Last week, a reader who signed his email “J.” gave us a detailed critique of what he calls the “zombie rules” of grammar—the gripes against such things as split infinitives and dangling prepositions that “fuel ... people’s misconceptions (and their nervous cluelessness) about English.” This next reader, Chris, has a rebuttal from his experience as an ESL teacher:
I find that adhering to grammar rules, however zombified they may be, is important for me in teaching university students—the reason being that once they complete their studies, they will be on the job hunt, and their English abilities will be on trial. The likelihood that a future employer might be a follower of zombie rules to English grammar is quite high, so rather than that student be judged at the most crucial time for them, I attempt to nip it in the bud early if possible.
NB: In “croissants uneaten,” uneaten can DEFINITELY still be looked at as something other than a verb with the verb left or went having been elided. For example,
The croissants were left uneaten by the partygoers.
This seems to act more as an adjective disguised as an adverb, similar to hungry in “The children went hungry for three days.”
Sentence 1: The uneaten croissants were finally discarded.
we would see that the verbal structure in this sentence employs a passive form: “were discarded.” “The croissants” is the subject and “The uneaten croissants” is the SP (subject phrase).
Since an SP consists of a determiner (the), any number of adjectives, and some number of nouns, gerunds, etc., but not any embedded verb forms; and since Sentence 1 already has a well-formed verb structure (“were discarded”); then the tentative conclusion is that in Sentence 1, uneaten is an adjective and not a verb form.
b. It’s normal in English for adjectives to precede the subject noun, although there are many instances when it might follow, e.g. “athlete extraordinaire,” “the person responsible,” “battle royal,” “devil incarnate.”
Thus, the NP (noun phrase) “croissants uneaten” could just as easily be construed as “uneaten croissants” and, as shown above, “uneaten croissants” can arguably be construed as an adjective-noun combination. Therefore it’s arguable that “croissants uneaten” is also an adjective-noun combination, with the adjective following the noun.
c. Your correspondent J. also makes this argument:
Although it appears in many of the same syntactic positions as adjectives, uneaten does not meet most of the criteria for adjective-hood (an asterisk indicates that something is ungrammatical):
It is not gradable: *more uneaten, *most uneaten
It cannot be modified by words like too and very: *very uneaten croissants
It doesn’t work with a verb like become: *The croissants became uneaten.
I don’t think that’s the way to look at it. The adjective uneaten has a binary meaning, i.e. something is either eaten or it’s not. (We’ll ignore the brief interim during which it is transitioning between the two states.) Thus, eaten is an absolute state, as is uneaten.
Consequently, adverbs of gradation (more, most, too, very) simply don’t apply. This is precisely parallel to the rule that tells us not to modify the adjective unique with the adverbs very, more, etc., since ‘unique’ is absolute.
Now, can we say that something is “partially eaten” (and therefore “partially uneaten”)? Of course, but it is understood that the part that is eaten is absolutely eaten, and the part that is uneaten is absolutely uneaten.
As for “The croissants became uneaten,” of course we don’t say it that way, but saying
Sentence 2: The croissants were eaten.
conveys the same meaning, except with more felicity.
d. Finally, as to this comment:
To get a better sense of all of this, compare uneaten to a past participle that has clearly become an adjective, like embarrassed.
The adjective embarrassed is not used in a binary-state way. One could argue that one is either embarrassed or one is not, but the fact is that we do modify this adjective in a gradation:
Sentence 3: I was slightly/somewhat/quite/greatly/mortifyingly embarrassed.
Conclusion: My arguments lead me to assert that “croissants uneaten” is an acceptable English noun phrase and that uneaten is not a verb, but an adjective.
Personally I’m on the side of the adjectives—though I take full responsibility for having prompted this debate by advertising uneaten as a verb in the first place. I draw this conclusion not only from the guidance of my trusty arbiter, the Merriam-Webster dictionary (or just Merriam, as my college friends and I called her), but also from the fact that I’m unable to translate “croissants were uneaten” into an equivalent construction using the active verb uneat. (Side note: If anyone out there has found a way to boldly uneat where everyone else has eaten before, please let me know: My colleagues share a lot of snacks here at The Atlantic, and I’m constantly late to the party. (Side note to the side note: If there’s no such thing as a split infinitive, what happens if you try to split an infinitive that doesn’t exist?))
But I’ll give J. this: In “Walking Dead autopsied, croissants uneaten,” uneaten does work in parallel with autopsied—each describes what’s being done, respectively, to the hit TV show and the croissants. Though uneaten may not be a verb itself, it functions in context as a past participle. That, anyway, was my excuse when I tried to pass it off as one.
I know it might seem petty, or trollish, or a waste of everyone’s valuable time to spend these paragraphs arguing over the character of a single word. (Apologies to my editor.) But this debate underscores for me something much bigger, and more important: A word, as Knox pointed out last week, is functional—a mechanism for meaning-delivery. But it’s not a machine; the right metaphor, I think, would be something much closer to human. A word has an essential identity in its definition, and carries that everywhere; and yet it’s a shape-shifter, context changing its meaning and its grammatical function. Words are like people— multifaceted and messy and hard to pin down. And isn’t that kind of beautiful?
David Frum is worried it will happen under President Trump. “The fancy term is authoritarian kleptocracy,” Frum says in a long and enriching talk with Atlantic editor Scott Stossel last Thursday about the dangers of the Trump administration (starting at the 10:22 mark):
The SoundCloud audio version is here. And if you haven’t yet read David’s cover story on Trump, or want to read it again in light of this discussion, here’s the link. If you prefer to listen it on the go or while doing chores around the house, here’s the audio version:
This reader really liked the piece:
I’d just add a philosophical aspect, which is that if Obama was our first black president, then Trump is our first postmodern president. In postmodernity all truth is local, thus if you deconstruct any attempt at claiming an overarching truth, you’ll find a power grab.
This particularly applies to Trump’s relation with the media. If the media calls out one of his lies, it is seen by him and his supporters as not truth but a competing narrative—or, in today’s terms, #FakeNews. And so Trump has weaponized language, and any attempts at restraining him through shaming, appeals to tradition, and appeals to logic fall flat.
With the news landscape so fragmented, it’s really hard to solve this problem. I can ignore the traditional gate keepers like NYT and WaPo, and I can confirm all my biases on platforms such as Breitbart or DailyKos. Can we overcome that fragmentation? I think so.
Ultimately I believe it comes down to the need to return to hard-nosed investigative journalism, and putting out fewer opinion pieces. So, say Trump goes forward with his tariffs on Mexico. Well it may help the Rust Belt workers, but it will be detrimental to workers in border towns. So you’d want a reporter talking to people and businesses affected. It’s kind of hard to ignore these stories vs. opinion pieces.
