Readers around the world share their uncertainties and fears about a Trump presidency. If you’re a non-American in a country outside the U.S. and would like to add your perspective, please send us a note (especially if your country isn’t mentioned yet): email@example.com.
Our first reader note from the subcontinent is from Jaiganesh:
Last Wednesday morning was a shock not only to the U.S., but to the whole world. While leaders of world nations voiced passive aggressive congratulatory messages, the global community watched in horror as President-elect Trump gave his victory speech. Then the world stock markets dipped, gold prices surged, the Mexican peso took a nose dive, and we witnessed the first fallout of a potentially free trade restrictive America in making.
India was already recovering from Prime Minister Modi’s retaliation against corruption while the U.S. was still up for grabs. To put it delicately, India was in denial. The immensely young Indian population was astonished to find a reality TV show joke on his way to the White House.
Why was there such a reaction from us, and the rest of the world? Why did the majority of the Indian population found it implausible to believe that Trump was now the President–elect of the United States? Here’s why.
Like most people, we did not pause to reflect on the human factor involved in elections. We did not consider Trump’s aggressive message against the Washington establishment from a white working-class U.S. citizen point of view. And like all the polls, we underestimated the silent Trump supporters who carried him to the Oval Office.
To put it simply, the U.S. works perfectly in the eyes of young Indians, with its lucrative job and business opportunities for the well-educated, liberal, and “Western” culture that most young Indians try to embrace, and the global leadership role the U.S. plays. We never understood the difficulties of middle-class American families faced in getting their kids to college—a privilege that middle-class Indians took for granted. We failed to comprehend that such a significant portion of our high-paying jobs were originally created for U.S. citizens. The cheap technical expertise of Indian college graduates brought millions of jobs to the country at the cost of U.S. jobs. This is all very much true; Donald Trump is not wrong.
A global community based on U.S. post-WWII military alliances was stunned by the very probable withdrawal of U.S. interventionist foreign policy. A nation that nurtured a bipartisan foreign policy to act as the world’s police for several decades was now crawling behind walls and closing its economic borders. A nation to which Indians looked up, a nation which Indian progressives and liberals wanted India to follow, is now taking a step back from global leadership, from standing as a pillar of nuclear non-proliferation, from leading by example in constitutional rights.
It is a gloomy day for our women to watch the great glass ceiling to go unbroken. My mother—who never followed global news enough to properly name the presidential candidates—was disappointed to watch Hillary give her concession speech. Seeing a women finally clinch the U.S. presidency would have been a moment of great satisfaction and motivation that the world’s female community lost to an isolationist America. When the world expected the U.S. to take a step forward, it took ten steps back.
India shares a lot of the populist lack of trust in the incumbent establishment with the U.S. electorate. We want change badly; our scope of progress hinges on it. And yet, this is somehow not the change that we want to see in our country. We want to see India move forward as a global superpower, and this election is going feed the fear of stepping out in Indian citizens, if they even have such a notion. We also share the diverse culture of the U.S., with a large Muslim population that makes us relate to the need for inclusiveness and religious equality that India is struggling to establish.
I am an electrical engineer, to nobody’s surprise, and I believe in the preservation of our environment. Hillary Clinton’s view of the U.S. being the Clean Energy Superpower would have been a defining moment for India, which still fails to implement even the most basic of carbon footprint control measures. It is horrifying to realize that the president-elect of the United States believes that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese.
To sum it all up, the U.S. just disappointed half the world, including more than half of its voting population.
Another reader in India, Tarun, goes more into the Modi comparisons:
As an Indian national with generally liberal values, this feels like a play by play of the election of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi in 2014, complete with the decent-with-caveats economic performance of the prior government and the seemingly inexplicable anti-establishment sentiment. I attended grad school in Boston, and even in that liberal bastion it was very hard, until six months ago, to explain how demagogic and un-qualified Modi is for the position. I remember the dean referring in his welcome to the opportunities created by Modi’s election, and I remember feeling like he was describing a country I did not recognise.
Please, please, please emphasise to your leaders our lessons after the fact. Despite three years of policy fumbling (especially in foreign policy which has been flat out chaotic) the major opposition—our Congress—has failed to make a coherent case for why they should come back to power. This is not for a lack of hitting the right “liberal” notes. The Congress’ spokespersons speak of globalism, women’s rights and minority rights fluently.
