The reality seems to be sinking in for the likely Republican nominee, but the moment is less triumphant than precarious.
ROCHESTER, N.H. -- W. Mitt Romney stands on the brink of his world-historical moment.
All but assured of a glide path to the Republican presidential nomination after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, Romney has begun to openly contemplate the import of what he is about to achieve.
"I have to tell you, this chance to run for president of the United States," he said at a campaign rally here Sunday afternoon in what appeared to be an impromptu detour from his stump speech.
"I never imagined I'd do it," he continued. "I mean, this is just a very strange and unusual thing to be in the middle of. I was just a high school kid like everybody else, with skinny legs."
It was tempting to dismiss this throwaway line as the sort of "pious baloney" for which Newt Gingrich had so pitch-perfectly mocked Romney just hours before. But who, in Romney's loafers, would not be having approximately the same thought? Becoming the major-party nominee for leader of the free world would be a major crossroads in anyone's life, even someone who's been the governor of a state and a zillionaire CEO.
There can be little doubt it is all about to fall into place for Romney. Oh, sure, he still has five competitors trying their best to keep him on his toes, and they will do their best to bring down his winning margin in New Hampshire and derail him on the unpredictable turf of South Carolina, which holds its primary next, on January 21.
But no non-incumbent Republican candidate has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire; Romney is poised to do that, and could well sweep South Carolina, too.
Even if one of those dominoes fails to fall, his campaign -- a cheerful, efficient operation -- is built for the long haul and the remote contingency, ready if need be to slog it out to the California primary in June.
"The Romney camp has always assumed something will happen down the road -- a surprise, an upset, something unexpected," a senior Romney campaign official said. "This campaign is built to withstand any of that."
Yet the paradox of Romney is that at the very moment his primary victory seems assured, he seems more precarious than triumphant -- flashing back to when he was a skinny-legged high schooler, flashing forward to his current position on the brink of the improbable. It is still not easy to conjure the mental picture of him accepting his party's nomination, much less being inaugurated president. The prize is both within his grasp and tantalizingly unrealized.
Romney's scriptedness and lack of apparent human qualities have been so widely noted that one begins to feel sorry for the man, who keeps having to answer frankly rude questions about why he isn't warmer. But on Sunday, he appeared to be considering the place in history that, having eluded his revered father, will finally, after so many years of scraping and clawing, accrue to him.
He had gathered his family around him -- his wife Ann, three of their five boys, two daughters-in-law and five of his 15 grandchildren. He stood in an ornate old opera house in this southeastern New Hampshire town, rows of supporters sitting behind him in front of an enormous American flag. A former rival, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, and a local political celebrity, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, introduced him, jointly symbolizing his anointment-in-progress. As he often does, Romney handed the microphone for a bit to Ann, a stately multiple sclerosis survivor who has an earthiness her husband lacks.
"We are going to get across that finish line on Tuesday!" she said, adding, "You know, Mitt's been successful at everything he has done."
Ayotte, in an interview afterward, said Romney draws energy from the crowds and from having his family with him. "I think he's feeling very good," she said.
Romney's speeches at this point in the campaign are nearly all pabulum, an attempt to avoid embarrassment or offense by saying almost nothing at all. This just in: He doesn't agree with the president, whom he believes to be well-intentioned but clueless, particularly on economics. He is concerned that the country not be taken in a European, anti-capitalist direction, preferring free enterprise.
"There's nothing wrong with spending your entire life in politics, but it's kind of a bubble," said Romney, who has been traveling on private airplanes and a bus with his name on it, and sleeping in hotels, for weeks straight. "And outside that bubble is where I lived my first, I don't know, 25, 30, 40 years of my career."
Romney said he had learned from signing both sides of a paycheck and worrying over a payroll and budget. "A couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip," he ventured -- immediately prompting the New York Times to demand proof that he'd ever actually experienced such a fear.
Romney's speech ends with a recitation that is both utterly weird and radically inoffensive, the parsing of obscure back verses of "America the Beautiful." He makes a literally conservative appeal, saying that he does not want to change or shake things up, as so many candidates vow to do: "I don't want to fundamentally transform America," he says. "I will restore America."
The crowd of a few hundred people filed out in orderly fashion. As usual with Romney's large, polite crowds, interviews revealed them to be by and large supportive without being passionate. "He's the best of what we have," shrugged Nancy Corning, 65, of Dover, a semi-retired education professor who plans to vote for Romney on Tuesday. In addition, many were from over the border in Massachusetts, and some said they might support other candidates in the primary less than two days away.
No one cries at Romney's speeches. Men do not pump their fists; women do not get stars in their eyes. For a politician, he is called upon to kiss remarkably few babies, and the people who seek his autograph are more often autograph collectors than Romney fetishists.
But none of that will matter when, in the coming weeks, the other candidates' mathematical prospects begin to dwindle and they start getting hounded to explain what they're still doing in the race.
Romney's New Hampshire adviser Tom Rath shrugged at all the angst about the candidate. The passion of the Republican electorate, he said, will follow its votes.
"People talk about the head following the heart," he said. "I think, in this case, the heart will follow the head."
Escalating tensions between the country and the United States lead toward the threat of a "Juche bird" test in the Pacific.