In general, to overcome the cultural malaise that led to Trump, we’re going to need more dialogue across communities. The goal is to build a common “meta-narrative” that post-modernity tears down. We need grassroots activity and the revival of social institutions (churches/mosques/synagogues, mutual aid societies, neighborhood councils, etc.). So it just comes down to countering balkanization in media, culture, and politics.
This next reader has a very different view:
“The American free press” consists of some of the largest businesses in the world, huge corporations worth billions of dollars, the unregulated “fifth estate” in America. They are more powerful than politicians or representatives, free to say anything under the guise of “freedom of the press.”
They are no longer really “the press”; they represent the interests of the owners who, through their exposure to many millions of people, have power even beyond that of the president or elected representatives.
Let’s get real. The idea of what is happening in the world is what is presented to you by the media. You see “reality” through their lens. What they say seems to be the same as fact. They really control what you think! The Washington Post endlessly disses Trump, gives his critics more coverage mix fact with opinion, and distort facts. They are manipulating you.
Not so fast, replies this reader:
Or alternately, you could simply apply rational thought to what you read and draw rational conclusions based on the quality of evidence provided, the number of peer sources co-validating it, and the logic of the arguments presented. Or just buy into unsubstantiated conspiracy theories that everything is a lie.
Another reader piles on:
Newspapers like The Washington Post provide sources; Trump never does, unless it’s his own gold-plated observation—like the phantom thousands of people in New Jersey whom he saw cheer on 9/11. The major newspapers also apologize and issue corrections when they make an error; Trump will do the same only when Mar-a-Lago freezes over. And lastly, Trump provides us all with seemingly never-ending examples of distortion, insults, and unethical sexual behavior. Trump is manipulating his penurious lemmings and then spits nails after the majority of the American people resist him.
Update from a reader who suggests that part of the problem is that online media is too democratized:
Very interesting article by Frum and the follow-up posts by readers. I want to add that the rise of Twitter is a major factor in this. It allows people (like Trump) to reach his target audience, unchecked. Any nuance or fact checking or hard questions cannot be condensed into 140 or whatever the Twitter character limit is.
It also promotes people like Milo Yiannopoulos who have nothing valuable to contribute but instead are ready to throw verbal molotov cocktails and watch the world burn. There is no accountability, therefore no need to be truthful.
Let me also pose this question: Why are all of us equipped to comment on news and what’s happening in the world? We don’t let all of us build rockets or do neurosurgery. So why does that standard of having sense, education, training, and aptitude apply to being a journalist? Having a blog—or worse, a collection of loony opinions like Breitbart—is not journalism.
On Monday, February 20, we’ll celebrate Presidents’ Day. So this week, we asked our Politics & Policy Daily readers: What U.S. president do you admire most—and why? We received dozens of thoughtful responses, but here are a few of our favorites.
For Dolores Oliver, the answer is George H. W. Bush. She admires his ability to “work beyond ideological barriers”:
First, Bush was willing to resist pressure to aggressively brag about the fall of the Soviet Union. This approach reminded me of Lincoln’s commitment to welcoming back the South after the Civil War. He worked hard to respond with humility and support to bring the former Soviet satellite countries into the international community and eventually Russia too. Had the West come out with a prideful, bellicose attitude, perhaps we would be far worse off in our relationship with Russia than we are currently.
Secondly, he was willing to stand firm against great pressure within his party against the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Instead, he recognized the need to give individuals with disabilities the opportunity to function independently, thus empowering many who otherwise would be homebound.
Third, he was willing to stand firm against tyranny when Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait. He worked carefully and wisely to merge together a coalition of more than thirty countries to remove Iraqi forces and liberate Kuwait in under four months.
Lastly, he was willing again, against great pressure, to acknowledge the need to increase taxes—which would eventually lose him a second term.
On a similar note, Mary Shannahan chose President Jimmy Carter because he “walks his talk”:
I admire him because of his integrity while in office. Since his term ended, he’s facilitated peace on a global level and supervised integrity, or lack of it, in elections throughout the world. Here in the States he’s active with Habitat for Humanity. His principles are guided by his faith.
From Jennifer Poulakidas: “LBJ, for sure”:
What President Johnson was able to accomplish during his tenure is undeniably amazing and advanced our country in many very significant ways. AND, he was able to get a majority of the Congress to join him! The Civil Rights Acts, the Voting Rights Act, the first ESEA and HEA bills, the Immigration Act of 1965, the establishment of Head Start, Medicare, Medicaid and Work Study, creation of the National Endowments of Humanities and the Arts—the list could continue.
Paul E. Doherty suggested President Harry Truman, who he calls a real “man’s man.” Why?
He probably made more difficult decisions than any other president, and right or wrong, he made them in the best interest of our country. He truly meant it with the sign on his desk in the Oval Office that said “The Buck Stops Here!” After leaving the White House he went back to Independence, Missouri, to live the rest of his life with his family. Truly a great American!
Reader Cindy Simpson would have some questions for FDR:
If he were in office today, he’d probably be impeached: Did he know about Pearl Harbor? If so, when, and if not, why? And what about those affairs—for both him and his wife?
But I admire Franklin D. Roosevelt. I believe he led this country through a very difficult time—he helped to get people relief and employment during and after the Great Depression; established social security, the SEC, and the FDIC; and navigated the U.S. entry into WWII (though of course, it wasn’t all good).
For college student Zubair Merchant, it’s a tossup between two young presidents, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama:
Both men had a passion and honor in office that I think is characteristically unique to them. It also helps that they were young and inspirational presidents and that I am in college.
I think that 50 percent of the presidency is policy and 50 percent is rhetoric. On the policy side you can debate that JFK didn’t have time to do much, yet Obama (I believe) moved this country forward in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time (he’s the liberal Reagan, but cooler). On the rhetoric front, they are, in my view, the most inspirational presidents in history, and their youth carried a message that is unparalleled.
Finally, Christopher Wilson didn’t support Barack Obama during his candidacy, but says he still admires him the most—“without question”:
When someone is observed with such scrutiny and vigilance, they cannot escape their faults. President Obama had his. The pivot of his leadership was changing an opinion of what had been a strong conviction—not for the purpose of politics and remembrance—but because he knew it was the right thing to do! Specifically, having held strong opposing views of [same-sex marriage], President Obama made a remarkable turnaround and went full throttle in securing rights and becoming a quiet champion for the community—this in spite of his own personal beliefs. That’s rarely seen in politics, and applaudable.
Lastly, he gave the face of the president its most human touch. His humor, casual style, personal interests, candor and confidence were his beauty. I, like many others were able to connect with and see him for who he was ... a great father, husband, brother, uncle, son, friend and human being.
Thanks for your comments, and stay tuned for next week’s Question of the Week contest.