Their liberal bona fides, however, simply do not allow them to escape the fact that their party is built around the Gandhi family, which is their sole fund-raising apparatus and default provider of Prime Ministerial candidates. Inevitably, it is a relationship seeped in corruption and nepotism. When the Democratic Party effectively stepped aside for Mrs. Clinton’s coronation in the primaries, it showed itself to be a similar party.
There is of course plenty of sexism and racism to go around, but there are also enough voters who instinctively abhor such a mentality. Neither Modi nor Trump have won the popular vote nationally. But when liberal parties fall prey to this dynasty mentality, their core democratic populist appeal suffers in a way that conservative “blood-and-steel” appeal does not.
So, as bleak as this sweep looks, I hope American liberals do what Indian liberals have not: use the next four years to build a bench at the lowest levels of government and have them compete without the interference of the Democratic party machinery. The calls for a Michelle Obama candidacy are short-sighted and hypocritical. They are also a disservice to a very intelligent and qualified woman who will conceivably break herself trying to rescue a party unwilling to rebuild at the grassroots.
Thank you for doing a much more responsible job of reporting this election than the Posts Washington and Huffington. Stay safe and free.
For a primer on how precarious relations are between Germany and the U.S. following Trump’s win, don’t miss Frum’s piece from yesterday, “America’s Friendship With Europe Has Been Horribly Damaged”—and “nowhere,” he writes, “does the reaction look more dangerous than inside the most powerful state on the European continent, Germany.”
[Trump’s victory] up-ends German political assumptions about the United States, at a time when Germans are already ready to have those assumptions up-ended. The mighty German middle is becoming less mighty, discredited by Angela Merkel’s flung-open door to Middle Eastern refugees. Anti-refugee, pro-Putin forces are gaining strength at the expense of the parties of the center. Two-thirds of Germans oppose a fourth term for Merkel.
Merkel has backed herself into a crazy political dead-end. She is identifying an open-door immigration policy as the foundation of her kind of liberalism—even as, in reality, large-scale immigration is helping destroy liberalism across the countries of Europe, and even within Germany itself. Warning that a Trump-led United States might not espouse values of democracy, freedom, the rule of law, and equal human dignity amounts to a passport for Germany out of the U.S. alliance.
Three German readers sent us dispatches from Deutschland last week reacting to Trump’s win and what it might mean for their country. My favorite one is from this first reader, Dariusch, given his heterodox views:
I’m an (atheist) German-Iranian, born and raised in Germany, living in Berlin with a background in political science, currently owning a cafe and maintaining a one-person video production company. I’m a green left winger, critical of some aspects of globalisation and welcoming of others. Unlike many left wingers in Europe and Germany, I don’t have a black-white view of the world or the United States. Things are too complicated for that.
On the morning of November 9th, my girlfriend checked out a News alert on her phone and yelled out „Oh my god! Trump has won!“ I just broke out in hysterical laughter, because it seemed so unreal that a clown would be the next president of a country that shaped European and German culture and politics so tremendously over the past 70 years.
If Trump goes along with his foreign policy plans of not honoring NATO commitments in Europe, that might actually have positive effects over here, as this could be a driver for more inner-EU cooperation regarding the security architecture in our neighbourhood.
A common European army would make so much more sense politically and be more cost-effective as well. We need to emancipate from the U.S. and shape our own, independent foreign and security policy. A Trump presidency could drive this emancipation. Likewise, the protectionist economic agenda bears the potential for companies moving from the U.S. to Europe. But probably, these beneficial ripple effects will fail to materialize.
In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, right-wing anti-globalisation groups already start gaining momentum. After the elections in France, the Netherlands, and Germany in 2017, the reactionary ideology of returning to a pre-globalisation state and implement closed societies could be up for growing political gains. A President Le Pen would be bitterly opposed to any integration of the armies and is also a proponent of economic and cultural isolation. Same goes for Wilders in the Netherlands and that Hampelmann (Jumping Jack) in Austria, whose name I didn’t bother to remember. Those groups will gain ground and drive the old parties to more quickly embrace parts of these reactionary, dangerous and obsolete ideas to hold on to their dwindling power, as they already have before November 8th.
