The Atlantic Daily: What Makes a Border

Wall ≠ “border.” Plus a heartbreaking essay on being too big in growing America, the economics of the richest couple in the world’s divorce, and more

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

What We’re Following

1. Negotiations to end the U.S.-government shutdown are still stalled as President Donald Trump remains steadfast in his demand for money to build a southern-border wall—a major campaign promise. Even if a physical wall is built, it might not achieve the president’s desired effect. For one, a border is much more than just a membrane separating one location from another, and “it’s the largely invisible electronic system that forms the real battleground of migration into the country.” Meanwhile, Trump might think the wall is a winning issue for him, but polling data shows that it’s repelling some of his more ambivalent 2016 supporters whose votes he needs come 2020.

“My husband is a senior federal corrections officer at United States Penitentiary, Hazelton, in West Virginia. He has been working up to 18-hour days,” the Atlantic reader Tanya Louise Allen of Morgantown, West Virginia, told us. “We are terrified about what the future may hold. We are a one-income household.” Have you or others you know been impacted by the shutdown? We want to hear from you. Reply directly to this newsletter, or send us an email with your full name, city, and state to with the subject line The Daily: Shutdown Impacts.

2. Even as R. Kelly is engulfed in accusations of decades-long sexual predation, some fans still stand by the singer. Kelly’s recording contract remains in place, streams of his songs on Spotify have spiked, and die-hard fans continue to justify their support: I am an R. Kelly fan. I’m here for the music and nothing else,” one woman is quoted saying in the new six-part documentary series Surviving R. Kelly.

Can art be considered apart from the artist? In the second year of the post–Harvey Weinstein reckoning, celebrities such as Kevin Spacey have tried to lean on their talent and fame to salvage their career following sexual-misconduct allegations. “Art, it seems, can survive allegations,” wrote Spencer Kornhaber last month. “What’s more unnerving is the suspicion, now, that artists can weather them, too—by relying on the goodwill engendered by their work.”

3. The wealthiest couple in the world is divorcing after 25 years. The announcement from the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, the novelist MacKenzie Bezos, was hardly the end of the story. How will the Bezoses divide their $137 billion in assets, a process that might make MacKenzie the world’s richest woman? And as the separation became public, the National Enquirer tabloid published a tawdry story accusing Bezos of having an affair. The move is notable because the Enquirer has developed a reputation as an unrelenting attack dog for President Trump, who has frequently directed his ire at the Jeff Bezos–owned Washington Post.

Evening Read

Tommy Tomlinson: What It's Like to Be Too Big in America

(Photograph of the young Tommy Tomlinson, courtesy of Tomlinson. Illustration by Emily Haasch.)

“I weigh 460 pounds. Those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to write. Nobody knows that number—not my wife, not my doctor, not my closest friends. It feels like confessing a crime,” begins Tommy Tomlinson’s brutally raw and tenderly human essay on the experiences of being too big in America, excerpted from his forthcoming book, The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America. Read the rest.


Build walls—for houses, argues Derek Thompson

(Photograph by Steve Marcus / Reuters.)

America’s current bubbling housing crisis cries out for a straightforward remedy, but there is one nationwide impediment to construction, Derek Thompson argues. → Read the rest.

What Do You Know … About Global Affairs?

1. This German newsweekly continues to reckon with a scandal in which one of its former star reporters consistently exaggerated and invented people and facts across multiple celebrated stories.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

2. A Chinese spacecraft known by this name, after a Chinese goddess of the moon, landed on the far side of the moon last week.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

3. Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen, was arrested on December 28 in this country on suspicion of espionage, and now faces lengthy jail time there.

Scroll down for the answer, or find it here.

Urban Developments

Our partner site CityLab explores the cities of the future and investigates the biggest ideas and issues facing city dwellers around the world. Jessica Lee Martin shares today’s top stories:

How have 300 years of urbanization and farming transformed the planet? The environmental scientist Erle Ellis has studied the impact of humanity on the Earth for decades—and his team’s results show startling changes.

Thanks to the government shutdown, tens of thousands of low-income renters across the nation are now facing eviction. Kriston Capps reports that they’re largely seniors and people with disabilities.

Your fitness resolution might be easier if you’re rich. A new analysis by Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander finds that the availability of exercise venues reflects broader divides of class and geography.

For more updates like these from the urban world, subscribe to CityLab’s Daily newsletter.

Looking for our daily mini crossword? Try your hand at it here—the puzzle gets more difficult through the week.

Concerns, comments, questions, typos? Email Shan Wang at

Did you get this newsletter from a friend? Sign yourself up.