Four uniformed agents bashed down Tony Choi's dorm room door. He started awake as they stormed in. Four unfamiliar figures surrounded him. He was
confused. But there was no time to react. They yanked him out of bed. He was still in his pajamas. He screamed as they dragged him away.
Then, they vanished as suddenly as they had appeared.
It took a minute for reality to sink in: this was the same nightmare he'd been having ever since the fall semester began.
It was 2008 - Choi's sophomore year at Berea College, in Kentucky, where he majored in political science and Spanish - when everything went awry.
The country was in the midst of an economic crisis. Choi's college, facing a shortage of funds, was forced to cut his scholarship stipend. At the same
time, his mother in New Jersey had just been diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer and had stopped working. His education prospects seemed dire, and he
felt powerless. Worse, Choi was an undocumented immigrant..
The stress built up on Choi. He grew paranoid and insecure. He constantly imagined that government agents were out to arrest him.
"I was isolated and 700 miles away from home. My family couldn't help me. I was very, very afraid," he said. "I just kept having panic attacks. I would
freak out that someone would find out (about my immigration status). I think that's what started the nightmares."
Choi continued to have similar dreams at least once a week throughout fall. They'd become so recurrent that he was convinced they would become reality.
"I read stories online about immigrant families being detained or whatever, so I was like, I need to prepare to get the hell out of here," he said.
With that, Choi plotted his grand escape, to be triggered if anyone at Berea should learn of his status. He planned to escape, by foot, 120 miles from
Berea, KY, over the state border to Cincinnati, OH.
"I went down to Walmart and bought a first-aid kit and a blanket," he described. "I printed Google maps. They're about this thick," his thumb and index
finger measured a quarter-inch. "I couldn't walk on the Interstate (highway), so I wanted to know which back roads I could take to Cincinnati."
Choi's ready-to-go escape toolkit, that would let him flee the state between the moment when an acquaintance realized he was undocumented and moment when
the authorities would actually show up at his door, included flashlights and extra batteries, a change of clothes, and water. He also packed $100 in
"I'd camp out in the wilderness. That's why I would have blankets. I would be sleeping out in the open," he said. "I mean, I was paranoid."
"At Cincinnati, I'll catch the train to New York," he figured, "and then from there back home to New Jersey," he said.
* * *
I met Choi five years later at his office at the MinKwon Center for Community Action in Flushing, Queens. He commutes two hours daily by bus and train to
and from Little Ferry, New Jersey.
Once a predominantly white neighborhood, Flushing has undergone major demographic change since the 1970s, when first the Taiwanese, then the Koreans, and
the mainland Chinese surged in.
Today, Flushing is one of the largest Asian enclaves in New York City. Shop signs and advertisement boards along Main Street, Flushing's central drag, are
mostly printed in Chinese.
The people flooding the narrow sidewalks of Main Street are largely topped by black hair. They jostle for space among the merchants peddling goods like
fruits and vegetables, Chinese herbs, two-dollar pirated DVDs, made-in-China phone accessories, and leather shoes that spill out onto the sidewalks. The
conversations overheard are usually conducted in Mandarin or the Wenzhou and Fuzhou dialects. Many residents, especially older ones, don't speak English.
The air, someone told me, smells like China, the sour, fishy odor of wet food, markets, garbage and grease blended together.
An undocumented Asian person can easily blend in in this busy neighbordhood. Marilyn Bitterman, the district manager of Queens Community Board 7, estimates
that around 40,000 undocumented people live in her district, which includes downtown Flushing. In total, 11.1 million undocumented immigrants were residing
in the United States in 2011, according to the Pew Hispanic Center in a latest report. This is roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Ohio, the
seventh-most populous state in the U.S.
Choi suggested taking breakfast at the McDonald's on Main Street, next to a Chinese herbal pharmacy. Choi's hair was cropped atop his round face like Bart
Simpson. His blue T-shirt was left tucked out over a pair of jeans.
