Inspired by our March 2016 cover story by James Fallows, “How America Is Putting Itself Back Together,” readers share their best aerial photos from across the U.S. Submit your own via email@example.com. (Please provide the location, the story behind the photo, and the largest file size you have. Horizontal photos with a bit of the plane visible—a wing, the edge of a window—are ideal. Terms and Conditions here.)
I was onboard a Southwest flight into Midway and caught this view of the loop, all the skyscrapers and even Navy Pier! What’s really striking is the huge swath of green right along the lake—Grant Park and Millennium Park.
Some observers consider Millennium Park to be the city’s most important project since the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. But it far exceeded its originally proposed budget of $150 million. The final cost of $475 million was borne by Chicago taxpayers and private donors. The city paid $270 million; private donors paid the rest, and assumed roughly half of the financial responsibility for the cost overruns. The construction delays and cost overruns were attributed to poor planning, many design changes, and cronyism.
Millennium Park celebrated its 10th anniversary season last year  and in 2015 will continue to present dozens of free events and programs including art installations, outdoor concerts, films screenings, alfresco workouts and more.
All year round, “The Bean” is an iconic draw for visitors and locals alike. Take a picture in front of Cloud Gate, the official name for the massive, stainless steel structure that’s become Chicago’s signature landmark. In its mirror-like surface you’ll see not only your own reflection but the downtown skyline.
During the winter months, lace up your skates for ice skating amid twinkling tree lights at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Or escape into Lurie Garden, an urban oasis that pays homage to Chicago's motto — “Urbs in Horto,” or City in a Garden.
In the warmer months, spread out a blanket in front of the award-winning Pritzker Pavilion for a live performance. Cool off by splashing around in Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain, a shallow reflecting pool bookended by 50-foot towers. Grab food and drinks at the alfresco patio Park Grill, or burn off those calories during a Saturday morning workout on the Great Lawn.
This photo was taken on November 11, 2014, when I was arriving at Reagan National (DCA) from Boston (BOS). It had been a great trip, visiting such a historic town with a close military friend on Veterans Day. As I looked out the window during the final descent, I realized I picked the right side of the plane to see a stunning view of the nation’s capital. I pulled out my phone just in time to capture this view of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, Reflecting Pool, White House (barely), Capitol Building, and the rest of the National Mall.
The Watergate, where The Atlantic is headquartered, is just out of frame.
Tim Heffernan, an Atlantic alum who has written several great pieces for the magazine, sends an agita inducing view:
This is a bit of a cheat for the series since I wasn’t actually airborne, but a few years ago I toured the Empire State Building as a journalist and got to go out on the open-air catwalk beneath the radio mast—effectively the 103rd floor. The T-shaped doohickey is a lightning rod. And that parapet is very very low, maybe knee-height on me. When I remarked on this, my guide told me to quit being such a baby; she had taken a bunch of Knicks players out there too, and the wall barely reached over their shoe-tops. On a CBS visit in 2013, they learned that the deck of the catwalk has been lowered in order to make the parapet wall higher. Here you can see how low it was when I was up there (it’s the silver-painted part of the wall).
Our social media fellow, Rosa, adds a gorgeous shot to the series (which you can still contribute to):
This is Mt. Hood in January 2015, seen from the south on a flight departing Portland, Oregon. There is less snow than there should be for January, and you can see a dark spot on the right near the summit where volcanic activity is melting the snow. Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams are all visible in the background (Mt. Adams at the very tip of the wing).
I was lucky to get plenty of powder when I skied at Mount Hood Meadows with my brother in late December. And according to this report from Friday on a winter storm, things are looking good for Hood:
The fresh batch of snow is good news in northwest Oregon, where a once-robust snowpack dropped below normal in the Central Cascades and Mount Hood following February’s stretch of warm weather. Central Cascade snow-water equivalent was 85 percent of normal and Mount Hood 81 percent of normal as of Feb. 19. The influx of snow should bounce that number closer to 100 percent, where it has been most of the season.
