Last week we saw quite a few African-American bloggers and writers offering critiques of birtherism and race. The salient point is that the tradition of attacking the citizenship rights of African-Americans extends from slave codes to state-wide bans on black residence to black codes to debt peonage to literacy tests to felon disenfranchisement. You literally can trace attacks on black citizenship from the very origins of American citizenship itself right up to the present day.
Birtherism is an alloy of that unfortunate American thread and the anti-elitist, white populism of Andrew Jackson. Calling it an alloy is imperfect, as it implies that American anti-elitism has no relation to racism, which is false. (See our conversations on Howe's What God Hath Wrought, or more appropriately, read the book. Sorry for lecturing, but it's your history. And it's listed on Amazon for roughly the same price as a good burger.)
But there are deeper reasons for why African-Americans find requests for Obama's birth certificate, college transcript, SAT scores, high school grades etc. deeply unsettling. A reader captured this in the following note. He'd just finished watching the video above of Michelle Obama dancing with a group of kids:
I planned on sending you an email today that offered my thoughts on why people my age ran into the streets to celebrate on Sunday night. I was going to write about how the prevalence of social networking normalized and made it easier for people in their early 20's to congregate during important moments. Then, I ran across this clip of Michelle Obama dancing with a group of middle school students in Washington today.
After getting over my initial shock that the First Lady was at least vaguely familiar with a dance that I might sloppily attempt in a nightclub, I thought about how familiar the image was to me. She reminded me of my aunts at our family cook outs, where they get up and try to do the new dance, but then school all of us with the Electric Slide (or in this case, the Running Man).
That thought brought me back to your comments about why Donald Trump's comments feel so offensive, how his comments undercut all of the things that Black parents say to children about how they will be respected if they study and work hard.
Maybe it's unfair, but I now realize why I am more offended by comments about the President and First Lady than I was about comments about President and Mrs. Clinton. It's not just that they are Black and I am too. I think it has more to do with the fact that they are so familiar, they remind me of people I know, which causes a more personal reaction.
One of things that always amazed me about the reaction to the Poundcake Speech was the assumption among pundits that Cosby was somehow bravely stating truths that the black community didn't want to address. This is the sort of thing that happens when you have a pundit class more interested in abstract thought experiments, than actually going into black neighborhoods, or really, any neighborhood that might be unfamiliar.
In point of fact, every black parent I know is at war with their children in a way that white parents are not. I grew up in house where the history of race and racism was the air. But concurrent to that history was the deeply held belief that American racism was never an excuse for cynicism, anti-intellectualism, thuggism or nihilism. My parents were conscious. But when I was failing my way through school, I don't recall them ever raising their clenched fists and exclaiming, "Damn the white man."
To the contrary, there was a deep-seated belief that educating yourself was essential, and that hard work ultimately prevails. Whatever their broader critiques, it was that essential faith that united them with the rest of the country. Preaching that faith is a lot easier when you have actual examples to point to. In terms of external examples (outside of the family) there are no better models, right now, than Barack and Michelle Obama.
What many white people fail to realize is that though Barack Obama and his family are unique to them, they are deeply familiar to black people. Put differently, they are from our particular neighborhood. I think back to Michelle Obama's own words:
"People have never met a Michelle Obama," the soon-to-be first lady said toward the end of our interview. "But what they'll come to learn is that there are thousands and thousands of Michelle and Barack Obamas across America. You just don't live next door to them, or there isn't a TV show about them."
But we do live next door to them, and the TV show is our lives. We went to church and played in summer leagues with people like them. I went to college with people like them. This is not to slight Barack Obama's truly remarkable story, nor the indispensable labor of the people who raised him. But there were biracial black people with wild stories all across my college campus. The first girl I ever really loved was raised by her Jewish mother, in all-white small town in Pennsylvania. She was unique, but not because of her background. The strictures of segregation gifted black people with the particular beauty of being a deeply interwoven diaspora on to ourselves, rendering "Black" into a broad country.
To see that country manifested in the White House is the sort of boon that you can't really attach to statistics. But for those of us who are waging the fight against a crippling cynicism, who are urging our children on, who visit schools and begin our addresses with, "I remember when I just like you," the First Family is perhaps the greatest weapon in our arsenal.
From the perspective of race, we don't object to people trying to defeat Obama. We don't object to Hillary claiming he's soft. We don't object to McCain claiming he's a celebrity. We don't object to the GOP calling him a tax-and-spend liberal. We don't even object to Mitt Romney aspiring to hang him. (We know what you meant, Mitt.)
