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A Comic-Book Why the

Chinese Love
Heroine for Our Time Trump p. 46
By Caitlin Flanagan

The
Plot Against
America
Paul Manafort and
the Fall of Washington
By Franklin Foer

Your Dog Feels
No Shame
Will We Have Enough
to Eat in 2050?
How Illicit Desire
Can Save Your Marriage
The Pakistan Trap
MARCH 2018
T H E AT L A N T I C .C O M
A DV E RT I S E M E N T

            ĕ          whole, with the goal of mitigating stress
       ĕ                      for patients and redefining what a medi-
      Ġ                     cal facility can be.
       
Ę
Every time Jennie Briend and her 6-year-
old son Tyler (bottom left) visit the new
building, for example, he runs straight to

W
hen you enter the lobby of the newly expand- a large bear sculpture on the first floor
ed Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital on the and gives it a big hug. “He just thinks it’s
Stanford University campus, it may take a the best thing ever,” Briend says of her
moment to realize you are in a medical facility. son, who has spent the majority of his life
Natural light spills through unusually large windows. Undulat- in hospitals, having been born with an
ing walls recall ocean waves. And a series of metal birds hangs undiagnosed critical cyanotic congenital
elegantly from the ceiling. These aren’t the standard trappings heart defect.
of a hospital—and that’s the point. More than a decade in the
making, the new building has sought to synthesize nature, A member of the hospital’s family advisory
sustainability, and world-class technology into a cogent council, Briend gave no small amount of
input as the hospital was built. Input was
also solicited from countless medical
staffers and additional patient families,
who weighed in on everything from furni-
ture comfort to food services—and every
suggestion was carefully considered.
This patient-first, family-friendly approach
has placed the hospital at the forefront
of design and medicine. According to
Diane Flynn, another member of
Packard Children's Hospital advisory
council, “It was all about having empathy
for the patients and their families.”
A DV E RT I S E M E N T

PHOTOS BY VITTORIA ZUPICICH
The patient
rooms at the
Lucile Packard
Children’s Hospital
are designed to
put kids and their
parents at ease.
Here’s how:

1

Medical staffers
wearing RTLS—or
real-time location
services—badges
2 3 4
are identified on a
smart-TV monitor Every patient has a Suites are equipped A pair of retractable For more about the
when they walk into view of the outdoors with a pullout couch curtains ensure people who influenced
a room, eliminating along with a planter and a second TV that patients and the design of Lucile
the confusion some box—one example to accommodate family members Packard Children’s
patients may feel of how nature is family members alike can have their Hospital, visit:
about who is com- prevalent through- who are staying with privacy, even in a TheAtlantic.com/
ing to see them. out the hospital. a patient. small space. stanfordchildrens
OF NO PA RT Y OR C L IQU E

CONTENTS | MARCH 2018
VO L . 3 2 1 – N O. 2

Features

46 Why China
Loves Trump

62
BY BENJAMIN CARLSON
The people love a winner.
The leadership loves a dupe.
American Hustler
BY FRANKLIN FOER
Oligarchs, shady deals, foreign money—how
52 How Will We Feed the Paul Manafort helped contaminate Washington
80 America Is Not
New Global Middle Class? a Democracy
MARK PETERSON/REDUX

and corrupt U.S. politics
BY CHARLES C. MANN B Y YA S C H A M O U N K
In 2050 the world population will Paul Manafort, who was then Donald Trump’s campaign How the United States lost the faith
be 10 billion. Can everyone eat chairman, with the Trump adviser Stephen Miller of its citizens—and what it can do
without destroying the Earth? at a June 2016 campaign event in New York to win them back

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 3
CONTENTS VOL . 321–NO. 2 03 . 18

Dispatches Departments

13 POLITICS
8 The Conversation
Boycott the GOP
B Y J O N AT H A N R AU C H A N D B E N J A M I N W I T T E S 100 The Big Question
The party is now a threat to the constitutional order. Two What was the most influential
nonpartisans argue that people must vote against Republicans act of protest in history?
at every opportunity.

BUSINESS

22 Building a
Better Office
BY LAURA BLISS
WeWork thinks it’s optimized
the workplace for creativity
and productivity. Has it?

LEXICON

26 How to
Talk Trump
BY KURT ANDERSEN
A concise guide to speaking
the president’s dialect

SKETCH

28 The World’s Most
Body-Conscious Man
BY MARK BOWDEN
For years, Larry Smarr has
used a supercomputer to
monitor his health and peer
at his organs. Recently, he
used his knowledge to help
direct his own surgery.

CRIMINAL TENDENCIES

INTERVIEW 30 The Banana Trick
18 “Humorless BY RENE CHUN
On the Cover
Politicians Are the And other dark arts of self-
Most Dangerous” checkout theft
BY JULIA IOFFE
Armando Iannucci, the cre-
ator of Veep, on satire in the
ST U DY O F ST U D I E S time of Trump and his new
16 Funny How? film, The Death of Stalin
B Y B E N H E A LY
An anatomy of cracking up ANIMAL KINGDOM

21 Your Dog Feels
No Shame
BY WILLIAM BRENNAN
The myth of canine guilt

Photograph by
The Voorhes

4 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
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CONTENTS VOL . 321–NO. 2 03 . 18

The Culture File Fiction

32 THE OMNIVORE

A Heroine for Our Time
BY CAITLIN FLANAGAN
The pulp-fiction superspy Modesty Blaise is a woman who is
always in control.

88 Rib Night
BY WILL MACKIN
A war story

Poetry
FILM BOOKS 61 Goat on a Pile
35 Thor and the Hulk 42 The Virtue of of Scrap Lumber
Walk Into a Bar … Illicit Desire BY MICHAEL COLLIER
BY CHRISTOPHER ORR BY CLAIRE DEDERER
After an ill-fated swerve Jamie Quatro’s new novel
into the serious, superhero explores how marriage
movies have at last rediscov- inspires sexual longing.
ered comedy.

BOOKS

38 The Pakistan Trap
BY MARK MAZZETTI
How Afghanistan’s neighbor
has subverted U.S. policy in
America’s longest war

6 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
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being called biased, as a means
of deflecting criticism. Even
the white supremacists who
marched in Charlottesville,
Virginia, deny that they are
racist. Beinart suggests that
people can change if they get
“new information”—and this
can work on the individual
level. But history shows that
the larger structures of power
based on race, gender, and
sexual identity will change only
in response to direct and force-
ful demands for justice.
Billy Easton
ALBANY, N.Y.

We clearly need politics and
media with more critical think-
ing and less mindless name-
calling. While Beinart makes
some good points, his argu-
ment contains a problematic
assumption: that progressiv-
ism is an inherent force for
good that “seeks ever-greater
moral advance.” This very
logic lets liberals assume the
responsibility to determine
what morality means, and lets
• C O N V E R S AT I O N them label conservatives who
disagree with their determi-
nation hateful and closed-
Conservatism Without Bigotry minded. It also assumes that
“moral advance” comes at
In December, Peter Beinart argued that conservatives would be more likely to no cost, at least to those who
reckon with their policies’ discriminatory effects if liberals stopped carelessly matter in liberals’ calculus.
crying racist. When conservatives are
told that their religious beliefs
are wrong, that certain words
Peter Beinart, in leaning over and of Republicans in are likely to get defensive about are unacceptable micro-
backwards to be evenhanded Congress is, in effect, to wink the suggestion that their ideas aggressions, and that college
to conservatives and liberals, at that aspect of his personality are racist, but misses the fact campuses must have safe
poses the wrong question. in order to advance a so-called that there is a correlation spaces to protect liberal sensi-
Before the election of Donald conservative agenda, what between conservatism and tivities, they understandably
Trump, few liberals believed does one call that posture racist attitudes. More impor- question the newly imposed
that all Republicans were other than condoning racism? tant, by focusing on bigotry, morality’s legitimacy. Contrary
racists. The right question is: For Beinart to call this which connotes individual to Beinart’s assertion, the
Are Trump supporters racist attitude merely “willfully bias, rather than on systemic argument is not about right
themselves, or do they merely naive,” as if Republicans are white supremacy, sexism, and and wrong, but about who
condone racism? unaware of the racial impact of heterosexism, Beinart misses has the power to set society’s
Given the endless their policies, is an insult to the the bigger picture. If bigotry moral compass. This power
demonstrations of Trump’s reader’s intelligence. were wiped out tomorrow, these belongs to all Americans,
own bigotry, I would argue Steve Shabad inequitable power structures not a self-selected group that
that it is impossible to deny OSSINING, N.Y. would continue. claims to know what’s right for
that he is a racist or claim to be Throughout American everyone else.
unaware that he is one. So if Peter Beinart’s recent piece history the dominant classes Ken Brown
the position of his supporters points out that conservatives have been defensive about VALRICO, FLA.

8 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
BAROMETER
The most-read magazine stories from 2017 on TheAtlantic.com

In the end, whether the arguments he is making are
Republican Party is funda- contradicted by their appear- 1
mentally racist boils down to a ance in the very magazine in Lola’s Story
few simple questions that have which they were published. Alex Tizon (June)
little to do with the theoretical My years of college education
2
salience of their ideas: Do the prepared me to function as a
policies they champion harm registered nurse in multiple Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?
communities of color more health-care settings, but also Jean M. Twenge (September)
than they help them—even if, to read, comprehend, and 3
in theory, they appear to be appreciate the articles that
The First White President
colorblind? Do the policies appear in The Atlantic on
Ta-Nehisi Coates (October)
they champion aid white such wide-ranging topics as
people disproportionately at economics, science, sociology, 4
the expense of those same politics, and the arts, just to How to Build an Autocracy
communities of color? … name a few. College is good David Frum (March)
Despite Beinart’s claims for building a foundation of
to the contrary, there’s little knowledge applicable to one’s 5
evidence to suggest that career, but is also valuable in When Your Child Is a Psychopath
treading more gently when it expanding one’s world beyond Barbara Bradley Hagerty (June)
comes to confronting these that career.
6
iterations of GOP racism will Denise Jacob, R.N., Ph.D.
actually erode GOP racism. In FRANKLIN, MICH. How America Lost Its Mind
his advocacy for this approach, Kurt Andersen (September)
the author declines to name Bryan Caplan is right on the 7
a single time in history when money when he suggests that
A Death at Penn State
no longer using the “nuclear many students, and not inci-
Caitlin Flanagan (November)
epithet”—calling conservative dentally the economy, would
white people “racist”—has benefit if we put less emphasis 8
actually made them less racist. on bachelor’s degrees and My President Was Black
It’s one thing to make room more emphasis on practical Ta-Nehisi Coates (January/February)
for nuance and avoid broad vocational training. However,
strokes. It is another to ignore I can think of no better argu- 9
proof when it’s sitting in front ment for pursuing an academic The Worst Problem on Earth
of you. Beinart’s piece suggests degree than the notion that an Mark Bowden (July/August)
a fundamental Republican economist has difficulty seeing
10
innocence and naïveté where its value. The main benefits of
the real fundamental element a degree are difficult to quan- Power Causes Brain Damage
is bigotry. tify, but the point is certainly Jerry Useem (July/August)
Zak Cheney Rice not to prepare students for
EXCERPT FROM A MIC ARTICLE some sort of economic activity
per se. The point of education
in the liberal arts is to increase understandably difficult to see forget it anyway, according to
What’s College students’ ability to cope with if one reduces life to numbers Caplan.) Let those who are not
Good For? the new, the ambiguous, the or commerce. gifted learn a trade or a skill
In the January/February issue, alien—that which challenges James K. Foster and be done with it.
Bryan Caplan, an economics our dearly held beliefs. I can CHICAGO, ILL. This kind of elitism is not
professor at George Mason think of no greater skill that humanistic, and it is not just.
University, wrote that students a young person can acquire As a professor in the humani- For one thing, it does not allow
don’t seem to be getting much out through education, especially ties I have asked myself many for the discovery of late bloom-
of higher education. at this political moment, than times whether it makes sense ers, the intellectually talented
the ability to argue without to educate everyone in the many in the “underclasses”
Bryan Caplan argues that becoming angry, to disagree humanities and liberal arts. It’s who have been undereducated
higher education “is a big without rancor, and to find in easy to think that Shakespeare by our racist, classist society.
waste of time and money” differences with others new and Plato are for the few. Let Second, it denies to many the
and that “students spend possibilities about how to live, those who are intellectually richness of experience that
thousands of hours study- think, and approach life. This gifted and ambitious learn comes from placing the present
ing subjects irrelevant to is a crucial function of citizen- literature, history, philosophy, in the context of the larger civi-
the modern labor market.” ship not often on display in political science, and so on lization. Moreover, there is a
It seems to me that the the U.S. these days, and it is if they want. (They will soon commonality and bond among

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 9
T H E C O N V E R S AT I O N

people who share these experi- McKay Coppins quotes me in been able to find them. He told McKay Coppins
ences. All people should have his article “God’s Plan for Mike Pence that things would go responds:
the opportunity to participate Pence.” This portion of the easier if we cooperated with This article, like all articles
in this shared discourse, not article contains some errors him. He also urged Pence to that appear in this magazine,
just the few. and omissions. My objections work with him in establishing a was carefully and exhaustively
We need more and better to these were ignored during better, more open relationship fact-checked, and we made
public education that includes the fact-checking process. between the administration numerous changes to address
large doses of the humani- Most significant is the account and the fraternity. This was the Daniel Murphy’s concerns. But
ties and social sciences. of the episode involving the context for Pence’s decision in the case of the fraternity party
Education has the potential “busting” of the Phi Gamma to take the official to the kegs, described in the story, he did tell
to bring us together through Delta fraternity for a party a decision that others in the me during our recorded, on-the-
our shared heritage(s) and our with alcohol, which gave the fraternity agreed with. He record interview last September
shared skills. It is a primary impression that Pence turned acted to protect the fraternity that Pence “caught some flack”
tool for turning our diversity on his fraternity to gain favor as best he could under unpropi- from some of his fraternity
into a democracy. with college administrators. tious circumstances. Unfortu- brothers, who were “mad” at him
Sharon Schwarze, Ph.D. Such parties were forbidden on nately, the promise of better for his handling of the situation.
PROFESSOR EMERITA AND CHAIR, Hanover College’s then-“dry” treatment for cooperation Specifically, Murphy said, they
DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY AND
LIBERAL STUDIES, campus. On this occasion, proved to be false. Administra- were upset that Pence had led the
CABRINI UNIVERSITY, WAYNE, PA. members of the fraternity were tors proceeded to mete out a administrator to the kegs, rather
caught holding a party with a severe punishment. There was than letting one of the members
couple of kegs of beer. As the indeed a lot of anger in the “take the hit” in an effort to
God’s Plan for president of the fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta house after spare the rest of the fraternity
Mike Pence Pence had to meet with the this—directed at the adminis- from discipline.
In the January/February issue, official who had broken up trators we believed had broken
McKay Coppins probed the the party, and who was going an agreement.
vice president’s past—and to search the fraternity house The article states that after Correction:
explored his role in an unortho- from top to bottom for the this Pence managed to stay on In “When the Presses Stop”
dox administration. kegs. He probably would have good terms with the adminis- (January/February), Molly
tration, implying that he had Ball wrote that Bernie Krisher
been currying favor when he failed to help her with a
SCAM WARNING turned over the kegs. This is health-insurance problem
We occasionally get reports of unauthorized third parties not true. Pence endured the when he was her employer.
posing as subscription resellers. We prize the relationship with same social probation as the The article noted that Krisher
our customers, and regret that you may have been targeted rest of us. Two years after the denied this, saying he had
and inconvenienced.
If you think you have been targeted by a scam, please let party incident, Pence was appealed to the insurance
us know by emailing FraudAlert@AtlanticMedia.com. We also selected to be the student company without success.
encourage you to report your experience to the FTC. speaker at commencement. After the article went to press,
Here are a few ways you can identify a fraud attempt:
We don’t do telemarketing. The Atlantic does not contact The selection process was Krisher found emails show-
subscribers by phone for promotional or financial purposes. The driven by students, and ing that he had offered to help
only time The Atlantic will call you is if you contact our customer- reflected a respect for and Ball, but that the problem
service team and explicitly give your permission for a return call.
We will never call you and ask for personal or billing information. a genuine liking of Pence. had by then been resolved.
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with an Atlantic customer-service representative.
All of our mailed promotions will have a return address from sions office; it would have been Cambodia a newspaper; in
one of two locations: foolish not to hire someone fact, he asked Krisher to help
1. Our office: 600 New Hampshire Avenue, Washington, D.C. with Pence’s charisma and rehabilitate the country. Lastly,
2. Our fulfillment operations: 1901 Bell Avenue, Des Moines, IA
Any mailed packages or promotional pieces with a return communication skills. the article said that two alumni
address from another location are not from The Atlantic. My experience with The of The Cambodia Daily won
The best way to make sure you’re talking with The Atlantic Atlantic has forced me to doubt Pulitzer Prizes. Only one did.
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10 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
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CAN YOU
BELIEVE
WHAT YOU
READ? With fake news leaving most
Sources: 2016 Survey, Pew Research Center; GfK MRI, Spring 2016.

Americans confused about even
the basic facts, magazine media
keeps it real. Whether in print,

MAGAZINE online, on mobile or video, people
trust it to be expertly researched,

MEDIA
written and fact-checked. No
wonder magazine readers are
more engaged and more likely to
recommend advertised products.

Better. Believe It. Being real matters. That’s a fact.

