• excerpt • May 11, 2020

    “An Exercise in Triage”

    In 1959 Otto Kirchheimer described the concept of asylum as “situated at the crossroads of national and international law, compassion and self-interest, raison d’état and human capacity for shame.” Nations may have pushed, twisted, and stretched their capacity for shame, but they seem less inclined to test the flexibility of their compassion. One of the principal underlying assumptions for border fortification, for asylum deterrence and denial, is that the survival of the state is threatened by extending the roof, by opening the gates. In Anna Seghers’s novel Transit, the unnamed narrator, a

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  • excerpt • May 07, 2020

    Babysitters Club

    Institutionalists have been warning about the breakdown of democratic guardrails for quite some time. An optimist might have fretted about these trends but noted that everything would be okay so long as the President acted like, you know, a grown-up—someone who recognized that with great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, Donald Trump really does think and act like a toddler. He has done so for most of his life.

    Beyond the checks and constraints studied by political scientists, pundits gravitated toward two additional “guardrail narratives” in the early months of the Trump

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  • review • April 23, 2020

    A Brief History of the Great American Healthcare Scam

    Even before the COVID-19 disaster, the American healthcare crisis felt so patently absurd, so coeval with a very 2016 flavor of political cynicism, that many Americans might be surprised to recall just how old the debate over reform really is. The first call for universal coverage arrived during the 1912 election, when rogue Progressive Party candidate Teddy Roosevelt campaigned on a national system modeled off those already available in Europe.

    Less surprising to many Americans: He lost.

    The fight for universal healthcare has since been less an uphill battle than a century-long stalemate.

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  • excerpt • April 21, 2020

    A Brief History of Fascist Lies

    One of the key lessons of the history of fascism is that racist lies led to extreme political violence. Today lies are back in power. This is now more than ever a key lesson of the history of fascism. If we want to understand our troublesome present, we need to pay attention to the history of fascist ideologues and to how and why their rhetoric led to the Holocaust, war, and destruction. We need history to remind us how so much violence and racism happened in such a short period. How did the Nazis and other fascists come to power and murder millions of people? They did so by spreading ideological

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  • excerpt • March 30, 2020

    Truisms

    a little knowledge can go a long way

    a lot of professionals are crackpots

    a man can’t know what it is to be a mother

    a name means a lot just by itself

    a positive attitude makes all the difference in the world a relaxed man is not necessarily a better man

    a sense of timing is the mark of genius

    a sincere effort is all you can ask

    a single event can have infinitely many interpretations a solid home base builds a sense of self

    a strong sense of duty imprisons you

    absolute submission can be a form of freedom abstraction is a type of decadence

    abuse of power comes as no surprise

    action causes more

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    User Illusion

    For a long time, the internet seemed to resist description. Like the unconscious, the early Web was baffling, unsettling, even a little embarrassing. New users, unaccustomed to virtual terrain, compared it to a dream. Its inventors favored unhelpful hyperbole: Theirs, they claimed, was the greatest invention since penicillin or the printing press. Novelists steered clear of online life altogether, brandishing their abstinence as a sign of literary integrity.

    Meanwhile, many journalists, the demographic perhaps best suited to cover the internet revolution, were boosterish and complacent. Even

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    The Revolution Will Be Compromised

    Vladimir Putin’s Russia lends itself to being seen in Manichaean terms. Commentators at home and abroad like to picture a desperate struggle between the centralized state and a righteous but comparatively powerless coalition of prodemocratic forces. This black-and-white view goes back at least to the Soviet era, when small groups of dissidents who celebrated “living in truth” and refused to surrender to the hated regime found an eager audience among Cold Warriors. Their enduring romantic vision has shaped much of the Western discourse about Russian politics, at the cost of much-needed nuance

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  • print • Apr/May 2020

    Top Guns

    “There are no ‘good guns,’” Charlton Heston once told Meet the Press. “There are no ‘bad guns.’ Any gun in the hands of a bad man is a bad thing. Any gun in the hands of a decent person is no threat to anybody, except bad people.” The merits of Heston’s argument notwithstanding, the dramatic force of his delivery was undeniable, affirming the actor’s status as one of Hollywood’s iconic heroes. Who could speak with more authority of guys good and bad than the man American audiences had grown up seeing in cowboy buckskin, shining armor, military fatigues, and the robes of Moses himself? This

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  • review • March 13, 2020

    All In

    According to the CDC, the United States performed eight COVID-19 tests on Tuesday. Zero by the CDC itself, which seemed to stop testing six days ago, eight by public health labs. |#note1|[1]| The CDC offered no data at all for Wednesday. U! S! A! We are, of course, the greatest country on earth, so I’m betting we can do even better today: 8 + 2 = a perfect ten! No, wait—aim higher, America! 8 + 3. This nation goes up to eleven.

    Of course, not only is the United States not actually the best at this—I think we all know that—it is, in fact, possibly the worst. COVID-19 has extended the Trumpocene’s

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  • excerpt • March 03, 2020

    The Wall

    In a campaign that included many startling pronouncements, Trump’s pledge to build the wall in June 2015 became the iconic phrase that stitched together a right-wing nationalist tapestry of resentment, nihilism, and violent nostalgia. Mexico would pay for it. A form of imperial tribute recast as reparations to a wronged and aggrieved America, whose sovereignty had been violated by unchecked “illegal immigration,” unfair trade deals, and unfavorable inter-state alliances. Justice would finally be secured by a president with the boldness to reassert the rightful order among nations. The American

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  • excerpt • February 25, 2020

    The Washing and the Clothes Line

    The neighbors thought my mother was crazy. How to explain that she sometimes put her washing on the line, sometimes in the field, sometimes on the grass, and sometimes even hung it from the branches of trees? What sense did it make that she would often lay it in the shade or in the windiest spot weighted down by large stones like the punctuation marks of some secret message?

    On this morning my mother had taken the flowerpots outside because the sun was back. The same sun that disappeared at times behind the sun and that we would look for all over the house, in the dust, under the bed, in a

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  • print • Feb/Mar 2020

    Norm Corps

    Whether or not he was born that way, Ross Douthat is a defeated man. The child of hippie aspiring writers—a father who became an attorney and a mother who became a homemaker (both became published writers late in life: the father a poet, the mother a contributor to the Christian journal First Things)—Douthat arrived at Harvard in 1998 yearning to live the life of the mind and found himself among a horde of grade-grubbing careerists, most of them from affluent families, biding their time until they filled their reserved slots among the neoliberal power elite. This state of affairs became the

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