With Trump’s victory, right-wing demagogues in Europe will gain an upswing. Nothing good can come from a Trump presidency for Europe and Germany at this point. I’m really afraid that future historians will look at back to the year 2016 and say “That’s when the whole mess started”—like they said looking back on 1914 or even 1933 (but let’s not exaggerate until we have a good reason for it).
The U.S. is a deeply divided country, just like most parts of the Western world in this day. The overall positive developments of integrating societies, cultures and economies did not reach a large chunk of people who have been forgotten. This is the case everywhere, from Los Angeles to Kaliningrad. There are many deep dividing lines, along cities and the countryside, among race, wealth, religion and education.
From here, the United States don’t look like a coherent nation state. I think it’s time to rethink the political system. Two parties cannot adequately represent the diversity of opinions and people. They just form a wide compromise that nobody is really happy with. To me it seems completely strange, how the loser of the popular vote regularly moves into the White House. At the time of its foundation, the United States had the most advanced political system of the world, but 300 years later, it requires a major overhaul.
Here’s another reader, Angela (not Merkel):
As a German citizen living in Berlin and a political scientist by trade, I am deeply concerned about Donald Trump’s victory. In the evening hours of November 8 (CET), I watched a short segment on CNN International describing the voter turnout at a polling station in Florida. And when I saw the long line of young women and what I believed to be Cuban- or Mexican-Americans waiting patiently to cast their ballot, I went to bed quietly confident that Hillary Clinton would win. Would any of those young women vote for “Grab-them-by-the-…”-Trump?, I wondered to myself. Most certainly not. Would any of those Cuban- or Mexican-Americans vote for a candidate who promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it? Most certainly not. And with so many people turning out to vote, I was sure Hillary Clinton would win. So I thought.
When I got up early in the morning on November 9, I realized I was mistaken. Throughout the day, I felt so frustrated and shocked that I couldn’t even bring myself to turn on the TV or the radio; I was still in denial.
Given what the now president-elect has said and done during his campaign, I am afraid that a Trump administration might adversely affect both Europe and Germany. I am afraid that Trump might undo the system of international organizations and alliances as we know it. He has declared NATO, which is a cornerstone of both German and European security, essentially dispensable, while heaping praise on authoritarian leaders. He doesn’t seem to care a lot about the rules which govern international relations and trade and which have served both the U.S. and Germany quite well for 70 years. And I am also afraid that German-American relations might take a turn for the worse as the president-elect has made no secret of his dislike for Angela Merkel and her immigration policy. And the German chancellor doesn’t seem to like Trump very much, either.
With the British Brexit vote in mind, I am amazed by the fact that the predictions of pollsters have been proven wrong once again. I am also quite amazed by the fact that a populist candidate got elected, after a divisive campaign full of brazen lies and insults—though I believe a similar thing might happen in Germany in 2017, when the federal parliament, the Bundestag, is due to be elected. Until then, the right-wing populists of the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), who have been busy scaremongering ever since the refugee crisis began in autumn 2015, will do their best to spread even more fear of Muslims and Syrian refugees among the German population. I am pretty sure that they will eventually manage to lie their way into parliament.
It is very saddening to see that many Germans are unable or unwilling to recognize the not-so-hidden authoritarianism, antisemitism, and nationalism lurking beneath the AfD’s surface. And it is equally saddening to see that the United States, our friend and partner, whose troops once freed Western Germany from Nazi tyranny, with a democratic tradition so much longer than ours, now has a president-elect who is applauded by white supremacists and former Klansmen and who essentially declared “I alone can fix it” during his convention speech.
This doesn’t bode well for Europe, where right-wing populism has been on the rise in recent years, and it certainly doesn’t bode well for Germany. Right now, I am deeply worried about the future of Germany, the European Union, and the United States of America.
Here’s one more reader, Jörg, in the Frankfurt area. He’s mostly concerned about the environmental impact of a Trump presidency:
The European right-wing populist movements and “parties” and their ignorant and furious followers will see Mr Trump’s rise as a confirmation of their crude and equally ill-informed and mislead opinions—probably not in Germany (there is a hope left that enough people in this country retain a memory of the 1930s), but in France, Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, and others are a different matter. If they fall into the hands of these right-wing populists, Europe is going to lose all of its achievements in freedom, wealth, and true scientific and social enlightenment—in combination with Climate Change that could mean the end of civilisation as we have only just gotten to know it.