The schoolyard-level taunting at the UN General Assembly sparked by President Trump’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea” if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies was taken up a notch Friday as Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, responded in what is perhaps his first personal reply. The crux of Kim’s response: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”
Hyperbolic rhetoric from North Korea about the United States, South Korea, and Japan is not unusual, but Kim’s personal response could indicate the international tensions caused by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are at their highest levels yet. The North Korean leader’s response, which was carried by KCNA, the state-run news agency, came a day after the U.S. tightened financial sanctions on his country, and China, the North’s closest ally, reportedly ordered its banks to stop working with North Korean financial institutions—a move that could have a devastating impact on Kim’s regime.
What J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit still has to offer, 80 years after its publication
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” So began the legendarium that dominated a genre, changed Western literature and the field of linguistics, created a tapestry of characters and mythology that endured four generations, built an anti-war ethos that endured a World War and a Cold War, and spawned a multibillion-dollar media franchise. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is probably best remembered today by the sword-and-sandal epic scale of The Lord of The Rings films, but it started in the quiet, fictionalized English countryside of the Shire. It started, 80 years ago in a hobbit-hole, with Bilbo Baggins.
Although Tolkien created the complicated cosmological sprawl of The Silmarillion and stories like the incestuous saga of Túrin Turambar told in The Children of Húrin, Middle-earth itself is mostly remembered today as something akin to little Bilbo in his Hobbit-hole: quaint, virtuous, and tidy. Nowadays, George R.R. Martin’s got the market cornered on heavily initialed fantasy writers, and his hand guides the field. High and epic fantasy are often expected to dip heavily into the medieval muck of realism, to contain heavy doses of sex and curses, gore and grime, sickness and believable motives and set pieces. Characters like Martin’s mercenary Bronn of the Blackwater are expected to say “fuck.” Modern stories, even when set in lands like A Song of Ice and Fire’s Essos that are filled with competing faiths, tend toward the nihilist, and mostly atheist. Heavenly beings are denuded of potency and purity; while the gods may not be dead, divinity certainly is.
Two new books explore America’s changing romantic landscape.
C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, died of bone cancer on July 13, 1960. The next day, the famous author wrote a letter to Peter Bide, the reverend who had married them, to tell him the news.
“I’d like to meet,” Lewis writes, suggesting the two grab lunch sometime soon. “For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realize in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy is to be tied.”
When it comes to romance, Americans are freer than they’ve ever been. Freer to marry, freer to divorce, freer to have sex when and with whom they like with fewer consequences, freer to cohabitate without getting married, freer to remain single, freer to pursue open relationships or polyamory.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
Girls in the Middle East do better than boys in school by a greater margin than almost anywhere else in the world: a case study in motivation, mixed messages, and the condition of boys everywhere.
Jordan has never had a female minister of education, women make up less than a fifth of its workforce, and women hold just 4 percent of board seats at public companies there. But, in school, Jordanian girls are crushing their male peers. The nation’s girls outperform its boys in just about every subject and at every age level. At the University of Jordan, the country’s largest university, women outnumber men by a ratio of two to one—and earn higher grades in math, engineering, computer-information systems, and a range of other subjects.
In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.
Its faith-based 12-step program dominates treatment in the United States. But researchers have debunked central tenets of AA doctrine and found dozens of other treatments more effective.
J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.
J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.
His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.
A new film details the reason the star postponed her recent tour—and will test cultural attitudes about gender, pain, and pop.
“Pain without a cause is pain we can’t trust,” the author Leslie Jamison wrote in 2014. “We assume it’s been chosen or fabricated.”
Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” unpacked the suffering-woman archetype, which encompasses literature’s broken hearts (Anna Karenina, Miss Havisham) and society’s sad girls—the depressed, the anorexic, and in the 19th century, the tubercular. Wariness about being defined by suffering, she argued, had led many modern women to adopt a new pose. She wrote, “The post-wounded woman conducts herself as if preempting certain accusations: Don’t cry too loud; don’t play victim.” Jamison questioned whether this was an overcorrection. “The possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it,” she wrote. “Pain that gets performed is still pain.”
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
In policy, as in military strategy, the first two epistemological categories are acceptable: People either know exactly how a policy will work, or they can make educated guesses based on data parameters they can’t quite know for certain. The unknown unknowns—what we don’t know we don’t know—are the problems, the things that could derail an entire policy and, in the process, ruin lives. Traditionally, the goal in lawmaking has been to eliminate the mystery from legislation so that there are as few unknown unknowns as possible. But, as it turns out, tradition can be easily broken.
What feels like information overload reveals how little the public actually knows about the probe's findings.
Robert Mueller has stayed busy with his special-counsel investigation all summer, but the rest of Washington took a vacation. And since most information about Mueller’s actions seems to come from leaks outside the Mueller team, that meant there was a stretch of relative silence.
But the lull is over now. The month of September, and particularly the last week, have seen a torrent of new revelations about Mueller’s investigation. The fresh information gives the most complete view of what Mueller is up to and where he might be focusing, and in particular on the person of Paul Manafort, who chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign during the summer of 2016. Yet even as they suggest the direction in which the probe is headed at the moment, they don’t offer much insight into the ultimate questions of when Mueller might wrap up and what, if any, charges he might bring or recommend. So where does that leave things?