Cover to cover The Atlantic’s October issue is essential reading from some of the most varied minds in our country today. They were invited to explore the premise of democracy’s demise. Topics include autocracy, tribalism, James Madison’s ‘Madisonian mob factions’, tyranny, and America’s courts by writers Anne Applebaum, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Jeff Rosen, David Frum, Amy Chua, and others. The links are pinned below.
A note from The Atlantic:
Though these ills can be seen most plainly in the style and behavior of a growing number of political leaders worldwide, their sources run deeper than that. The aim of this package is to diagnose their serenity and root causes.
Some of these causes are universal; some are unique to the United States. The essays are grouped to reflect this distinction, and then to consider solutions.
Sprinkled throughout are brief warnings about risks to democracy from The Atlantic’s archives–some prescient, some misplaced, and many all too relevant today.
These are some of the headlines, stories, and links.
Losing the Democratic Habit
Americans once learned self-governance by practicing it constantly–in lodge halls, neighborhood associations, and labor unions. As participation in these institutions had dwindled, so had public faith in democracy. To restore it, we must return democratic practices to everyday life.
The Threat of Tribalism
Amy Chua & Red Rubenfeld
The constitution once united a diverse country under a banner of ideas. But partisanship has turned Americans against one another–and against the principles enshrined in our founding document.
Madison vs. The Mob
The founders designed a government that would be insulted from the heat of popular sentiment, but they didn’t anticipate the unbridled passions of the digital age. Here’s how the constitutional order can survive.
America’s Courts Can’t Ignore the World
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
The U.S. Constitution is an American document. And American law should look exclusively to American precedents. Right? Not so, a supreme Court Justice says. That approach sounds good in theory, but the laws of other countries have a bearing on our own–and the highest court in the land needs to take heed.
Building an Autocracy
Will American democracy survive DT? And will the midterms matter?
Link to The Atlantic October issue:
The Decemberists’ Shiny, Happy Protest Album
“There’s something therapeutic in looking at the apocalypse and laughing,” Colin Meloy says of the band’s I’ll Be Your Girl.
[Excerpt from interview with The Decembrists’ Colin Meloy in The Atlantic]
Kornhaber: I saw you called the album an “apocalyptic dance party,” which feels like a term that could describe a lot of albums lately.
Meloy: We’re having a very shared experience. It’s almost galvanizing, people coming out of the woodwork and saying, “Shit is fucked up.” There’s something therapeutic in looking at the apocalypse and laughing.
I was hearing a story about that incident in Hawaii when a false missile alert came down. There were a couple guys on a golf course whose phones went off at the same time, and they went through how much time they had, where they could go, what they could actually accomplish. And they came to the conclusion that the best thing they could do is continue playing golf. There was nothing else they could do. That, in some ways, is a shared experience in this country right now.
Kornhaber: That story sounds like a future Decemberists song topic. But there’s a capitulation in it, right?
Meloy: Obviously the golfers in Hawaii is not analogous to our current predicament. It is a thought experiment: The apocalypse is 10 minutes away; what really can you do? If you want to talk literally, I don’t think we are in that dire circumstances. Responding to that intuition to shout out that things are broken is some way forward. We’re not leading the charge, but it feels good to lend our voices to that ever-growing chorus of people who are saying, This is not right.
Kornhaber: How much do you want this read as a Trump album?
Meloy: I don’t think I set out to make an overtly topical or political record. The songs just came from where we were and where my head was at in the last year and a half. I didn’t want to go too over-the-top. For one thing, I don’t know that I feel like the white straight-male voice is really the voice that needs to be amplified right now, or necessarily be the one singing protest music. There is powerful and topical music to be made by those communities who are oppressed. I don’t think it’s necessarily my place. That said, you can’t help but have some of that stuff just come through the cracks as you’re working.
Mohammed Mohiedin Anis, 70, smokes his pipe as he sits in his destroyed bedroom, listening to music on his hand-cranked gramophone in Aleppo’s formerly rebel-held al-Shaar neighborhood in Syria.
Anis had recently returned to Aleppo, with plans to rebuild not only his home, but also his large collection of vintage American cars, despite everything being reduced to rubble. When reporters asked him about the gramophone, he responded, “I will play it for you, but first I have to light my pipe. Because I never listen to music without it.”