#BelieveMagMedia | BelieveMagMedia.com
WeWork plans to sprinkle offices with data-harvesting sensors and facial-recognition software. This will allow WeWork to monitor how some members use its
spaces: how they adjust their desks, where in the office they spend their time, and maybe even how engaged they are in meetings.
— Laura Bliss, p. 22

D I S P A T C H E S
I D E AS & P R OVO CAT I O N S
M ARCH 2018

• POLITICS

BOYCOTT
THE GOP
The party is now a threat
to the constitutional order.
Even conservatives must vote
against Republicans at
every opportunity.
B Y J O N AT H A N R A U C H A N D
BENJAMIN WITTES

A F E W D AY S after the Democratic
electoral sweep this past November in
Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere, The
Washington Post asked a random Virginia
man to explain his vote. The man, a mar-
keting executive named Toren Beasley,
replied that his calculus was simply to
refuse to calculate. “It could have been
Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears on the
ballot and I would have voted for them if
they were a Democrat,” he said. “I might
do more analyses in other years. But in

Illustrations by EDMON DE HARO T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 13
D I S PAT C H E S

this case, no. No one else gets any consid- vote against Republicans in a spirit that and Ben Sasse, as well as former Gov-
eration because what’s going on with the is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. ernors Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, have
Republicans—I’m talking about Trump Their attitude should be: The rule of spoken out and conducted themselves
and his cast of characters—is stupid, stu- law is a threshold value in American with integrity. Abandoning an entire
pid, stupid. I can’t say stupid enough times.” politics, and a party that endangers this party means abandoning many brave and
Count us in, Mr. Beasley. We’re with value disqualifies itself, period. In other honorable people. We would not do that
you, though we tend to go with danger- words, under certain peculiar and deeply based simply on rot at the top.
ous rather than stupid. And no one could regrettable circumstances, sophisticated,
be more surprised that we’re saying this
than we are.
We have both spent our professional
independent-minded voters need to act
as if they were dumb-ass partisans.
For us, this represents a counsel of
S O WHY HAVE WE come to regard
the GOP as an institutional danger?
In a nutshell, it has proved unable or
careers strenuously avoiding partisan- desperation. So allow us to step back and unwilling (mostly unwilling) to block
ship in our writing and thinking. We have explain what drove us to what we call assaults by Trump and his base on the rule
both done work that is, in different ways, oppositional partisanship. of law. Those assaults, were they to be nor-
ideologically eclectic, and that has—over To avoid misunderstanding, here malized, would pose existential, not inci-
a long period of time—cast us as not are some things we are not saying. First, dental, threats to American democracy.
merely nonpartisans but antipartisans. although we worry about extremism in the Future generations of scholars will scru-
Temperamentally, we agree with the GOP, that is not a reason to boycott the tinize the many weird ways that Trump
late Christopher Hitchens: Partisanship party. We agree with political analysts who has twisted the GOP. For present purposes,
makes you stupid. We are the kind of say that the Republicans
voters who political scientists say barely veered off-center earlier
exist—true independents who scour can- and more sharply than the
didates’ records in order to base our votes Democrats—but recently
on individual merit, not party brand. the Democrats have made We are not motivated by
This, then, is the article we thought we up for lost time by moving the belief that Republican
would never write: a frank statement that rapidly leftward. In any
a certain form of partisanship is now a case, under normal cir-
policies are wrongheaded.
moral necessity. The Republican Party, as cumstances our response We agree with many
an institution, has become a danger to the to radicalization within traditional GOP positions.
rule of law and the integrity of our democ- a party would be to sup-
racy. The problem is not just Donald port sane people within
Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that party.
that made a conscious decision to enable Nor is our oppositional
him. In a two-party system, nonpartisan- partisanship motivated by the belief that however, let’s focus on the party’s failure to
ship works only if both parties are con- Republican policies are wrongheaded. restrain the president from two unforgiv-
sistent democratic actors. If one of them Republicans are a variegated bunch, and able sins. The first is his attempt to erode
is not predictably so, the space for non- we agree with many traditional GOP the independence of the justice system.
partisans evaporates. We’re thus driven positions. One of us has spent the past sev- This includes Trump’s sinister interactions
to believe that the best hope of defending eral years arguing that counterterrorism with his law-enforcement apparatus: his
the country from Trump’s Republican authorities should be granted robust pow- demands for criminal investigations of
enablers, and of saving the Republican ers, defending detentions at Guantánamo his political opponents, his pressuring of
Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley Bay, and supporting the confirmations of law-enforcement leaders on investigative
did: vote mindlessly and mechanically any number of conservative judges and matters, his frank efforts to interfere with
against Republicans at every opportu- justices whose nominations enraged lib- investigations that implicate his personal
nity, until the party either rights itself or erals. The other is a Burkean conservative interests, and his threats against the indi-
implodes (very preferably the former). with libertarian tendencies and a long viduals who run the Justice Department. It
Of course, lots of people vote a straight history of activism against left-wing intol- also includes his attacks on federal judges,
ticket. Some do so because they are par- erance. And even if we did consistently his pardon of a sheriff convicted of defying
tisan. Others do so because of a particu- reject Republican policy positions, that a court’s order to enforce constitutional
lar policy position: Many pro-lifers, for would not be sufficient basis to boycott the rights, his belief that he gets to decide on
example, will not vote for Democrats, entire party—just to oppose the bad ideas Twitter who is guilty of what crimes, and
even pro-life Democrats, because they advanced by it. his view that the justice system exists to
see the Democratic Party as institution- One more nonreason for our stance: effectuate his will. Some Republicans
ally committed to the slaughter of babies. that we are horrified by the president. To have clucked disapprovingly at various of
We’re proposing something different. be sure, we are horrified by much that Trump’s acts. But in each case, many other
We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, Trump has said and done. But many Republicans have cheered, and the party,
people should vote a straight Democratic members of his party are likewise horri- as a party, has quickly moved on. A party
ticket even if they are not partisan, and fied. Republicans such as Senators John that behaves this way is not functioning as
despite their policy views. They should McCain and Bob Corker and Jeff Flake a democratic actor.

14 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
• POLITICS

The second unforgivable sin is Trump’s The reason is that Trump and his Institute, almost two-thirds of Republi-
encouragement of a foreign adversary’s forces have taken command of the party. can respondents agreed with the presi-
interference in U.S. electoral processes. Anti-Trump Republicans can muster only dent that journalists are “an enemy of
Leave aside the question of whether rearguard actions, which we doubt can the American people.” How much dam-
Trump’s cooperation with the Russians hold the line against a multiyear, multi- age can Trump do in the next three years?
violated the law. He at least tacitly collab- front assault from Trump and his allies. We don’t know, but we see no grounds to
orated with a foreign-intelligence oper- It is tempting to assume that this be complacent.
ation against his country— sometimes assault will fail. After all, Trump is un- The optimistic outcome depends to
in full public view. This started during popular, the Republican Party’s prospects some degree on precisely the sort of oppo-
the campaign, when he called upon the in this year’s midterm elections are dim, sitional partisanship we are prescribing.
Russians to steal and release his oppo- and the president is under aggressive For Trump to be restrained going forward,
nent’s emails, and has continued dur- investigation. What’s more, democratic key congressional enablers will need to
ing his presidency, as he equivocates on institutions held up pretty well in the first lose their seats in the midterm elections
whether foreign intervention occurred year of the Trump administration. Won’t to people who will use legislation and
and smears intelligence professionals they get us through the rest? oversight to push back against the admin-
who stand by the facts. Meanwhile, the Perhaps. But we should not count on istration. Without such electoral losses,
Republican Party has confirmed his nomi- the past year to provide the template for the picture looks decidedly grimmer.
nees, doggedly pursued its agenda on tax the next three. Under the pressure of per- Finally, we might not be talking about
reform and health care, and attacked—of sistent attacks, many of them seemingly just three more years. Trump could get re-
course—Hillary Clinton. minor, democratic institutions can erode elected; incumbent presidents usually do.
We don’t mean to deny credit where it gradually until they suddenly fail. That In any event, he is likely, at a minimum, to
is due: Some congressional Republicans the structures hold up for a while does not be renominated for the presidency.
pushed back. Last year, pressure from mean they will hold up indefinitely—and That’s because Trump has won the
individual Republicans seemed to dis- if they do, they may not hold up well. heart of the Republican base. He may be
courage Trump from firing Attorney Gen- Even now, erosion is visible. Republi- unpopular with the public at large, but
eral Jeff Sessions and probably prevented can partisans and policy makers routinely among Republicans, nothing he and his
action against Special Counsel Robert accept insults to constitutional norms that, supporters said or did during his first year
Mueller. Moreover, Republicans as a under Barack Obama, they would have in office drove his Gallup approval ratings
group have constrained Trump on occa- condemned as outrageous. When Trump significantly below 80 percent. Forced to
sion. Congress imposed tough sanctions tweeted about taking “NBC and the Net- choose between their support for Trump
on Russia over the president’s objections. works” off the air (“Network news has and their suspicion of Russia, conserva-
The Senate Intelligence Committee con- become so partisan, distorted and fake tives went with Trump. Forced to choose
ducted a serious Russia investigation that licenses must be challenged and, if between their support for Trump and
under the leadership of Richard Burr. But appropriate, revoked”), congressional their insistence that character matters,
the broader response to Trump’s behav- Republicans were quick to repudiate … evangelicals went with Trump.
ior has been tolerant and, often, enabling. left-wing media bias. In a poll by the Cato It’s Trump’s party now; or, perhaps
more to the point, it’s Trumpism’s party,
because a portion of the base seems
eager to out-Trump Trump. In last
year’s special election to fill a vacant
U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, Republi-
can primary voters defied the president
himself by nominating a candidate who
was openly contemptuous of the rule of
law—and many stuck with him when he
was credibly alleged to have been a child
molester. After initially balking, the Repub-
lican Party threw its institutional support
behind him too. In Virginia, pressure
from the base drove a previously sensible
Republican gubernatorial candidate into
the fever swamps. Faced with the choice
between soul-killing accommodation
and futile resistance, many Republican
politicians who renounce Trumpism are
fleeing the party or exiting politics alto-
gether. Of those who remain, many are
fighting for their political lives against a
nihilistic insurgency.

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 15
bestiality, disrespectful
D I S PAT C H E S
behaviors)”—all of which
have comic potential,
• ST U DY O F ST U DI E S provided they don’t seem
So we arrive at a syllogism:
threatening. [3]

(1) The GOP has become the party Funny How? Why does humor exist
in the first place? In “Sex,
of Trumpism.
(2) Trumpism is a threat to democratic
An anatomy of cracking up Aggression, and Humour:
Responses to Unicycling”
values and the rule of law. B Y B E N H E A LY
(one of the greatest titles
(3) The Republican Party is a threat to ever to come out of aca-
democratic values and the rule of law. deme), a British researcher
proposed that humor
If the syllogism holds, then the most-

H
 
“ umor can be dis- and affirmed by Henny may be a by-product of
important tasks in U.S. politics right now sected, as a frog Youngman, sees humor as male hormonal aggression,
are to change the Republicans’ trajec- can,” E. B. White arising from incongruity: a hypothesis inspired
tory and to deprive them of power in the wrote, “but the thing dies When conventions are by the overwhelming
meantime. In our two-party system, the in the process and the undermined by an absurd percentage of men who
surest way to accomplish these things is innards are discourag- situation, we’re tickled. mocked him while he was
to support the other party, in every race ing to any but the purely But these so-called out riding his unicycle.
from president to dogcatcher. The goal is scientific mind.” True incongruity, superiority, (Women were much more
to make the Republican Party answerable to form, philosophers, and relief theories have supportive.) He conceded,
at every level, exacting a political price so scientists, and certain left- some holes. As Peter however, that further
stinging as to force the party back into the brained comedians have McGraw and Caleb War- research was needed:
democratic fold. been scrutinizing humor’s ren, of the University of “Direct endocrine confir-
The off-year elections in November innards for centuries, mation would require
showed that this is possible. Democrats seeking a serious under- studies not available
flooded polling places, desperate to standing of what makes to a unicyclist.” [4]
“resist.” Independents added their voice. things funny. A more sweeping
Even some Republicans abandoned According to one theory posits that
their party. One Virginia Republican, scholarly definition, humor is an evolution-
explaining why he had just voted for something is humorous ary adaptation that
Democrats in every race, told The Wash- if people cognitively ap- has promoted human
ington Post, “I’ve been with the Republi- praise it as funny, if it cre- survival by rewarding
cans my whole life, but what the party has ates “the positive emotion our relatively feeble
been doing is appalling.” Trump’s base of amusement,” or if it pro- Colorado at Boulder’s Hu- minds for distinguishing
stayed loyal but was overwhelmed by duces laughter. But while mor Research Lab (HURL), true from false, right from
other voters. A few more spankings like the average adult laughs note, “Unintentionally wrong, and harmless from
that will give anti-Trump Republicans a 18 times a day, [1] laughter killing a loved one would dangerous over countless
isn’t a reliable indicator. be incongruous, assert harrowing and deeply
fighting chance to regain influence within
Researchers found only 10 superiority, and release confusing centuries. [5]
their party.
to 20 percent of remarks repressed aggressive Where do things go
We understand why Republicans,
that prompted laughter to tension, but is unlikely to from here? Canadian and
even moderate ones, are reluctant to
be remotely funny. [2] be funny.” McGraw and Australian researchers are
cross party lines. Party, today, is identity.
One general theory, Warren’s own “benign- working on a “quantum
But in the through-the-looking-glass era
put forth by a decidedly violation theory” suggests theory of humor,” [6]
of Donald Trump, the best thing Repub-
non-zany murderers’ row that to be funny, “a situa- computer scientists are
licans can do for their party is vote
of Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, tion must be appraised as exploring whether artifi-
against it. Descartes, and Baudelaire, a violation” and also “as cial intelligence can rec-
We understand, too, the many imper- holds that we are amused benign.” They list a range ognize and create funny
fections of the Democratic Party. Its left when we are made to feel of possibilities, “including images, [7] and an army
is extreme, its center is confused, and superior to others. Freud, violations of personal dig- of Silicon Valley technolo-
it has its share of bad apples. But the for his part, suggested nity (e.g., slapstick, physi- gists and moonlighting
Democratic Party is not a threat to our that forbidden things cal deformities), linguistic comedy writers is striving
democratic order. That is why we are ris- are hilarious (because norms (e.g., unusual to build authentically
ing above our independent predilections humor is a pressure valve accents, malapropisms), funny chatbots. In the
and behaving like dumb-ass partisans. for repressive psychic social norms (e.g., eating meantime, we may as well
It’s why we hope many smart people will energy). Yet another from a sterile bedpan, enjoy what we enjoy, and
do the same. approach, pioneered by strange behaviors), and dodge the flying frog guts
Kant and Schopenhauer even moral norms (e.g., as best we can.
Jonathan Rauch is a contributing editor
THE STUDIES: [2] Provine, Laughter: A Scien- [4] Shuster, “Sex, Aggression, a Quantum Theory of Humor”
at The Atlantic. Benjamin Wittes is tific Investigation (Viking, 2000) and Humour” (BMJ, Dec. 2007) (Frontiers in Physics, Jan. 2017)
the editor in chief of Lawfare. Both are [1] Martin and Kuiper, “Daily
Occurrence of Laughter”
[3] McGraw and Warren,
“Benign Violations” (Psycho-
[5] Hurley et al., Inside Jokes
(MIT, 2011)
[7] Chandrasekaran et al.,
“We Are Humor Beings” (arXiv,
senior fellows at the Brookings Institution. (Humor, Jan. 1999) logical Science, Aug. 2010) [6] Gabora and Kitto, “Toward May 2016)

16 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C Illustration by CHRISTOPHER DELORENZO
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READ IT TODAY!
D I S PAT C H E S

JI: So what role does satire play in an
environment like this?
AI: I have always said that if you’re
• INTERVIEW doing political comedy, don’t expect it to
change people’s opinion or how they vote.

“HUMORLESS POLITICIANS ARE
To do that, you have to become a journal-
ist or an activist or a politician.

THE MOST DANGEROUS” JI: But as a maker of satire, do you feel
more responsibility now?
AI: I’ve always been drawn toward film-
Armando Iannucci, the creator of Veep, on satire in the time
makers that take ambitious state-of-the-
of Trump and his new film, The Death of Stalin nation approaches. Before I made The
BY JULIA IOFFE Death of Stalin, I went back and I viewed
Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator—a
satire of Hitler made in 1941, with hilari-
ous scenes but also scenes about the Jew-
ish ghetto. There is a tradition.
which was quite popular in France, based
on true incidents. And they said, “We want JI: Do you think Veep has aged? Does it
to make this film, and we think it’d be right feel too tame now?
for you—are you interested?” I read the AI: I’m relieved I stopped before Trump—
book and I instantly thought, Well, this is I’d find it very difficult to do fiction set in
it! Why bother with fiction when this true the world of government while what’s
story is bizarre and funny and scary at the happening in reality is far more absurd.
same time? I waited until I’d finished Veep
and then started making it. We shot it pre- JI: In the past year, have there been
Trump, but when I started showing it to moments in the political world that
people, they seemed to think it was some if you’d seen them in the writers’
commentary on contemporary events. room, you would have said, “That’s
There’s a lot in it about new narra- too overwritten”?
tives and old narratives, which seems to AI: The speech that Theresa May made to
HE S C OT TISH-BORN television chime with “fake news” and all that her conference in October, where she had
and film director Armando Iannucci is busi ness. Stalin called
best known in the U.K. for the acclaimed anyone who disagreed
BBC series The Thick of It, a farce set in with him an enemy of the
the upper echelons of British govern- people. Trump calls them “It feels a little bit like
ment. Its success inspired his HBO series, unpatriotic and false. With the 1930s again. Things
Veep, which uses a similar approach— people like Berlusconi
foulmouthed, cringe- inducing, relent- and indeed Putin, and are being said now that
lessly funny—to skewer Washington. For Erdoğan in Turkey—these you wouldn’t have
his new film, The Death of Stalin, Iannucci “strongmen,” as it were— tolerated 10 years ago.”
turns his attention to the Kremlin, satiriz- it feels a little bit like
ing the political struggle that followed the 1930s again. Things
Joseph Stalin’s demise. The movie opens are being said now that
in the United States this month, 65 years you wouldn’t have tolerated 10 years ago. a slogan behind her that said something
after the dictator died. like MAKING BRITAIN STRONGER, and
JI: For example? the letters fell off. I would have dismissed
This interview has been shortened and AI: Well, Trump’s instinct is to call for that as very much a first-draft idea: “That
edited for clarity. jailing of opponents. If Saturday Night wouldn’t happen, go come up with some-
Live does an impression of him, he starts thing else!”
JULIA IOFFE: How did you decide to calling for NBC’s license to be looked
make a movie about the death of Stalin? into. For someone who is head of a party JI: What about stateside?
ARMANDO IANNUCCI: I was thinking of that’s all about government backing off, AI: The thing I found most chilling was
a fictional movie about a contemporary he’s very much for telling people what Trump’s Cabinet meeting where he got
dictator, fantasizing about what might to think, what to watch, who shouldn’t the cameras in and went around making
happen next in today’s world. But then be speaking out—he’s very authoritar- everyone say how good he was. That self-
this French company called Quad came ian. The rule of law is his law, which I find absorption was very much a Mussolini
with this graphic novel, The Death of Stalin, quite menacing. characteristic. Or the judicial nominee

18 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
Armando Iannucci,
photographed in London
on January 5, 2018

who hadn’t attended any kind of trial. If And I say, “We filmed it in London.” We secret police] thinking it hilarious to put a
we had proposed that in an episode, I went through a lot of trouble to re-create tomato in someone’s pocket and smash it.
would have thought, No, surely they would the setting so it didn’t look like a glorified Stalin did lie for a whole day in a puddle
have researched that person! Hollywood version of the time. Stalin’s of his own urine [after he had a stroke]
dacha is big, but it’s very empty. He wasn’t because people were too afraid to go in.
JI: For The Death of Stalin, did you into gold bathrooms and ornaments and Somebody told us that people used to
rely on the French book, or did you do such. He was very, very functional. Power go to bed wearing layers of clothes so that
other research? is what he was interested in. if they were dragged away in the night, they
AI: We went out to Moscow and had a A lot of the events in there are true— would go with lots of clothes on. We discov-
look at the places—I wanted to re-create the dinner parties that he held in the ered that Vasily, his son, really did lose the
them as much as possible. Reassuringly, middle of the night, making people watch entire air-force ice-hockey team in a plane
when Russians see the film, they say, American Westerns till three in the morn- crash and then tried to cover it up by putting
“Where in Moscow did you film that?” ing, Lavrentiy Beria [the chief of Stalin’s together a new team, which was terrible.