This photo was taken aboard a federal contract jet departing Fairbanks, Alaska, and destined for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. Flights like these shuttled back and forth between Alaska and the lower 48 throughout the summer, transiting some of the many firefighters dispatched to Alaska to help fight forest fires burning there during the summer of 2015. The crews aboard this flight were returning to their normal duty stations across Idaho after completing two week assignments in Alaska.
This past September I accompanied my boyfriend when he piloted his Cessna 170 on a cross country flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Lockhart, Texas (30 miles from Austin). The entire trip took eight days. We passed over these glaciers and mountains on the first day en route to Prince William Sound.
From there, we proceeded south down the coast. We camped on the beach at Icy Bay the first night and stayed in a historic hotel in Juneau the next. We went inland at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, the following day and spent the next two nights in Canada—in a hotel in Terrace one night and camping on a grass strip maintained by a hang gliding club in Hope on the second night.
We crossed back into the states at Oroville, Washington, camping on the tarmac that night in Odessa, where we ended up crashing their annual Deutschesfest celebration. The next day, we flew out of Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and on into Utah, spending the night in South Provo. On the second to last day, we flew over the four corners—Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico—and spent our final night in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.
It was a tremendous way to experience an incredible number of stunning landscapes in a relatively short segment of time.
Our reader Anoop took this photo “flying over JFK in November,” with the Rockaways in the foreground. Some quick history of the airport:
It was built to relieve LaGuardia Airport, which was overcrowded soon after opening in 1939. Construction began in 1943, and about $60 million was initially spent of governmental funding, but only 1,000 acres (400 ha) of land on the site of the Idlewild Golf Course were earmarked for use. In March 1948 the New York City Council changed the name to New York International Airport, Anderson Field, but the common name was “Idlewild” until 1963. The airport was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 24, 1963, a month after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The Denver area, part of the Territory of Kansas, was sparsely settled until the late 1850s. In July 1858, Green Russell and Sam Bates found a small placer deposit near the mouth of Little Dry Creek (in the present-day suburb of Englewood) that yielded about 20 troy ounces (620 g) of gold, the first significant gold discovery in the Rocky Mountain region. News spread rapidly and by autumn, hundreds of men were working along the South Platte River. By spring 1859, tens of thousands of gold seekers arrived and the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush was under way. In the following two years, about 100,000 gold seekers flocked to the region.
In the summer of 1858 a group from Lawrence, Kansas, arrived and established Montana City on the banks of the South Platte River (modern-day Grant-Frontier Park). This was the first settlement in what would become the Denver Metropolitan Area.
The name of the site was changed to “Denver City” after Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver, in an attempt to ensure that the city would become the county seat of then Arapaho County, Kansas. Ironically, when General William Larimer, a land speculator from eastern Kansas, named the city after Denver to curry favor with him, Denver had already resigned as governor and no longer had say in naming the capitol.
Denver at first was a mining settlement, where gold prospectors panned gold from the sands of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River. Larimer, along with associates in the Denver City Land Company, laid out the roads parallel to the creek and sold parcels in the town to merchants and miners, with the intention of creating a major city that would cater to new immigrants. In the early years, land parcels were often traded for grubstakes or gambled away by miners in Auraria.
But the prospectors discovered that the gold deposits in these streams were discouragingly poor and quickly exhausted. When rich gold deposits were discovered in the mountains west of Denver in early 1859 it appeared that Denver City might become a ghost town as prospectors left for more lucrative claims. But once the gold rush began there was a great need for materials that couldn’t be produced locally which assured Denver's future as a supply hub for the new mines.