[Photo #19 on The Atlantic’s top 25 photos of 2017.]
by, Ta-Nehisi Coates
On Monday, (was this only Monday?) the retired four-star general and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly asserted that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.” This was an incredibly stupid thing to say. Worse, it built on a long tradition of endorsing stupidity in hopes of making Americans stupid about their own history. Stupid enjoys an unfortunate place in the highest ranks of American government these days. And while one cannot immediately affect this fact, one can choose to not hear stupid things and quietly nod along.
1) Battle Cry Of Freedom: Arguably among the greatest single-volume histories in all of American historiography, James McPherson’s synthesis of the Civil War is a stunning achievement. Brisk in pace. A big-ass book that reads like a much slimmer one. The first few hundred pages offer a catalogue of evidence, making it clear not just that the white South went to war for the right to own people, but that it warred for the right to expand the right to own people. Read this book. You will immediately be less stupid than some of the most powerful people in the West Wing.
2) Grant: Another classic in the Ron Chernow oeuvre. Again, eminently readable but thick with import. It does not shy away from Grant’s personal flaws, but shows him to be a man constantly struggling to live up to his own standard of personal and moral courage. It corrects nearly a half-century of stupidity inflicted upon America by the Dunning school of historians, which preferred a portrait of Grant as a bumbling, corrupt butcher of men. Finally, it reframes the Civil War away from the overrated Virginia campaigns and shows us that when the West was won, so was the war. Grant hits like a Mack truck of knowledge. Stupid doesn’t stand a chance.
3) Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee: Elizabeth Pryor’s biography of Lee, through Lee’s own words, helps part with a lot of stupid out there about Lee—chiefly that he was, somehow, “anti-slavery.” It dispenses with the boatload of stupid out there which hails the military genius of Lee while ignoring the world that all of that genius was actually trying to build.
4.) Out of the House of Bondage: A slim volume that dispenses with the notion that there was a such thing as “good,” “domestic,” or “matronly” slavery. The historian Thavolia Glymph focuses on the relationships between black enslaved women and the white women who took them as property. She picks apart the stupid idea that white mistresses were somehow less violent and less exploitative than their male peers. Glymph has no need of Scarlett O’Haras. “Used the rod” is the quote that still sticks with me. An important point here—stupid ideas about ladyhood and the soft feminine hand meant nothing when measured against the fact of a slave society. Slavery was the monster that made monsters of its masters. Compromising with it was morally bankrupt—and stupid.
5.) The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: The final of three autobiographies written by the famed abolitionist, and my personal favorite. Epic and sweeping in scope. The chapter depicting the bounty of food on which the enslavers feasted while the enslaved nearly starved is just devastating.
Jon Batiste Reinterprets ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ for The Atlantic
Julia Ward Howe first published her iconic poem in The Atlantic in 1862. The song quickly became an anthem of the Civil War and a touchstone of the American Idea. In that spirit, The Atlantic asked renowned jazz musician Jon Batiste to create a new arrangement of the song for the magazine’s first podcast, Radio Atlantic.
[Scott Simon/Peabody Award-winning reporter & host of NPR’s Weekend Edition.]
Today I was researching various websites and periodicals about surviving mass shootings so that I could put some suggestions together for my kids (23 & 21) to consider when they gather in public spaces with larger groups. And then I paused. I realized in that moment what what our country has become for me. Because of the power of the NRA, gun lobbyists, and political greed, guns are more important in the United States than the lives of its people. I heard one television news pundit say in the aftermath of Las Vegas that ‘mass shootings are the price of freedom.’
A most twisted definition of freedom, indeed.
Watching a cable news TV program the day after the massacre, well-known more liberal minded anchors were doing their reporting, standing, situated outside on the Las Vegas strip with the Mandalay Bay hotel/casino positioned behind them. I felt a fear rising within me as I watched them. Not because they were in the Las Vegas aftermath, but because they were exposed, vulnerable, unprotected to the crazed minds who disagree, haters who carry guns in an ‘open carry’ environment. When did this happen? A fear of simply being outside, in a public place, could cause concern for others being harmed, shot, or killed? -dayle
Veteran journalist Tom Brokaw told the TODAY show anchors Monday morning that in the years he reported for the program from 1976-1981, he covered just one mass shooting. With the Las Vegas massacre now the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, he suggests the more frequent attacks are a result of radical gun sale changes. “No other Western nation has the number of gun deaths that we have in America, and we need to talk about it.”
