Washington, D.C. (June 20, 2017)-- Defined by a racist mythology and entrenched in belief that its leader holds supernatural status, North Korea poses a foreign-policy minefield for President Donald Trump, just as it has for every one of his modern predecessors. Compounding the challenge, nuclear weapons are widely held to be an essential tool to protect against the perceived existential threat posed by Western enemies. Can North Korea be stopped? And what can possibly be done when all options have been exhausted? In the July/August cover story of The Atlantic, Mark Bowden outlines a playbook for dealing with North Korea, but warns that none of the options are pretty.
The double issue also features the Health Report, with a piece by Maryn McKenna on how crowdsourced bacteria are changing the fight against antibiotic resistance, and David Dobbs reporting on how smartphones are helping to treat mental illnesses. And in politics, Frank Foer investigates why the Democrats keep losing, and Peter Beinart argues that the party has failed on its immigration stance.
The July/August double issue of The Atlantic will be online in full on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.
COVER STORY + FEATURES:
The Worst Problem on Earth
As tensions continue to flare, Atlantic national correspondent Mark Bowden outlines four strategic possibilities for the United States when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear program. The options—from exercising varying degrees of military force, to the continued acceptance of the problem—are drawn from Bowden’s extensive conversations with top national-security experts and military officers who’ve wrestled with the issue for years. The one thing the plans share: All of them are bad. The most extreme example, an all-out military attack on North Korea, plays into Trumpian logic. But, Bowden warns, “an American first strike would likely trigger one of the worst mass killings in human history … For the U.S. to force [Kim Jong Un’s] hand with a first strike, to do so without severe provocation or an immediate and dire threat, would be not only foolhardy by morally indefensible. That this decision now rests with Donald Trump, who has not shows abundant capacity for moral judgment, is not reassuring.” In the end, Bowden wagers that continued acceptance and containment of a nuclear North Korea is how the current crisis should and will most likely play out. He writes: “As the latest head of a family that has ruled for three generations, one whose primary purpose has been to survive, as a young man with a lifetime of wealth and power before him, how likely is [Kim] to wake up one morning and set fire to the world?”
What’s Wrong With the Democrats?
Barack Obama’s victories obscured failure for the Democrats at every other level. The party’s choice to hinge everything on the presidency has been disastrous. In this feature, Franklin Foer writes that Hillary Clinton’s campaign failed to make a robust economic argument and, most important, that Clinton was unable to “both celebrate multiculturalism and also cushion the backlash against the celebration.” In the aftermath of 2016, the new “Resistance” of marchers and protestors—leaderless and loud—has become the motive power of the party. But where does it go from here? Foer argues that the party needs a deeper understanding of the forces that have driven many of Trump’s voters beyond its reach. And it must grapple with a growing tension between its two biggest concerns: race and class. Squabbling between the cultural left and the economic left provides a prelude to the next presidential election, which will be packed with candidates attempting to show themselves as the truest champion of minorities or women or the working and middle classes.
The Democrats’ Immigration Mistake
If the right has grown more nationalistic in recent years, the left has grown less so. A decade ago, liberals publicly questioned immigration in ways that would shock many progressives today. Since then, political pressures and demographic realities have shifted the Democrats’ position on immigration. By 2016, the immigration platform of the Democratic Party didn’t mention the word illegal at all. Peter Beinart argues that it’s time to address Americans’ yearning for social cohesion. Liberals should not oppose immigration, but to promote both mass immigration and economic redistribution, they must convince more native-born white Americans that immigrants will not weaken the bonds of national identity. This means celebrating America’s diversity less, and its unity more. Liberal immigration policy must work to ensure that immigrants do not occupy a separate legal caste, and the next Democratic presidential candidate should emphasize a goal of reducing America’s undocumented population to zero. “What if [Clinton] had challenged elite universities to celebrate not merely multiculturalism and globalization but Americanness?,” Beinart writes. “What if she had acknowledged the challenges that mass immigration brings, and then insisted that Americans could overcome those challenges by focusing not on what makes them different but on what makes them the same? Some on the left would’ve howled. But I suspect that Clinton would be president today.”