Photograph by NICK BALLON T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 2 0 1 8 19
D I S PAT C H E S • INTERVIEW

JI: You captured the intense fear But Russian humor involves the little guy AI: The Russian people give a high status to
and anxiety of the time, but also getting caught up in the machinery of the the arts, don’t they? In the U.K., politicians
the absurdity of it. How did you put province or the inspector—which slightly will be photographed going to a football
those together? chimes with British comedy. It’s all about match or possibly a film, but they wouldn’t
AI: That’s what I wanted—I wanted it to be the little person in the big apparatus. be photographed going to an opera or a bal-
a comedy, but I said, “I want people to feel let or even a play. The idea of the intellec-
uneasy.” I wanted to re-create the sense JI: You haven’t said much about Putin. tual in Britain is a strange one; it’s seen as a
of terror—terror that you lived with for 15 AI: He’s one of the strongmen that I pejorative. “Too clever for your own good,”
or 20 years, in your stomach. And that was was thinking of. Stalin is making a bit “smart aleck,” that sort of thing. I admire
about knowing there were comic scenes, of a comeback in Russia. There’s a huge how in Europe and eastern Europe, parents
but also other scenes that weren’t funny, statue to Czar Nicholas II up in Moscow. want children to aspire to the intelligentsia.
and trying to balance between the two so There’s an enormous statue to Peter the
that the comedy didn’t dilute the tragedy Great. The idea is single, strong men— JI: But the arts are a much more dan-
and the tragedy didn’t snuff out the com- that’s what Putin’s trying to reinforce. gerous profession in Russia. In Stalin’s
edy. Comedy kind of adds to unease: If Although, interestingly, I heard that when gulags you had ballets put on and whole
you’re setting up a joke, there’s that sense they showed the film to the Russian press symphonies, because of all the artists
of heightened anticipation for a payoff. a few days ago, the press cheered and there. Why has the Russian state—be
Which is the same kind of unease as Who’s applauded when Stalin dies. it czarist or Stalinist or Putinist—seen
going to come knocking on the door next? artists as so threatening?
JI: The Russian director Kirill Serebren- AI: One thing that was very popular in
JI: The Death of Stalin is in some ways a nikov, who’s under house arrest, just Stalin’s time was “Stalin jokes”—jokes
very British comedy—I felt like all that had a show about Rudolf Nureyev go about Stalin, jokes about Beria. You
was missing was John Cleese. up at the Bolshoi, with all the Russian could be killed if you were found in pos-
AI: Well, we got Michael Palin. There’s an elite in attendance. They gave a stand- session of one of these. And yet people
element of farce, which is a British thing. ing ovation. What do you make of that? felt the need to come up with them. It’s

• VERY SHORT BOOK EXCERPT

Moon Shot
• Adapted from The Planets: I N T H I S P H O T O G R A P H , taken by the Cassini spacecraft in June 2006, the brilliant
Photographs From silhouette of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is visually bisected by Saturn’s elongated rings.
the Archives of NASA , The moon Enceladus transits the scene at the bottom right. Enceladus was 2.4 million miles
by Nirmala Nataraj, with away from Cassini, and Titan was 3.3 million miles away. Astrobiologists believe that both
a preface by Bill Nye, moons may be habitable with the right supplies. Surviving on Titan would require only an
published by Chronicle oxygen mask and warm clothing, as well as the willingness to live through days that are
equivalent to 16 Earth days. In contrast, the icy, geyser-ridden moon Enceladus is so cold
NASA

Books in November 2017
that the warmest areas, at the south pole, reach only minus 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

20 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
owners lashed out. Far
from signaling remorse,
one group of research-
ers wrote in a 2012 paper,
almost like they’re saying, “You can lock
the guilty look is likely a
me up, you can take my family away, but
submissive response that
if I can still make fun of you, you haven’t
has proved advantageous
changed my mind.” because it reduces conflict
I think that’s why politicians worry between dog and human.
about the arts—they can’t predict what art History reveals the
does to people, and therefore they can’t most-extreme conse-
control the effect it’s going to have. Always quences of that conflict.
beware of politicians who can’t take a joke. The Avesta, an ancient
Zoroastrian religious text,
JI: There was a satirical puppet show deemed dogs capable
on Russian TV called Kukly—“Puppets.” of “willful” offenses and
One of Putin’s first moves as president • ANIMAL KINGDOM ordered that transgressors
was to shut down the entire channel, be punished with mutila-
because he hated how he was portrayed.
AI: That’s it. The humorless politicians
Your Dog Feels No Shame tion. In medieval Europe,
misbehaving mutts were
are the most dangerous ones, I think. The myth of canine guilt routinely tried in court
on criminal charges such
BY WILLIAM BRENNAN
JI: If you were to make a film satiriz- as assault and murder;
ing the Trump era, what would you try punishments ranged from
to capture? jail to death.
AI: His frustration. The way he tries to By comparison, it’s easy


dictate the laws of politics and some- N 2011, a Maryland Weimaraner confesses; to see harsh words and
times the laws of physics. I think we’ll dog owner named “I ate an extra large pep- corny tweets as benign
find, as things progress, that he has fewer Mali Vujanic uploaded peroni pizza,” admits a responses to bad behavior.
and fewer people around him—at some a video to YouTube chocolate Lab. Human But some experts worry
stage he will fire his daughter, and his confidently titled “Guilty!” enthusiasm for guilty dogs that our assumptions
son-in-law. He will keep firing people He’d come home to find seems boundless: A 2013 of canine guilt may be
until there’s no one left. And then the key his two retrievers near an collection of dog-shaming self-fulfilling. Julie Hecht,
moment will come when he turns on the empty bag of cat treats. photos landed on the New a doctoral student who
electorate. Once he starts bad-mouthing The first dog, a golden York Times best-seller list; studies animal behavior at
the people, he’ll be at his most dangerous. retriever, lounged calmly, Denver’s video has been the Graduate Center of the
her conscience seemingly viewed more than 50 mil- City University of New York,
JI: Does it end with Trump firing
clean. But the second dog, lion times. cites research showing
a yellow Labrador named But according to that the more dogs are
himself?
Denver, sat quaking in a Alexandra Horowitz, a dog- punished, the more they
AI: I think he’d rather fire America first.
corner, her eyes down- cognition expert at tend to act in ways that
He’d go to one of his golf courses, build
cast, making what Vujanic Barnard College, what we drive their owners mad.
a wall around it, call that America, and
called “her signature ‘I perceive as a dog’s guilty Scolding, Hecht believes,
everywhere else doesn’t get funding.
done it’ face.” Vujanic look is no sign of guilt at all. may confuse dogs,
Remember Sarah Palin—when she
gasped at the apparent In a 2009 study, she had resulting in “an anxious
was campaigning, she went to the middle
admission of guilt: “You owners forbid their dogs cycle of destruction and
states, saying, “I like to be here in what
did this!” Denver beat to eat a tempting treat, appeasement” that could
I call ‘Real America.’ ” Anywhere the
her tail nervously and then asked the owners ultimately “harm the dog–
Democrats are is not Real America. It’s grimaced. “You know to leave the room. While human bond.”
that—defining your opponent as false. the routine. In the ken- each owner was gone, she To keep that bond
nel.” Obediently, the dog either removed the treat strong, Horowitz suggests
JI: That’s what the Bolsheviks did— impounded herself. or fed it to the dog. When that dog owners “take
people they didn’t like were “former The video quickly gar- the owners returned, they away the temptation”: Put
people.” You captured that very well in nered a flood of comments. were told—regardless of a lid on the trash can, keep
the ending credits, where you scratched Since then, “dog shaming” the truth—that their dog your shoes in the closet,
people out, the way the Soviets did. has become popular on either had or had not hide the kitty snacks.
AI: I had been toying with that for a while; Twitter and Instagram, as eaten it. If owners thought And if you must blame
it seemed right at the end. owners around the world their dogs had indulged, someone when your dog
post shots of their trem- reprimands followed, and misbehaves, look inward.
JI: Is there anything else you want to say bling pets beside notes guilty looks abounded. Yet As one commenter put
to our readers? in which the dogs seem dogs who hadn’t eaten the it after watching Denver
AI: God help us all! to cop to bad behav- treat were more likely to shake in submission, “Let’s
ior. “0 days since the last appear guilty than dogs face it, somebody left the
Julia Ioffe is a staff writer at The Atlantic. toilet paper massacre,” a who had—so long as their treats out.”

Illustration by ESTHER AARTS T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 2 0 1 8 21
D I S PAT C H E S

The Atlantic told us this arrangement
would be temporary while our real office
was renovated. As of this writing, we’re
still here. If WeWork had its way, we’d
stay forever, along with much of the 21st-
century workforce.
WeWork is the world’s leading
co- working company and the sixth-
most-valuable start-up, according to
VentureSource. Last year it was valued at
$20 billion, a staggering sum for a com-
pany renting out short-term office space,
mostly to small businesses and freelancers.
But like Uber and Airbnb, WeWork posi-
tions itself grandly, as a disruptive revolu-
tionary. It promises to “humanize” work,
making the office a more creative place,
with the right lighting, the right snacks,
and, crucially, the right people.
WeWork would say it’s well on its way
to transforming white-collar labor: It seats
175,000 “members” in 207 locations
across 20 countries, with plans to double
in size this year. Its leaders describe it not
as a real-estate venture but as a “commu-
nity company.”
Whether that’s a $20 billion business,
however, is a matter of contention. Com-
panies specializing in shared office space
have come before. As The Wall Street
Journal noted this fall, the office-leasing
company IWG manages five times the
square footage but has about one-eighth
the market value. Even Adam Neumann,
a co-founder of WeWork and its CEO,
• BUSINESS
admits that his company is overvalued, if
you’re looking merely at desks leased or

BUILDING A BETTER OFFICE rents collected. “No one is investing in a
co-working company worth $20 billion.
That doesn’t exist,” he told Forbes in 2017.
WeWork thinks it’s optimized the workplace “Our valuation and size today are much
for creativity and productivity. Has it? more based on our energy and spirituality
than it is on a multiple of revenue.”
BY L AU R A B L I S S
That’s a striking statement. Shuffle-
board tables and free IPAs, however
enticing, surely can’t justify the recent
$4.4 billion round of venture capital pro-
pelling the company’s growth. But these
cramped quarters may hold more than
meets the eye. WeWork’s real value might
indeed be in the elbow-to-elbow “energy”
Neumann describes—just not for the

I
N MARCH 2017, the New York City–based editors and writers of The Atlantic community you might imagine.
moved to a WeWork office in Brooklyn. I remember our first morning vividly:
It was like entering the Millennial id. Craft beer and cucumber water poured H E O F F I C E S U B L E T is not an
from kitchen taps. Laptoppers in jeans and toques clacked along to MGMT in
the wood-paneled common area. A WeWork “community manager” showed
T innovation of the digital age. But
the idea of a co-working space—a collec-
us to a glass-walled office so small that my colleagues and I could clasp hands tion of like-minded renters committed to
while seated. We sat. Had we arrived in the future of work? forming a community—is a more recent

22 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
I l lu s t rat io n by G E O F F ROY DE C R É CY
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D I S PAT C H E S • BUSINESS

development. Its history might begin Genuine connections do occur—some- Investors have seen this movie before.
with the European hacker spaces of the times at happy hours and often through IWG, itself a network of flexible office
1990s, where independent programmers WeWork’s online member network, where spaces, expanded rapidly in the 1990s
swapped coding skills in dark basements people share marketing tips, sell furniture, (it was known as Regus at the time) on a
with an air of techno-anarchism. Ameri- organize cryptocurrency seminars. (The wave of high-hope investment, only to
cans caught on a few years later. The first variety of requests never ceases to amaze. seek bankruptcy protection after the dot-
true co-working space, so-called, emerged Quickly fulfilled: “Any WeWork salted com bust. What distinguishes the younger
in 2005, renting square footage from a cured meat companies?” Apparently un- player, really, besides charismatic leader-
feminist collective in San Francisco’s Mis- fulfilled: “Can anyone refer me to a good ship and lofty rhetoric? “WeWork is
sion District. This eventually became the venture capitalist in the NYC area?”) nothing but Regus with a paint job,” one
Hat Factory, an industrial loft in the Dog- Despite the company’s occasional industry veteran told The Wall Street Jour-
patch neighborhood, which described it- excesses, WeWork offices are more pleas- nal. Many investors have placed their bets
self as a “community office space for geeks ant than many a soulless cubicle farm, ac- because they’re dazzled by Neumann,
and media hackers.” It was co-founded by cording to people I spoke with at locations Konrad Putzier, a real-estate reporter at
the guy who invented the hashtag. in New York; Washington, D.C.; Boston; The Real Deal, told me.
The first wave of co-working served and Los Angeles. “People are relaxed. No
a relatively small, scrappy set of inde- one’s watching the clock,” says Liz Granda, E W O R K M AY B E positioning
pendent contractors and do- gooders.
The second wave has responded to an
who works for Brooklyn Paws, a concierge
service for pet owners, in a WeWork under
W itself more strategically than some
of its detractors allow. More and more of
economy in which independent work has the Manhattan Bridge. The relentlessly the people inside the glass-walled grids
become more default than choice. The cheerful vibe encourages members to be are not entrepreneurs or gig workers.
2008 financial crash forced employers social, or at least forces them to be nice. They’re employees of Facebook, Amazon,
to cut hours and jobs, and the emerging Nicole Shore, the principal of Zero to Sixty General Electric, IBM, Bank of America,
gig economy swelled the ranks of the Communications, a boutique PR firm, has and hundreds of other large corporations.
self-employed. Thus WeWork’s eclectic rented desks in locations around the coun- Blue-chip companies are the fastest-
mix of freelance writers, labor organizers, try. She told me she got to know her go-to growing segment of WeWork’s client base.
financial consultants, and app developers graphic designer at a WeWork Christmas Their employees now represent more
hustling for investors. party. At its best, with its abundant conve- than 25 percent of WeWork members.
Adam Neumann was himself a strug- niences and event-directing community At WeWork, companies with more
gling entrepreneur (he owned a company managers, WeWork can feel like an all- than 1,000 employees globally are known
that sold baby clothes) in recession-era inclusive cruise. as “enterprise” members. Veresh Sita, an
New York when he and a couple of friends Cruises, of course, aren’t for every- executive who oversees products for this
rented out space in a Brooklyn building to one. Many observers in the real-estate group, told me that many enterprise mem-
make some additional income. Demand industry say WeWork is wildly overvalued, bers first looked to WeWork for temporary
proved stronger than expected. In 2010, and its aggressive expansion plans un- overflow space or as an outpost in a new
Neumann, who was raised in part on a realistic. Although it
kibbutz in Israel, and Miguel McKelvey, has reportedly begun
who grew up with five mothers in an Ore- raising money for a
gon collective and studied architecture in real-estate-investment
college, leased a few thousand square feet fund, the company “Our concept is ‘Come for
in SoHo and opened the first WeWork: a owns few physical a month, stay for life,’ ”
shared space where enterprising cre- assets. Its practice one WeWork executive said.
atives could work and play. has been to sign long-
From the start, WeWork offered a term leases en masse,
somewhat uneasy combination of its striking multiproperty
founders’ ambitions and co-working’s agreements to get the
communal roots. Neumann describes best deals with landlords, then renting market. Now WeWork is actively courting
WeWork as a “capitalist kibbutz.” Mem- spaces at a premium. (Many members told them. “Our concept is ‘Come for a month,
bers are encouraged to mingle, network, me that, per square foot, WeWork is con- stay for life,’ ” Sita said.
and leverage one another’s talents, fre- siderably pricier than a traditional rental, The benefit that big companies offer
quently under the auspices of a corporate but that they’re willing to pay extra for the WeWork seems clear: Salesforce, HSBC,
sponsor: Witness taco pop-ups promoting turnkey flexibility and sense of commu- and Facebook are presumably more reli-
internet phone service; talk-therapy cir- nity.) It’s a classic lease-arbitrage model, able subtenants than a fluctuating mix
cles sponsored by a women’s activewear which business-school professors will tell of long-shot start-ups and quixotic non-
brand; cocktails served up by the payroll- you carries significant risk: Whenever the profits. What do corporations get in the
software giant ADP. Billed as commu- next economic downturn hits, demand for deal? WeWork estimates that enterprise
nity-building programming, the events office space may retreat, leaving WeWork members save 25 to 50 percent in operat-
can feel more like exercises in targeted with a lot of empty desks and multiyear ing expenses, compared with traditional
advertising, with members as the marks. leases to pay. office build-outs. But members told me