And so I come to something—Climate Change—that has great significance to us and should have much more importance to citizens everywhere, including the U.S. of America. The fact that it didn’t come up in any of the three “presidential debates” just proves how far removed you people in America are from the realities in this world. Trump has clearly no idea what is happening on this planet. No other single issue is going to affect all of us on this scale. All other decisions need to be based on this fast approaching super-crisis.
For reasons too complicated to mention here, European people (at least on the continent; the U.K. is for other complicated reasons a different matter, similar to U.S.) are more aware and better educated about scientific facts. If Trump disrupts the process of international accord on Climate Change—a fragile thing at best anyway—there is no telling what kind of rise of the average temperature will be possible. Time and speed is of the utmost crucial importance here; even a slowing down of the necessary basic structural changes could have terrible consequences. If Trump wants to stay ignorant of some basic facts of the world in which he lives in, on a personal level that is fine with all of us. But as the deciding force and power he represents now, he must grow up and stop his childish (or maybe senile) behaviour.
Now it is time for Europe (and other parts of the world) to fast become assertive, independent, and perhaps even strong. It seems that some of our politicians have seen this coming. Plans for a European army are emerging—a good start. Economy and finance must follow immediately, and a discussion about better and possibly more democratic structure is on the way.
Yes, we all have learned something about democracy from America (as America once learned from Europe). This election has taught us even (and once) more how a democratic system can be corrupted by groups and individuals egocentric enough and opposed to democracy. Thank you, America, for this. We will reflect deeply and thoroughly on this lesson.
Update from another reader, Eva:
Being a German-American (currently visiting my parents in Germany, and hearing/reading the news of both sides every day), David Frum’s article first interested me a great deal. His analysis of language in Merkel’s brief congratulatory statement the morning after the election hooked me. I am a linguist, well aware with practices used in formal statement. My linguistic background, especially the field of pragmatics, makes me a nerd sometime, plucking apart what people said, what they really said while, say, standing in line at the post office.
I was surprised by Frum’s remarks on perhaps Germany turning the tables, and not clinging to traditional positions of power. That it might be perceived as arrogance, or as patronizing. Just something that the U.S. isn’t used to very much.
While I read Frum’s article I thought huh, this is interesting—someone perceiving Merkel this way, from a tiny speech given under circumstances that were terribly uncomfortable. I do think there is some oversensitivity in Frum’s writing. Merkel is not “downgrading” the American-German relationship just because “its ties are deeper than with any country outside of the European Union.” I perceive this to be neutral, or even positively stressing how deep U.S.-German relations are. Perhaps it’s a German thing to always state the obvious the truth, when for many a “fluffing up” of reality as it really is, would be preferable. It really isn’t insulting. It’s the equivalent to you perhaps saying to a very good friend: “you know, after my mom and dad and grandmother and brother, you really are the closest and most important friend I have outside of immediate family.” It’s honest—not downgrading.
The other issue of concern is Merkel offering collaboration based on certain Western values that America and Germany share. They concern democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law, and the equality of people of all sexes regardless of origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.
Frum is correct to perceive a “conditional” quality here—the two countries operating together as long as their work is based on those values. What crime is there here in Merkel being the one to point out the conditionality? Is it so terrible that a smaller country does not approve of everything and anything in the big and mighty country? Is it hurt pride?
Merkel doesn’t actually say anything here that should cause an outcry. The values she has just mentioned are at the core of U.S. identity. One would expect them to not be removed or broken, or that would mean the States breaking those commitments, or changing them significantly. Which indeed should cause the U.S. to cry out with shock and confusion.
Frankly, the many fabulous things that the U.S. have done for Germany over the course of history don’t really enter here, but Frum brings them up. A good cooperation, a genuine friendship, help that can never be overemphasized, especially in the years after WW2 and during the Cold War. But you can’t argue: we did all this for you for so long, so now you have to play along with whatever because you owe us and owe us forever. The Germans still have a spine and an inherent moral compass. Trump’s many incredibly offensive remarks about different races, and women, do not belong among those “shared values” between the U.S. and Germany.