Two Dark American Truths From Las Vegas
(On the certainty of more shootings.)
by James Follows
No other society allows the massacres to keep happening. Everyone around the world knows this about the United States. It is the worst aspect of the American national identity.
Mass Shootings Don’t Lead to Inaction – – They lead to loosening Gun Restrictions
The most probable policy response to the atrocity in Las Vegas will be new laws allowing more guns to be carried into more places.
by David Frum
The five years since a gunman killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, have seen one of the most intense bursts of gun legislation in U.S. history—almost all of it intended to ensure that more guns can be carried into more places.
Since Newtown, more than two dozen states have expanded the right to carry into previously unknown places: bars, churches, schools, college campuses, and so on. The most ambitious of these laws was adopted in Georgia in April 2014. Among other provisions, it allowed guns to be carried into airports right up to the federal TSA checkpoint.
AXIOS: Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and speechwriter for President Reagan, on “Morning Joe”: “There is a sense that society is collapsing — the culture is collapsing. We’re collapsing in crime. The world is collapsing. Crazy people with bad haircuts have nukes. Everything is going bad — terrorism, etc. They want to be fully armed on their hill, at home. … They’re Americans, and they want to go down fighting.”
N.Y. Times columnist Thomas Friedman: “If only Stephen Paddock had been a Muslim … If only he had shouted ‘Allahu akbar’ before he opened fire … [N]o one would be telling us not to dishonor the victims and “politicize” Paddock’s mass murder by talking about preventive remedies. No, no, no. Then we know what we’d be doing. We’d be scheduling immediate hearings in Congress about the worst domestic terrorism event since 9/11.”
[Vince Gill & Amy Grant pray during a candlelight vigil in Nashville for the victims of the Las Vegas massacre.]
by Roseanne Cash
For the past few decades, the National Rifle Association has increasingly nurtured an alliance with country music artists and their fans. You can see it in “N.R.A. Country,” which promotes the artists who support the philosophical, and perhaps economic, thrall of the N.R.A., with the pernicious tag line “Celebrate the Lifestyle.”
I encourage more artists in country and American roots music to end your silence. It is no longer enough to separate yourself quietly. The laws the N.R.A. would pass are a threat to you, your fans, and to the concerts and festivals we enjoy.
The stakes are too high to not disavow collusion with the N.R.A. Pull apart the threads of patriotism and lax gun laws that it has so subtly and maliciously intertwined. They are not the same.
I know you’ll be bullied for speaking out. This is how they operate. Not everyone will like you for taking a stand. Let it roll off your back. Some people may burn your records or ask for refunds for tickets to your concerts. Whatever. Find the strength of moral conviction, even if it comes with a price tag, which it will. Don’t let them bully you into silence. That’s where their power lies — in the silence of rational voices and in the apathy of those who can speak truth to power.
This is a moment in American history that can’t be met with silence. According to PolitiFact, from 2005 to 2015, some 300,000 people were killed by gun violence. That’s roughly the population of Pittsburgh. The grief that extends through the affected families is endless.
Those of us who make our living in “the tower of song,” as Leonard Cohen so eloquently put it, must let our voices ring out.
We can’t survive in a constant state of agitation.
by Sharon Salzberg
When a change in law or policy harms us, we may feel powerless and discarded, unworthy of love. Experiencing that helps us empathize with the suffering of others. We may feel heartbroken when we see people so battered by circumstances and lack of opportunity that they feel that they have nowhere to turn. And we may feel a deep love for the planet, and recent actions to discredit climate change might be the cause of our anxiety.
In that way love presents itself as risk, as it often does when you love another. The love you feel causes you to care deeply and when you do, you may take on some of the hurt that your beloved feels. Love can also protect you. It is love that is the point of contact for how much we care about what happens to ourselves as well as those around us.