24 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
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D I S PAT C H E S • BUSINESS

it’s less the cost, and more the conve- the entrepreneurial talent of WeWork • LEXICON

nience and cool factor, that draws them members. David Pessah, the director

HOW TO
in. Big, buttoned-up companies aren’t of KPMG’s Innovation Labs, previously
always good at providing the kinds of worked at a Snapchat-esque start-up in

TALK TRUMP
perks and services many workers have the same WeWork. Repeated run-ins and
come to expect. “We’ve become a tal- informal chats with his now-boss led to
ent feeder for the rest of the company,” a job offer. “I’m not sure if I would have
says Adam L’Italien, the vice president of applied to KPMG, or been interested in
global consumer markets innovation at the same capacity, if not for the WeWork A concise guide
Liberty Mutual Insurance, which leases environment,” Pessah told me. “It was an to speaking the
space at a Boston WeWork. “We’re able easy transition.” president’s dialect
to show people we do things that are less Sita said WeWork will soon begin offer-
obvious when you think about Liberty ing some enterprise members the ability BY KURT ANDERSEN
and insurance products.” to manipulate, to an extent, who works in
WeWork offers more than just a a given location. He offered an example:
chiller vibe. In a 2016 trial run, Microsoft Say a large pharmaceutical brand wants to S S O O N A S Donald
gave 300 salespeople in three U.S. cities
access to WeWork spaces as an alterna-
work with biomedical start-ups. WeWork
would seek out congenial neighbors by
A Trump announced his pres-
idential candidacy, people noted
tive to their existing offices in those cities. tapping willing members or interested a few of his linguistic quirks,
After a few months, more than 80 percent recruits. “Every start-up wants to be such as the extended, super-
of the workers reported that the access an enterprise, and every enterprise a vowel pronunciation of huge and
made them more productive throughout start-up,” Sita said. “We think we have a the references to himself in the
their day. responsibility to curate some relationship third person. But beyond those,
WeWork is selling enterprise members between these two groups.” the version of English he speaks
on the idea that it can make their workers The upshot of such an arrangement is amounts to its own patois, with
more productive still. Sita told me that We- not just the stuff of WeWork’s corporate a special vocabulary and syntax
Work plans to sprinkle offices with data- talking points. Prominent 20th- century and psychological substrate. A
harvesting sensors and facial-recognition urban theorists like Jane Jacobs and the year ago Alec Baldwin and I de-
software as part of its “Powered by We” economist Robert Lucas argued that cided to write a parody memoir,
suite of services. The program will allow dense packs of talented workers boost You Can’t Spell America Without
WeWork to monitor how employees use local economies and innovative thinking; Me: The Really Tremendous Inside
its spaces: how they adjust their desks, recent data-backed research supports the Story of My Fantastic First Year as
where in the office they spend their time, theory. In a way, WeWork is taking the President, entirely in that dialect.
and maybe even how engaged they are in “creative clustering” already happening in To prepare, I spent weeks study-
meetings. These data—which, according cosmopolitan centers and concentrating ing transcripts of his interviews
to WeWork, would never be used to track it even further, in a few thousand square and press conferences and depo-
the movements of individual employees— feet of class-A office space. sitions, as well as thousands of
could allow companies to lease exactly What does that mean for the average his tweets, to assemble a lexicon
the right amount of space, and exactly the co-worker? WeWork will try to “balance” I could consult as we wrote. This
right kind of space, too. Phil Kirschner, the the mix of members by location, Sita said. is an abridged version of that
director of workplace strategy, describes He stressed that start-ups can benefit from Trump style guide.
a future in which someone could check proximity to blue chips, whether through
into any WeWork in the world and sit at knowledge-sharing, contracting, or even
a desk that automatically adjusted to the acquisition. That makes sense, at least
right height. in some cases. But a future where co-
Until that creepy, if ergonomically working is made entirely of big fish and
correct, future comes to pass, the ben- little fish content to swim in one transac-
efits that WeWork confers on enterprise tional bowl is a future that seems to leave
members may come from a tried-and- out a lot of other fish: the vegan-meal-kit
true real-estate verity: It’s all about loca- makers, the community bail fund, and
tion. Microsoft employees noted that hey, the journalists. We, too, are working
WeWork’s scatter plot of primo sites here. What would Big Business want with
gave them more-convenient access to us? And what would we want with Big Busi-
clients. Other enterprise members have ness? The day may soon come when we’re
benefited from new neighbors within forced to repair to our dark basements—
WeWork’s walls. The accounting giant because the economy cools off, or because
KPMG has a 50-desk space in a Man- WeWork has cooled on us.
hattan WeWork. Leaders say one of the
greatest advantages has been access to Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab.

26 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
ADJECTIVES SPECIAL VAGUE SOURCE
PHRASES ATTRIBUTION
N E G AT I V E POSITIVE EXTREME GENERAL

boring amazing big • A lot of people are saying …
believe me
complete and beautiful huge • People think it’s going to happen.
total best major by the way • Everybody’s talking about it.
crooked big league many • They are saying …
disgusting brilliant massive doesn’t have • Everyone is now saying …
dishonest elegant numerous a clue
dopey fabulous staggering PERSONAL
dumb fantastic substantial getting away
with murder • That’s just what I had heard.
goofy fine tough
• I’ve heard that …
horrible good vast
hit a home run • What I’ve heard …
interesting* great
• I’ve been hearing …
not good happy Usage note: hit me harder • A lot of people tell me …
obsolete honest These may be
• “I’ve seen this, and I’ve sort of
out of control incredible spoken once, I have
witnessed it—in fact, in two cases
overrated nice twice (“major, many, many
I have actually witnessed it.”
pathetic outstanding major”), or friends
ridiculous phenomenal three times
rude powerful (“many, many, I must tell you NONSTANDARD
sad sophisticated many”). INCLUSION OF
I won THE DEFINITE ARTICLE
scary special
stupid strong I’m a believer in 
terrible successful • the African Americans
unfair top I’m doing very • the blacks
weak tremendous well with • the cyber
worst unbelievable • the Latinos
in all fairness • the women
*as a synonym
in the
for suspicious ADVERBS
whole world

laughing at us absolutely incredibly
QUICK REPETITION OF badly totally
WORDS AND PHRASES likes of which basically truly
certainly unbelievably
• “He’s a low-energy person, let’s face it. We don’t need never seen extremely very
low energy. We need lots of energy.” before, ever frankly viciously
greatly way
not gonna
• “I mean, we defend everybody. We defend everybody. highly
happen
No matter who it is, we defend everybody. We’re de-
fending the world.” … okay? NEGATIVE NOUNS
• “The children are aspiring to grow up to be terrorists. … right? candy* lowlife
They are taught to grow up to be terrorists … chaos moron
RICK WILKING; CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS

They have to stop the teaching of children to aspire that I can choker phonies
to grow up as terrorists.” tell you clown problem
disaster terror
they don’t
• “You cannot just have a standard. You cannot just dope weakness
respect us
say that we have a blanket standard all over the dummy
world … you can’t have a blanket standard. You may to be perfectly fool *as a synonym for
say … it sounds nice to say, ‘I have a blanket stan- honest hatred cheap or widely
dard; here’s what it is’ … But you know … it won’t be a idiocy distributed
blanket standard.” very much incompetence commodities,
involved joke such as illegal
• “We were the big bully, but we were not smartly led. lightweight drugs and leaked
And we were the big bully who was the big stupid bully.” zippo loser intelligence

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 27
D I S PAT C H E S

the jungle of bacteria that line the hu-
man intestines. We have at least as many
of these alien cells inside our bodies as we
• SKETCH
have cells that carry our DNA—Larry and
some other researchers believe they may

THE WORLD’S MOST actually outnumber our DNA-carrying
cells by a factor of 10 to 1.

BODY-CONSCIOUS MAN It is useful to adopt Larry’s way of
thinking about the body as a torus, a
donut-shaped structure with a tunnel
For years, Larry Smarr has used a supercomputer that runs through its center: our gastro-
to monitor his health and peer at his organs. Recently, intestinal tract. Food and drink are for-
eign objects we send through this tunnel
he used his knowledge to help direct his own surgery. from mouth to anus, with various way
BY MARK BOWDEN stations in between: esophagus, stom-
ach, small intestine, large intestine, and
so on. As the food or liquid progresses,
nutrients are extracted and waste is pro-
pelled downward. Much of this work is
computer engineering. He founded, performed for us by bacteria, a whole
and heads, the California Institute for ecosystem of microorganisms that were
Telecommunications and Information uncountable, unclassified, and there-
Technology, or Calit2, which is exploring fore essentially unexplored before the
advanced digital technologies to rethink declining cost of gene sequencing and
the way medicine is practiced. the exponential increase in computing
Larry is using his own body, and his on- speed made all that possible. Working
going struggle with Crohn’s, as an experi- with UCSD’s Center for Microbiome

S
ment. He keeps precise measures of his Innovation, Larry has his biweekly stool
body’s input (what he eats and drinks) and samples genetically sequenced, and then
output (the energy he burns and what he transfers that information into a super-
excretes—and yes, that is precisely what computer, where it is correlated with
it sounds like). He undergoes periodic changes in his diet, weight, medications,
MRIs, has his blood and stool analyzed fre- and symptoms.
ONIA RAMAMOORTHY quently, submits to annual colonoscopies, This regimen is more than any nor-
has plenty of smart patients. A surgeon and has had his DNA sequenced. Among mal person could, or would, undertake,
at the University of California at San the things Calit2 does with all these data isbut Larry believes that portable sensors
Diego, she counts among her patients create a stunning, reg-
members of that school’s faculty, many ularly updated three-
of whom arrive at her clinic remarkably dimensional image
well informed. of his insides, which
“They’ve been to the internet, and he calls “Transparent “You’re the doctor, not me,”
they’ll come in with 50 questions,” she says. Larry.” His colleague Larry told her, pointing to a
But nothing prepared her for Larry Jürgen Schulze projects precise spot, “but I would
Smarr. During her consultation with him it inside “The Cave,” a
about an intestinal affliction in Octo- virtual- reality room
start cutting here.”
ber 2016, he interrupted her to ask, “Do that literally places the
you have a quick minute? I have a Power- viewer inside the pic-
Point presentation.” ture. Larry can not only
I wrote about Larry in this magazine chart the changes taking place inside his and tracking software will soon make
five and a half years ago, documenting body; he can actually see them. such monitoring simple enough that it
his remarkable efforts with a super- As a result, he arguably knows more will become commonplace. If and when
computer at UCSD to study his own body about his own inner workings than any- millions of people ultimately pool their
in unprecedented detail—efforts that one else ever has. His goal, as he puts it, personal data on the internet, they will
had led to his self-diagnosis of Crohn’s is for each of us to become “the CEO of establish the first comprehensive, fact-
disease, long before definitive symptoms our own body.” based, real-time template for the human
had manifested. Although Larry’s aca- In the years since I first met Larry, he body. This will enable physicians to de-
demic background is in astrophysics and and Calit2 have produced a steady stream fine disease not as a theoretical grouping
astronomy, he has evolved into one of of groundbreaking studies, most notably of symptoms but as a precise physical
the world’s foremost experts in applied work charting the body’s microbiome, anomaly in a specific patient. Treatment

28 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
of his own disease has given Larry an UC San Diego Health, was called in, and doctor, but if I were … It’s time to get this
opportunity to demonstrate exactly how after examining Larry’s colon closely, she out. It can’t do anything but harm.”
this might work. noted in his records that the afflicted seg- Larry made an appointment with his
ment looked inflamed, but that the condi- primary doctor, Bill Sandborn, an inter-

C R O H N’S , A N I N F L A M M AT O RY
bowel disease, was an unpleasant
discovery during what began as an ef-
tion was not serious.
It looked and felt serious to Larry,
however. In time, his symptoms became
nationally known gastroenterologist, not
to ask him what should be done, but to tell
him what should be done: “I have come
fort to simply lose weight. With the indisputable. He was in his family’s hot to the conclusion that my future health
help of Transparent Larry, he discov- tub in March 2016 when his son noted depends on removing six to nine inches
ered the affliction well before clinical that his stomach looked very swollen. Al- of my sigmoid colon,” Larry wrote in a
medicine could have diagnosed it. But ready, the volume of stool he was produc- pre-appointment email. “This is NOT an
when I met him, in 2012, the effects were ing had been getting smaller and smaller. urgent issue, but I would like to get the
clear: abdominal bloating, rectal bleed- A full-body CT scan and a CT virtual process beginning.”
ing, intestinal discomfort, and other colonoscopy showed that the walls of Larry made a full presentation to
problems. Looking at 3-D images of his the affected six-to-nine-inch stretch of Sandborn in early September, complete
intestines, Larry could see a severely colon were dramatically inflamed. In with a 3-D-printed plastic model of his
inflamed portion of his colon, which was essence, the contents of his intestines colon whose design was based on an
the likely cause of his increasing distress, were being forced through an opening abdominal MRI. Sandborn concurred
and which, he suspected, at some point that had shrunk from the width of a fire with Larry’s diagnosis and referred him
would have to be removed. In the years hose to that of a soda straw. His colon back to Ramamoorthy.
since, the disease—which is not fatal, but was locked in a self-reinforcing cycle: Surgery is a conservative profession.
can be quite painful—has progressed. The distress worsened the inflammation, Regularly skating on the edge of life and
Three and a half years ago, when he which further narrowed the tube. Harvey death demands a certain amount of ego;
underwent an unrelated hernia surgery, Eisenberg, the doctor who founded the experience—both good and bad—has a
Larry asked that a colorectal surgeon imaging center that performed Larry’s way of hardening convictions about the
take, in effect, a “flyover” look at his scans, saw the changes and told him right way to proceed. “We’re stubborn,”
colon. At his request, Ramamoorthy, the in the summer of 2016, “This is get- Ramamoorthy told me. “Surgery is a time
chief of the colorectal-surgery division at ting pretty bad. You know, I’m not your for people to focus, for people to be seri-
ous.” Experimenting with fancy
new technology is not always a sur-
geon’s top priority.
Ramamoorthy is from a family
of engineers, however, so she was
intrigued. She knew that Larry was
one of the stars at UCSD, so she
was more willing than she might
otherwise have been to work with
a patient who not only thought he
knew best but who wanted, in ef-
fect, to hijack her operating room.
“I mean, he’s obviously a genius,”
she said. “Why would I not look at
what he was interested in?”
“She was a dream doctor for
me,” Larry told me. “She knows
that more information is going to
make her a better surgeon, with a
better outcome for the patient.”
Larry told Ramamoorthy that
he felt like he was going to ex-
plode. His belly was severely dis-
tended. The rectal bleeding had
worsened, and the volume of his
stool was still in decline. Then
came the PowerPoint. Among the
data Larry presented were details
about his C-reactive-protein lev-
els, which measure inflammation,
and which had multiplied nearly

Illustration by JOHN CUNEO T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 29
D I S PAT C H E S

sixfold in the previous month. Last, he folds pressed against his bladder—both with Larry, both understood the surgi-
invited Ramamoorthy across campus to areas of surgical risk. “You’re the doctor, cal plan exactly, where the danger points
his Calit2 building, where he brought her not me,” Larry told her, pointing to a pre- were, and when decisions might have to
into the Cave. cise spot, “but I would start cutting here.” be made in the moment—not in a generic
Like everyone who sees the virtual- Pointing to another spot, he added, “And sense, as with most surgeries, but with
reality room, Ramamoorthy was at first cutting here makes a good deal of sense.” great specificity. Larry was functioning,
amazed. Then she was struck by how “That’s about right,” she said. in a concrete sense, as his body’s CEO.
useful the images were. Inside our bel- She would later calculate that this vir- “I was really the learner and he was the
lies, the intestines are a jumble of coiled tual inspection “probably saved us about teacher,” Ramamoorthy said.
tissue, resting among other organs and an hour’s worth of time during surgery.” Before the surgery, Larry arranged
vital blood vessels. The twists and turns That’s a valuable advantage, she ex- for Intuitive Surgical, which makes the
are not the same in everyone, so when a plained, because the longer a patient is da Vinci, to work with Jürgen Schulze,
surgeon peers in, she encounters a layout under anesthesia, the more likely he is to his colleague, to feed his 3-D images
that can differ from one person to the suffer postoperative complications. directly into the robot. This would enable
next and that, considering the coils are When it came time for Ramamoorthy Ramamoorthy to see 3-D virtual images
folded into such a small space, can be to review the necessary consent forms in her scope alongside the real images of
hard to sort out. In the operating room,
the patient is placed on a reclining board
with his head down, so that gravity eases
compaction and makes the work a little After auditing 1 million
easier. The first step in the procedure, un- self-checkout transac-
• CRIMINAL TENDENCIES
der normal circumstances, is to insert a tions over the course of a
scope into the belly for a look around. year, totaling $21 million
“We see kind of the lay of the land, The Banana Trick in sales, they found that
and get a sense of what we have to do,” nearly $850,000 worth
Ramamoorthy explained. She performs And other dark arts of self-checkout theft of goods left the store
surgery with a state-of-the-art robot without being scanned
BY RENE CHUN
called the da Vinci Xi, a four-armed de- and paid for.
vice that nearly fills the operating room. The Leicester
At the end of each arm is a narrow tube researchers concluded
that can be inserted into the patient’s that the ease of theft is

