Essays and arguments that make up the December cover package are divided into three discrete sections: “On the Forces That Pull Us Apart”; “Appeals to Our Better Nature”; and “Reconciliation & Its Alternatives.” Among those writing are The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, Yoni Appelbaum, Megan Garber, Caitlin Flanagan, Andrew Ferguson, Sophie Gilbert, and David Frum, along with contributions by Tom Junod, on what Mister Rogers would do in this moment; Tara Westover, examining the urban/rural divide in the context of our national fracturing; Retired General James Mattis, on the democratic principles that citizens must embrace; Danielle Allen, on how more robust citizen participation will enhance social cohesion; and Lin-Manuel Miranda, on art’s power to reflect the world.
Please find below details about these articles and others that make up our December issue. Additional stories from this package can also be found online.
Yoni Applebaum’s “How America Ends” dissects the exceptional challenges America faces as a unitary construct. Applebaum notes that no rich, stable democracy has made the demographic transition we are now experiencing. As America’s historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority, a sharp political backlash has already begun, exploited and exacerbated by the president. Appelbaum writes: “Numerous examples from American history—most notably the antebellum South—offer a cautionary tale about how quickly a robust democracy can weaken when a large section of the population becomes convinced that it cannot continue to win elections, and also that it cannot afford to lose them.”
Megan Garber’s “No Apologies” examines why powerful people can’t quite bring themselves to say “I’m sorry” even when acknowledging wrongdoing. “In some ways it’s understandable, this widespread apology aversion,” Garber writes. “The America of the current moment is heated and hasty, and an apology can be easily weaponized.” She points to the stark contrasts between Al Franken’s resignation and Donald Trump’s election after both were accused of sexual misconduct. “I’m sorry, said sincerely, is supposed to be the first step toward forgiveness. But forgiveness is difficult to discuss when justice is so unevenly distributed—when there’s no meaningful consensus about who deserves redemption, or under what conditions.”
Adam Serwer’s “Against Reconciliation” argues that the gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol—it’s the false compromise of civility. Serwer likens the current state of American politics to the Reconstruction era, “when the comforts of comity were privileged over the work of building a multiracial democracy.” He argues that the illusion of peace and civility is often purchased at the expense of true progress. “The danger of our own political moment is not that Americans will again descend into a bloody conflagration. It is that the fundamental rights of marginalized people will again become bargaining chips political leaders trade for an empty reconciliation.”