But when broad sections of this country foolishly follow a carnival barker in the ugly tradition of attacking black citizenship rights, when pundits shriek that Obama's successes are simply the result of the misguided largess of white people, they undermine our most intimate war. They undermine the notion that someone familiar to that kid on the corner could legitimately reach the highest levels of the country, that someone like that kid's Aunt could be the First Lady. They undermine this country's social contract, and the "hard work pays" message of my parents. And to that we object.
For if they will not take as legitimate a magna cum laude from their highest institutions, if they will not accept a man who tells black kids to cut off the video games and study, who accedes to their absurd requests one week, and slays their demons the next, who will they accept? Who among us would they ever believe?
Long after research contradicts common medical practices, patients continue to demand them and physicians continue to deliver. The result is an epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments.
First, listen to the story with the happy ending: At 61, the executive was in excellent health. His blood pressure was a bit high, but everything else looked good, and he exercised regularly. Then he had a scare. He went for a brisk post-lunch walk on a cool winter day, and his chest began to hurt. Back inside his office, he sat down, and the pain disappeared as quickly as it had come.
That night, he thought more about it: middle-aged man, high blood pressure, stressful job, chest discomfort. The next day, he went to a local emergency department. Doctors determined that the man had not suffered a heart attack and that the electrical activity of his heart was completely normal. All signs suggested that the executive had stable angina—chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle is getting less blood-borne oxygen than it needs, often because an artery is partially blocked.
Two historians weigh in on how to understand the new administration, press relations, and this moment in political time.
The election of Donald Trump, and the early days of his presidency, have driven many Americans to rummage through history in search of context and understanding. Trump himself has been compared to historical figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Henry Ford, and from Andrew Jackson to Benito Mussolini. His steps have been condemned as unprecedented by his critics, and praised as historic by his supporters.
To place contemporary events in perspective, we turned to a pair of historians of the United States. Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. Morton Keller is a professor emeritus of history at Brandeis University. He has written or edited more than 15 books, including Obama’s Time: A History. They’ll be exchanging views periodically on how to understand Trump, his presidency, and this moment in political time. —Yoni Appelbaum
In late 2015, in the Chilean desert, astronomers pointed a telescope at a faint, nearby star known as ared dwarf. Amid the star’s dim infrared glow, they spotted periodic dips, a telltale sign that something was passing in front of it, blocking its light every so often. Last summer, the astronomers concluded the mysterious dimming came from three Earth-sized planets—and that they were orbiting in the star’s temperate zone, where temperatures are not too hot, and not too cold, but just right for liquid water, and maybe even life.
This was an important find. Scientists for years had focused on stars like our sun in their search for potentially habitable planets outside our solar system. Red dwarfs, smaller and cooler than the sun, were thought to create inhospitable conditions. They’re also harder to see, detectable by infrared rather than visible light. But the astronomers aimed hundreds of hours worth of observations at this dwarf, known as TRAPPIST-1 anyway, using ground-based telescopes around the world and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
A $100 million gangster epic starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci has become too risky a proposition for major studios.
Martin Scorsese’s next project, The Irishman, is as close as you can get to a box-office guarantee for the famed director. It’s a gangster film based on a best-selling book about a mob hitman who claimed to have a part in the legendary disappearance of the union boss Jimmy Hoffa. Robert De Niro is attached to play the hitman, Al Pacino will star as Hoffa, and Scorsese favorites Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel are also on board. After Scorsese branched into more esoteric territory this year with Silence, a meditative exploration of faith and Catholicism, The Irishman sounds like a highly bankable project—the kind studios love. And yet, the film is going to Netflix, which will bankroll its $100 million budget and distribute it around the world on the company’s streaming service.
Neither truck drivers nor bankers would put up with a system like the one that influences medical residents’ schedules.
The path to becoming a doctor is notoriously difficult. Following pre-med studies and four years of medical school, freshly minted M.D.s must spend anywhere from three to seven years (depending on their chosen specialty) training as “residents” at an established teaching hospital. Medical residencies are institutional apprenticeships—and are therefore structured to serve the dual, often dueling, aims of training the profession’s next generation and minding the hospital’s labor needs.