B
 
body; each insertion point is called a port. ENEATH THE of something pricey. Just likely inspiring people
A small camera or the robot’s delicate fin- bland veneer of make sure both items are who might not otherwise
gers can be threaded through the tubes supermarket auto- about the same weight, steal to do so. Rather than
at these ports. Placement of the ports is mation lurks an ugly to avoid triggering that walk into a store intend-
truth: There’s a lot of pesky “unexpected item” ing to take something, a
crucial, because the camera and fingers
shoplifting going on in alert in the bagging area. shopper might, at the
that extend from them into the patient’s
the self-scanning check- How common are end of a trip, decide that
viscera must be set precisely in the area
out lane. But don’t call self-scanning scams? a discount is in order. As
where Ramamoorthy intends to cut.
it shoplifting. The guys If anonymous online one retail employee told
When using the da Vinci, Rama-
in loss prevention prefer questionnaires are any the researchers, “People
moorthy does not peer directly into the pa-
“external shrinkage.” indication, very common. who traditionally don’t
tient’s body, but instead views it through a
Self-checkout theft When Voucher Codes Pro, intend to steal [might
scope at the da Vinci’s workstation, which
has become so wide- a company that offers cou- realize that] … when I
has a screen to project what the robot’s spread that a whole lingo pons to internet shoppers, buy 20, I can get five for
cameras see, and hand controls with has sprung up to describe surveyed 2,634 people, free.” The authors further
which she can manipulate the robot’s fin- its tactics. Ringing up nearly 20 percent admit- proposed that retailers
gers. The first step in Larry’s procedure a T-bone ($13.99/lb) ted to having stolen at the bore some blame for the
would be to determine exactly where to with a code for a cheap self-checkout in the past. problem. In their zeal to
place the ports in his belly. ($0.49/lb) variety of pro- More than half of those cut labor costs, the study
Inside Transparent Larry, however, duce is “the banana trick.” people said they gamed said, supermarkets could
Ramamoorthy got a jump on the surgery If a can of Illy espresso the system because be seen as having created
a week early. She could see which portion leaves the conveyor belt detection by store security “a crime-generating envi-
of the colon would have to be removed, without being scanned, was unlikely. A 2015 ronment” that promotes
where it was located, and how it was that’s called “the pass study of self-checkouts profit “above social
shaped. All the peculiar twists and folds around.” “The switcheroo” with handheld scanners, responsibility.”
of Larry’s organs were displayed. She is more labor-intensive: conducted by criminolo- Whether out of social
could see, near the upper-left end of his Peel the sticker off some- gists at the University of responsibility or frus-
colon, where it was attached to his spleen, thing inexpensive and Leicester, also found evi- tration with shrinkage,
and where, in another spot, one of its place it over the bar code dence of widespread theft. some retailers, including

30 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
• SKETCH

Larry’s colon from the da Vinci’s stereo nurses, and technicians. The university’s bladder from the right side,” she said at
high-definition camera. Days before the media-relations office had gotten wind one point.
surgery, she told Schulze that she wanted of the groundbreaking effort, so a video The virtual images were so helpful,
him to participate in the procedure. crew was present too. Schulze was there she said later, that she wishes she could
When Schulze initially demurred, citing with his laptop, manipulating the virtual have them every time she operates: “It
a discomfort with blood, Larry told him: version of Larry’s insides. Ramamoorthy, was wonderful. It was like the difference
“Man up.” after making the initial incisions and between driving around before and after
The scene in Larry’s operating room inserting the rods containing the robot’s Google Maps.”
on November 29, 2016, looked more like camera and fingers, sat in a corner at the The only overtly bloody moment came
a crowded booth at an engineering con- controls, orchestrating the procedure. “I when the portion of Larry’s colon was re-
vention than a surgical theater. Larry’s love it!” she exclaimed as they began. moved. It was hugely swollen, a mass of
supine body, completely draped in blue “This team is on!” inflamed tissue the size of a melon.
paper except for his swollen belly—tinted Explaining her moves as she worked, About four months later, presenting
orange with antibacterial swabbing—was the surgeon called out from time to time his case in a lecture to the medical staff
surrounded by a thicket of white, plastic- for Schulze to tinker with the virtual im- of UC San Diego Health’s Moores Can-
clad robotic arms and industrious doctors, age. “Maybe give me a lateral view of the cer Center, Larry quipped, “I myself had
a sort of a cameo. I played the belly in the
video, sort of a Quentin Tarantino thing.”
Larry proudly passed around a plastic
Albertsons, Big Y Super- calls for boosts amounting believes that self-check- model of his new, streamlined colon. His
market, Pavilions, and to less than $50. In 2015, outs tempt people who symptoms had abated, and he had gone
Vons, have scaled back or the threshold was raised are already predisposed back to walking 10,000 steps a day only
eliminated self-scanning, yet again, to $100. to shoplifting, by allow- two weeks after his five-hour surgery. And
at least in some stores. Perhaps it’s not sur- ing them to rationalize although his blood and stool biomarkers
But others continue prising that some people their behavior. “Most are now back in the normal range—one
to add it. Worldwide, steal from machines more shoplifters are in fact of them 2,000 times lower than it was at
self-checkout terminals readily than from human otherwise law-abiding his sickest—Larry is still on the case, try-
are expected to number cashiers. “Anyone who citizens. They would ing radical shifts in his diet and tracking
325,000 by next year, up pays for more than half of chase behind you to the effects on his microbiome. He will be
from 191,000 in 2013. their stuff in self checkout return the $20 bill you 70 this year, and he hopes to find a more
In some places, mean- is a total moron,” reads dropped, because you’re permanent solution to his affliction. He
while, the likelihood of one of the more militant a person and you would is still frustrated, he told me, echoing the
being punished for petty comments in a Reddit miss that $20.” A robot lament of scientists everywhere, “by
shoplifting is decreasing. discussion on the subject. cashier, though, changes what I don’t know.”
Even if a manager wants “There is NO MORAL ISSUE the equation: It “gives the Turning a two-dimensional MRI into
to press charges, many with stealing from a store false impression of ano-
three dimensions is not that hard, Larry
police departments can’t that forces you to use self nymity,” Staib says. “This
told the audience at his lecture. The
be bothered with super- checkout, period. THEY apparently empowers
remaining challenge is to get more doc-
market theft. In 2012, for ARE CHARGING YOU TO people to shoplift.”
tors to be like Ramamoorthy, and to get
example, the Dallas Police WORK AT THEIR STORE.” Which isn’t to say that
more engineers working in concert with
Department enacted Barbara Staib, the direc- all shoppers feel equally
them. Larry wants to build a hub on the
a new policy: Officers tor of communications of empowered. Frank Farley,
UCSD campus to meld the isolated disci-
would no longer routinely the National Association a psychologist at Temple
plines into a functioning whole. “We have
respond to shoplifting for Shoplifting Prevention, University, says that many
supermarket thieves have
the top-line medical people and facilities,
what he calls Type-T (as
and we have the researchers,” he said.
in “thrill”) personalities: “It’s just the social organization of getting
“Shopping can be quite out of the stovepipes long enough to put
boring because it’s such a these kind of teams together.”
routine, and this is a way When I first met Larry Smarr, he was
to make the routine more trying to chart a new future for the diag-
interesting. These can be nosis of illnesses. Today, he’s also chart-
risk-taking, stimulation- ing a future for the surgeries used to treat
seeking people.” Accord- them. And he’s demonstrating— quite
ing to this theory, some dramatically— what it’s like when the
Type Ts become BASE patient, not the doctor, is in charge.
jumpers or Mafia hit men,
while others settle for Mark Bowden is a national correspondent
swiping Brie and organic for The Atlantic. His most recent book is
tomatoes from Safeway. Huế 1968.

Illustration by JAMES GRAHAM T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 31
T H E

C U L T U R E
F I L E
B O O K S , A R T S , A N D E N T E R TA I N M E N T

M O D E ST Y B L A I S E : T H E K I L L I N G G A M E ( T I TA N B O O KS ) , © A S S O C I AT E D N E W S PA P E R S LT D/ S O LO SY N D I C AT I O N
THE OMNIVORE

A Heroine
for Our Time
The pulp-fiction superspy
Modesty Blaise is a woman
who is always in control.
BY CAITLIN FLANAGAN
Modesty Blaise was my secret self the year I was 15, the subject of ardent
daydreams and the first female character I encountered who was truly in charge
of something other than a hospital ward, or a school, or a household. She ran
an organization full of dangerous men, and they all obeyed and revered her.
She would know exactly what to do with a Harvey Weinstein or a Matt Lauer,
and it would be a pleasure to see her do it. Half a century before Beyoncé,
Modesty wasn’t bossy; she was the boss.

T
H E E X C I T E M E N T I N the Modesty is the invention of an English comic-strip writer named Peter
Long Island theater where O’Donnell. In the early 1960s, an editor asked him to create a new character,
I first saw Pulp Fiction was and he decided that “it was about time that somebody woke up and produced
unlike anything I’d previously a female who would be able to do all the hero stuff as well as—or perhaps
experienced at the movies: better than—most men.” Modesty is a secret agent who works on special
Everything people were assignments for British intelligence, so (to O’Donnell’s great frustration) she
saying about Quentin Taran- is most often compared to James Bond. They’re really nothing alike. Bond’s
tino, the boy-genius director, was true. But the life begins and ends with each mission. Modesty, by contrast, exists in a fully
picture stirred me most profoundly—alerting me realized world, with homes—in particular, her sumptuous penthouse overlook-
that there was an intelligence behind it that was ing Hyde Park—friends, lovers, and a range of interests. She enjoys attending
in some small way in sync with my own—when I country fairs, going to the theater, dressing up, riding horses, cutting gems,
caught sight of the book John Travolta reads on the rescuing animals. She never enters a scene without an exact description of
crapper, first at Butch’s apartment and then in the what she’s wearing, right down to her shoes. O’Donnell maintained that the
diner bathroom: Modesty Blaise. key to her character is that while she is incredibly brave, capable, and—when

32 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C Illustration by WG600
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the situation demands it—lethal, she is also exceed- another—something James Bond was never required
THE OMNIVORE
ingly feminine. “She doesn’t just kick people in the to do in the name of Queen and country—but she
head,” O’Donnell once said of Modesty. “She’s very always triumphs in the end. There isn’t a man in
tender and vulnerable.” the whole world who can take her down.
The strip—which Titan Books finished reissuing What has made the series so deeply loved by
in book form late last year—debuted in 1963, and so many different kinds of people (Kingsley Amis
it was so successful that O’Donnell soon sold the called it “endlessly fascinating”) isn’t just Modesty’s
movie rights. To coincide with the release of the badass fighting capabilities; on their own, they
film—a massive bomb, alas—O’Donnell was asked would make her no more appealing than Charlize
to write a novel about Modesty. It was through the Theron’s character in Atomic Blonde—a beautiful
subsequent series that I came to fall in love with her. cyborg. At the heart of the series is a love story, the
Her origin story emanated from one of O’Donnell’s best one I encountered as a girl. Modesty’s second
experiences in World War II. Working in a small in command in the Network was a man named
radio detachment near the Caucasus, on the bor- Willie Garvin, a small-time cockney criminal she’d
der of Iran and Iraq, he had come across a young discovered in a fighting pit in Saigon. He’d looked up
girl, 11 or 12 years old, walking along the banks of a before the fight to see a “dark haired girl in a white
stream. She was completely alone, dressed in rags, linen dress watching him.” Since that day, Willie—a
and carrying a small homemade weapon: a piece master brawler and knife-thrower, a man who can
of wood with a nail driven through it. O’Donnell sleep with any woman he wants—has devoted his
gave her tins of food, a can opener, and a cup of tea. life to Modesty. She transformed him, offering him
She smiled in gratitude and then resumed her solo, an education, a career, and a purpose. He doesn’t
dangerous wanderings. He remembered the young just join her on the secret missions, and he isn’t just
girl when he created Modesty, because he realized the one person in the world who knows everything
that the kind of character he wanted to invent could about her. Sometimes, after an especially dangerous
not have sprung from any of the girl-shaping insti- episode, Modesty will weep in Willie’s arms for a
tutions of mid-century Britain. She couldn’t come For the few minutes before pulling herself together and
“from a shop or an office or school or nunnery,” he giving him his marching orders. Both have lovers,
said, and “be what I wanted this girl to be.”
first time, but they never, ever sleep together. I read book after
He thought of the refugee child—a displaced I imagined book, hoping that—at last—they would, but it never
person, a girl like many millions of girls around the what it would happens. Theirs is a partnership so romantic that
world today—and wrote a story for her. Orphaned, be like to be it would crumble if it became carnal. The delicate
nameless, and stateless, she wandered for years balance between the deadly action sequences of
through the Middle East and North Africa, where
physically their many capers, their deep love for each other,
she would “steal in the city’s bazaars or live with unafraid in and the infinite sexual restraint of their romance
nomads.” She became the protector of a brilliant the world. was heady stuff for a 15-year-old girl.
but defenseless old man, Lob, a European who Modesty Blaise was merely a cartoon character
knew five languages. He taught her, she defended turned into a bit of pulp fiction, but in the midst of
him, and they loved each other. After his death, she my unhappy adolescence, she changed the way
wound up in Tangier, where, at 19 or 20, she took I thought about myself and my future. I wasn’t
over a crime syndicate, renaming it the Network considering robbing banks. But for the first time,
and becoming the unflinching boss of very hard I imagined what it would be like to be physically
men, who called her “Mam’selle.” She excelled in unafraid in the world, to walk down any city street

T H E C U LT U R E F I L E I C O N S BY N E I G H B O R H O O D ST U D I O
hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship, criminal I wanted, at any time of night, and not give a
strategy, general fearlessness, and a certain kind second’s thought to the special care a girl has to
of crime: jewel heists and bank robberies—never take. I thought about what it would be like to be
drugs or vice, never anything that could hurt women. deeply loved by a man, deeply known, but still
be the main character in my life story, the only
N D S O — OUR STORY B E G I N S —we find one with her name in the title. Time passed, and

A Modesty retired from her life of crime in
her mid-20s, hugely wealthy, powerful, and
sexually liberated. (She has an erotic inclination
I learned in a hundred hard ways how careful you
have to be if you’re born female, how many places
hold dangers— even just an ordinary office with
toward men she has rescued from danger.) She is a respected male boss. I have a couple of the old
saved from a life of comfortable boredom by the paperbacks in my house, and when I see them,
intercession of Sir Gerald Tarrant of British intel- they remind me of a time when I still thought it
ligence, who regularly enlists her help in foiling was possible for a girl to do anything.
various types of espionage and plots against the
empire. Sometimes these duties require her to fight Caitlin Flanagan, the author of Girl Land and
crime while naked; other times she must temporar- To Hell With All That, is sharing the Omnivore
ily succumb to the sexual sadism of some villain or column with James Parker through the summer.

34 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
’80s and ’90s, Tim Burton’s and Joel Schumacher’s
movies tended toward high camp, with Danny
DeVito cast as the Penguin, for example, and Jim
Carrey as the Riddler.
Early-21st-century works such as Bryan
FILM Singer’s X-Men movies—in which the outcast
mutant protagonists were implicitly compared
Thor and the Hulk to Holocaust survivors and victims of anti-gay
bias—treated their characters more soberly. But
Walk Into a Bar … Nolan’s pictures, especially The Dark Knight, were
something entirely new. Manohla Dargis of The
New York Times described the film as “pitched at
After an ill-fated swerve into the serious, superhero the divide between art and industry, poetry and
movies have at last rediscovered comedy. entertainment,” adding that “it goes darker and
deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-
BY CHRISTOPHER ORR book kind.” An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal
compared Batman’s “moral complexity” to that of
George W. Bush. Barack Obama later said that the
movie’s villain, the Joker, helped him comprehend
ISIS. The film became a staple of college courses;
Amazon currently offers book-length analyses

I
N 2008, the director Christopher Nolan released The Dark Knight, running the gamut from The Masculine Identity
the central installment of his Batman trilogy. It was a remarkably Crisis in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy”
good film in a genre not known for reliably producing “serious” to The Gospel in Gotham: Parables of Christ’s Glory
fare—and alas, it inevitably inspired imitators: moody, self- From the Dark Knight Trilogy. That the movie
important capes-and-tights movies that the Hollywood studios cracked $1 billion at the global box office only
seem only now, blessedly, to be leaving behind. increased its cachet.
From the mid-20th century onward, screen portrayals of As some Dark Knight naysayers—notably New
superheroes—and Batman in particular—had generally been York magazine’s David Edelstein—observed at the
tongue-in-cheek. In the 1960s, ABC’s Batman series, with its “bat Geiger time, superheroes are not, by their nature, obvious
counter” and “alphabet-soup bat container,” favored overt silliness. In the candidates for thoughtful drama. They tend to wear

