The Atlantic’s October Issue—“The Trump Presidency: A Damage Report”

Eliot Cohen on the Sudden Decline of a Super Power; Jack Goldsmith on Whether American Democracy Will Recover; Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Whitest White House

Washington, D.C. (September 12, 2017)—Eight months into the Trump presidency, how much damage has been done? The Atlantic devotes its October issue cover to a powerful assessment of how this norm-breaking presidential tenure has so far affected America in "The Trump Presidency: A Damage Report." Eliot Cohen examines the sudden decline of a superpower and the prognosis for America’s global standing and diplomatic future; Jack Goldsmith takes stock of the institutions that have for centuries safeguarded democracy; and Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the presidency of Donald Trump as predicated nearly entirely on the negation of a black president—and the tragic, and long term, implications for America.

In his Editor’s Note, editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg draws parallels between the countries not ruled by law that Goldberg has spent a career covering, and the autocratic element to President Trump. He writes: “It is not uncommon in the U.S. for the losers to challenge the victories of the winners, and this is as it should be. But it is a dangerous innovation to use the instruments of state power to harass powerless, defeated political foes. The fractures that this sort of behavior causes are not easily healed.”

Also in the October issue: Erika Christakis on why we’ve forgotten the real purpose of America’s public schools; filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick reflect on how Vietnam caused Americans to lose faith in every president since; Christopher Orr on Woody Allen’s astonishing laziness.

The full October issue of The Atlantic is online today, September 12. A selection of pieces from the issue are linked and highlighted below. For booking inquiries please contact Anna Bross or Sydney Simon.

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Will Donald Trump Destroy the Presidency? (Jack Goldsmith)
Donald Trump is testing the institution of the Presidency, but the damage—some of it at least—is not irreparable. More than eight months in, we can begin to assess Trump’s impact on American democracy, writes former Bush administration official Jack Goldsmith. So far, the Constitution’s checks and balances have held; the courts, the press, the bureaucracy, civil society, and even Congress have together enforced the rule of law. One might even say that in the first year of his presidency, Trump has invigorated checks and balances, and the nation’s appreciation for them. But the prognosis for the rest of our democratic culture is grimmer, as Trump’s bizarre behavior continues to coarsen politics and induce harmful breaks with policy in the institutions he has attacked. As Goldsmith observes: “A corollary to Trump’s shamelessness is that he often doesn’t seek to hide or even spin his norm-breaking. Put another way, he is far less hypocritical than past presidents—and that is a bad thing.” His more self-destructive antics will likely prove to be reconcilable. But other norm violations—the distortion of civil-military relations, the intelligence community’s use of leaks as political leverage, the extreme media coverage— will be harder to undo.

Is Trump Ending the American Era? (Eliot A. Cohen)

According to Eliot A. Cohen, the Trump administration has already left a mark in almost every region of the world: by blunder, inattention, miscomprehension, or willfulness. And even when Trump’s foreign policy looks shakily mediocre rather than downright crazy, it is afflicting the U.S. with a condition not unlike high blood pressure. Foreign leaders may consider the current president of the United States alarming, but they don’t consider him serious, and they know they cannot rely on him. Because of this, leaders have already begun to reshape alliances and reconfigure the networks that make up the global economy, bypassing and diminishing the United States. Cohen warns that things are even worse below the surface: Diplomatic vacancies mean confusion and misinterpretation, and the decomposition of the Republican foreign-policy establishment means a government that radically shifts its commitments.

This will not get any better. As Cohen writes: “Enormous foreign-policy failures are like heart attacks: unexpected and dangerous discontinuities following years of neglect and hidden malady. The vertigo and throbbing pulse one feels today augur something much worse tomorrow.”

The First White President (Ta-Nehisi Coates)“Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.” In a scathing new essay, Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the whiteness of the Trump presidency, which he says is predicated nearly entirely on the negation of a black president, and what it means for America. Coates reminds readers that Trump’s “political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against ‘lazy’ black employees.”

This essay is drawn from Coates’ forthcoming book, “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy,” which collects his writing in The Atlantic, and will be published next month.


