Image: Nick Risinger /Photopic Sky Survey
Image: Nick Risinger /Photopic Sky Survey
The president’s unpredictability once worked to his advantage—but now, it is producing a mounting list of foreign-policy failures.
“Gradually and then suddenly.” That was how one of Ernest Hemingway’s characters described the process of going bankrupt. The phrase applies vividly to the accumulating failures of President Trump’s foreign-policy initiatives.
Donald Trump entered office with more scope for initiative in foreign policy than any of his recent predecessors.
In his campaign for president, Trump had disparaged almost every element of the past 70 years of U.S. global leadership: NATO, free trade, European integration, support for democracy, the Iraq War, the Iran deal, suspicion of Russia, outreach to China. Trump’s election jolted almost every government into a frantic effort to understand what to expect. Other countries’ uncertainty enhanced Trump’s relative power—and so, perversely, did Trump’s policy ignorance and obnoxious behavior. After eight years under the accommodating Barack Obama, the United States suddenly turned a menacing face to the world. In the short run, that menace frightened other states into attempted appeasement of this unpredictable new president.
The class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem.
1. The Aristocracy Is Dead …
For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies. Sometimes around Christmas, more often on the Fourth of July, my family would take up residence at one of my grandparents’ country clubs in Chicago, Palm Beach, or Asheville, North Carolina. The breakfast buffets were magnificent, and Grandfather was a jovial host, always ready with a familiar story, rarely missing an opportunity for gentle instruction on proper club etiquette. At the age of 11 or 12, I gathered from him, between his puffs of cigar smoke, that we owed our weeks of plenty to Great-Grandfather, Colonel Robert W. Stewart, a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt who made his fortune as the chairman of Standard Oil of Indiana in the 1920s. I was also given to understand that, for reasons traceable to some ancient and incomprehensible dispute, the Rockefellers were the mortal enemies of our clan.
American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth.
As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory. IQ wasn’t a big factor in whom you married, where you lived, or what others thought of you. The qualifications for a good job, whether on an assembly line or behind a desk, mostly revolved around integrity, work ethic, and a knack for getting along—bosses didn’t routinely expect college degrees, much less ask to see SAT scores. As one account of the era put it, hiring decisions were “based on a candidate having a critical skill or two and on soft factors such as eagerness, appearance, family background, and physical characteristics.”
The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy. Those who consider themselves bright openly mock others for being less so. Even in this age of rampant concern over microaggressions and victimization, we maintain open season on the nonsmart. People who’d swerve off a cliff rather than use a pejorative for race, religion, physical appearance, or disability are all too happy to drop the s‑bomb: Indeed, degrading others for being “stupid” has become nearly automatic in all forms of disagreement.
The 9-year-old has built a huge following with profane Instagram posts, but the bravado of “the youngest flexer of the century” masks a sadder tale about fame and exploitation.
In mid-February, a mysterious 9-year-old by the name of Lil Tay began blowing up on Instagram.
“This is a message to all y’all broke-ass haters, y’all ain't doing it like Lil Tay,” she shouts as she hops into a red Mercedes, hands full of wads of cash. “This is why all y’all fucking haters hate me, bitch. This shit cost me $200,000. I’m only 9 years old. I don’t got no license, but I still drive this sports car, bitch. Your favorite rapper ain’t even doing it like Lil Tay.”
Referring to herself as “the youngest flexer of the century,” Lil Tay quickly garnered a fan base of millions, including big name YouTubers who saw an opportunity to capitalize on her wild persona. In late January, RiceGum, an extremely influential YouTube personality dedicated an entire roast video to Lil Tay.
There were no software glitches or sensor breakdowns that led to a fatal crash, merely poor object recognition, emergency planning, system design, testing methodology, and human operation.
On March 18, at 9:58 p.m., a self-driving Uber car killed Elaine Herzberg. The vehicle was driving itself down an uncomplicated road in suburban Tempe, Arizona, when it hit her. Herzberg, who was walking across the mostly empty street, was the first pedestrian killed by an autonomous vehicle.
The preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report on the incident, released on Thursday, shows that Herzberg died because of a cascading series of errors, human and machine, which present a damning portrait of Uber’s self-driving testing practices at the time.
Perhaps the worst part of the report is that Uber’s system functioned as designed. There were no software glitches or sensor malfunctions. It just didn’t work very well.
The distance you keep from others is an elaborate, instinctive dance.
President Trump has a signature handshake. It hit the world stage at the United Nations meeting last year when he grabbed Emmanuel Macron’s hand and appeared to aggressively pull the French president closer. Ever since, he’s shown a consistent tendency to loom into other people’s personal space, or pull them toward him.