Illustration by JAMIE COE T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 35
ridiculous costumes and wield implausible pow- other heroes’ franchises and occasionally team up
ers. But Nolan set a high bar for the newly somber en masse for an extra-big blockbuster. In addition
enterprise, in part by wisely laying claim to the to Warner Bros., with its DC Comics cast of charac-
least outlandish of the breed: Batman possesses no ters, two other studios have presided over their
superabilities and has frequently been portrayed as own superhero realms. 20th Century Fox owns
a fearsome vigilante, from Bob Kane’s original ren- the rights to the X-Men and related mutants from
dering, in 1939, to Frank Miller’s reimagining of the Marvel Comics, and has only just begun exploring
character in the 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight the larger world-building possibilities this roster
Returns, which served as an inspiration for Nolan. may enable. Marvel Studios, which covers almost
Indeed, the bar set by the Dark Knight trilogy all the rest of the Marvel characters—Iron Man,
turned out to be so high that almost no subsequent Captain America, Thor, and so on—has proved the
films have managed to clear it. Warner Bros.— gold standard, with a total of 17 Marvel Cinematic
which produced Nolan’s films and has continued Universe movies to its credit since 2008 and a
to deliver movies based on other DC-comic-book combined box-office haul of $13 billion. (Assuming
heroes (Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.)—spent Disney—which owns Marvel Studios—completes
years wearing the director’s grim legacy like a hair its acquisition of Fox, their two superhero universes
shirt. Following the final Dark Knight installment, will be merged.)
in 2012, the studio turned its DC movies over to At 20th Century Fox, it has taken a while for the
Zack Snyder, who shares Nolan’s affinity for dark- comedy bug to bite. After the earnest portrayals
ness but little of his cinematic talent. in Singer’s first two X-Men films, the third, ineptly
In Snyder’s 2013 Man of Steel, Superman— directed in 2006 by the now infamous Brett Rat-
customarily portrayed as something of a mega– ner, was bleaker than its predecessors: Multiple
Boy Scout—accidentally levels half the city of central characters got killed off, and critics were
Metropolis and ultimately decides to kill his underwhelmed. The franchise was rebooted
nemesis, General Zod. That is about the most with the prequel X-Men: First Class, but this new
un-Superman-like move imaginable. Even Nolan’s series got both darker and duller, too. In its third
Batman didn’t intentionally kill anyone. Snyder Barack installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, the conflicted
followed up with Batman v Superman: Dawn of sometime-hero, sometime-villain Magneto, in
Justice, a laughably bleak fable in which the two
Obama said a fit of pique, collaborates in a plan to destroy all
heroes decide to fight to the death for no plausible that the Joker of humankind.
reason whatsoever—and then abruptly make peace in The Dark The solution? An iconoclastic leap into the
when they discover that their mothers are both Knight helped post-Nolan era with Deadpool, 2016’s foray into
named Martha. And while Snyder did not direct R-rated raunch featuring a potty-mouthed jokester
Suicide Squad, the third entry in the DC Extended
him compre- who just happened to be essentially unkillable.
Universe, the movie (about a group of supervillains hend ISIS. Although plenty of superhero movies had dabbled
who are turned into a high-deniability hit squad by with comedy up to this point, this was the first that
the U.S. government) followed his gloomy moral simply was a comedy. Yes, the titular hero fought a
and aesthetic blueprint. few highly forgettable bad guys. But the real draws
were his profane banter, frequent demolitions of

H
APPILY, WE APPEAR to be in the midst the fourth wall, and meta-commentary on his own
of a new, and altogether different, shift movie. (Visiting the mansion where the X-Men live
in the genre—you might even call it a and finding it nearly empty, he quips, “It’s almost
backlash—which may well provide a more sustain- like the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.”)
able model for superhero movies to come. As the Among the most well reviewed of the X-Men mov-
saying goes: first time tragedy, second time farce. ies, Deadpool also made the most money of any of
Experiments in supercomedy are taking place with them, despite having had the smallest budget. The
increasing frequency, and meeting with consider- superhero comedy had arrived. A highly anticipated
able success. The various studios currently churning sequel is due out later this year.
out stories of flying heroes and masked vigilantes

M
are at different points in their evolution from drama A R V E L S T U D I O S , the undisputed
to comedy. But in the steadily growing genre, they top dog of the superhero genre, never
are all trending in that direction. succumbed to the Nolan effect. From
Last year, six of the 10 top-grossing films at the the start of its cinematic universe, in 2008, it opted
domestic box office were superhero movies, and instead for light doses of humor—epitomized by
the comic shift is proving contagious. This is in part Robert Downey Jr.’s bravura turn as Iron Man’s alter
because the ongoing boom has inspired studios to ego, the extravagantly self-loving billionaire inven-
think big, moving beyond mere franchises in favor tor Tony Stark. Since then, Marvel has continued
of vast cinematic “universes.” Heroes no longer just moving further toward outright comedy, turning
star in their own movies. They also cross-pollinate to comic performers such as Chris Pratt (who cut

36 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
his teeth on the sitcom Parks and Recreation) and typically been escapist fare at their core, so ditching
FILM
Paul Rudd to fill out its cast of heroes. It’s worth the dour human dilemmas that briefly seemed like
noting that most of the studio’s recent directors a ticket into the ranks of higher-brow entertainment
have a comedy background, an evolution that can has the feel of a genre coming home—and raising
be seen in microcosm in the Thor movies: The a little hell. With vast universes now to play in, the
first was directed by the erstwhile Shakespearean comic possibilities are newly outlandish.
Kenneth Branagh, the second by the TV prestige- In this sense, Thor: Ragnarok was an even bolder
drama veteran Alan Taylor, and the latest by a gamble than Deadpool. Fox’s movie had been a
quirky indie-comedy veteran from New Zealand, spin-off that featured none of the X-Men series’
Taika Waititi. customary heroes, so if it had been a disaster,
Little wonder that the Marvel movies have been the brand-name damage would have been con-
getting wittier—and in many cases wackier. By far tained. By contrast, Thor—a founding member
the best scene in the studio’s second Avengers movie, of the Avengers—is a central figure in Marvel’s
Age of Ultron, took place before the villain even universe. Screwing around with his character
showed up, at a party where the heroes engaged risked throwing the studio’s whole world out of
in some macho yardsticking about who among whack. But screw around with him Waititi went
them could lift Thor’s hammer. That movie came ahead and did. As the director explained to New
on the heels of 2014’s highly comic Guardians York magazine’s Vulture site, “I’m having so much
of the Galaxy—which featured a talking raccoon fun subverting all of this, and like telling weird
and an ambulatory tree—and right before 2015’s jokes and making this the weirdest Marvel movie
comparably goofy Ant-Man, in which the amiably ever.” Wreaking modest havoc on the studio’s
awkward Rudd played a shrinking ex-con who agenda was the whole point. “Marvel’s job really
could converse with ants. is to look after their characters, look after their
By now, a level of humor in Marvel movies that source material, and make sure I don’t completely
once seemed experimental looks to be par for the break it.”
course. The three Marvel Studios releases of last Make sure he didn’t completely break it: A little bit
year—Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: of breaking was okay. This willingness to loosen the
Homecoming (produced in conjunction with Sony), reins and try new things—even, or especially, in the
and Thor: Ragnarok—were all essentially comedies, midst of precisely engineered cinematic universes—
whether of the intergalactic-weirdo or heart-struck appears to be the new normal. Comedies such as
high-schooler variety. Deadpool and Thor: Ragnarok are the most obvious
Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Waititi, is the most examples of this renegade spirit at work, but they’re
self-consciously wacky Marvel offering to date. not the only ones. Last year also saw Fox’s Logan, a
Although the overarching plot involves the conquest dark, lean X-Men spin-off featuring the franchise’s
of Thor’s native Asgard by Hela, the goddess of best-loved character, Wolverine. It was, in fact,
death, Thor actually spends the bulk of the film in the most successful “serious” superhero movie
a comic subplot involving a gladiator planet ruled since the Nolan days, though rather than take its
by an alien overlord played by Jeff Goldblum at his cues from urban noir, it offered a postapocalyptic
Goldblummiest: equal parts twitchy, smug, and variation on a classic Western odyssey: The titular
louche. Large portions of the movie’s dialogue were hero protects a young mutant girl on their journey
ad-libbed on set, and on more than one occasion to the Canadian border.
you can see the actors break character and crack Other boundary-stretching endeavors are
up helplessly. Like Fox’s Deadpool, this venture already under way. Marvel Studios’ Black Pan-
into overt comedy met with raves. ther, which was released after this issue closed,
Even Warner Bros. finally cast off its long- is a superhero movie intended to foreground its
standing doldrums with Wonder Woman, which story’s African influences. Fox’s upcoming The
offered a witty, upbeat, and heroic (as opposed New Mutants is framed as a horror movie. Chan-
to antiheroic) vision—and became a critical and ning Tatum has described his planned Gambit film
box-office hit. Warner’s subsequent team-up movie, as inspired by the “complete paradigm shifts” in
Justice League, was a mess, but even so, the shift superhero movies as represented by Deadpool and
toward a lighter, more humorous template was clear. Logan. And James Franco is currently developing
(One character, the Flash, essentially functioned yet another R-rated X-Men spin-off, which he prom-
as comic relief: a bumbling young adult unsure ises will “take this superhero thing and really just
whether he was ready for the whole “do battle” push it into a new”—and, given Franco’s history,
part of the job.) presumably quite weird—“genre.” Who would
have guessed that just stepping back and having

T
H E N E W V O G U E in superhero films fun could be so liberating?
isn’t likely to inspire college courses or
chin-stroking op-eds. These movies have Christopher Orr is a senior editor at The Atlantic.

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 37
Meanwhile, the country it has viewed as a linchpin,
Pakistan—a nuclear-armed cauldron of volatile
politics and long America’s closest military ally
in South Asia—has pursued a covert campaign in
Afghanistan designed to ensure that the money
and the lives have been spent in vain. The stakes in
BOOKS
Pakistan have been considered too high to break ties
with Islamabad or take other steps that would risk
The Pakistan Trap destabilizing the country. The stakes in Afghanistan
have been deemed low enough that careening from
one failed strategy to another has been acceptable.
How Afghanistan’s neighbor has subverted Even so, the post-9/11 years have seen the slow
U.S. policy in America’s longest war dissolution of the shotgun marriage arranged
between the U.S. and Pakistan in the quest to
BY MARK MAZZETTI rout al-Qaeda. As Steve Coll recounts in Direc-
torate S—which picks up the narrative where his
Pulitzer Prize–winning 2004 volume, Ghost Wars,
left off—the seeds of mistrust were planted early,
and mutual recriminations steadily accumulated.
Weeks after the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin

T
W O M O N T H S A F T E R the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Laden, a demoralized Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the
Vice President–elect Joe Biden sat with Afghanistan’s president, head of Pakistan’s army, likened his “helpless”
Hamid Karzai, in the Arg Palace, an 83-acre compound in Kabul country to a mortgaged house, with the United
that had become a gilded cage for the mercurial and isolated States playing the role of banker. For American
leader. The discussion was already tense as Karzai urged Wash- officials who dealt with Pakistan, another domestic
ington to help root out Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, implying that more analogy might have seemed more apt: Pakistan
pressure needed to be exerted on Pakistani leaders. Biden’s answer stunned was the spouse who had drained the family bank
Karzai into silence. Biden let Karzai know how Barack Obama’s incoming account and then slept with the sketchy neighbor.
administration saw its priorities. “Mr. President,” Biden said, “Pakistan is fifty The anger on the American side was fueled by
times more important than Afghanistan for the United States.” the gradual realization that Washington had, since
It was an undiplomatic moment for sure, but also a frank expression of the the very beginning of the war, allowed Pakistan
devastating paradox at the heart of the longest war in American history. In 16 to wield too much influence over U.S. strategy. As
years, the United States has spent billions of dollars fighting a war that has the Taliban retreated from Kabul and Kandahar
killed thousands of soldiers and an untold number of civilians in a country in late 2001, the CIA station chief in Islamabad
that Washington considers insignificant to its strategic interests in the region. wrote cables channeling the Pakistani military’s
perspective. A Northern Alliance takeover of the influx of military aid. The arrests in 2002 and 2003
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country, the message went, could lead to a blood- of Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and
bath for Afghanistan’s Pashtuns (Pakistan’s tradi- others reinforced Bush’s view that Pakistan was
tional allies) and undermine Pakistan’s readiness to “with us,” an ally to be trusted.
broker a political settlement there. What Pakistan Coll convincingly shows that those few al-Qaeda
wanted most of all, of course, was its own favored scalps, delivered by the ISI at a time when the
groups, and not its rival India’s, in power. Bush administration had already begun to ignore
George W. Bush’s war cabinet was already jittery Afghanistan and focus on the looming war in Iraq,
about the “nightmare scenario” of the new conflict: bought years of American inattention to the ISI’s
violence spilling over into Pakistan, President more secretive activities: arming and financing the
Pervez Musharraf ’s government collapsing, and Taliban and other Afghan militant groups sympa-
the country’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands thetic to Pakistan rather than India. The United
of Pakistani generals with Taliban sympathies. States had stumbled into an informal, unspoken
Musharraf himself spent years masterfully stoking bargain, accepting help from Pakistan in the fight
these fears. He often warned American officials that against al-Qaeda in exchange for tacitly enabling,
the more he acceded to Washington’s demands, the while feebly contesting, Pakistan’s efforts to sabo-
more his support inside the military would erode tage the American-led campaign in Afghanistan.
and the better the chances would become of the Intermittent U.S. demands that the covert efforts
nightmare scenario playing out. stop went unheeded.
The deal was stunningly lucrative for Islamabad.

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H E C O N U N D R U M M I G H T have been Each year, the Pentagon transferred hundreds of
resolved, Coll suggests, had the American millions of dollars in cash to Pakistan, ostensibly to
military’s tactical failures during the first reimburse its military for counterterrorism opera-
year not helped Musharraf’s argument that Pakistan tions. In fact, Coalition Support Funds were a “kind
was too dangerous to ignore. Intelligence failures of legal bribery to Pakistan’s generals,” Coll argues.
and insufficient troops at the battles in Tora Bora The Pentagon would receive bills for air-defense
and the Shah-i-Kot Valley allowed al-Qaeda fight- expenses, even though al-Qaeda had no air force.
ers to slip over Afghanistan’s eastern border and
“Pakistan is One Special Forces colonel, Barry Shapiro, recalls
resettle in Pakistan’s tribal areas and cities. With fifty times invoices from Pakistan’s navy listing per diem pay
the arrival of the militants in his country, Mush- more impor- for sailors “on duty fighting the Global War on
arraf ordered his military intelligence service, the tant than Terrorism.” Shapiro tried to question some of the
ISI, to work with the CIA to hunt down al-Qaeda’s expenses: Was there any proof that the Pakistani
leaders in Pakistani cities. He also made the case
Afghanistan army had indeed shot off the missiles it was ask-
to U.S. officials that, partly thanks to American for the ing to be reimbursed for? But he was told by his
misadventures, Pakistan now deserved a huge United States.” superiors to be quiet and pay up.
The arrangement was effectively on autopilot as
the Iraq War consumed the Bush administration’s
attention. Congress approved the funding with few
reservations, and years passed before lawmakers
seemed to comprehend their role in the farce. During
one congressional hearing in 2012, a top Democrat on
the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gary Acker-
man, lamented that Pakistan had become “a black
hole for American aid.” “Our tax dollars go in. Our
diplomats go in, sometimes. Our aid professionals
go in, sometimes. Our hopes go in. Our prayers go
in,” he said. “Nothing good ever comes out.”
Members of Congress began calling for a strat-
egy to put pressure on Pakistan by cutting annual
aid to the country, but policy makers faced another
quandary: As the goals the United States set in
Afghanistan grew more ambitious, Washington’s
need of Pakistan’s help to achieve them grew too.
The swiftness with which the initial military cam-
paign fulfilled its comparatively modest aims—to
avenge the September 11 attacks by destroying
al-Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan, expel the Taliban
from cities, and install a more competent gov-
ernment in Kabul—led to hubris about what was

Illustration by TYLER COMRIE T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 39
possible in a hopelessly poor country wracked by president-elect with a costly new plan to send in
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decades of war. thousands of additional troops.
The enterprise of nation building meant, in no Biden began openly proposing that Obama
particularly consistent order, quixotic attempts to chart a different course. If the real problems lay in
root out corruption, lean on Karzai to sack unsavory Pakistan, he asked, then why not instead use the
warlords, and reengineer Afghanistan’s opium money to keep Pakistan from imploding? At the
economy by getting farmers to plant crops far less same time, shouldn’t the U.S. think about working
lucrative than poppies. In 2004, I traveled with a directly with Saudi Arabia and China—traditional
team of Green Berets through gorgeous, flowering allies of Pakistan—to pressure the ISI to finally end
poppy fields to meet with the elders of various vil- its support of the Taliban and other radical groups?
lages in Kunar province. “The government in Kabul Coll suggests that this thinking never gained much
wants you to plant wheat” was high on the list of the traction. Obama went along with the generals’
soldiers’ talking points. During the meeting, one of troop increase, and approved an even larger one at
the elders duly declared, “Next year we will plant the end of 2009. The question of what to do about
wheat!” Many of the others sniggered. Pakistan, the phantom enemy in a failing war, went
largely unanswered.