That’s the charge leveled by one reader, J., who responds to my grammar confession from earlier this week by advising me to “battle the misinformed pedantry of the peevers”—and points out a number of ways in which I’m guilty of misinformation myself. But first, two more readers offer their defenses for linguistic laxity.
Knox, a self-described “ambiguity ally,” says her attitude to English was shaped by growing up in a family of dyslexics:
In my younger years, I thought I had missed out on the family superpower. Today, we’ve come to terms with the differences: Acute writing skills are as much of a wieldable power as the extraordinary three-dimensional thinking that can make reading more difficult. But in the name of intellectual stimulation, debate around the importance of grammar and spelling still arises at the dinner table.
My youngest brother has a favorite defense; he likes to define “a word” with a sly smile and a hefty dose of side-eye. “Well. Don’t you know the definition of a word?” (He’ll pause for dramatic effect.) “According to the dictionary,” a stab at my English degree, “a word is a unit of language that functions as a principal carrier of meaning. The purpose of a word is not grammatical accuracy but a mode of conveying meaning. So, if you understood what I meant, then my mastery of language is intact.”
I’ll argue with him in the name of a good dinner debate, but truthfully I can't help but agree. The English language for me is less a network of rules and codes and more a tool for impact. However, the upshot here: It’s always the combination of the two—the codes and the meaning—that will craft the highest-impact message.
George takes a similarly laissez-faire approach:
Years of teaching both English and French as second languages has convinced me that when it comes to usage, the bottom line is getting the message across. All languages (except dead ones) are in a constant state of flux and there is nothing any of us can do about it. It may seem at times that a language is “deteriorating,” but those who are most knowledgeable about language know that no language has ever “deteriorated.” All languages evolve.
I love to quote—perhaps not totally accurately—the inimitable “Mr. Language Person” (Dave Barry of the Miami Herald—retired) who reported an overheard conversation between Eileen and her friend. Eileen was complaining about being unable to go to the church social for lack of a ride. Her friend replied: “Eileen, ’f I’d a know’d you’d a wanna went, I’d a see’d you’d a got to get to go!” This is 100 percent wrong grammatically, but the message comes across perfectly. Why correct it?
But another defense of what I’ve described as “rule-breaking” lies not in rejection of grammatical rules, but in a more precise interpretation. Here’s J., whose point-by point response to my post begins by unpacking Ruby’s critique of the Atlantic Daily verbs:
In “croissants uneaten,” uneaten is indeed a verb—specifically a passive verb—not an adjective. A “croissant uneaten” is a croissant that no one has eaten. That is, the verbal sense is clearly intact.
Although it appears in many of the same syntactic positions as adjectives, uneaten does not meet most of the criteria for adjective-hood (an asterisk indicates that something is ungrammatical):
It is not gradable: *more uneaten, *most uneaten
It cannot be modified by words like too and very: *very uneaten croissants
It doesn’t work with a verb like become: *The croissants became uneaten.
To get a better sense of all of this, compare uneaten to a past participle that has clearly become an adjective, like embarrassed. To be sure, when we’re discussing past participles, the line between verb and adjective is sometimes hazy. All we can do is look at the evidence.
I too have sometimes wondered if “Verbs” would be better titled “Past Participles”
The past participle is one of the six forms that every lexical verb has. The title "Verbs" encompasses those six forms. Don’t let a few misinformed peevers cause you to change the name.
You have four clear verbs. Does unimpressed straddle the line between verb and adjective? Probably. But isn’t there a verbal meaning there, i.e., that the press was unimpressed by someone or something, that someone or something did not impress them?
And I know that it’s frowned-upon to start a sentence with “and”
But it’s not. The “don’t start sentences with conjunctions” is a zombie rule. It has never been an actual rule of English grammar, and it’s easy to find examples of it in all levels of formality, from Supreme Court decisions to essays in The Atlantic to newspaper articles to fiction to social-media posts.
On the other hand, isn’t language shaped democratically by those who use it?
So tell me: Are you a grammar geek who takes occasional guilty pleasure in splitting infinitives? Do you dare to dangle prepositions?
With all due respect, this is the kind of stuff that perpetuates zombie rules. It perpetuates ignorance about the way our language works.
There is no “guilty pleasure” in “splitting” infinitives because it has never been ungrammatical in English. And anyway, “split infinitive” is a misnomer, one borne of early grammarians’ attempts to apply the grammatical rules of Latin (in which is is impossible to split an infinitive) to English. A to-infinitive clearly comprises two parts: the infinitival subordinator to and the plain form of the verb. This is clear in sentences like “I need to eat and sleep” and “We could go to the dance, but Cozznester doesn’t want to.” Nothing is being split in a “split infinitive.”
When you suggest that splitting infinitives and stranding prepositions is something that only grammar renegades do—especially when you do it in a widely read publication—you’re adding fuel to people's misconceptions (and their nervous cluelessness) about English. There’s no guilty pleasure in doing these things: They’re a natural part of English grammar. There are conventions that formal writing must adhere to. But conflating stylistic conventions with grammar leads people to believe that those conventions are actual rules.
I’m aware that this piece is trying to be light, to adopt a cheeky tone. But people who write about language need to battle the misinformed pedantry of the peevers. They need to strive to show readers how English actually works, not how those peevers want it to work.
Point taken. And gauntlet thrown.
Searching for further insight into stylistic peevery, I followed one of J.’s links to discover Britt Peterson’s 2014 Boston Globe column “Why We Love the Language Police.” Here’s Peterson’s central question:
It’s long been recognized that language is culturally contingent and constantly evolving, rather than being a strict, logical system that can be frozen in its 16th-century state, as [grammarian N.M.] Gwynne would have it.
And yet the enthusiasm with which people read Gwynne suggests that, outside academia, there’s some continuing appeal in being lectured about split infinitives and misplaced apostrophes. In fact, for hundreds of years, English-speakers have reveled in scolding each other and being scolded about language. Gwynne’s little book is just the latest to put the spotlight on an enduring conundrum: In a world where hundreds of millions of people use the language effectively every day, why do so many of us love to hear that we’re doing it wrong?
Proud pedants and peevers come forward: What’s so great about your usage rules? Can you defend against the charge of spreading misconceptions? If there’s no grammatical case against (for instance) a split infinitive, what’s the aesthetic one? Send your best case for conventions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Forgive me, dear readers: I have sinned against grammar and in thy sight, and, as I might have expected, you’ve caught me. I’m referring to the “Verbs” section of The Atlantic Daily newsletter, which includes a series of four links attached to four (hopefully) sonically pleasing predicates. For example, our February 7 edition:
The problem is that they’re not always, technically speaking, verbs. As one reader, Ruby, explains:
With respect, the phrase “croissants uneaten” contains no verb. Rather, uneaten is a verbal, a verb form that acts as another part of speech. In the phrase “croissants uneaten,” uneaten is an adjective that describes croissants.