How to manage this tension between “education and service” is a perennial question of residency training, according to Janis Orlowski, the chief health-care officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Orlowski says that the amount of menial labor residents are required to perform, known in the profession as “scut work,” has decreased "tremendously" since she was a resident in the 1980s. But she acknowledges that even "institutions that are committed to education … constantly struggle with this,” trying to stay on the right side of the boundary between training and taking advantage of residents.
“The question confronting us as a nation is as consequential as any we have faced since the late 1940s,” a group of Republican and Democratic experts write.
Ben Rhodes, one of Barack Obama’s top advisers, once dismissed the American foreign-policy establishment—those ex-government officials and think-tank scholars and journalists in Washington, D.C. who advocate for a particular vision of assertive U.S. leadership in the world—as the “Blob.” Donald Trump had harsher words. As a presidential candidate, he vowed never to take advice on international affairs from “those who have perfect resumes but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.” Both men pointed to one of the Beltway establishment’s more glaring errors: support for the war in Iraq.
Now the Blob is fighting back. The “establishment” has been unfairly “kicked around,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former official in the Reagan administration. As World War II gave way to the Cold War, President Harry Truman and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, “invented a foreign policy and sold it successfully to the American people. That’s what containment was and that’s what the Truman Doctrine was. … That was the foreign-policy establishment.” During that period, the U.S. government also helped create a system for restoring order to a world riven by war and economic crisis. That system, which evolved over the course of the Cold War and post-Cold War period, includes an open international economy; U.S. military and diplomatic alliances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East; and liberal rules and institutions (human rights, the United Nations, and so on).
Plagues, revolutions, massive wars, collapsed states—these are what reliably reduce economic disparities.
Calls to make America great again hark back to a time when income inequality receded even as the economy boomed and the middle class expanded. Yet it is all too easy to forget just how deeply this newfound equality was rooted in the cataclysm of the world wars.
The pressures of total war became a uniquely powerful catalyst of equalizing reform, spurring unionization, extensions of voting rights, and the creation of the welfare state. During and after wartime, aggressive government intervention in the private sector and disruptions to capital holdings wiped out upper-class wealth and funneled resources to workers; even in countries that escaped physical devastation and crippling inflation, marginal tax rates surged upward. Concentrated for the most part between 1914 and 1945, this “Great Compression” (as economists call it) of inequality took several more decades to fully run its course across the developed world until the 1970s and 1980s, when it stalled and began to go into reverse.
You can tell a lot about a person from how they react to something.
That’s why Facebook’s various “Like” buttons are so powerful. Clicking a reaction icon isn’t just a way to register an emotional response, it’s also a way for Facebook to refine its sense of who you are. So when you “Love” a photo of a friend’s baby, and click “Angry” on an article about the New England Patriots winning the Super Bowl, you’re training Facebook to see you a certain way: You are a person who seems to love babies and hate Tom Brady.
The more you click, the more sophisticated Facebook’s idea of who you are becomes. (Remember: Although the reaction choices seem limited now—Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, or Angry—up until around this time last year, there was only a “Like” button.)
Rod Dreher makes a powerful argument for communal religious life in his book, The Benedict Option. But he has not wrestled with how to live side by side with people unlike him.
Donald Trump was elected president with the help of 81 percent of white evangelical voters. Mike Pence, the champion of Indiana’s controversial 2015 religious-freedom law, is his deputy. Neil Gorsuch, a judge deeply sympathetic to religious litigants, will likely be appointed to the Supreme Court. And Republicans hold both chambers of Congress and statehouses across the country. Right now, conservative Christians enjoy more influence on American politics than they have in decades.
And yet, Rod Dreher is terrified.
“Don’t be fooled,” he tells fellow Christians in his new book, The Benedict Option. “The upset presidential victory of Donald Trump has at best given us a bit more time to prepare for the inevitable.”
The preconditions are present in the U.S. today. Here’s the playbook Donald Trump could use to set the country down a path toward illiberalism.
It’s 2021, and President Donald Trump will shortly be sworn in for his second term. The 45th president has visibly aged over the past four years. He rests heavily on his daughter Ivanka’s arm during his infrequent public appearances.
Fortunately for him, he did not need to campaign hard for reelection. His has been a popular presidency: Big tax cuts, big spending, and big deficits have worked their familiar expansive magic. Wages have grown strongly in the Trump years, especially for men without a college degree, even if rising inflation is beginning to bite into the gains. The president’s supporters credit his restrictive immigration policies and his TrumpWorks infrastructure program.
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