Everyone has a personal space, an instinctive protective zone. We’re always jostling to maintain our own space and to navigate around others’, and the honeycomb of abutting spaces forms the scaffold of our social world. Violating it as a means of social communication, a means of bullying, is common behavior. But we usually don’t do it in a calculated way. The rules of personal space run deep under the surface of consciousness. We act and react in an elaborate, animal dance, and only extreme examples—like the Trump handshake—catch our conscious attention.
The text reflected not only the president’s signature syntax, but also the clash between his desire for credit and his intuition to walk away.
Donald Trump’s approach to North Korea has always been an intensely personal one—the president contended that his sheer force of will and negotiating prowess would win the day, and rather than use intermediaries, he planned for a face-to-face meeting, with himself and Kim Jong Un on either side of a table.
So Trump’s notice on Thursday that he was canceling the June 12 summit in Singapore was fitting. It arrived in the form of a letter that appears to have been written by the president himself. The missive features a Trumpian mix of non sequiturs, braggadocio, insults, flattery, and half-truths. Whether the dramatic letter marks the end of the current process or is simply a negotiating feint, it matches the soap-operatic series of events that preceded it. Either way, it displays the ongoing conflict between Trump’s desire for pageantry and credit and his longstanding dictum that one must be willing to walk away from the negotiating table.
In the landscape where Mad Max: Fury Road was filmed, a scientist is trying to understand a natural phenomenon that has eluded explanation for decades.
One evening earlier this spring, German naturalist Norbert Jürgens strayed from his expedition in the Namib Desert. He walked away from his campsite beside Leopard Rock, a huge pile of schist slabs stacked like left-over roofing tiles, and into a vast plain ringed with red-burnished hills. He had 20 minutes of light left before sunset, and he intended to use them.
This next part may sound like a reenactment from a nature documentary, but trust me: This is how it went down.
Off by himself, Jürgens dropped down to his knees. He sank his well-tanned arms in the sand up to the elbows. As he rooted around, he told me later, he had a revelation.
At the time, I was watching from the top of Leopard Rock, which offered a bird’s-eye view of both Jürgens and his expedition’s quarry. Across the plain, seemingly stamped into its dry, stubbly grass, were circles of bare ground, each about the size of an aboveground pool. Jürgens, a professor at the University of Hamburg, was digging—and pondering—in one of these bare patches.
The Americans and the North Koreans were all set for a historic meeting. Then they started talking about Libya.
Of all the countries that might have acted as a spoiler for the summit in Singapore between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un—China, Russia, Japan, the United States and North Korea themselves—the one that doomed it was unexpected. It isn’t even involved in North Korea diplomacy and is located a long 6,000 miles away from the Korean Peninsula. It’s Libya.
Yet Libya ought to have been top of mind. It’s notoriously difficult to determine what motivates the strategic choices and polices of North Korea’s leaders, but among the factors that has been evident for some time is Kim Jong Un’s fear of ending up like Muammar al-Qaddafi. The Libyan strongman was pulled from a drainage pipe and shot to death by his own people following a U.S.-led military intervention during the Arab Spring in 2011. The North Korean government views its development of nuclear weapons—a pursuit Qaddafi abandoned in the early 2000s, when his nuclear program was far less advanced than North Korea’s, in exchange for the easing of sanctions and other promised benefits—as its most reliable shield against a hostile United States that could very easily inflict a similar fate on Kim. We know this because the North Korean government has repeatedly said as much. “The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the Gaddafi regime in Libya could not escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations for nuclear development and giving up nuclear programs of their own accord,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency observed in 2016.
The Catholic Church was instrumental in passing the country’s strict abortion laws. Now it’s all but absent from the referendum about whether to repeal them.
DUBLIN—Millions of Irish people are voting today on whether to liberalize or maintain the country’s abortion laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world. Polls opened in the early morning, but the results of the referendum won’t be announced until Saturday. Regardless of how people vote, Ireland’s relationship to abortion has already changed. “We’re having conversations now that we have never had before in my country,” Fiona de Londras, a professor of global legal studies at the University of Birmingham, told me.
As voters prepared to cast their votes, it seemed there wasn’t a street pole in Dublin without a sign on it about the referendum. Also mingling in the streets were Irish expats. Thousands of them, it was estimated, would be flying home from around the world to participate in what has been dubbed a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Of the 1.4 million Irish citizens living abroad, 40,000 are eligible to vote in Irish elections—and those who are must do so in person.
There is a new American aristocracy, and it's bigger than previously thought.
After her husband was killed in a hate crime in Kansas, an American immigrant reevaluates her dream of the country.
Modeling respectful conflict can foster creativity in children.