Michelle asks for “parallel structure, please”:
While I loved seeing the Verbs section reinstated, I was a tad dismayed when “add up” appeared alongside “unimpressed,” “soured,” and “swiped.” As a former English teacher, I always impressed upon my students the importance of parallel structure to assist readers in following along, which is perhaps why I found the shift from past to present tense jarring: Why not “Press unimpressed, sugar scientists soured, identity swiped, figures added up”? I realize there is a slight difference between the phrase “add up,” which connotes “making sense,” versus “added up,” which suggests “tallying.” Perhaps you should have selected another example since the first three verb forms function as past passive participles (adjectives), while the last is definitely a verb.
And Joseph looks even closer: “Please note that ‘unimpressed’ is an adjective, not a verb.”
It’s true! It’s true! I throw myself upon your mercy. (Being also at the mercy of Merriam-Webster, I have verified that preposition.) But what’s a would-be wordplayer to do? The rules of grammar are many and rigid, the headline-pun options comparatively few. I reserve the right to rebel for rhythm’s sake. I must claim my freedom to conjugate! And, well, it’s the little things in life that keep us going, and on a grim news day something like “press unimpressed” can be too much fun to pass up.
Yea, though I walk in the shadow of stylebooks AP, MLA, and Chicago—though I am passionately pro-Oxford comma; though I get distressed by misplacement of hyphens; though indeed, I too have sometimes wondered if “Verbs” would be better titled “Past Participles”—I am only a writer and only human, and I persist in doubt.
As my colleague Joseph knows after fielding my not-so-correct attempt to correct him, I still have trouble understanding how the phrase “to jibe with” can reasonably signify agreement. My editor, Chris, can attest to my habit of putting commas in places where they are unwelcome, if not strictly prohibited (it’s for the musicality, I have oh-so-earnestly told him). And I know that it’s frowned-upon to start a sentence with “and” or follow a semicolon with “but”; but there are times when for reasons of cadence or tone it just feels right to do it. I know that “but it sounds good!” is not much of a logical argument for anything—but such is the logic to which I bow, time and time again.
I blame my education for the crisis of faith. In college, I divided my time between copy-editing jobs and creative-writing workshops, developing equal reverence for protocol and for experimentation. I also earned a degree in literature, which means I am now well acquainted with the glorious multitude of things one can do with the English language, extremely skilled at overthinking the meaning behind a particular comma, and—when it comes to my own writing—desperately confused. Forget grammar-Nazism: Communication is a kind of social contract, and there’s an egalitarian rightness to holding all writers to the same standards. On the other hand, isn’t language shaped democratically by those who use it? And art is a meritocracy anyway, and creativity means pushing limits, and where’s the danger and joy and intuitive magic in playing strictly by the rules?
I like to think I’m not alone in all this agita. So tell me: Are you a grammar geek who takes occasional guilty pleasure in splitting infinitives? Do you dare to dangle prepositions? Are your serial commas (however you feel about them) selectively enforced? Send your copy confessions my way: email@example.com.
(Editor’s note: Alana Semuels joined the TAD discussion group of Atlantic readers for an “Ask Me Anything,” and a lightly edited version of that Q&A is below. Reader questions are in bold, followed by replies from Semuels.)
Hi Alana. Welcome to TAD and thank you for being here. I live in the heart of the Rust Belt—Pittsburgh—and I was wondering what you see as the best hope for river towns like Aliquippa and Beaver Falls that were founded on steel but now barely scrape by. We are losing young people at a rate of 30 percent, I think. A couple towns have found a niche and have become viable, but I just don’t see many of these places recovering. Do you think they will inevitably eventually disappear like so many other towns in the Midwest?
I started my journalism career in Pittsburgh, at the Post-Gazette, so I have a special alliance to the region (except to the Steelers. Go Pats!). There are towns—like Goshen, Indiana—that have survived the rural exodus, mostly by specializing in a few niche industries. My article “America Is Still Making Things” talks a little more about this. But only a few towns are going to be able to pull this off. I think the rest are going to keep losing population and young people. There’s hope for them to become retirement communities, but that’s not necessarily the most dynamic economic engine.
As someone who really went around and talked to a lot of people from all corners of America, did you think Trump might win the election? Or were you as surprised as the rest of us?
No, I was surprised, too. I wish I had talked to more people about this before the election, but I, like many other journalists, was focused on other things.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about the average Trump voter?
Democrats seem to think Trump voters are dumb; they aren’t. They just really don’t like Democrats, especially Hillary. A lot of the people I talked to said they were more anti-Hillary than they were pro-Trump. A friend who is a pollster said people in his groups thought Hillary was a liar and Trump an a-hole, and they’d rather vote for an a-hole than a liar.
I think a lot of people were long-time Republicans, and are as unlikely to change parties as urban Democrats are. But there was one woman who said to me she didn’t know who she was voting for until she got into the voting booth, and then she thought about the FBI and Hillary, and then voted for Trump. I think she is fairly representative.
It irritates me when Democrats criticize Rust Belt voters for supporting Trump. That’s the point of voting—everyone gets to choose who they want. Alexander Hamilton would have liked only the educated people to choose who was in charge, but that’s not a democracy.
Do you think sexism was a big factor in Midwest voters’ hate for Hillary?
No, I actually don’t. But I’m a business reporter, not a politics reporter, so I could be wrong.
Well the most surprising thing was when I was sitting at a pizza parlor talking to two young guys who said some really racist stuff (they didn’t like cities because they had too many black people, etc), which they knew was on the record. I think it really illuminated for me how different the two worlds are: What they were saying was perfectly fine to say in the world they lived in. In the world I live in, it was shocking.
Where is somewhere you’ve traveled that has really surprised you and changed how you think, either in a good way or a bad way?
Beaumont, Texas, was a fascinating place for me to visit. I had written a lot about segregation at that point, but it is often hard to articulate why segregation is so problematic (beyond general issues of equality and fairness). But I talked to a mother whose daughter had been succeeding in a good school in a white neighborhood, and then had to move to a bad school in a poor neighborhood. In the first school, her daughter had access to a computer, books, and an engaged teacher. In the second one, many of the kids in her class didn’t know how to read.
Based on what you’ve seen of America, do you consider it likely or unlikely that large-scale violent conflict breaks out between factions of Americans?
Hmm, I don’t think widespread violence is likely. One interesting thing I’ve noticed in trips since the election is how everyone is just going about their daily lives as before. Guys, the world has not ended (!!). If anything, people seem more politically engaged than ever.
One of the things I was most curious about after the election was who was going to be impacted first and soonest (apparently, the answer was immigrants from seven countries). But people live locally, and act locally, and will see little changed in their lives for now, I think.