The War on Public Schools (Erika Christakis)
Americans have come to talk about education less as a public good than as a private consumable. But as education expert Erika Christakis argues, our public-education system is about much more than individual rights and choice; it is about preparing people to work together to advance society. Christakis argues that Secretary of Education Betsy Devos’s intense focus on school choice is the latest distraction from this purpose, and is thereby furthering the denigration of our public schools and a growing neglect of their role as an incubator of citizens. The author warns that we are ignoring “public schools’ civic and integrative functions at our peril. To revive them will require good faith across the political spectrum,” because “when we neglect schools’ nation-binding role, it grows hard to explain why we need public schools at all.”

How Americans Lost Faith in the Presidency (Ken Burns and Lynn Novick)
America’s failure in Vietnam undermined the country’s faith in its most respected institutions, and opened the credibility gap that the American presidency has yet to overcome. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, the filmmakers behind the forthcoming documentary series The Vietnam War, look back at how each of the Vietnam-era presidents, in dealing with the quagmire of the conflict, was plagued with skepticism that eventually gave way to disillusionment with the presidency itself. But the story is about more than just the loss of faith in our country’s highest office. It’s about citizens, too. Burns and Novick point out: “The war may have robbed America of its innocence, but it also reminded us that the duty of citizens in a democracy is to be skeptical—not to worship our leaders, who have always been fallible, but to question their decisions, challenge their policies, and hold them accountable for their failures.”

Big In… China: License-Plate Marriages
You can marry for love, you can marry for money, or, in Beijing, you can marry for a license plate. As authorities try to cap the number of vehicles in China’s car-choked capital, they’ve taken to doling out new license plates via a six-time-a-year lottery. The odds are daunting, but there’s a big loophole. Licenses can be transferred between spouses, leading to a growing market of sham marriages—plate owners offer to tie the knot for a steep price (more than $13,000). All this for the privilege of driving in Beijing.

Works in Progress: A Year on Ice (Robinson Meyer)
The central Arctic Ocean is one of the few remaining mysteries on our planet. Robinson Meyer travels to Greenland to report on a new project—MOSAiC, or the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate—that could finally allow scientists full access to the region. In the fall of 2019, the icebreaker Polarstern will sail from Norway into the Arctic, where it will hopefully remain locked in the ice for a full year, a first.

Using the ship as their base, scientists hope to observe nearly every aspect of the Arctic system: the drifting ice, the turbulent ocean, the blustery atmosphere, and the organisms that make it home.

From the Culture File:

The Remarkable Laziness of Woody Allen (Christopher Orr)
For roughly a quarter century, Woody Allen was among America’s most fascinating and iconic filmmakers. Though Allen, now 81, has maintained his frenetic pace of one feature film a year since 1982, his more recent output has been generally, yet gently, judged a disappointment. “For years the evidence has accumulated: Allen is an astonishingly lazy director.” He doesn’t give actors direction; he likes to end shoots early and limit the number of takes; he doesn’t like working with composers; and so on. With Allen’s 48th film set to debut in December—the first in more than a decade to premiere during awards season—Orr concludes: “No one will be more pleased than I if the film turns out to be a return to prime form for Allen. But even if Wonder Wheel is a triumph, it will likely be, as Allen himself has suggested, a happy accident.”

“The Drone King” (Kurt Vonnegut)
While reading through Kurt Vonnegut’s papers in the Lilly Library, at Indiana University, as they worked on the first comprehensive edition of his short fiction, Vonnegut’s friend Dan Wakefield and Jerome Klinkowitz, a scholar of Vonnegut’s work, came across five previously unpublished stories. Klinkowitz dates “The Drone King,” one of those five, to the early 1950s, when Vonnegut hadn’t yet written a novel and was only beginning to publish short fiction. The story is published for the first time in The Atlantic’s October issue, and is accompanied by an original animated short film.

This month’s Big Question asks: “What crime most changed the course of history?” Writers and Atlantic readers weigh in on the crimes that rocked American society, from the African slave trade and Watergate, to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Caesar’s murder.