I think Merkel is not arrogant or cocky. She simply knows—much as many a person enters a marriage—that certain things are desired but not necessary, some necessary at all costs, and some simply a deal breaker. Which of us entering a serious relationship does not have their deal breakers? Someone’s a smoker? Not religious? Not from same ethnic background? Away on his job too much? There are thousands of things that people view as “deal breakers.” It is good to know them in advance, and to stick by them. That is not cocky behavior. That is simply knowing yourself well, and knowing what you can live with in advance. Merkel is simply aware of the deal breakers. Those would be qualities that go against the shared familiar qualities of the West. Racism? Offensive, nonthinking language all the time? Sexist remarks (or even deeds?) I admire when someone knows their deal breakers and sticks by them.
I wanted so much to read more moderate articles, to believe that Trump is not at all bad. Every day I think about it, but it just doesn’t sit right. I can see certain talents and fortes and experience in him, but then moral issues—those of your inbuilt moral compass—just keep popping back up, and they simply are stronger. This president, may you like it or not, will always be the president who wants to grab women by the pussy. That, among other things, will never disappear. It showed his true colors. There are simply are no valid apologies for some of the things he has said.
I wish I could be nicely divided, in a gray area, but this time it doesn’t work that way. I don’t want my spine to bend. I want to listen to my moral compass. I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror without guilt.
The morning after the U.S. presidential election, my colleague Krishnadev touched on the “striking parallels” between Trump’s victory and Brexit:
The polls tightened in the last few days before the vote. The establishment dismissed that as an aberration. While some citizens complained about being forgotten, about increased immigration, and a lack of meaningful jobs, elected officials spoke of the benefits of globalization and trade. [...] Although the political establishment and the chattering classes may have dismissed Trump’s chances, [he] had consistently predicted that he was “going to do something so special.” It will, he said, be “Brexit plus, plus, plus.” He was right.
We made a callout for non-American Atlantic readers who live outside the U.S. to share their reactions to the gobsmacking results of Election Day. (Use firstname.lastname@example.org to share your own from abroad.) Here’s Martin with “a view from the U.K.”:
The reasons for Trump’s victory and for Brexit are rather similar: the revolt of the white provincial working class marooned in regions that were once the heavy industrial heartlands and where, for a century, communities shared a common culture and felt proud of their lives. Technology and globalisation destroyed these communities and the establishment parties who didn’t speak their language, didn’t hear them, and left them to rot.
The phenomenon of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn is the revolt of a different group—leftish graduates and intellectuals. But there is one similarity with the Trump/Brexit movement: Both the Rust Belt and the Ivory Tower felt that the national conversation was not touching on what they, their friends, and their colleagues at work felt were the big issues.
In the case of British graduates, it’s the lack of affordable housing, the privatisation and monetisation of public services coupled with no consideration of the ethics, values, and purpose of these services. The establishment parties reduced the language to generic “political speak,” degraded the autonomy and judgement of professionals, and replaced them with management consultants’ reports, guidelines, and box ticking, leading to failure despite financial investment. This graduate revolt is also rooted in the everyday experience of those working in the frontline of public service.
Once Bernie and Corby voiced these concerns, the graduates turned up to town-hall meetings and turned up to vote. However, what Bernie-style politicians have failed to do is to find a language that connects with the Rust Belt communities. Unless they can find a way of doing this, Trump will last a long time and many more Trumps will spring up—even in Europe.
Are you British and want to share your personalized U.K.-centric view of Trump/Brexit, or of the U.S. election more generally? Drop us a note and we’ll include. (Other countries to come.)
Another reader flags a viral video from British comedian Tom Walker, seen below. Walker plays a news reporter named Jonathan Pie, who unleashes an impressive NSFW rant about his lack of surprise that Trump won: It’s a result of overreach by the far left in America, he insists. The annoying camerawork in the video and Pie’s overheated affect is a bit much, but those aspects might just be a satirical skewing of the Glenn Becks and YouTube ranters of the world. Check it out for yourself. He touches on Brexit and covers a lot of the points raised by the Trump voters and anti-Trump voters we’ve been hearing from in Notes:
Update from James, “a Canadian living in my adopted city London, where EU arrogant elites got slaughtered by the same heartland vote that propelled Trump to victory last week”:
Thanks to the EU, I barely recognise the London I originally came to live in, marry, etc. Elites have flushed out much if not most of the happy, mentally healthy British people who used to live/work/play here—replaced by a soul destroying METROPOLIS type society that’s too expensive to live; too depressing to play; but boy oh boy if work is all you live for, this is a form of heaven.