What do you think is the limit at which Trump’s support among rural voters collapses, if there even is one?
I have thought about this a lot, and I think that the limit is a lot higher than Democrats would hope. I was in rural North Carolina last week talking to voters, and I was surprised how many of them—poor, rich, white, black—said they thought Trump was doing a good job. (This was in the midst of the immigration furor.) They said they thought he had a big mouth, and said things that he shouldn’t, but they wanted to give him a shot to turn the country around.
I enjoyed your story “President Trump, Job Creator?” Do you think that Trump either knows or cares that companies are playing him by letting him claim credit for things that they were going to do anyway?
I think he loves this. Announcements like Intel’s recent one about the chip factory in Arizona make him look good, even though he did nothing to make them happen. Intel, like most companies that make these announcements, had planned to do this long ago. By announcing it Trump’s way, though, they might be able to curry favor with him. I don’t think they’re playing him; I think he’s playing them.
What do you think will be the long-term ramifications of Trump’s economic policies? Do you think these ramifications could have a major impact on how rural areas vote, or do you think values and religious concerns will still be supreme?
This is a good question, but unfortunately I don’t have a great answer. It’s possible that Trump will convince more companies to manufacture here. The voters I talked to certainly think he is doing a good job so far. He is really good at making independent business decisions sound like they were because of him. If he does this, I think he’s going to keep a strong contingent of happy voters in the Rust Belt.
But a lot of these manufacturing jobs are going to be automated, and so that’s not going to help these voters in the long term. The automation could take a decade or so, though, so it may not be relevant for 2020.
However, as I wrote in my piece from Elkhart [“It’s Not About the Economy”], economic progress doesn’t necessarily mean voters will support the president. People live in bubbles of their own making, and they often don’t let facts disrupt their narrative of what is going on. (Liberals too!)
I really liked your article last November about the Democrats not having an easy answer for the Rust Belt. So my question is: Is there actually a pitch the Democrats can make that will work? Trump is promising the moon, and while I don’t think he can deliver, it seems like an impossible promise to compete against.
I think the pitch that will work is not the most sensible one, which is training and education. Rather, I think if somehow Democrats can go more progressive, towards a “growth-that-includes everyone” type of message, that could be more appealing, especially to one-time union voters. That might mean talking more about employee-owned companies, or about the importance of unions, or of making business share more profits.
I liked your piece about the TPP and its real impact on the American worker, but it’s interesting how few people in the Rust Belt seem to understand these concepts. Where do you think the disconnect in communication and understanding is? Is there a better way for to get these topics across?
That’s a really good question. I think that’s another thing I’ve really learned while talking to people across the country: People often believe the version of economics that’s simplest. So, “your job is being outsourced to Mexico” is easier to get angry about than “TPP would have raised wages overseas, which in turn could have driven companies to relocate to the U.S., which in turn would have created jobs here.” People in the Rust Belt really hate NAFTA and it’s going to be hard to change their mind about trade.
Seeing that the Trump administration has so far been rather, let’s say, incompetent, do you think he’ll actually be able to impose the trade restrictions he wants? And how do you think they’ll play out if they do indeed happen?
I think that for the next two years, if past is prologue, Trump is going to do pretty much whatever he wants. He already killed TPP. Renegotiating NAFTA is going to be harder, but I think the administration is very serious about this border adjustment tax. The good thing for Democrats, I think, is that most of these trade policies are going to be an absolute disaster for the economy. It’s worrying that Trump does not seem to want to listen to economists, but this will be an interesting experiment in what happens when a country does not follow widely-accepted economic principles.
Do you think the extremely polarizing nature of Trump will make the communities you visited more insular and defensive, and only deepen the divide in America? If so, if there anything that could be done to mitigate this? Is there anything the media could do on this front?
Yes, I do think the divide is going to deepen. People have beliefs about the country and the president and they are going to seek out news sources that confirm those beliefs. So people who like Trump are going to read things saying he’s doing a good job, and those that don’t are going to consume things saying he’s terrible.
I think local newspapers are important here. People care about what’s happening in their communities and still consume local news. So the degree that those papers can burst through those bubbles and share facts, that’s pretty important.
I was recently reading a New Yorker article about how a man from rural America who said he hated black people started up a discussion on C-SPAN with the head of Demos, who is black.
They’re now friends, and McGhee recommended that the man read up on black history and get to know more black people, which he did. I think the more people read up on people very different from them, and make contacts with those people, the better (yes, I realize this sounds very Kumbaya). I am trying to read Hillbilly Elegy right now (though I am not making much progress), and I want to read more about people in rural areas, even as I do more reporting there.
Something I’m always curious about, particularly from writers such as yourself: Do you think online commenting provides an opportunity to bridge some of these economic/educational/cultural divides or does it just widen the gulf? TAD was founded as an escape from the usual fracas of online comment boards, but I’m curious what role you think open online comments plays in today’s America.
If you mean commenting on sites like The Atlantic, I’m not sure that it can bridge the gulf. Many of the Republicans I talk to in the Rust Belt have never heard of The Atlantic and certainly would never read it. They have their news sources; Democrats have theirs.
I’ve thought a lot about how to bridge the divide I wrote about in “America’s Great Divergence,” and I just don’t have an idea. I do know that the opinions and input of people different from me are really important in my reporting, but I usually get those inputs by visiting somewhere really far away and talking to random people. I’d love to have more of those people in my Facebook feed, but I just don’t.
“I’d love to have more of those people in my Facebook feed, but I just don’t.”
I think that’s a really great point. Elsewhere on TAD today it was mentioned that Vox was reporting only 9 percent of Republicans disapprove of Trump right now. Which isn’t surprising in and of itself, but it did strike me how everything I’ve seen lately, through social media and through the news sources I regularly read, has been so negative about Trump that you’d think the entire country turned on him. It’s an important reminder that there really is another world out there that is easy to completely miss.
What do you think will be the most underreported, yet necessary economic/business reporting of the coming year?
I think the middle class is going to continue to hollow out, no matter what Trump does. People at the high-skill, educated end of the spectrum are going to do great, everyone else is going to continue to scrimp. Especially with GOP control in the nation and in many states, there’s going to be little appetite for raising the minimum wage in many places, and there’s likely to be more rollback of union protections. (I believe Iowa is considering scrapping collective bargaining.)
I also think that Trump’s changes to the tax codes, whatever they end up being, are going to be a big deal. So many economists I talk to say the way to lessen income inequality is to raise taxes on the rich. That is definitely not going to happen now.
Is there anything you can share about any big (or little, or anything in between) stories you’ve got coming up? Do you see your writing taking a specific shape under the Trump administration that maybe you wouldn’t have expected last October?