Finding common ground with others who share our values and taking collective actions that express those strongly held beliefs reminds us of the good in the world and the good in others. If we allow the bad news to be the only news we hear, we may give up the fight, which would be the most debilitating of all actions. The best way to stay engaged is to make a choice when and how to do so — and to do so from a balanced stance of love for ourselves and love for the world, at the nexus where we can draw those two together in actions that connect both.
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
Character intersects history.
The presidency doesn’t change who you are, it amplifies who you are.
David G. Bradley, the chairman and owner of Atlantic Media, is announcing this morning that he is selling a majority stake in The Atlantic to Emerson Collective, an organization led by philanthropist and investor Laurene Powell Jobs. Bradley will retain a minority stake in The Atlantic and will continue as chairman and operating partner for at least three to five years. In a letter to his staff, Bradley wrote that Emerson Collective will most likely assume full ownership of The Atlantic within five years.
Bradley, who bought The Atlantic in 1999 for $10 million from Mortimer Zuckerman, is credited with transforming the Boston-based monthly magazine of politics, arts, and letters into a profitable digital-journalism and live-events company of global reach, even while continuing to publish The Atlantic’s award-winning print magazine, which was born four years before the Civil War. “Against the odds, The Atlantic is prospering,” Bradley wrote in his memo. “While I will stay at the helm some years, the most consequential decision of my career now is behind me: Who next will take stewardship of this 160-year-old national treasure? To me, the answer, in the form of Laurene, feels incomparably right.”
In his statement, Bradley said that Powell Jobs will most likely visit the Washington and New York offices of The Atlantic in September. Bradley closed his note to the staff by saying, “What I loved about Laurene from the first is that her confidence was forged on a different coast.” He added, “And, if anything, her ambition is greater than my own.” Making reference to the generally bleak commercial forecast for journalism in the United States, he wrote, “Let’s make it our work to prove the wisdom of our era wrong. And when my time comes to leave, that would be a happy note on which to say ‘good-bye.’”
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
In one soul, in your soul, there are resources for the world.
A LETTER FROM LAURENE POWELL JOBS
With those startling words, Ralph Waldo Emerson enlarged our conception of the value of a human life. I read his simple declaration about the reach of human capability as a statement of fact: there really is within each of us the potential to improve the world around us. But Emerson’s line is not only a description, it is also an imperative: while all of us possess this transformative potential, too many of us don’t get the chance to fulfill it — which means that we all have work to do.
At Emerson Collective, this is what drives us every day. If we’ve helped someone transcend the limits of circumstance and chart a new course for themselves and their families, we know we’re fulfilling our mission. Like our namesake, we believe deeply in self-reliance; but we recognize that the road to self-reliance sometimes leads through reliance on others. We trust that hard work and determination can make anything possible, but opportunities for hard work and determination must be found and even created.
For people trapped in the quagmire of poverty and disenfranchisement, a strong will to overcome the odds is rarely sufficient to beat them. For the 22 percent of children born into poor neighborhoods in the U.S., hard work will not likely be enough to overcome the obstacles they will face, including those that remain invisible to outsiders. For students in challenging environments—where schools are chronically short of funds, where advanced classes in high school are non-existent, where expectations are often low and mentors are few—force of will alone cannot ensure a college education and a bright future. And for families forced into the shadows by a dysfunctional immigration system, perseverance cannot secure legal status and equal rights.
Qualities of character, in other words, must be supplemented and supported by policies and inspirations. These lives, these communities, are gardens of promise, but they need water in order to flourish.
Many years ago, I visited a nearby high school where students were working to defy the odds and do something very difficult: to become the first in their families to earn a college degree. They had the same dreams and talents as students from neighboring communities, but faced far more daunting obstacles. As the first to apply to college, the first to attend and to graduate, and the first to embark on a professional career, they faced, at every stage, uncharted territory.
It takes a unique brand of boldness to envision—and pursue—a future so different from the world that surrounds you. These students possessed courage and drive, but lacked the gateways to achieve their dreams—this struck me as a great injustice. It inspired me to launch a program called College Track—which has, to date, guided and supported thousands of students on their quest to earn college degrees, most of whom are the first in their family to reach this pivotal milestone.