That’s how our reader, Adam Feiges, describes this spooky view over South Dakota:
The badlands also get a mention in Jim’s cover story, when he’s describing the advantages of seeing the country from a low-altitude plane:
As you cross South Dakota from east to west, from the big city of Sioux Falls at the Iowa and Minnesota borders toward Rapid City and the Black Hills and beyond, you can see the terrain change sharply. In the East River portion of the state, between Sioux Falls and the Missouri, you see flat, well-watered farmlands and small farming towns. Then past Pierre you reach West River, with rough, dry badlands, some grazing cattle, and very few structures. Everyone who has looked at a map “knows” about the effect of topography and rainfall, but it means something different as it unfolds below you, like a real-world Google Earth.
I took this photo shortly after departure from New Orleans on January 11. The lower part of the photo shows the Bonnet Carré Spillway, which had just been opened to divert excess water from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. I was returning from the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting, and it seemed fitting to have a chance to observe this rare event. I was struck by how many public agencies’ quiet, routine efforts resulted in an accurate forecast of water levels so that action could be taken to protect the citizens of New Orleans.
When opened, the control structure allows overflow volume to flow into Lake Pontchartrain. The lake’s opening to the gulf is sufficient to absorb and dissipate any conceivable volume of flood flow. Thus, the flood surcharge portion of the water from the Mississippi is divided between the main river and the diversion channel; with the surcharge bypassing the New Orleans metropolitan area, resulting in the Mississippi being lower (through that area) than it could have been; and reducing the stress on the area’s levees that line the river.
The spillway was built in response to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that inundated much of the Mississippi River basin. It was first opened during the flood of 1937, and ten times thereafter through 2016 to lower river stages at New Orleans. The most recent opening began January 10, 2016, when river levels in New Orleans were predicted to approach the flood stage of 17 feet (5.2 m).
But Amy Wold, writing in The Advocate, Louisiana’s largest daily newspaper, calls the effects of the spillway a “mixed bag”:
In addition to sediment, the colder and fresher river water also carries nutrients from upriver agricultural practices, carries the possibility of invasive species and has at least the temporary effect of moving out certain species of fish that want more-brackish water. At the same time, the additional nutrients can provide a base for better growth of other species, the cold water may mean the impact on oysters will be lessened and nutrient blooms apparent in previous spillway operations may be delayed, if they happen at all. Only time will tell, because a January opening of the spillway hasn’t happened since 1937. Although not unprecedented, the early opening could mean different effects will be seen in the coming months.
Our reader captured this view “flying home from Shanghai in 2013, and I was blown away in seeing just how frozen Lake Erie could get in the dead of winter.” Frozen enough to walk clear across it, as Dave Voelker did in 1978:
To a novice, a winter walk across frozen Lake Erie to Canada is almost certain death. To a person trained in wilderness skills, it’s just a calculated risk— an uncommon sort of trip that might seem foolhardy at first impression, but which becomes more and more feasible with every map, depth chart and weather report that you study. At its narrowest, the lake’s width is only 30 miles — a comfortable two-day jaunt if you’re in shape. Most years, its surface freezes solid all the way across, to a thickness that will usually support a party of hikers. The biggest danger is that of exposure, since the barren surface offers no escape from the malevolent elements of winter, especially wind. Solve that problem, and you’ve got the whole thing licked.
When Lake Erie isn’t entirely frozen over, its icy waves often create, well, eerie sculptures against the shore. Recently, a whole car was encased in ice.
The president’s campaign is behind in polls and fundraising, but could still pull out a victory.
It was late in the evening at Hillary Clinton’s victory party in 2016, and by that point, the guests understood there would be neither a victory nor a party. As Donald Trump’s upset sank in among the hordes at the Javits Center in Manhattan, I asked one Clinton supporter how he was feeling. “Like I want to kill myself,” he said.
Later, at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, I stumbled upon a group of Clinton-campaign aides sitting together in tears. A tray of shots sat on the table before them. They shared a look of shock: How could this possibly have happened?