Pop hits from the American charts greeted us as we stepped in. I reminded him over the loud music that he'd be talking about his illegal immigrant status
at a public place. He shrugged. There's not a white person in the restaurant.
Choi, 24, was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. In 1997, during the Asian financial crisis, his family's lumber company went bust, forcing them to
declare bankruptcy. Their home was foreclosed by the bank.
"I remember coming home one day from school and seeing all of the things in my house having pink stickers on them. All of our appliances and furniture," he
recalled. "I was like, why are they on my bed, on my desk, and everything. I didn't know what they meant. I asked, but my mum didn't give me an answer. My
family doesn't like to explain things to me." It was only when he grew older that Choi realized that the bank was auctioning those items off.
"Whenever people would call for my father, I would always have to tell them that they'd called the wrong number. He was trying to avoid the debtors," Choi
continued in a flat American accent. At that time, Choi received two to three of these calls each day.
His family moved in with his paternal grandmother a few weeks after, but they couldn't bring anything with them.
Social stigma was associated with bankruptcies in South Korea. Choi's paternal relatives refused to help his father, despite being wealthy landowners
"We couldn't see any avenue of social advancement in Korea. So we moved to Hawaii when I was 9, and lived there for a year before we moved again to New
He paused. I waited a while as he took a bite on his McMuffin. The four elementary school-aged Hispanic kids at the adjacent table climbed up and down
their chairs and raced around in a game of tag.
"We didn't plan on being undocumented for 14 years," Choi finally continued. "We entered using the tourist visa, with the intention of adjusting our
status. But the opportunity just never came. None of my parents' employers could sponsor their work permits which would have set them on the path to a
"I was angry with my mum for not being able to provide for me what my US citizen friends had," Choi added. "It was only when I was in college that I
realized it's not entirely her fault, and that the system's so broken it's forced us to become undocumented."
"I've always known that I'm undocumented. I've known it since the day my B-2 visa expired," he said, referring to the tourist visa for temporary entry (not
more than six months) into the U.S.
He was, however, forbidden by his family from revealing this secret to anyone outside. The horror of being sent back to South Korea was deeply ingrained in
him from young.
A pair of South Korean brothers who went to Choi's church in New Jersey received deportation orders after their identities were exposed, though Choi was
unsure who gave them away. Rumors rippled through the small and isolated Korean community in New Jersey about the hideous conditions of immigration
detention centers. "Sometimes they drug you going onto the plane," Choi said he had heard.
A report released last November by Detention Watch Network, a national coalition working for the reform of the U.S. deportation system, lists the Hudson
County Jail in New Jersey as one of the ten worst detention centers in the country. People reported waiting up to months for medical care. They complained
about inedible food, the use of solitary confinement as punishment, and denied access to legal assistance. The brothers bought their own tickets back to
South Korea after they completed college, in order to avoid being deported by the government.
"My parents, my sister, they told me, 'Don't ever tell anyone about your immigration status,'" he said. "And whenever I would bring the topic up, they
would be like, 'Do you really want the police knocking down our doors?'"
"It's scary, knowing it's a secret you always have to hold, that you always have to fear."
* * *
Asian undocumented immigrants have traditionally been less visible and vocal than their Hispanic counterparts. Most of the undocumented immigrants who have
gone public in the media about their status are Hispanic. In contrast, one rarely sees Asians talking about the issue on television.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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).
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.
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.)
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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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.”
High-school textbooks too often gloss over the American government’s oppression of racial minorities.
Earlier this month, McGraw Hill found itself at the center of some rather embarrassing press after a photo showing a page from one of its high-school world-geography textbooks was disseminated on social media. The page features a seemingly innocuous polychromatic map of the United States, broken up into thousands of counties, as part of a lesson on the country’s immigration patterns: Different colors correspond with various ancestral groups, and the color assigned to each county indicates its largest ethnic representation. The page is scarce on words aside from an introductory summary and three text bubbles explaining specific trends—for example, that Mexico accounts for the largest share of U.S. immigrants today.