Way Out West

photographs by Sarah M. Lee, introduction by Laura Barton

Santa Monica, where the wooden pier juts out into the Pacific Ocean, marks the end of Route 66, the mother road for many of those migrating from the eastern states. The great American journey West culminates here, with a Ferris wheel and a candy store, and a branch of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. It is this short stretch of coast that Sarah Lee began photographing in 2015. Back then, America and the California shoreline seemed to mean something quite different. But as the months unfolded, America’s identity has been reshaped—by an election, by gathering questions about immigration, environment, gender, race, sexual assault, and gun ownership, perhaps even by the meddling of Russia. What the West means has shifted considerably since 1620, too.

The Tyranny of the Minority, from Iowa Caucus to Electoral College

Corey Robin

A book stall sign at a store in Des Moines, Iowa, the day of the Iowa caucuses, February 3, 2020

Eighteen percent of the American population—on average, whiter and older than the rest of the population—can elect a majority of the Senate. The problem of minority rule, in other words, isn’t Trumpian or temporary; bipartisan and enduring, it is a keystone of the constitutional order. And arguably, given the constitutional provision that “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate,” this rule by a minority cannot be eliminated or overcome, at least not without a huge social upheaval.

What the Honest Capitalist Will Say

Louis Althusser, introduction by Mitchell Abidor

Louis Althusser in his study, Paris, France, April 26, 1978

In other words, bourgeois ideology has reached its goal: representing the capitalist mode of production as the development of an imaginary mercantile mode of production, and the “genesis” of the capitalist mode of production as the result of the work of deserving independent petty producers who became capitalists only because they really deserved to. Thus it is that the mercantile mode of production is, for bourgeois ideology, the only mode of production there is. There is no other. It remains only to strike up the universal anthem of humanity’s gratitude to free enterprise.

Say It Is So: Baseball’s Disgrace

Sean Wilentz

Fans’ mementos adorning the grave of Chicago White Sox player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson at Woodlawn Memorial Park, Greenville, South Carolina, 2003

Baseball faces a moment of truth unlike any it has known in a century. Until and unless Commissioner Manfred lifts his ludicrous immunity offer and deals severely with the incriminated participating players as well as their management by banishing them all from the game, he will have thrown baseball back to where it was in 1919. If he continues feebly to accede to the corruption of baseball, Commissioner Manfred should himself be forced to wander in the eternal purgatory of the field of dreams inhabited by the Black Sox. What would Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis rule? You’re out!

Trump’s Towering Folly on Federal Architecture

Martin Filler

The Tuscaloosa Federal Building and Courthouse, which opened in 2011, Alabama

News of Trump’s Classical edict seemed particularly grotesque given the Trump Organization’s construction of some of the cheesiest Modernist public buildings in recent history, epitomized by Der Scutt’s gold-mirror-glass glitzkrieg, Trump Tower of 1979–1983 in New York City. So, here we are again, being distracted and diverted by yet another of the peripheral issues through which Trump exercises media manipulation. With the same flagrant hypocrisy he displays politically, Trump has now marketed himself as a guardian of taste. But the effective ban on modern architecture commissioned by the US government that the president proposes is horrifyingly reminiscent of Hitler’s insistence that public buildings in the Third Reich hew to the Classical tradition.

The Keatsian Intelligence of Lorrie Moore

Lauren Groff

Daniel Cacouault: Reader, twentieth century

When critics speak of Lorrie Moore’s voice, they tend to focus on her humor; it is such a dazzling gift that it can blind even a good reader to the endless other modes and varieties of mastery in her work. Moore’s jokes, puns, wordplay, and gimlet eye do build to create a comedic surface tension that’s unequaled in its range and sophistication. Her characters put their humor to a wide variety of uses: to try to smooth over awkwardness, to defang their terror, to stave off despair, to endear themselves to lovers they sense are drawing away, to armor themselves against the aggressions of others, to put up a brave front when it seems that everything around them is caving in, to gesture helplessly at the absurdity of the world.

Syria’s War on Screen: An Exchange

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, reply by Robert F. Worth

Ruined buildings in the village of Ma’arrat al-Nu’man after a weekslong regime offensive against rebel-held areas in Syria’s Idlib province, February 12, 2020

Idrees Ahmad: The author faults the filmmakers for only briefly condemning the jihadis. Their condemnation is, in fact, proportionate to their experience: the hospitals were being bombed by regime forces, not jihadis.
Robert Worth: The filmmakers and their central characters could not have avoided coming into contact with rebel fighters; they would certainly have been aware of the abuses those fighters carried out and of the dungeons they operated. There are street scenes in both films, and plenty of footage of regime attacks, but no trace of the defenders. The filmmakers, in other words, made a deliberate choice to screen out certain inconvenient facts about their own daily lives and the cause they stood for.

The Art of Neverending Wars

Eli Jelly-Schapiro

Rafa Nasiri: War Diary 2 (No, It’s a Dirty War), 1991

The UN-managed economic embargo that starved Iraq of crucial resources from 1990 to 2003 led not only to humanitarian disasters like rising infant mortality, but also to scarcities of basic art materials and instruments. Because of the embargo, Iraqi artists began making their own paper. This urgent creative endeavor contributed to the emergence, during the blockade period, of dafatir—art books that chronicled the continuity of violence while testifying to the possibility of cultural survival or renewal.

Tom Stoppard’s Theatre of Memory

Kate Maltby

Ed Stoppard as Ludwig, Alexis Zegerman as Eva, Faye Castelow as Gretl, and Adrian Scarborough as Hermann in Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, directed by Patrick Marber at the Wyndham’s Theatre, London, 2020

For Stoppard, this play is a personal “coming-out.” That may be a difficult concept for some American Jews to understand, but England is not America. Leopoldstadt is not so much a narrative-drama as a painful, public process of late remembering. It often feels like watching a man performing an autopsy on himself. It is a play about what it means to be English, what it means to be Jewish, and what it means to bury the latter identity in the hope of outrunning the next European genocide. For those of us who are the offspring of similar twists of family fate, Anglo-washed by the surnames of Gentile fathers or stepfathers, these habits of suppression, easy as breathing, are resonantly familiar—seeing them staged is a punch to the gut.

A Liberal in Trump Land

Jim Shultz

The Pine Street Bridge over locks on the Erie Canal, Lockport, New York

On the day that our granddaughter was born, I decided it would be nice to buy and save a copy of the day’s local paper, Lockport’s venerable Union-Sun & Journal, so I stopped in at Walgreens and picked up a copy. Its editorial page contained a ridiculous column by a local professor calling on Congress to hold up the national budget until funding was secured for President Trump’s Mexican border wall. Niagara County, for which Lockport is the county seat, voted for Trump over Clinton in 2016 by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent. So I spent my first evening as a grandfather angrily typing out a response column, and sent it to the paper. Shortly after my article was published, I sat down for a coffee with the editor, Joyce Miles, and that was how I stumbled into becoming a left-leaning opinion columnist in Trump Land.