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H E M O R E T H E United States invested Coll’s majestic Ghost Wars tracked the CIA’s
in the Afghan War, the more it seemed as adventures in Afghanistan from the Soviet inva-
if Washington was holding on to a steering sion, in 1979, through the eve of the September 11
wheel detached from the rest of the car. The main attacks. Reading it was a gut-wrenching experience,
supply lines that kept the war machine humming— The Pentagon with momentum building toward a climactic,
bringing fuel, food, and equipment to the rising would receive dreadful outcome. Reading Directorate S is more
numbers of troops in Afghanistan—ran through like watching a slow-motion video of a truck
Pakistan. The government in Islamabad could (and
bills from going off a cliff, frame by agonizing frame. And
did, for as long as seven months at one point) cut Pakistan for no semblance of closure ever comes. Coll may
off the supplies, leaving convoys of trucks sitting air-defense have embarked on a full accounting of the war
idle between the port of Karachi and various expenses, to its end, but history didn’t cooperate. Obama
border crossings. announced a plan in 2014 to conclude America’s
Many CIA officials were skeptical that the United
even though combat operations in Afghanistan. By the time
States should try to root out corruption, and advo- al-Qaeda had his tenure in the White House wound down, the
cated that the agency focus on trying to decimate no air force. generals had persuaded him to leave thousands
al-Qaeda and its sympathizers with drone strikes. of troops in the country indefinitely.
During the Obama years, they clashed repeatedly Within months of taking office, his successor—
with generals and policy makers beguiled by a who had campaigned on scaling back America’s
counterinsurgency doctrine that put a premium on overseas adventures—accepted a Pentagon plan
anti-corruption efforts. Despite ample evidence of to add thousands more U.S. troops. In a speech
America’s inconsistent approach, the notion that announcing his strategy, Donald Trump ran through
the U.S. might have no grand policy whatsoever in a familiar litany of complaints about Pakistan,
Afghanistan was difficult to accept for some of the capped by the demand that the country end its
key players, notably Kayani and Karzai. support for the very groups America is fighting in
They chose to fill the void with conspiracy theo- Afghanistan. He also called on India, Pakistan’s
ries. Kayani and other top Pakistani military officials archenemy, to take a greater role in Afghanistan’s
believed that the United States was secretly working internal affairs—a threat evidently intended to
with Karzai’s government to bolster India’s influ- scare Pakistani officials into backing off. Frustra-
ence in Afghanistan as a counterweight to Pakistan. tion mounted as the year turned, and an outraged
Karzai subscribed to a more elaborate conspiracy: presidential tweet denouncing years of “nothing
Washington was sending ever more troops to his but lies & deceit” was followed by a suspension of
country to gain a permanent foothold in Central Asia, security assistance to Pakistan. What the repercus-
from which the United States could compete against sions might be was anybody’s guess.
Russia and China for supremacy in the region—the Coll sums up the war as a “humbling case study
Great Game redux. in the limits of American power.” But a decade
But this was fevered thinking, which was partly and a half after the first shots were fired, the U.S.
what prompted Biden to deliver his blunt message DIRECTORATE S: president wasn’t exactly projecting humility, much
to Karzai in the Arg Palace in 2009. That meeting THE C.I.A. AND less a newly coherent American policy.
came at an inflection point: A new administra- AMERICA’S
SECRET WARS IN
tion was taking over, and Biden was skeptical that Mark Mazzetti, the Washington investigations
AFGHANISTAN
the Afghanistan project was worth the candle. AND PAKISTAN
editor at The New York Times, is the author of
The American economy was in crisis, and the STEVE COLL The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army,
generals were about to present the inexperienced Penguin Press and a War at the Ends of the Earth.

40 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
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leading journalists and thinkers between Editor in Chief
to make sense of the history Jeffrey Goldberg and the
happening all around us figures shaping society

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Those who have read Quatro’s first book will rec-
ognize the theme of desire. I Want to Show You More,
a collection of stories, was handsomely blurbed and
ecstatically reviewed, and—perhaps most telling of
all—was one of those books that get fervently passed
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from writer to writer. Among other enticements, it
featured a series of lambently honest, somewhat
The Virtue of Illicit Desire otherworldly treatments of adultery. The stories
exerted an urgent tug as I read—they created a
beating, hot, weird heart at the center of the collec-
Longing, Jamie Quatro insists in her new novel, tion. As James Wood wrote in The New Yorker, “The
thrives most when sating it is a sin. stories about adultery make a book-within-a-book.”
In Fire Sermon, Quatro places all her chips on that
BY CLAIRE DEDERER book-within-a-book. Maggie is a writer and a mother,
raised as a strict Christian, who falls in love with a
man who is not her husband. “This story begins
where others end,” Quatro writes. “A boy and a girl
in love, a wedding, a happily-ever-after.” And then

D
E S I R E G E T S A B A D R A P, and not just from prudes. what? Two children, two careers, a few moves, and
Buddhists, for instance, come out pretty firmly against it a couple of decades later, the wife discovers that she
(desire, they say, is the root of suffering), and even athe- wants—well, what, exactly? Maybe she just wants.
ists like me are susceptible to the wisdom of the Buddha. Full disclosure: Quatro blurbed my recent memoir,
But Jamie Quatro sees it differently. Maggie, the protago- Love and Trouble. Fuller disclosure: Quatro and I
nist and intermittent narrator of Quatro’s new novel, Fire hoe the same occasionally dolorous row of female
Sermon, wants to want. Her desire is what makes her human and also what midlife yearning. The wanting to want, the insistent
connects her to something larger, something she insists on calling God. shoulder-tapping of desire—these things seized me
in my mid-40s, and so I expected to be a sitting duck Quatro repeatedly returns to this kind of egre-
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for Quatro’s all-in take on the theme. giously full-throated religious language. The rest
of the book—the descriptions of marriage and

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E SIROU SNE SS MOVE S RE STLE SSLY family—unfolds in a far less stagy register, allowing
like a bird across the landscape of Maggie’s the reader to slip into the nuances of the novel’s
life—she has flirtations with, or crushes emotional flow, only to be yanked out by this God
on, or inappropriate friendships with, a series of stuff. I was initially suspicious of and even hostile
people. An unattributed voice, presumably that of to Quatro’s religious preoccupation. It felt like a
her shrink, says to her: “So you’ve come to me, again, veneer, a spit shine, a way of elevating the down-
because you keep falling in love with men who aren’t and-dirty nature of the material—as if Quatro were
your husband.” Her wanting finally settles on James, thinking, Hmm, if I describe adultery or anal sex in
a poet whose work she admires. The two become this high-flown language, then I can get away with it.
correspondents, as do so many of the characters

I
in I Want to Show You More, which deals with love T H O U G H T I D E T E C T E D another, more
at a distance, replete with torrid email exchanges insidious impulse at work as well, a kind of
and phone sex—rituals of modern-day longing. In subconscious misogyny. The author seems at
Fire Sermon, too, Quatro is good on the mores of times to be punishing her adulteress. Maggie must
this sort of courtship: the coyness, the posturing, be made to endure mortification, the way so many
the elaborately casual self-presentation. of her fictional sisters pay for their transgressions,
Eventually Maggie and James meet in person, from Anna Karenina to Emma Bovary to more-recent
and I have to say that I don’t think they bring out the examples such as the protagonist of Jill Alexander
best in each other. Here’s what flirtation looks like Essbaum’s Hausfrau. Even the eternally independent
between these two: They sit on a park bench and chat thinker Rachel Cusk is unable to resist punishing the
about “St. John of the Cross, how he said we might straying wife Tonie in her novel The Bradshaw Varia-
become sexually aroused in the middle of spiritual Quatro’s tions; faithless Tonie ends up imperiling her own child.
acts, such as prayer, or communion, because when religious pre- In the case of Maggie, the chastisements are quieter
the spirit is moved to pleasure it drags the body up and certainly more interior—mostly taking the form
with it.” At this point I scrawled in my copy of the
occupation of her own (rather histrionic) discomfort over her
book, “Can’t they just fuck and be done with it?” felt like a affair: “Shall I pray, Let Christ always be dying for
We’re meant to understand why James makes spit shine, the pain that moment caused, and is still causing?”
Maggie swoony, but to us nonpoets he sounds tire- a way of Worn down by Maggie’s breast-beating, I found
somely pretentious—so much so that I wondered myself missing the kinetic oddness of I Want to Show
whether Quatro intended us to roll our eyes. When
elevating the You More, a book that combines a charmingly flat,
the two first meet: “I shook his hand. Tattooed on down-and- demotic style with a taste for the surreal. Some of
his wrist: the word sight. Later, at lunch, I’d notice dirty material. Quatro’s stories, which feel as though they have
the other wrist: vision.” (On his third wrist: a draw- been dredged from dreams, recall the painter
ing of Camus smoking a hand-rolled cigarette and and writer Leonora Carrington’s short fiction. In
wearing a beret.) “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement,” all the
We know right from the start that they will end runners in a marathon must carry personalized
up in bed, because the book skips around chrono- statues, the majority of which are “half-human,
logically. The middle of the novel is consumed with half-animal sculptures doing lewd things with their
Maggie and James’s letters, fragmented memories bodies. Creatures with hideously sized phalluses.”
of their single night together, and an accounting of In “Decomposition: A Primer for Promiscuous House-
her life with her husband, a relationship drained of wives,” an ex-lover’s body lies decomposing in a
whatever intensity it once might have harbored. By married woman’s bed, causing logistical problems
contrast, when she imagines sex with the genteelly and also some very bad smells.
tattooed poet, Maggie has this to say: In Fire Sermon we get God instead of such playful,
parable-like turns. It’s not a trade-off I would’ve
Actually it was otherworldly, ecstatic in a reli- chosen. And yet. Eventually Quatro brought me
gious sense, at the deepest point of penetration around to her way of seeing things. The God stuff
the room fell away and the sky tore open and isn’t there to polish or to punish her adulteress. It’s
we were swept up into electric galaxies, our essential to Maggie’s character and to what Quatro
bodies fused together in the presence of a God wants to say. In the end, the book is a profound, and
who allowed us to reach up and run our fingers profoundly strange, meditation on desire and how
through the down of his beard. it connects us to the “eternal” (a word Maggie is
fond of ). Maggie is someone who is never satis-
Prose as awful as this, from a writer of Quatro’s gifts, FIRE SERMON
fied by what she has—who is defined by what she
again raises the question of whether she means us JAMIE QUATRO lacks. Her mother says of her: “She’ll go hard after
to grow impatient with her protagonist. Grove something and once she gets it no longer care. A

I l l u s t r a t i o n by M A R G H E R I TA M O R OT T I T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 43
hammered gold necklace she pestered me to buy intentional breeding ground for illicit desire? …
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for a year … she wore it twice and gave it away.” Hear: without the prohibitions against fornica-
The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan devel- tion and infidelity, we would sate and sate and
oped the idea of the thing that you desire but will sate again, looking always for the next object in
always lack—the unattainability of the object being which to find fulfillment, we would gratify our
essential to the desire. The concept will be familiar longings until we had nothing left to long for,
to anyone who’s ever scribbled her crush’s name and the ability to long itself died off.
on her Pee-Chee folder in seventh-grade math
class: You don’t really want the boy in the next She concludes: “So let me burn.”
row—honestly you wouldn’t know what to do with This declamation wowed me with its derring-do.
him if you got him. You just want to want. We sometimes hear people say that an affair helped
Throughout Fire Sermon, Quatro weaves the their marriage, but I’ve never heard anyone promul-
image of desire slipping away once its object is at gate the idea that her marriage helped her affair. It’s
hand. “I read an interview with a poet yesterday, just not a very comfortable thought. And yet that’s
someone you mentioned knowing,” Maggie writes in what Maggie’s saying here. The state of marriage
an unsent letter to James. “He said that when he was makes yearning possible, and yearning makes us
a boy he climbed the tree beside his house to gather burn, which Maggie (and perhaps Quatro) sees as a
apples. Sitting in the top branches … his desire for good and essential and human thing. I was stunned
apples fell away. He forgot about them completely.” by the notion, and enchanted by the way the book
built to a crystallized idea rather than a scene or an

S
O P E R H A P S I shouldn’t have been as event—thinking as a dramatic gesture is a pleasure
surprised as I was when the book offered found more commonly in nonfiction than in fiction.
a startling gift: a very serious, and deeply Rereading with this idea of unsated desire
against-the-grain, reconsideration of marriage. fresh in my head, I found that Quatro had seeded
The institution is valuable, Fire Sermon tells us, the problem of wanting throughout. What had
because it creates an impediment to obtaining the seemed a lot of overblown palaver about God felt
object of your desire. In the absence of real religious illuminated, now that the “Fire Sermon” echoed
proscriptions in the modern world, marriage itself in my mind. Once I understood its creator’s design,
becomes an engine of longing. In other words,
I’ve never the pattern of the book became beautiful to me.
Maggie is able to feel these desires not in spite of heard anyone By the time she’s done bobbing and weaving her
the ramparts of marriage, but because of them. In a promulgate way through her narrative, Quatro makes us feel
climactic passage that Quatro titles “Fire Sermon,” the idea the absolute necessity of desire, which she reveals
Maggie celebrates the role marriage plays as a as something shining: a hammered-gold necklace,
lifeline to eternity:
that her mar- begged for, worn twice, given away.
riage helped
But what if (Brothers, Sisters, bear with me) the her affair. Claire Dederer is the author, most recently, of Love
institution of marriage was given to us as an and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning.

his family against the Neither came. Nor, deforming her.
“brainwashing” world. amazingly, did death Baffled, inspired, tena-
COVER TO COVER
Defending his isolated or defeat, despite ciously patient with
tribe against the physi- grisly accidents. Ter- her ignorance, she
Educated: cal dangers—literally rified, impaled, set taught herself enough
brain-crushing in on fire, smashed—the to take the ACT and
A Memoir some cases—of members of this clan enter Brigham Young
TA R A W E S T OV E R the survivalist life learned that pain University at 17. She
RANDOM HOUSE
he imposed was was the rule, not the went on to Cambridge
another matter. exception. But suc- University for a doc-
Westover, who cumbing was not an torate in history.
TARA WESTOVER’S and six siblings, too. didn’t set foot in option, a lesson that For Westover,
one-of-a-kind memoir The youngest child school until she left ultimately proved lib- now turning 32, the
is about the shaping of in a fundamentalist home in adolescence, erating for Westover. mind-opening odys-
a mind, yet page after Mormon family living toiled at salvaging In briskly paced sey is still fresh. So is
page describes the in the foothills of scrap in his junkyard, prose, she evokes the soul-wrenching
maiming of bodies— Buck’s Peak, in Idaho, awaiting the end days a childhood that ordeal—she hasn’t
not just hers, but the she grew up with and/or the invad- completely defined seen her parents in
heads, limbs, and a father fanatically ing feds her father her. Yet it was also, years—that isn’t over.
torsos of her parents determined to protect constantly warned of. she gradually sensed, — Ann Hulbert

44 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
Robert B. Reich ON WHY WE MUST
RESTORE THE IDEA OF THE COMMON GOOD TO
THE CENTER OF OUR ECONOMICS AND POLITICS

Powerful and urgent,
THE COMMON GOOD
is a heartfelt missive
from one of our foremost
political thinkers: a funda-
mental statement about
the purpose of society
and what truly matters.

“To work for the common
good is the greatest creed.”
—PRESIDENT WOODROW WILSON

©Delaney Inamine

With a recommended reading ROBERTREICH.ORG
list and discussion guide to + + FB.COM/RBREICH
foster further conversation KNOPF TWITTER.COM/RBREICH
I
N JA N UA RY O F L A S T Y E A R , around the time of the Latin America, China is enjoying more prestige and respect than it
presidential inauguration, as jitters about the relationship has in years. While Barack Obama vexed Beijing with his idealism,
between Donald Trump and China mounted, I regularly “pivot to Asia,” and China-excluding Trans-Pacific Partnership—a
joined the mob of reporters at the Chinese foreign min- massive trade pact that would have fused the major economies
istry’s daily briefings in Beijing. There, the assembled of Asia with the United States—Trump has emphatically reversed
members of the media would press officials on Trump’s latest course, tearing up the TPP and driving allies to consider China-
anti-China comment or Twitter blast—on tariffs, trade wars, backed plans instead.
North Korea, or China’s “theft” of American jobs. Reporters This divergence was nowhere clearer than at the Asia-Pacific
expected righteous denunciations of the kind China routinely Economic Cooperation summit held in Da Nang, Vietnam, after
unleashes against South Korea, the Philippines, and other coun- Trump’s visit in November. There, Xi Jinping outlined a vision of
tries perceived as even notionally affronting Chinese interests. China at the center of the region’s diplomatic, development, and
But they never came. Day after day, the spokespeople stubbornly, trade architecture, reiterating his country’s support for multi-
and then impatiently, accentuated a positive view of the pros- lateral free-trade schemes. Trump, meanwhile, struck a pugna-
pects for U.S.–Chinese ties under Trump. cious tone, saying that America had gotten stuck with the bad
Likewise in the state media. While American pundits warned end of trade deals during previous administrations and warning
that conflict between the world’s top two economies would lead to that “those days are over.”
meltdown, or speculated about China’s putatively enraged reac- Trump’s posture stands in marked contrast to China’s plans
tion to Trump’s phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, for engagement of various kinds with countries throughout Asia.
Beijing’s state-sanctioned media outlets retained a strangely for- The centerpiece of China’s efforts is the Belt and Road Initia-
bearing, at times vaguely optimistic, tone about the relationship. tive (also known as the New Silk Road), an ambitious strategy to
From the very beginning, the Communist Party seems to fund infrastructure projects across Eurasia that would increase
have understood that Trump’s threats were, for the most part, foreign trade with China’s inland provinces and bolster its geo-
merely for show. By refusing to be rattled, China has enjoyed a political clout. Often likened to the Marshall Plan, the Belt and
series of rhetorical and strategic triumphs that have enhanced Road Initiative brought 29 heads of state to Beijing for a sum-
its global image and increased its international influence. China mit last May, where Xi declared it “the project of the century.”
also appears to have assessed that Trump, the self-proclaimed Among the attendees was a delegation sent by Trump, a gesture
master deal maker, would rather have a seen as offering a tacit endorsement of
bad deal than no deal at all, and could Xi’s vision.
be persuaded to compromise on almost Trump’s decision to pull out of the
anything in order to declare a “win.” Paris climate agreement further bur-
Take the $250 billion in deals Trump may nished China’s new image as the respon-
announced during Trump’s visit to make more sible global power. Chancellor Angela
China in November. Many of the agree- sense in China Merkel declared that Germany could no
ments were nonbinding memorandums longer rely on its long-standing ally, and
of understanding, and some had already
than he does when China reiterated its pledge to limit
been negotiated. And while they made in Washington. greenhouse-gas emissions, she said,
a nice headline, they did nothing to “China has become a more important
address the fundamental problems that and strategic partner.” (It’s worth noting
U.S. companies face in China: require- that China’s promised carbon-emission
ments to share technological trade target under the Paris Agreement won’t
secrets with Chinese partners in exchange for access to Chinese kick in until 2030, and that Beijing has a long history of finding
markets; restrictions on entering huge swathes of the economy; ways to circumvent international promises.)
industrial policies that explicitly aim to oust foreign firms in In all these ways, China has positioned itself to be seen as step-
fields ranging from information technology to electric vehicles. ping into America’s vacuum. Shen Dingli emphasized this point
Yet China won warm praise from Trump, who professed his to me, saying that Trump’s hostility to multilateral institutions
“very deep respect” for the country and the “noble traditions of its such as the WTO and NATO has given China “a huge opportunity.”
people.” During an unprecedented “state visit–plus,” as China’s With Trump in the White House, Xu Guoqi, a professor at
foreign ministry put it, which included a 21-gun salute, a mili- the University of Hong Kong, told me, the Chinese are enjoying
tary parade, and a dinner in the Forbidden City, Trump stunned a “golden field for their propaganda.” At the same time, Trump’s
observers by saying he no longer faulted China for its trade policies. election, and the wave of political disorder it has unleashed
“I don’t blame China,” he said during a joint appearance with within and beyond the United States, has provided ample fod-
President Xi Jinping, adding that he gives the country “great der for China to attack democracy and extol the one-party state.
credit” for taking advantage of the U.S. on trade. “American power is based on two legs, the hard power and soft
Such remarks support the view of Shen Dingli, a professor of power,” Xu explained. “In terms of soft power, Trump really
international relations at Fudan University. Trump, he told me, undermined it substantially.” Trump’s election gave the People’s
is “an especially easy president for China to handle.” Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, the occasion to run a
“We are lucky,” he added. series of commentaries arguing that the “crisis in capitalist soci-
Beijing seems to have concluded that the former casino mo- eties” was “proof of the truth of Marxism and the superiority of
gul, like a high-rolling gambler, can be made to keep playing the the socialist system.”
house by showering him with VIP perks. Such messages continued to gain force during Trump’s first
On the diplomatic front, China’s tactic of acting as a foil to year in office, boosting not only Beijing’s standing internationally,
Trump has already paid off handsomely. From Europe to Africa to but the Communist Party’s claim to legitimacy among the

