Washington’s Legacy for American Jews: ‘To Bigotry No Sanction’

Jed S. Rakoff

A daily service at Touro Synagogue, the centuries-old place of worship of the Jewish community of Rhode Island, which welcomed President George Washington as a visitor in 1790 and gave rise to his famous letter about religious freedom, Newport, 2004

Warden Seixas’s letter immediately brought forth from Washington the now-famous response, undated but sent on August 21, 1790. As a number of commentators have remarked, it has sometimes been overlooked how good a politician George Washington could sometimes be. Picking right up on Seixas’s theme, and using some of Seixas’s own language, he noted that in the United States “[a]ll possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship,” and that the government of the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” These are the words for which the letter remains famous.

Springsteen at Seventy

Wesley Stace

Michael Stipe of REM and Bruce Springsteen performing at the “Vote For Change” concert at the Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, October 1, 2004

Whatever showmanship, whatever little bits of business Bruce Springsteen employs to bolster this illusion—the illusion that we are all together, in a small place, where we might be spattered with the performer’s sweat, where one might be able to get from one side of the room to the other by sliding—are in the service of a much greater illusion: that rock and roll still matters, that it can take you away from your dull daily cares, that it can transport you.

What the Apps That Bring Food to Your Door Mean for Delivery Workers

Willa Glickman

Diego Rodriguez, twenty-three, delivering a food order to a customer in Manhattan, September 2, 2019

Food delivery in New York City is nothing new: it’s been possible to have pizza or Chinese takeout brought to your door since the 1950s. Yet in the newer online delivery industry, startups, flush with venture capital, have both altered and entrenched this historically exploitative low-wage work. The higher profile and PR consciousness of the new app firms curb some of the job’s worst abuses and offer the potential for better wages, but they also formalize its precariousness: like most gig workers, couriers are classified as independent contractors rather than employees. Online delivery work offers a particularly clear example of the contractor model’s pitfalls when it is applied to a physical and hazardous job. 

Philosophy of a Blowjob: An Interview with Jacqueline Novak

Andrea Long Chu

Jacqueline Novak in Get on Your Knees, 2019

Andrea Long Chu: I think you’re saying the penis is inherently a cheat. So cheating does seem inescapable to me. At least from an audience member’s perspective, I don’t stress about it as an ethical question. But that’s not my job; maybe it’s your job.
Jacqueline Novak: That’s why it’s an art, not whatever else. I’m not an academic. It’s art, and therefore a little drop of paint here, a little drop of paint there—it’s not a perfect argument. It’s a piece. It’s a living thing that nudges ideas around.

The Green New Deal: A Fight for Our Lives

Naomi Klein

Sunrise Movement protesters inside the office of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Capitol, Washington, D.C., December 10, 2018

As Greta Thunberg says, “We cannot solve an emergency without treating it like an emergency.” We have to “act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” That does not mean we simply need a New Deal painted green, or a Marshall Plan with solar panels. We need changes of a different quality and character. A new vision of what humanity can be is emerging. It is coming from the streets, from the schools, from workplaces, and even from inside houses of government. When the future of life is at stake, there is nothing we cannot achieve.

The Problem with Canceling the Arnautoff Murals

Michele H. Bogart

A fresco from Victor Arnautoff’s The Life of George Washington showing Washington pointing west, as ghostly frontiersmen advance to destroy the Native American way of life, George Washington High School, San Francisco

“As I see it,” wrote Arnautoff in 1935, “the artist is a critic of society.” That critical stance underpinned The Life of George Washington and much the artist’s public work. The #paintitdown advocates, however, did not see the portrayals of Washington as indictments of the myth. They refuted assertions about the murals’ pedagogical significance, insisting that the feelings of some members of a long-oppressed minority group trumped claims by academic experts, whose views they regarded as racist. The progressive school board accepted this argument virtually without question, saying that it was acting in solidarity with people whose voices were too often not heard. 

What the Speaker Bercow Stories Failed to Say

Kate Maltby

John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, at the Palace of Westminster, London, May 24, 2019

For many Americans, particularly progressive Americans dismayed at all but a handful of Republicans’ willingness to criticize President Trump, this parliamentary insurgency to thwart Johnson has made Bercow a British role-model. Appealing as this narrative is, however, it contains significant omissions. Bercow’s resignation this week was not merely a punctuation point in the magical-realist telenovela that is Britain’s attempt to exit the European Union. It marks an intersection between two sweeping international movements: a story as much about #MeToo, which casts Bercow as a villain, as it is about the wave of populism against which Bercow has cast himself as resistance hero.

David Berman of Silver Jews Remembered

Alissa Quart

David Berman performing with the Silver Jews, Barcelona, Spain, 2008

“All my favorite singers couldn’t sing,” David Berman crooned. Berman—along with other indie greats also gone too young: the sublime, alcoholic Jason Molina of the Magnolia Electric Company or Mark Linkous from the band Sparklehorse—was openly troubled, openly poetic, openly marginal, openly sloppy, and openly democratic. He had what the writer Seymour Krim, in his famous 1971 essay on American failure and his own, called “the voice of scars and stars talking.”

A Translation for Our Time?

Tim Parks

A print of Samuel Johnson walking with James Boswell, published in The Graphic, December 1884

What is exciting about translation, then, is not the notion that it has delivered a hundred percent, or that the entire world of human feeling can be made available to us in our own idiom—a fantasy that will only induce complacency—but its encouragement to move toward, or at least become aware of, what we do not know; translation as a wake-up call, and an instrument to spur us to more effort, not to have us sit back and applaud another successful worldwide publishing phenomenon.

Why Bibi Fears Arab Voters

Yardena Schwartz

The Israeli-Arab politician Ayman Odeh (front, third from right) at a campaign rally for the Joint List alliance of Arab parties ahead of Israel’s September election, Kafr Yasif, Israel, August 23, 2019

The giant yellow billboard near the Arab town of Nahef in northern Israel declares in Arabic, “This time, we are the decision-makers.” It is a reminder to the nearly 2 million Arab citizens of Israel that in this election, which will be held on September 17, they could decide Israel’s future as a democratic state. Their votes, should they choose to wield them, have the power to end the reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.