Yea, for better or worse, Trump dominates the news cycle, and he is what people are interested in reading about. I’m interested in what will happen if Trump dismantles regulations to make things easier for business, especially in the environmental arena. I think a lot of journalists are wary of writing stories for four years that are basically “Trump just announced a policy that is dumb. Here is why,” but on the other hand, you can’t ignore when he puts forth things that fly in the face of decades of economic thinking.
I am always open to story ideas about the new world we live in, so if you have any things you’d like to see us cover, shoot!
The poet Thomas Lux died on February 5. It seems fitting to honor him and his decades of Atlantic contributions with a brief history, but also with his own words in his own voice.
Speaking about his craft in an Atlantic interview from 2004, Lux is both magpie of unusual facts (“Without the dung beetle we’d all be up to our clavicles in cow pies. They deserve an ode!”) and defender of poetry’s essential weirdness:
I love mystery, strangeness, nuttiness, wildness, leaps across chasms, irreverence, all the crazy stuff we love about poetry. We don’t usually love poems because they are well made, or smart, or deep. We love them for their crazy hearts.
In the nine poems Lux published in our pages, you’ll find wry humor—1984’s “Snake Lake” begins:
My friends, I hope you will not swim here:
this lake isn’t named for what it lacks.
He said: “Kissing is like the presidency,
it is not to be sought and not to be declined.”
It was written, if women had the vote,
he would have been President,
kissing everyone in sight,
dancing on tables (“a grand Terpsichorean
performance ...”), kissing everyone,
sometimes two at once, kissing everyone,
of our people.
Years ago, as part of a series for poetry month, we gathered a selection of old Atlantic audio recordings of poets reading their works. My part was to convert the files from an obsolete, unplayable format to mp3. Among them was Lux’s reading of “Virgule,” an ode to “/” that begins:
What I love about this little leaning mark
is how it divides
without divisiveness. The left
or bottom side prying that choice up or out,
the right or top side pressing down upon
its choice: either/or,
Listen to him read the entire poem:
Far more qualified people can speak to his particular brilliance—I’m just someone who tried to rescue his voice, or a minute and 38 seconds of it, from the online abyss and deliver him to you.
I asked my colleague David Barber, the Atlantic’s poetry editor, for his memories of the magazine’s long history with Lux. He writes:
Tom Lux’s quirky, wily, incorrigibly uncanny poems left their mark far and wide from way back, but The Atlantic could be said to have a special claim on him.
For one thing, he was a local boy made good: Born and raised in Northampton, Mass., where his father ran a dairy farm, he was a fixture for many years in Boston and its environs, home base to the august bewhiskered poets who founded the magazine in 1857. His editor at Boston’s Houghton Mifflin for several of his celebrated collections was Peter Davison, the Atlantic’s late longtime poetry editor and literary lion of parts. His work appeared early and often in these pages over those years, immediately recognizable for its mordant wit, offbeat verve, and matchless knack for musing beguilingly on just about anything. The only predictable trait of a Lux poem was that it would be the one and only thing of its kind.
It’s the weariest of clichés to say that a certain poet sounds like none other. Lux was the real McCoy. It’s there in the deadpan delivery, the sure comic timing, the live-wire ear for oddball lingo and kooky hearsay, the slyboots way of spinning tall tales out of small talk. His bittersweet satirical bent belongs to no school or tribe; his smarts and chops were his and his alone. Is there another American poet since Stevens who conjured up so many humdinger titles? Could anyone else have composed an ode to the secret life-force of a punctuation mark? Was there ever a laconic elegy for long-gone summertimes quite as definitively disarming as “The Man Into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball”?
Sarah Zhang recently looked at a pathbreaking effort by James Feeney to expand the use of medical marijuana in the U.S. He’s surgeon in Connecticut conducting a clinical trial to compare the use of marijuana and opioids when it comes to treating acute pain, rather than chronic pain. Here’s Sarah:
That distinction—acute pain from an injury—[is] an important one. A small body of evidence suggests that medical marijuana is effective for chronic pain, which persists even after an injury should have healed and for which opioids are already not a great treatment. But now Feeney wants to try medical marijuana for acute pain, where opioids have long been a go-to drug.
That tendency to prescribe pills has fueled the opioid addiction crisis in the U.S., thus increasing the need for non-addictive alternatives like marijuana—now legal for medical use in 28 states and for recreational use in eight (plus D.C. for both). The rules for when doctors can prescribe pot to their patients vary state to state, but those rules rarely apply to acute, short-term pain. That’s exactly what the following reader experienced, and cannabis was a godsend for her:
I had a bilateral mastectomy, then chemo, then radiation on both sides, since I had cancer in both breasts. It was a huge radiation field and a little over a third of the way through my skin was so badly burned that the two old soft-cotton tee shirts I wore to bed were stuck to my skin and bloody when I woke up in the morning. It was so bad that I had to stand in a warm shower for a long time to loosen the connection between my flesh and shirt to get it off.
A friend brought me some THC-laced cookies and that solved the problem. No pain, as well as no anxiety. I nibbled on them for about three weeks. They were very strong and each cookie got me through several days. I stopped eating them when the pain went away, and I had a few left over that I didn’t use.
This next reader, in contrast, has chronic pain, but he only uses cannabis for the short-term bursts of peak pain:
I am a 53-year-old, college-educated white male working as a software engineer in the Silicon Valley since high school. I have been a recreational user of cannabis for most of my adult life, as I prefer it over alcohol—which I drink only when I can’t get cannabis.
I have a chronic foot condition for which my doctor has prescribed OxyContin, as well as hydrocodone for peak pain. My use of Oxy has been consistent, but I was using the hydrocodone more than my doctor was happy with. Of course, once I was put on the opioids, I could no longer use alcohol.
Two years ago I obtained a recommendation for medical cannabis and have been able to significantly reduce/eliminate my hydrocodone use by relying on cannabis for peak pain. I have no negative side effects and no longer have to worry about running out of pills.
There are several things that surprised me about using cannabis as medicine:
My insurance doesn’t cover cannabis, which can be quite expensive.
I have to travel to a dispensary, since my local county has banned them.
Taking a pill is much easier than finding the time/place to smoke cannabis. I was hoping to be able to use edibles, but that turned out to be less effective and hard to control dosage/effects.
I began to resent having to use it because it took away from my enjoyment of cannabis recreationally. To be effective for pain, I need to use more of it than I would recreationally, and it changed from something I chose to do into something I had to do.
But overall I’m much happier and safer using cannabis to reduce my opioid usage. Ideally I would get off the Oxy, but that will take time, and I’m too busy at work to get sick from withdrawals. I also don’t think cannabis can provide the base level of pain control that the Oxy provides. TBD.