Trump trails Joe Biden by an average of eight points nationally, and is behind in every important battleground state. But his reelection still seems plausible, if only because 2016 seemed so implausible. “If I take my PTSD hat off, I can feel semi-comfortable about where things are,” Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist in Florida, told me. “But it’s impossible to take my PTSD hat off.”
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s tell-all book about the first lady is as sordid as it is fascinating.
Stephanie Winston Wolkoff is one of those patriotic Americans who went to work in the Trump White House, only to come soaring back over the gates, rejected by the host organism. Like many before her, she decided to write a book about her experiences, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship With the First Lady, and she proffers it to us as an act of public service, although possibly also as a comprehensive case for the defense if this whole acid trip ends up at The Hague. She is another member of Plastic Camelot, the ever-changing group of personal friends, celebrities, and weirdos whom the Trumps bring close to them and then, in the manner of bored kings, dispatch to the tombs. Maybe they’re no more disturbing a collection of advisers and jesters than the men and women on whom other presidents have depended. Who’s to say that Omarosa is so much worse than Henry Kissinger? She certainly has a better record on human rights.
It almost killed me. A story of criminal neglect and mass death in South Texas.
At half past one on the morning of July 1, my 60th birthday, I awoke shivering. Since summertime chills are rare in South Texas, I immediately grew concerned. As the director of public affairs for Hidalgo County, just one county removed from the bottom of the state, I had been spending my days urging people to be on the lookout for symptoms that might indicate a COVID-19 infection. Chief among them were chills and a fever. Looking at my sleeping wife, a committed germaphobe, I crawled out of bed to hunt down a thermometer.
Ninety-nine degrees; a low-grade fever. Crawling back into bed, I knew my life was about to change: Part of the public-health-education message I’d been hammering was Self-isolate if you begin showing symptoms. Over the next hour, my temperature continued to rise. I woke my wife and told her to leave the room. That was the last time we would share a bed for two months.
Courage exercised only when the coast is clear is not courage; it is opportunism.
Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, the author John le Carré’s most famous creation, the fictional British spy George Smiley, reflected on a career spent fighting a now-vanquished enemy.
“There are some people,” Smiley said at a dinner among young recruits to the Secret Service, “who, when their past is threatened, get frightened of losing everything they thought they had, and perhaps everything they thought they were as well. Now I don’t feel that one bit. The purpose of my life was to end the time I lived in.”
With a bit more pensiveness, Smiley adds: “Or perhaps … our troubles are just beginning.”
I think of this passage often, not only because I spent the first part of my career fighting (in my own small and mostly insignificant way) the Cold War, but also because I have spent the most recent part of my career fighting the possible rise of authoritarianism in my own country. I was a founding member of the band of Republican defectors known as the Never Trumpers, and one way or another, “the times I have lived in”—the movement to protect American democracy from Donald Trump and to stop his reelection—will come to an end in November.
Democrats could win decisively next week. But that still wouldn’t neutralize minority Republican power.
If Joe Biden beats Donald Trump decisively next week, this election may be remembered as a hinge point in American history: the moment when a clear majority of voters acknowledged that there’s no turning back from America’s transformation into a nation of kaleidoscopic diversity, a future that doesn’t rely on a backward-facing promise to make America great again. But that doesn’t mean the voters who embody the nation’s future are guaranteed a lasting victory over those who feel threatened by it.
With Biden embracing America’s evolution and Trump appealing unrestrainedly to the white voters most fearful of it, the 2020 campaign marks a new peak in the most powerful trend shaping politics in this century. Over the past two decades, and especially since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, voters have re-sorted among the parties and thus reconfigured the central fault line between them. Today Republicans and Democrats are divided less by class or region than by attitudes toward the propulsive demographic, cultural, and economic shifts remaking 21st-century America. On one side, Republicans now mobilize what I’ve called a “coalition of restoration”; on the other, Democrats assemble a “coalition of transformation.”
When The Office originally aired, its resident fool made for easy comedy. Fifteen years later, it’s hard to watch Dwight without seeing tragedy.
