reverse: The transformation depletes her dignity rather than compounding it. She becomes bashful. Childish. Foolish. Watching the proceedings, you start to wonder whether Monica Geller, for the purposes of the flashback scenes, was given a fat suit or a lobotomy.
Eisenhower—embodying prudence, diligence, and broad-mindedness—offers conservatives in the age of Trump a different model of leadership.
I stood, not long ago, on a chilly, damp, and windy Korean hill at the edge of Demilitarized Zone. With 40 of my students and half-a-dozen faculty we were conducting what the military calls a staff ride—a kind of in-depth treatment of a campaign as a case study in leadership. Mine was one of the concluding talks, in which I played President Dwight D. Eisenhower, telling the American people on July 26, 1953 that the Korean War had ended. But, he reminded them “we have won an armistice on a single battleground—not peace in the world.” His was a sober, moving tribute to America’s allies as well as her soldiers, an expression of “sorrow and solemn gratitude,” ending with a quote from Lincoln’s second inaugural, “with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”
As the Trumps prepare to host their first state dinner on Tuesday, a look back at state dinners held by past U.S. presidents, from Eisenhower to Obama.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will host the first official state dinner of this administration at the White House, honoring visiting French President Emmanuel Macron. As Mrs. Trump’s team and White House staff work on the final details for the formal event, we present a look back at some state dinners held by past U.S. presidents, from Eisenhower to Obama.
Fixating on offensive speech amplifies its harms—often, the best course is simply to ignore it.
Last week, the Fresno State creative writing professor Randa Jarrar sparked the latest round of debate about free speech on college campuses when she reacted to Barbara Bush’s death by speaking ill of the dead on Twitter. “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal,” she wrote. “Fuck outta here with your nice words.”
In an unintentional echo of President George W. Bush’s “with us or against us” moral logic, she declared, “PSA: either you are against these pieces of shit and their genocidal ways or you're part of the problem. That's actually how simple this is,” adding the sentiment, “I'm happy the witch is dead. Can't wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million Iraqis have. byyyeeeeeeee.”
It only took five minutes for Gavin Schmidt to out-speculate me.
Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (a.k.a. GISS) a world-class climate-science facility. One day last year, I came to GISS with a far-out proposal. In my work as an astrophysicist, I’d begun researching global warming from an “astrobiological perspective.” That meant asking whether any industrial civilization that rises on any planet will, through their own activity, trigger their own version of a climate shift. I was visiting GISS that day hoping to gain some climate science insights and, perhaps, collaborators. That’s how I ended up in Gavin’s office.
Just as I was revving up my pitch, Gavin stopped me in my tracks.
This next installment comes from the author of the original message, who is now willing to be identified. He is Michael Doolittle. As he explains, he is a Harvard College alumnus, and he works as a photographer in New Haven. In the message below he talks about the under-publicized but important role of sports in elite-college admissions. As he says an introductory note:
I have set up a website, www.michaeljdoolittle.com where readers can go and click on a black button titled "Introduction: Sports in Admissions" if they want more detail about a lot of these themes. You could just say that I am trying a writing project exploring why the US is the only major country in the world that has tied sports so tightly into their colleges and universities and what that says about admission policies.
The HBO show returns with multiple story threads to unravel and decipher.
The first thing you might notice about Season 2 of Westworld is that the opening credits have changed. During the first season of the HBO drama about an adult theme park staffed by humanoid “hosts,” the introductory title sequence featured a variety of images showing robots being sculpted into life by machines: sinews being painstakingly stretched over bone, skeletal hands playing a piano, a bone-white “couple” who appeared to be making love. In the very first shot a “sun” appears to rise over a mass of muscle and tissue, hinting that the frontier of Westworld isn’t the Old West but the new technology within the hosts. In the second season, though, the image of the lovers has been replaced by a mother cradling an infant. And the homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man that closes out the credits now features a body that’s distinctly female.
As people spent more and more time in cars, auto interiors transformed into living spaces, where food and drink became necessities. An Object Lesson.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent will have 19 of them. Not airbags, but cupholders. That’s more than any mass-market vehicle ever produced, amounting to almost two-and-a-half cupholders for each passenger. There’s room for a Starbucks skinny latte, an unnaturally colored Big Gulp, a Yeti Rambler, and juice boxes galore. So many cupholders, in fact, that The Wall Street Journal recently declared: “We are approaching peak cupholder.”
Although it might be hard to imagine now, eating and drinking in cars was once next to impossible. Beyond a quick swig from a flask, rough roads and a lack of power steering and advanced suspension systems made it difficult and unpleasant to eat or drink on the road.
Cupholders began as an afterthought, mere circular indents on the inside of the door of the glove compartment, but they have become an absolute necessity and a key feature that shoppers evaluate when purchasing a new car, even for a time supplanting fuel efficiency as a consumer’s most sought-after attribute.