This next reader opted for CBD—cannabidiol, the part of cannabis that doesn’t get you high but still has medical benefits—and it helped him fight his opioid dependency:
I had hip and back surgery in 2014 and ‘15, respectively. I was in severe pain for three years, and after one of my surgeries I was prescribed Oxycontin and Oxycodone for over six months. My prescriptions went from 12 pills a day immediately after surgery to “As needed,” but I couldn’t sleep without the pills. I lost 15-20 lbs during this time and eventually could not sleep more than one hour a night without the opioids.
I had never traditionally used marijuana, but thankfully, one of my friends gave me a week’s worth of CBD. The first night I slept 16 hours, after three nights I got my appetite back, and after seven days I had zero “cravings” for a pill. The experience was night and day for me, somewhat literally. I went from being a zombie to being a contributing member of society.
CBD also worked for this reader:
For over 20 years, whenever I got phantom pains, I took handfuls of gabapentin to go with an analgesic. Essentially, I would end up stoned out my mind on gabapentin, which (I guess) allowed the analgesic to work. Gabapentin is not an opioid, but it definitely had a negative impact on my life.
Recently I was talked into going to a local pot store to try out a cannabinoid, and the results have been astounding. I don’t get stoned—I’m able to think clearly and can work—and the pains are treated. I have concerns about the lack of evidence regarding dose limits and the long-term effects, but I am very happy to be off the gabapentin.
This final reader testifies to the pros and cons of both opioids and cannabis but ultimately opted for the latter—and he’s willing to break the law for it:
I have a lower-back condition, where the nerves that run through the lowest part of my spine do so a bit too close to the bone and tend to rub against it. Over time this causes a degree of inflammation which is rather painful and often reaches a 6 or 7 at its worst. It’s sharp, pulsating, dull, and a variety of other pain descriptors all at once. Long story short, it hurts!
I discovered that marijuana worked for my back pain after coming home from Washington state. One evening laying on the couch, my back was in full flare-up mode. Shifting, bending, stretching ... nothing helped. I decided to try an edible I had brought back from the PNW [Pacific Northwest].
One hour in, ALL of my back pain was gone. Obviously I was also experiencing significant psychoactive effects, but my pain was GONE. I found this fascinating.
However, because of how stoned I was, I realized that this was not a medical option for the daytime. As the stash of edibles ran out, I resorted to going to the spinal intervention pain management clinic, where I get Selective Nerve Root Block injections every few months. This took care of 90 percent of the pain. Only when I’m seated for long periods of time, or when I have an odd occurrence of some sort, does the pain flare up. I’m prescribed 60 Norcos (hydrocodone) to be used once to twice per day (one pill at a time). In addition, I’ve been given Zanaflex (tizanidine) as well as Soma (carisoprodol) as muscle relaxers.
I will be the first to acknowledge that all of these do help—tremendously. However, because my condition is chronic, I have to take them every day. This leads to many issues related to my digestive system—constipation when taking the pills, diarrhea when not—as well as a mild physical dependency.
After the last time experiencing physical withdrawal from opioid use (about two months ago), I decided that enough was enough: Cannabis was going to be my go-to for consistent evening pain mitigation. Since I live in a non-medicinal/non-recreational state, I have no legal access to marijuana. However, I’m willing to risk it for the sake of virtually no gastrointestinal side effects or the possibility of physical dependency.
(Editor’s note: David Frum dropped in on the TAD discussion group of Atlantic readers for an “Ask Me Anything,” and a lightly-edited version of that Q&A is below. Reader questions are in bold, followed by Frum’s replies.)
This reader community was founded as a refuge from the chaos of modern-day comment sections. Here at TAD, we really value honest, good-faith discussion from both sides, and not just cheap potshots. Something I’m always curious about, particularly from writers such as yourself: Do you think online commenting adds to civic discourse or detracts from it?
I’ve made friends through online comments ... and on Twitter and other social media platforms. On the other hand, there’s no denying there’s something inherently prone to trouble about anonymous discussion severed from in-person contact. As information becomes ever more abundant, personal contact becomes ever more rare and therefore precious.
Would you feel comfortable discussing the issues that caused you to leave National Review?
That’s easy: The parting was completely amicable. I had a vision for a forum to discuss the ideas of what we didn’t yet call the Reformicons, that didn’t carry the institutional conservative DNA of National Review. I contributed to that magazine through the election of 2008, wrote a farewell piece endorsing McCain over Obama, then launched my own site in 2009. Or are you thinking of AEI? That was a less amicable story; they fired me in March 2010. Here’s the piece that got me fired.
The question we must ask all TAD visitors: Cake or pie?
Not crazy about either, but if I must: open-faced French tartes. I never pretended to be anything other than a Beltway elitist.
Five years ago in an interview on Morning Joe, you coined the term “conservative entertainment complex” to describe how the conservative media and donors had fleeced the Republican base:
Looking back on that now, 2012 almost seems like the good old days. How do you think the conservative base can evaluate politics and the world accurately when it seems as if this conservative media complex has only become stronger and more isolated from objectivity?
Trump is like some divine wrath on conservative media. He makes clear every day his utter contempt for the principles they claim to have. He endlessly wrong-foots them.
“It’s not a ban!”
“Right, as the president said, it’s not a ban.”
“It is a ban.”
“Exactly, just as the president said.”
And Trump is accelerating the alienation and cultural isolation of his supporters from the national cultural mainstream.
Ezra makes sharp points, but I’d grant more agency to Trump himself. Ezra emphasizes Congressional Republicans ideological agenda as the main driver of their subordination to him. But political fear works too—and the fear exists because of Trump’s own connection with the party base and his willingness to ruthlessly exercise power to punish enemies, even when it seems self-destructive in the longer term to do so.
Do you think references to fascism help or hurt the cause of those who oppose Trump?
Hurt. As one of my favorite teachers used to say: “History never repeats itself. It only appears to do so to those who don’t pay attention to details.”
Seems lately everyone has a prescription for what the Democrats can do to right the ship. So, uh, out of curiosity, what’s your hot take?
Challenging question, because what’s good for the Democrats (mobilize their base, which is potentially significantly larger than the GOP base) is bad for the anti-Trump coalition. The base-mobilizing issues for Democrats are precisely those where Trump has acted most like a traditional Republican: the DeVos nomination, e.g. The issues that hold together an anti-Trump coalition are those in which he has showed himself most aberrant.
To my mind, everything turns on voting. Protest all you want, but if you don’t vote, then nothing can change. So with that said, I am increasing worried about the concerted effort to disenfranchise various groups. What do you see as an effective strategy to combat this?
What happened in 2016 was demobilization much more than disenfranchisement, in my opinion.