These are boom times for the lolsob. Watching the news, I sometimes find myself staring at the screen, eyes wide, brain broken, not sure whether to laugh or cry. The farce and tragedy tangle so tightly that it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. How do you make sense, for example, of a leader who, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, muses about the curative powers of bleach? How do you process a president’s attempt to edit a hurricane with a Sharpie? The words, after a while, stop working. The categories collapse. Many true things have been written about what living under this regime feels like; one of the truest I’ve encountered is a 2017 prediction from the writer Hayes Brown: “This is going to be the dumbest dystopia.”
Many Democrats are worried that pollsters are making the same mistakes they did four years ago, but this election is different.
“I want to feel hopeful about Joe Biden’s chances this year, but I just can’t,” my neighbor confessed to me, as we stood in line outside a coffee shop. What had begun as pleasant conversation—dogs, the temperature, clouds—had been pulled, through the vortex known as Late October in an Election Year, into an airing of political anxieties. “I’m still so afraid that 2016 is going to happen again and Trump is going to win,” she said.
Based on the sample size of my life, every Democrat feels this way. Yes, they’ll preface, the polls look all right for Biden. But four years ago, they looked good for Hillary Clinton too. And so, they fear, the horror film of 2016 is about to get its sequel.
There is a small chance that their fears will come true. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been stockpiling all of the quantitative reasons why the 2020 election is really, truly different from 2016, from new polling methodologies to fewer undecided voters. As always, do not allow any level of optimism (or pessimism) to guide your decision to vote. Just vote.
More than 80 percent of Republicans think the president is doing a great job with the pandemic. Here’s why.
Kurtis, a young accountant in McKinney, Texas, likes the thing that many people hate about Donald Trump: that the president has left the pandemic response almost entirely up to local officials.
“He left it up to each state to make their own decision on how they wanted to proceed,” Kurtis told me recently. Most experts think the absence of a national strategy for tackling the coronavirus has been a disaster. But Kurtis argues that North Dakota, for example, shouldn’t have to follow the same rules as New York City. Kurtis voted for Trump in 2016, and he plans to do so again this year.
Some 82 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s coronavirus response—a higher percentage than before the president was diagnosed with the virus. This is despite the fact that more than 220,000 Americans have died, and virtually every public-health expert, including those who have worked for Republican administrations, says the president has performed abysmally.
The GOP is in danger of losing an entire system of political control.
I doubted that Mitch McConnell could do it, but he did. With only a week remaining before Election Day, McConnell crammed through the confirmation of a sixth conservative justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. The people who tally such things reckon that Amy Coney Barrett is the first justice since 1869 to receive not a single vote from the minority party in the Senate.
It was a move of raw power. But it was also motivated by raw desperation.
Polls suggest Republicans are facing defeat in the 2020 races, and probably by big margins. Joe Biden and Donald Trump are neck and neck in Georgia and Texas, nobody’s previous idea of swing states. Republican senators are at risk not only in Maine and Colorado, but also in Iowa and even Kansas.
The U.S. isn’t the first society to enter a cycle of “cumulative extremism.” The precedents are unsettling.
As one of the ugliest and most divisive American presidential campaigns in our history coasts to its finish, President Donald Trump’s defenders are making their closing arguments. Some of them assert that they like Trump’s policies; his ethical violations or his abuses of his office for personal gain don’t bother them. These views come from deep conviction, and at this point, they can’t be changed.
But another argument that appears over and over again in these closing statements demands a response. It is often made by educated conservatives, people who know that the Trump administration and its incompetence have allowed the coronavirus to devastate America. They also know that Trump has left America weaker and less influential around the world. They even dislike Trump’s vulgarity and his cruelty; they just wish he would stop tweeting. Nevertheless, they will vote for him because the alternative—the left, the Democrats, the socialists, the “woke warriors,” whatever epithet you want to use—is so much worse.