Similarly the EU has banned so many consumer products, replaced by EU standardised second-rate ones, that you get the distinct feeling you’re being set up to become a globalist servant. There’s literally nothing in it for everyday Brits but the destruction of their excellent culture, while getting denigrated constantly by the media.
Then to top it off, the Westminster government has been reduced to servant status itself, since the EU courts decide everything these days. No one even wants to be the prime minister here since Brexit. It’s one big shambles.
That said, I love the Brits, and if history shows us anything, they will come out of this as hilariously awesome as ever.
Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.
These should be boom times for sex.
The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.
If hookups are your thing, Grindr and Tinder offer the prospect of casual sex within the hour. The phrase If something exists, there is porn of it used to be a clever internet meme; now it’s a truism. BDSM plays at the local multiplex—but why bother going? Sex is portrayed, often graphically and sometimes gorgeously, on prime-time cable. Sexting is, statistically speaking, normal.
The latest news about Facebook is a wake-up call that “leaning in” doesn’t mean doing right.
Back in 2013, many women of a certain ideological stripe and geographic location (D.C., New York, or basically any big city) wanted to be just like a woman most of us had only recently heard of: Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook.
With her blockbuster book, Lean In, she seemed to offer women a way—as long as we had nannies, an education, and smart biz-cazh attire—to finally get treated the way men do at the office.
The answer: It was on us. She had anodyne advice for being noticed: “Sit at the table,” literally. She had tips for tricking your boss into thinking you’re working harder than you are: “Holding my first and last meetings of the day in other buildings to make it less transparent when I was actually arriving and departing.”
In The Last Unicorn, there are no maps, invented languages, or epic battles. But the 1968 tale has a timely message about the importance of reality over magic.
I encountered the cover of Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel The Last Unicorn years before I read the book. On the front of the Ballantine paperback edition that once sat on my parents’ shelf, there’s a white unicorn running in a forest as a small red sun sets behind the mountains. Where was this majestic creature going? I wondered.
It’s now been 50 years since the novel’s publication, and the unicorn’s journey still captures the minds and hearts of readers. This week marks the release of The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey, a commemorative edition of Beagle’s first draft of the novel. The book’s early popularity was no doubt fueled by the Tolkien boom; J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings found legions of fans in the United States after it appeared in a paperback edition in 1965. But The Last Unicorn has since come into its own. In 1982, the novel was made into an animated film, which has become something of a cult classic. A novelette sequel that Beagle published in 2005 won both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards—the fantasy genre’s two highest honors. After all these years, The Last Unicorn still feels relevant. It’s not an epic fantasy, but a softer tale at the boundaries of magic and reality, that place where one grapples with what it means to be human.
A Democratic tsunami in the midterms engulfed the state Trump won most narrowly in 2016—and could keep the state blue in 2020.
DETROIT—Gretchen Whitmer had her red water bottle with the Wonder Woman logo. Debbie Stabenow was touching up her makeup. Dana Nessel was up front, sitting with her wife, right behind the stack of boxed salads that was the food for the day.
The top of the Democratic ticket in Michigan—candidates for governor, Senate, and attorney general—were rolling along to the 77th and final stop of a statewide bus tour, hours before polls closed on Election Day. When the dust settled on 2016, no one would have been counting on any of them to be in contention, let alone win.
But with the way things were going now, two years later, they felt like singing. “We need a Democratic fight song we can all agree on,” Whitmer said.
Despite vast increases in the time and money spent on research, progress is barely keeping pace with the past. What went wrong?
The writer Stewart Brand once wrote that “science is the only news.” While news headlines are dominated by politics, the economy, and gossip, it’s science and technology that underpin much of the advance of human welfare and the long-term progress of our civilization. This is reflected in an extraordinary growth in public investment in science. Today, there are more scientists, more funding for science, and more scientific papers published than ever before:
On the surface, this is encouraging. But for all this increase in effort, are we getting a proportional increase in our scientific understanding? Or are we investing vastly more merely to sustain (or even see a decline in) the rate of scientific progress?
The backlash against the incoming congresswoman’s “very nice” outfit is both tedious and predictable.