Your recent article “How to Beat Trump” offered advice from the political right to the political left. Is there a reason why you didn’t offer such advice to Americans across the political spectrum, including those within the GOP, on how they should participate in protests or start their own movement to curb the excesses of the Trump administration? What would you recommend Republicans do to organize in opposition? (I’m asking as a center-left independent who wants to support his GOP family in their opposition, and one who might even get radical enough to join the GOP if there was any organized and vocal opposition to Trump and his movement.)
Anti-Trump Republicans need to exercise voice and deploy the threat of exit. Demand that Republican elected officials defend the country against Russian interference. Complain when they protect Trump’s self-enriching and lawless actions. And make clear that your support, vote, and money (if you are in a position to give) should not be taken for granted.
Trump is shrewd but not strategic. He makes enemies. If he wobbles, they will try to pounce—if they feel that their own constituencies permit it. The permitting is the key variable!
I sympathize with elements of the Trump program. I’d like to see GOP commit itself to a universal health guarantee (paid for by a NON progressive form of taxation, so it is as insurance-like as possible); and to reductions in immigration flows. But Trump himself has no way to make himself acceptable to those repelled by his kleptocracy and autocracy. I hope we’ll see the rise of a Mugwump-style independent GOP bloc in the Congress.
What’s your explanation as to why so many of your conservative intellectual colleagues seem to be less visibly upset than you about the Trump presidency (Reihan Salam, David French, etc.)? Is it your stronger familiarity with the recent history of Eastern Europe? Or perhaps your Canadian background?
Probably my hawkishness on foreign policy. I signed up for conservatism as the politics I believed most determined to hold together the Western alliance. Trump’s subversion of that alliance (and the trade connections that sustain it) alarms me.
It appears that President Trump is not interested in the rules-based international order the United States has spent the last seven decades building and defending. If you were advising the EU Commission, what would be your advice in terms of positioning for future political, trade, and economic policies?
This question rends my heart. From the point of view of the larger democratic community, it is essential that the EU, UK, and U.S. be as tightly bound as possible. But in its own interest, the EU must now start thinking about independent guarantees of its own security. That’s one of the most terrible costs of the Trump presidency.
Where do you see the relationship with Canada going? Do you think Trudeau and his government will stand firm if Trump tries to seriously undermine the relationship by, say, forcing a renegotiation of NAFTA and refusing to compromise? Follow-up question: Do you think there is any chance at all of Kevin O’Leary riding a similar wave and beating Trudeau in the next federal?
Canada has very few options. It will have to accommodate the Trumpist agenda. Kevin O’Leary is very poorly suited to a parliamentary system, and his attempt to campaign for the Conservative leadership from Boston will be seen as arrogant and offensive.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Frum. Do you think it is more likely that history will view this period as a step in the decline of the United States on the world stage, or as an aberration that was followed by another period of U.S. leadership (if not dominance) in the world?
The key thing to stress: This is up to us, to a great extent. The objective indicators for U.S. power do point downward. America’s share of world GDP is declining; its most important allies in Europe and Asia are losing share even faster. Here at home, key institutions are under stress; social cohesion visibly weakening. Yet the residual resources remain enormous. Intelligent leadership can make a difference. It’s up to us to insist on better.
When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days.
In 2011, I was hired, straight out of college, to work at the White House and eventually the National Security Council. My job there was to promote and protect the best of what my country stands for. I am a hijab-wearing Muslim woman––I was the only hijabi in the West Wing––and the Obama administration always made me feel welcome and included.
Like most of my fellow American Muslims, I spent much of 2016 watching with consternation as Donald Trump vilified our community. Despite this––or because of it––I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the Trump Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America's Muslim citizens.
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.
Tucker Carlson’s latest reinvention is guided by a simple principle—a staunch aversion to whatever his right-minded neighbors believe.
Tucker Carlson is selling me hard on the swamp. It is an unseasonably warm afternoon in late January, and we are seated at a corner table in Monocle, an upscale Capitol Hill eatery frequented by the Fox News star. (Carlson, who typically skips breakfast and spends dinnertime on the air, is a fan of the long, luxurious, multi-course lunch, and when I requested an interview he proposed we do it here.) As we scan the menus, I mention that I’ll be moving soon to the Washington area, and he promptly launches into an enthusiastic recitation of the district’s many virtues and amenities.
“I’m so pathetically eager for people to love D.C.,” he admits. “It’s so sad. It’s like I work for the chamber of commerce or something.”
Polymath computer scientist David Gelernter’s wide-ranging ideas about American life.
Last month, David Gelernter, the pioneering Yale University computer scientist, met with Donald Trump to discuss the possibility of joining the White House staff. An article about the meeting in the Washington Post was headlined, “David Gelernter, fiercely anti-intellectual computer scientist, is being eyed for Trump’s science adviser.”
It is hard to imagine a more misleading treatment.
By one common definition, anti-intellectualism is “hostility towards and mistrust of intellect, intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science, as impractical and contemptible.”
Here is the exchange that I had with Gelernter when I reached out to ask if he would be interested in discussing the substance of his views on science, politics and culture.
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.
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.
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.
The GOP planned a dynastic restoration in 2016. Instead, it triggered an internal class war. Can the party reconcile the demands of its donors with the interests of its rank and file?
The angriest and most pessimistic people in America aren’t the hipster protesters who flitted in and out of Occupy Wall Street. They aren’t the hashtavists of #BlackLivesMatter. They aren’t the remnants of the American labor movement or the savvy young dreamers who confront politicians with their American accents and un-American legal status.
The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle-class and middle-aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English, and who wonder how white male became an accusation rather than a description.
You can measure their pessimism in polls that ask about their expectations for their lives—and for those of their children. On both counts, whites without a college degree express the bleakest view. You can see the effects of their despair in the new statistics describing horrifying rates of suicide and substance-abuse fatality among this same group, in middle age.
All in all, the United States has already set more than 2,800 new record high temperatures this month. It has only set 27 record lows.
Most people handle this weather as the gift it is: an opportunity to get outside, run or bike or play catch, and get an early jump on the spring. But for the two-thirds of Americans who are at least fairly worried about global warming, the weather can also prompt anxiety and unease. As one woman told the Chicago Tribune: “It’s scary, that’s my first thing. Because in all my life I’ve never seen a February this warm.” Or as one viral tweet put it:
Some Republicans want fewer immigrants of any stripe.
With so many other confrontations over immigration already raging, it was easy to overlook that new skirmish that Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia started last week.
Just weeks into office, President Trump is embroiled in legal and political struggles over his contested travel ban on seven Muslim-majority nations and the expanded criteria for deporting undocumented migrants his administration finalized this week. Cotton and Perdue opened a new front in these escalating immigration wars by proposing legislation that would cut in half the number of legal immigrants and refugees allowed into the U.S. from today’s combined level of about 1.1 million annually. Echoing Trump, Cotton insisted that high immigration levels undermined wages for working-class Americans and threatened to leave them as “a near permanent underclass.”