THE HEALTH REPORT
The Smartphone Psychiatrist
The best hope for treating mental illness may be in your pocket. For more than a decade, Tom Insel was the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which made him one of the most influential psychiatrists in the world. But, frustrated by psychiatry’s inability to effectively help people suffering from mental illness, he began to question some of the basic premises of his field. So he left for Silicon Valley, where he’s trying to use smartphones to reduce the world’s mental anguish. What Insel sees in smartphones is something psychiatry hasn’t figured out to do, and a new way of delivering mental-health care: to use the endless streams of data they provide to easily detect early, or even predict, the onset of mental illness; and quickly get effective, affordable care to those who need it. As David Dobbs reports, this opens up a host of privacy questions, on the ability of both Insel’s company and others like it to keep confidential users’ metadata, and protect it from those who’d want to exploit it.
Could the Answer to Our Most Urgent Health Crisis Be Found on a Toilet Seat?
Drug resistance has impaired the effectiveness of almost every antibiotic produced since the first ones were developed. At least 700,000 people are estimated to die worldwide every year from infections that no longer respond to antibiotics; and that toll could balloon to 10 million by 2050. Yet making the necessary changes to stave off this catastrophe seems to be beyond us. That’s where Adam Roberts, a 43-year-old microbiologist from central England, comes in. Through crowdsourcing and social media, his “Swab and Send” program is collecting bacteria from the world’s dirtiest places—keyboards, public-toilet seats, pig troughs, moldy refrigerator corners—in search of new breakthrough antibiotics. So far, hundreds of his samples have shown promise; including, crucially, 18 bacteria that killed a multidrug-resistant strain of E. coli. The writer Maryn McKenna reports on this unconventional quest to stave off the threat of antibiotic resistance and why other developers are following Roberts’ lead, turning away from man-made antibiotics and back to natural resources to find the answers.
Politics: The Conservative Case for Unions: In America in 2017, we don’t know how a truly modern union would look, because it’s mostly illegal to find out. In the 1950s, more than one in three private-sector workers belonged to a union; today, unionization is down to 6 percent. Jonathan Rauch argues that a new kind of labor organization could address many of the deeper causes of malaise and distemper afflicting America’s lower-middle class by fostering social interaction and face-to-face collaboration. Among the potential solutions: labor-law waivers that would grant states the authority to allow employers and unions to experiment with intriguing models that met certain guidelines, including some that have proved successful in Denmark and Sweden, or elsewhere in Europe.
Sketch: The Defector: Ever since he quit his job as a GOP policy wonk to launch a long-shot presidential bid under the Never Trump banner, Evan McMullin has been locked in near-daily battle with Trump and his supporters. And McMullin is perhaps at his most effective on Twitter, “where he is profoundly appealing to a certain stressed-out segment of liberal America,” as McKay Coppins writes. In this issue’s Sketch, Coppins profiles McMullin and how Trump and Twitter turned him into the GOP’s leading dissident.
Business: Power Causes Brain Damage: If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. But can it cause brain damage? Studies have found that power can impair a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy. As Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, tells Jerry Useem, this is the neurological basis to the “power paradox”: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place. And importantly, the powerful stop mimicking others, leading to an “empathy deficit.” Is there nothing to be done? “No and yes,” Useem writes. “It’s difficult to stop power’s tendency to affect your brain. What’s easier—from time to time, at least—is to stop feeling powerful.”
FROM THE CULTURE FILE:
TV Gets Metaphysical: After viewing the culmination of the three-season run of HBO’s The Leftovers, Spencer Kornhaber writes that the show “turned out to be a genuine—and profound—work of modern surrealism.”
“Of this trippy generation of shows,” he reflects, “The Leftovers staged the most convincing relationship between the real and the imagined, the banal and the bizarre. Using an appealing cast of small-town characters whose lives were suddenly upended, the show mixed grief memoir and savage comedy with speculation about how a civilization ill at ease with mystery might deal with the truly unfathomable. The results felt like a buffet of surprises, and not merely because the filmmakers were trying to keep the audience off-balance: The characters themselves were off-balance.”
This issue’s Big Question asks: What is the most underappreciated medical invention in history? From blood typing and the stethoscope to oxygen and placebos, physicians, industry leaders, and authors weigh in.
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