Earlier this week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted a tweet: At congressional events, she shared (the representative-elect of New York’s 14th Congressional District is currently in Washington for a series of orientations on the workings of the House), she keeps being mistaken for an intern. Or sometimes for the spouse of the person who must be the true new member of Congress. Ocasio-Cortez, a young woman who is also a woman of color who is also a democratic socialist—a politician who won her election, earlier this month, with 78 percent of her district’s vote—keeps getting told that she doesn’t quite belong in Congress. Her tweet sharing that experience was punctuated by a face-palm emoji. It went viral.
Law and medicine still rely on the device. Maybe they shouldn’t. An Object Lesson.
Nicole Follmann arrived at the Brooklyn House of Detention last spring to post bail by fax. This is how it works: You can post someone’s bail from any jail or courthouse, but you have to send a fax to wherever the person is housed. Follmann is an attorney for the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, so she’s used to the inflow and outflow of documents. That day, she was posting bail for someone housed in Rikers.
The process began as usual, according to Follmann. The person being detained had a bail that needed to be paid in two installments: $2,000 and $1. Correctional officers at Rikers received the $2,000 payment, but she didn’t get confirmation that they had received $1. It was getting late, so Follmann called to ask if there was a problem.
The industry’s fall from grace may feel unprecedented, but we have a model for what happens when a beloved industry fails us.
Think back a few years, before the Amazon HQ2 sweepstakes, before Susan Fowler’s viral blog post, before the #MeToo movement, before the 2016 election. Across the nation, Silicon Valley was the crown jewel of the economy. The companies were youthful and ambitious. The culture was loose and exciting. The capabilities they put into the world’s pockets were astonishing: talk to anyone, know everything, buy anything, all with a few little taps on glass. Yes, this had unleashed unprecedented surveillance possibilities, as Edward Snowden revealed, but these were still the most beloved companies in the country. Their founders were legends.
The past several weeks have been like the past two years in miniature. First, The New York Times released a blockbuster article about Google’s sexual-harassment problems that placed the blame both on the institution itself and on the co-founder and current CEO, Larry Page. Then, Amazon selected its new headquarters, releasing a torrent of criticism of the deals: Why were municipalities subsidizing the richest man in the world in their race to the bottom? And finally, yesterday, the Times put out a 50-source story about Facebook’s obliviousness to its own platform’s darker possibilities. (In a statement today, Facebook’s board of directors called the story “grossly unfair.”)
While the revelation of an apparent indictment against Julian Assange sets an ominous precedent for news organizations, it also serves as a reminder of his group’s stark transformation.
Before the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was an international fugitive, he was running a little-noticed experiment in radical transparency. In the early 2000s, his then-obscure site WikiLeaks was mainly concerned with posting small batches of previously private documents ranging from Swiss bank documents to Sarah Palin’s emails.
Then, in 2010, WikiLeaks posted a graphic video depicting the killing of perhaps a dozen Iraqis, including two Reuters journalists, at the hands of the U.S. military. The video brought the organization acclaim from civil libertarians and transparency advocates, and infamy within the U.S. military and elsewhere. Soon after its release, WikiLeaks posted its largest-ever cache of leaked material: a set of diplomatic cables and Army documents, many of which concerned the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If WikiLeaks began as a mere internet curiosity when it was founded in 2006, within four years, national-security officials in the United States were publicly depicting it as a threat.
The billionaire is drilling for futuristic transit under Los Angeles. He didn’t have to ask the neighbors first.
Vicky Warren feels like she’s been attacked from all sides lately. Across the street from her rental apartment in the working-class Los Angeles County city of Hawthorne, noisy planes take off and land at all hours, diverted to the local municipal airport from wealthier Santa Monica, where neighbor complaints have restricted air traffic. On the other side of her apartment, cars on the 105 Freeway sound the frustration of L.A. traffic. She’s even getting assailed within her walls: Termites have invaded so completely that she can’t keep any food uncovered. Flea bites cover her legs; rats are aggressively attacking the boxes she has stored in her garage.
So Warren was disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that invaders are coming from underground, too. She lives on 120th Street, where 40 feet underground Elon Musk’s Boring Company is building a 14-foot-wide, mile-long tunnel to pilot a futuristic transit system untested anywhere in the world. When it’s finished in December, the tunnel will start at the nearby headquarters of SpaceX, Musk’s aerospace company, and end a few blocks past Warren’s apartment. “We’re just sandwiched in between so much already,” Warren told me, shaking her head.