Today in the United States, with few exceptions, where a person is born determines how far he or she can go in life. Among developed countries, the U.S. ranks second to last in economic and social mobility. This is shameful. It wasn’t always this way—and it doesn’t have to stay this way. This is not how we want our country to work.
This imperative underpins both the moral and practical mission of our work at Emerson Collective: we are idealists with our feet on the ground. Students can’t become self-reliant adults unless we give them an excellent education and a pathway cleared of obstacles. Immigrants can’t contribute their fullest to our communities, can’t live open and free and productive lives, unless they are liberated from the fear of detention and deportation. Complex systemic failures require flexible approaches, new models, and improved public policy. Every day with new ideas, true numbers, and smart practices, we at Emerson Collective do our part to advance these solutions. We do so in partnership with innovative thinkers, entrepreneurs, and organizations — with the broad community of concern and solidarity that we seek to foster.
Our basic belief, as Emerson taught, is that we are doubly obligated: we must rely on ourselves and we must rely on each other. By helping individuals to achieve their dreams, we unleash the full force of the world’s most powerful resource: human potential.
Laurene Powell Jobs
Victor Tan Chen
The main source of meaning in American life is a meritocratic competition that makes those who struggle feel inferior.
What is happening to America’s white working class?
The group’s important, and perhaps decisive, role in this year’s presidential election sparked a slew of commentary focused on, on the one hand, its nativism, racism, and sexism, and, on the other, its various economic woes. While there are no simple explanations for the desperation and anger visible in many predominantly white working-class communities, perhaps the most astute and original diagnosis came from the rabbi and activist Michael Lerner, who, in assessing Donald Trump’s victory, looked from a broader vantage point than most. Underneath the populist ire, he wrote, was a suffering “rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.”
That cuts right to it. The modern economy privileges the well-educated and highly-skilled, while giving them an excuse to denigrate the people at the bottom (both white and nonwhite) as lazy, untalented, uneducated, and unsophisticated. In a society focused on meritocratic, materialistic success, many well-off Americans from across the political spectrum scorn the white working class in particular for holding onto religious superstitions and politically incorrect views, and pity them for working lousy jobs at dollar stores and fast-food restaurants that the better-off rarely set foot in. And when other sources of meaning are hard to come by, those who struggle in the modern economy can lose their sense of self-worth.
“One of the animating causes of this magazine at its founding, in 1857, was the abolition of slavery, (the) Republican Party, and the man who was its standard-bearer in 1860, represented the only reasonable pathway out of the existential crisis then facing the country.
(Lyndon. B.) Johnson, The Atlantic believed, would bring ‘to the vexed problem of civil rights a power of conciliation which will prevent us from stumbling down the road taken by South Africa.’
And the magazine noted that Goldwater’s “preference to let states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia enforce civil rights within their own borders has attracted the allegiance of Governor George Wallace, the Ku Klux Klan, and the John Birchers.”
(Trump) has no record of public service and no qualifications for public office. His affect is that of an infomercial huckster; he traffics in conspiracy theories and racist invective; he is appallingly sexist; he is erratic, secretive, and xenophobic; he expresses admiration for authoritarian rulers, and evinces authoritarian tendencies himself. He is easily goaded, a poor quality for someone seeking control of America’s nuclear arsenal. He is an enemy of fact-based discourse; he is ignorant of, and indifferent to, the Constitution; he appears not to read.
If Hillary Clinton were facing Mitt Romney, or John McCain, or George W. Bush, or, for that matter, any of the leading candidates Trump vanquished in the Republican primaries, we would not have contemplated making this endorsement. We believe in American democracy, in which individuals from various parties of different ideological stripes can advance their ideas and compete for the affection of voters. But Trump is not a man of ideas. He is a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar. He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.”
‘A judge in Baltimore has ordered a new trial for Adnan Syed, the murder convict who was the subject of the Serial, the popular podcast from Chicago Public Radio. Syed’s attorney tweeted the news, ‘We won a new trial for Adnan Syed!!!’
This is a developing story and we’ll update it when we learn more.’
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
Wherever the law is, crime can be found.
— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1973