Washington, D.C. (June 21, 2016)—It didn't start with Trump, and it's only going to get worse. No amount of cable-news punditry or Beltway chatter could have predicted the current state of the American political system, but now we finally have a diagnosis. In The Atlantic's July/August cover story, "What's Ailing American Politics?," Jonathan Rauch writes that our severely fractured system is plagued with a "chaos syndrome." For decades we've demonized political professionals and parties, leaving the system vulnerable to viruses like the Tea Party, and the current state of affairs is just the latest symptom. The cure? Rauch calls for something few will: a return to establishment politics.
Also leading this issue: Four years after "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife" sent the media and religious scholars into a frenzy, Ariel Sabar uncovered the papyrus's mysterious backstory, disclosing for the first time the identity of the supposed artifact's previously anonymous owner. In a follow-up by Sabar published last week at TheAtlantic.com, the Harvard historian who introduced the Jesus's-wife papyrus to the world admitted for the first time—after reading Sabar's investigation—that it is a probably fake.
The full issue is online today, June 21, 2016, at TheAtlantic.com and will be on newsstands this week; pieces are detailed below.
COVER: "What's Ailing American Politics?"
The chronic decline in our political system long predates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. And after 10 brutal months of watching the jaw-dropping spectacle unfold, we finally have a diagnosis: chaos syndrome. Like a disorder that attacks the body over time, chaos syndrome is the product of decades spent demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties. Jonathan Rauch explains how we got here—in short, by weakening entities that historically held politicians accountable and prevented naked self-interest; by reforming the system to death; and by allowing the disorder to be exacerbated by ideological polarization, social media, and the radicalization of the Republican base. Rauch suggests an unorthodox treatment for this new normal: the return of the establishment. He argues that our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around. Rauch says we can escape chaos syndrome if we strengthen parties; lift limits on donations to the parties, which currently drive money to unaccountable outsiders; move insiders back to the center of the nomination process; and, over time, destabilize the anti-establishment nihilism currently holding court in American public life.
"The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus's Wife":"Jesus said to them, My wife." Four years ago, Karen King, a preeminent scholar at the Harvard Divinity School, unveiled an ancient papyrus bearing these words, a reference to Jesus's wife. The news set off a worldwide media frenzy, as well as a fierce debate among scholars over whether the papyrus was real or a forgery. Now, in an exclusive investigative report, Ariel Sabar—who was the only reporter in the room when King revealed her find to colleagues in 2012—solves the mystery of the papyrus's backstory, unveiling for the first time the identity of the man who brought the papyrus to King. And the truth is definitely stranger than fiction in this case—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving an Egyptology dropout and his wife, who believes that angels speak through her. In Sabar's search for the truth about the papyrus, he uncovers a warren of secrets and lies that spans the unlikeliest of places, from the industrial districts of Berlin to the porn scene of southwest Florida, and from the halls of Harvard to the former headquarters of the East German Stasi.
"The White Strategy": The promise of a wall along the Mexican border catalyzed an unprecedented political phenomenon, but Donald Trump's use of hostility toward immigration to build his brand (the most recent chapter in a long story of GOP predecessors employing the same tactic) may ultimately lead to the party's undoing. And as Peter Beinart posits, it also could push the country as a whole in the opposite direction of what the GOP intends. Beinart explores how an embrace of white nativism in the 1990s turned California's Republican Party into a permanent minority—and how the same story may now be repeating itself for the GOP nationally.
SPECIAL SECTION: THE HEALTH REPORT:
"When the Body Attacks the Mind": The idea that madness might have a discrete, biological cause—that it's not just in your head—stretches back at least to the late 19th century. But now, after languishing for almost a century, the notion of targeting the immune system to cure insanity has reemerged. As Moises Velasquez-Manoff reports, the field of autoimmune neurology is expanding, and may force a reexamination of mental illness generally.
"After Ebola": "Life after Ebola is worse than the Ebola virus itself." Less than two years after the peak of the outbreak in Liberia, the vast assemblage of foreign disease experts and health workers have left, but epidemiologists believe another outbreak is likely. Lois Parshley traveled to the West African country to find out what life is like after the ravages of the epidemic. She reports that many Liberians still don't know how the virus spreads and, as the country teeters on the edge of famine, street-market vendors break the law daily by selling bushmeat that could carry the disease. As a result, an increasingly fragile status quo is severely at risk of collapsing again.
Sketch: "The Good Daughter": "More than once, Chelsea has publicly expressed how 'frustrating' it was for her to set out to blaze her own trail only to wind up following her parents down theirs. But to what extent this is the product of their neediness or hers is unclear, perhaps even to the Clintons." After an impressive array of educational and career accomplishments, Chelsea Clinton is once again barnstorming the country for her mom. In this month's Sketch, Michelle Cottle explores Clinton's life in and out of the spotlight, and why the former and potentially future first daughter never quite stands alone.
Society: "The War on Stupid People": These days, the gulf between the intellectual haves and have-nots may be at its widest point. David H. Freedman writes that, rather than looking for ways to give the less intelligent a break, the successful seem more determined than ever to freeze them out. This is borne out in job applications—which routinely demand cognitive-skills testing or SAT scores—in the evaporation of careers that can be acquired without a college degree, and in the fetishization of high IQ as a relationships prerequisite. Freedman argues that we must stop treating our society as a playground for the smart minority, and instead shape our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye toward the abilities and needs of the full range of human capacity.
Business: "The Curse of the Loyal Sports Fan": The Chicago Cubs' customers show up win or lose—which may explain why, until now, the team has mostly done the latter. From 2000 to 2014, the Cubs compiled the eighth-worst record in baseball and still drew more fans than almost all the other Major League clubs. The Cubs want to win, but do they really have to? Jerry Useem traces how a chewing-gum magnate turned a competitive sport into a relaxing, all-American, hot-dog- and beer-laden pastime.
Study of Studies: "The Science of Beer Goggles": Drinking impairs our senses. It also makes us less likely than our sober counterparts to donate to charity, one study found. We're prettier, brighter, funnier when we imbibe—even if we only think there's booze in our cup. And unhappy couples were more able to solve conflicts after a few vodka-cranberries. So while alcohol makes us impulsive, vain, and uncharitable, it just might help us stay married. Go ahead, order another round.
The Omnivore: "The Electric Surge of Miles Davis": We are currently fascinated with Miles Davis's electric period, 1968 to 1975. In the past year and a half, multiple books, and most recently Don Cheadle's feverishly imagined movie treatment of the musician's lost years, have made efforts to truly understand the icon. James Parker explores how Davis' high-wattage phase, which he names "Electric Miles," secured his legacy—and ultimately burned him out.
Books: "Extreme Gymnastics": Has athleticism eclipsed the aesthetic spirit of the sport? At the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Romanian Nadia Comaneci transformed gymnastics, setting off the arrival of the sport so popular today. Meghan O'Rourke has the review of The End of the Perfect 10: The Making and Breaking of Gymnastics' Top Score—From Nadia to Now, which chronicles gymnastics from the initial Eastern-bloc-driven revolution to its subsequent rise in the United States.
Oops! This month's Big Question asks: "What Accident Most Changed the Course of History?" Scientists, writers, and executives weigh in on the snafus that shaped some of the world's most consequential discoveries, from X-rays, to penicillin, to the dynamics behind our modern-day transportation.
These articles and more are featured in the July/August 2016 double issue of The Atlantic, available today on TheAtlantic.com and The Atlantic's app, and on newsstands this week.