48 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
Like many of Trump’s American
supporters, they appreciated his
hatred of the pieties and shibbo-
leths of the educated American left.
Zhihu users vigorously debate
questions that would fit in well on
any right-wing platform in the U.S.
One page viewed 3.2 million times
asks: “Why do many Chinese look
down on Western baizuo who con-
sider themselves well-educated?”
(The slur literally means “white
left,” but is likened to “libtard” on
Zhihu.) Forums feature pictures of
Pepe the Frog, a symbol of the alt-
right, and of a “Liberal Jack-Ass”
captioned “Everything I don’t like,
must be banned. Everything I do
like is a human right and must be
paid for by others.”
Contempt for America’s cur-
rent brand of political correctness
is a recurring fixation, as are illegal
immigration, Islamist terrorism,
affirmative action, transgender
activism, and Hillary Clinton. One
Zhihu user I spoke with said he
supported Trump not because he
particularly liked him, but because
the style of today’s Democratic
Party “reminds us a lot of the Cul-
tural Revolution.”
Many Westerners living in
China are surprised to learn that
while public discourse is heav-
ily policed, with taboo views on
Chinese population. Xu describes Trump’s presidency as “a gift democracy or Mao Zedong harshly punished, Chinese people
for the current regime in China. Because of Trump, Xi Jinping’s can be startlingly frank in private conversation, voicing opinions
Chinese dream”—the resurgence of China’s dominance in world that many Americans would be afraid to express to one another
affairs—“could be achievable now.” for fear of giving offense. People remark casually and candidly
on everything from a person’s weight gain or disability to the sup-

B
U T J U S T A S Trump is different things to different posed collective merits or deficiencies of certain ethnic groups.
Americans— a conservative, a populist, a strongman, a This custom makes Trump’s attacks on political correctness
clown—so, too, is he different things to different Chinese. appealing to some Chinese, according to Yan Gu, a University of
Notably, even as Beijing delights in outwitting Trump on the Washington doctoral candidate studying authoritarianism who
global stage, many Chinese look upon the American president has researched Chinese online opinion about Trump. Chinese
with sincere admiration. In recent months, I’ve heard from Chi- netizens “dislike political correctness and neo-liberal rhetoric,”
nese Trump fans of diverse backgrounds: a journalist, a rural she told me, noting that “a large portion of Chinese online re-
neo-Maoist, an accomplished academic, a highly paid program- sponse” to Obama was “quite racist”; one common slur referred
mer. One pajama- clad pensioner accosted me on the street to to him as “O-Black.” Sentiment about LGBT issues is rather
inform me that every night he saluted a portrait of Trump he had conservative in much of China, where electroshock therapy is
on his wall, along with images of Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, sometimes used as a “cure” for homosexuality.
and Einstein. Trump’s nationalist rhetoric and “strongman style” resonate
Especially visible among Trump’s Chinese fans are those who in China’s political culture, Yan noted. The country’s founding
pride themselves on being well versed in American politics. Take emperor, Qin Shi Huang, is revered for uniting the nation, de-
the online platform Zhihu, a Quora-like forum, where the topic spite his infamy for burning books and burying scholars alive.
“Donald J. Trump” has garnered some 75,000 followers, nearly Mao, who styled himself as a new emperor, squashed dissent
half the total following for “America.” One survey suggests that and spurred traumatic and violent campaigns against intellec-
a number of pro-Trump Zhihu users attended college in the tuals, teachers, and writers, but was idolized by many Chinese
U.S. The survey was small, but my own reporting has tended to and remains, in some quarters, a legend. Xi Jinping has, despite
corroborate this. Those I spoke with said they formed negative his stolid exterior, proved to be China’s most hard-line leader in
impressions of liberalism that helped push them toward Trump. decades, and his campaigns to curb foreign influence and vault

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 49
Chinese companies to dominance in the industries of the future must ‘improve himself, order his home, govern the country, and
have contributed to his popular appeal. bring peace.’ A happy, united family is an indicator of a talented
This helps explain why a portion of pro-Trump sentiment in politician.” Online, she noted, Chinese have praised Trump for
China comes from a surprising point on the political spectrum: raising successful sons and daughters, while Hillary Clinton is
the nationalist extreme left, an odd ally for the capitalist billion- mocked for her husband’s affair.
aire. Trump’s populist rhetoric and imprecations of the global Trump’s obsession with “winning” also comports with the
elite have crossover appeal for Mao nostalgists such as Zhang winner-take-all attitude of the elite in today’s China, which is
Hongliang, a firebrand writer known as the “Red Tank Driver.” less communist than ruthlessly Darwinian. Many successful Chi-
As he wrote on his Weibo social-media account, “In the history nese believe that “their own success is the result of their own ef-
of mankind, only two people have proposed that the masses forts and natural abilities, and those who fail in competition did
must overthrow the social establishment, one is Mao Zedong, so because of laziness or other defects,” a commentator named
the other is Trump.” Zhao Lingmin wrote just before the 2016 U.S. presidential elec-
A scholar who is politically moderate confided privately that tion in the Chinese edition of the Financial Times. Winners may
he “likes Trump very much,” in part because of his similarities be cruel, opportunistic, or corrupt, but they are winners, and
to Xi. “China’s proposed ‘national rejuvenation’ and Trump’s therefore they deserve respect. Even Trump’s initial inheritance
‘Make America great again’ are the same,” he said. In fact, one from his father doesn’t detract from his success, in this view.
could make the case that the slogan Xi embraced as the core Rather, it demonstrates his stewardship of the family name
of his Chinese dream anticipated Trump’s. Though its official and his skill in transforming it into a global brand. As Swallow
translation is “The great revival of the Chinese nation,” an X. Yan, a politically active entrepreneur who has advised Chinese
equally accurate rendition would be financiers on Trump, told me, “Chinese
“Make China great again.” people admire success. They look down
And so while the outward differ- on losers. If you choose the wrong guy,
ences between Trump and Xi are stark, that is stupid. You are losing face.”
there may be a reason the two leaders “In the history Finally, however overheated Trump’s
professed to feel personal warmth at of mankind, early China-bashing may have been, the
their meeting last spring at Mar-a-Lago, only two people Chinese seem to have long identified
in Florida, and again at their summit in him as someone they could do business
Beijing, where Trump boasted of their
have proposed with, much as they have done business
chemistry. Both are revanchist leaders, that the masses with other strongmen, such as Vladimir
denouncing the supposedly venal elite must overthrow Putin and Rodrigo Duterte, despite pur-
from which they sprang, and claiming the social suing divergent or conflicting interests.
to stand between their country and cer- Unlike previous U.S. presidents, Trump
tain disaster.
establishment, is relatively unconcerned with staking
“Trump’s Republican Party,” Shen one is Mao out a moral high ground, or criticizing
told me, “ought to change its name to Zedong, the other countries’ corruption or failings
the Communists.” other is Trump.” regarding human rights and democracy.
Instead, Trump is transactional.

T
H I S I S W H E R E these two very Hoping for cooperation on North
different images of Trump—as Korea, he gave Beijing a better deal on
someone the Chinese feel they can trade. When Beijing didn’t seem to be
manipulate and as someone who genuinely appeals to them— cooperating enough, he agreed to sell arms to Taiwan. This
converge. Whether eliciting respect or scorn, Trump makes a brand of pragmatic diplomacy, in which relationships hinge
certain intuitive sense in China. In fact, he might make more on calibrated, concrete bargains that can be altered as condi-
sense to the Chinese than he does to much of Washington: His tions change, mirrors Beijing’s way of operating. Although such
unabashed nationalism; rough-hewn arriviste manners; and un- a contingent approach to relationships entails risks—bilateral
apologetic mingling of family, business, and politics make him cooperation could always collapse as soon as one side feels
akin to some newly minted provincial tycoon. In this respect he cheated—it’s a game that China is comfortable playing. With
is less shocking or threatening than commonplace: He’s simply Hillary Clinton, who was, rightly or wrongly, believed to be
what Chinese call a tuhao, another bumptious billionaire. fundamentally inhospitable to Beijing, things could have been
While Trump’s continued promotion of his business empire very different. “If Hillary was president of the United States, I
and elevation of his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared can guarantee relations with China would be much worse,” said
Kushner, to political power have raised alarm in the United States, Xu, the University of Hong Kong professor.
such blurring of lines is the norm in China. Even Xi, whom many In other words, the “America first” president is in some re-
Chinese seem to regard as corruption-free, has relatives who spects not only amenable to the People’s Republic of China; one
allegedly amassed huge fortunes while he rose through the ranks. could go so far as to argue that he is the first American president
Likewise, family members of Wen Jiabao, known as the “people’s with (to borrow a favorite Chinese Communist Party phrase)
premier” during his decade in power starting in the early 2000s, “Chinese characteristics.” Whether they consider him a global
reportedly piled up several billion dollars during his tenure. blunderer or a strong leader, a businessman or a family man, Chi-
Indeed, Trump’s ferocious loyalty to his clan contributes nese look at Donald Trump and see someone they recognize—
to his appeal, as it resonates with traditional Chinese values and believe they can do business with.
of good leadership, Yan Gu, the University of Washington
researcher, told me: “It is a Confucian belief that a great person Benjamin Carlson is a writer and consultant in Beijing.

50 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
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How Will We Feed the New Global Middle Class?

52 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
In 2050 the world population will be 10 billion.
Can everyone eat without destroying the Earth? BY CHARLE S C. MANN

ILLUSTRATIONS BY ULISES FARIÑAS

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 53
All parents remember the moment when they be satisfied? But that is only part of the
question. The full question is: How can
first held their children—the tiny crumpled face, we provide for everyone without making
an entire new person, emerging from the hos- the planet uninhabitable?
pital blanket. I extended my hands and took my
daughter in my arms. I was so overwhelmed
that I could hardly think. ¶ Afterward I wandered Bitter Rivals
outside so that mother and child could rest. It
was three in the morning, late February in New While my children were growing up, I took
England. There was ice on the sidewalk and advantage of journalistic assignments to
speak about these questions, from time
a cold drizzle in the air. As I stepped from the to time, with experts in Europe, Asia, and
curb, a thought popped into my head: When the Americas. As the conversations accu-
mulated, the responses seemed to fall into
my daughter is my age, almost 10 billion people two broad categories, each associated (at
will be walking the Earth. I stopped midstride. I least in my mind) with one of two people,
thought, How is that going to work? ¶ In 1970, both of them Americans who lived in the
20th century. The two people were barely
when I was in high school, about one out of acquainted and had little regard for each
every four people was hungry—“undernourished,” other’s work. But they were largely respon-
sible for the creation of the basic intellec-
to use the term preferred today by the United tual blueprints that institutions around
Nations. Today the proportion has fallen to the world use today for understanding our
roughly one out of 10. In those four-plus decades, environmental dilemmas. Unfortunately,
their blueprints offer radically different
the global average life span has, astoundingly, answers to the question of survival.
risen by more than 11 years; most of the increase The two people were William Vogt and
Norman Borlaug.
occurred in poor places. Hundreds of millions Vogt, born in 1902, laid out the basic
of people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa have ideas for the modern environmental
lifted themselves from destitution into some- movement. In particular, he founded
what the Hampshire College population
thing like the middle class. This enrichment has researcher Betsy Hartmann has called
not occurred evenly or equitably: Millions upon “apocalyptic environmentalism”—the
belief that unless humankind drastically
millions are not prosperous. Still, nothing like this reduces consumption and limits popula-
surge of well-being has ever happened before. tion, it will ravage global ecosystems. In
No one knows whether the rise can continue, or best-selling books and powerful speeches,
Vogt argued that affluence is not our great-
whether our current affluence can be sustained. est achievement but our biggest problem.
If we continue taking more than the Earth
can give, he said, the unavoidable result
will be devastation on a global scale. Cut
back! Cut back! was his mantra.
Today the world has about 7.6 billion inhabitants. Most demog- Borlaug, born 12 years after Vogt, has become the emblem of
raphers believe that by about 2050, that number will reach 10 bil- “techno-optimism”—the view that science and technology, prop-
lion or a bit less. Around this time, our population will probably erly applied, will let us produce a way out of our predicament.
begin to level off. As a species, we will be at about “replacement He was the best-known figure in the research that in the 1960s
level”: On average, each couple will have just enough children created the Green Revolution, the combination of high-yielding
to replace themselves. All the while, economists say, the world’s crop varieties and agronomic techniques that increased grain
development should continue, however unevenly. The implication harvests around the world, helping to avert tens of millions of
is that when my daughter is my age, a sizable percentage of the deaths from hunger. To Borlaug, affluence was not the problem
world’s 10 billion people will be middle-class. but the solution. Only by getting richer and more knowledgeable
Like other parents, I want my children to be comfortable can humankind create the science that will resolve our environ-
in their adult lives. But in the hospital parking lot, this sud- mental dilemmas. Innovate! Innovate! was his cry.
denly seemed unlikely. Ten billion mouths, I thought. Three Both men thought of themselves as using new scientific knowl-
billion more middle-class appetites. How can they possibly edge to face a planetary crisis. But that is where the similarity ends.

54 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
For Borlaug, human ingenuity was the solution It is as if humankind were packed into
to our problems. One example: By using the
advanced methods of the Green Revolution
a bus racing through an impenetrable fog.
to increase per-acre yields, he argued, farmers Somewhere ahead is a cliff: a calamitous
would not have to plant as many acres, an idea
researchers now call the “Borlaug hypothesis.” reversal of humanity’s fortunes.
Vogt’s views were the opposite: The solution,
he said, was to use ecological knowledge to
get smaller. Rather than grow more grain to
produce more meat, humankind should, as
his followers say, “eat lower on the food chain,”
to lighten the burden on Earth’s ecosystems. This is where Vogt
differed from his predecessor, Robert Malthus, who famously pre-
The Roads to Hell
dicted that societies would inevitably run out of food because they
would always have too many children. Vogt, shifting the argument,
said that we may be able to grow enough food, but at the cost of Vogt entered history in 1948, when he published Road to Survival,
wrecking the world’s ecosystems. the first modern we’re-all-going-to-hell book. It contained the
I think of the adherents of these two perspectives as “Wizards” foundational argument of today’s environmental movement:
and “Prophets.” Wizards, following Borlaug’s model, unveil carrying capacity. Often called by other names—“ecological
technological fixes; Prophets, looking to Vogt, decry the conse- limits,” “planetary boundaries”—carrying capacity posits that
quences of our heedlessness. every ecosystem has a limit to what it can produce. Exceed that
Borlaug and Vogt traveled in the same orbit for decades, but limit for too long and the ecosystem will be ruined. As human
rarely acknowledged each other. Their first and only meeting, in numbers increase, Road to Survival said, our demands for food
the mid-1940s, led to disagreement—immediately afterward, will exceed the Earth’s carrying capacity. The results will be
Vogt tried to get Borlaug’s work shut down. So far as I know, they catastrophic: erosion, desertification, soil exhaustion, species
never spoke afterward. Each referred to the other’s ideas in public extinction, and water contamination that will, sooner or later,
addresses, but never attached a name. Instead, Vogt rebuked the lead to massive famines. Embraced by writers like Rachel Car-
anonymous “deluded” scientists who were actually aggravating son (the author of Silent Spring and one of Vogt’s friends) and Paul
our problems. Borlaug branded his opponents “Luddites.” Ehrlich (the author of The Population Bomb), Vogt’s arguments
Both men are dead now, but the dispute between their disci- about exceeding limits became the wellspring of today’s globe-
ples has only become more vehement. Wizards view the Prophets’ spanning environmental movement—the only enduring ideology
emphasis on cutting back as intellectually dishonest, indifferent to to emerge from the past century.
the poor, even racist (because most of the world’s hungry are non- When Road to Survival appeared, Borlaug was a young plant
Caucasian). Following Vogt, they say, is a path toward regression, pathologist working in a faltering program to improve Mexican
narrowness, poverty, and hunger—toward a world where billions agriculture. Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, the project
live in misery despite the scientific knowledge that could free them. focused on helping the nation’s poor corn farmers. Borlaug was
Prophets sneer that the Wizards’ faith in human resourcefulness in Mexico for a small side project that involved wheat—or rather,
is unthinking, ignorant, even driven by greed (because refusing black stem rust, a fungus that is wheat’s oldest and worst predator
to push beyond ecological limits will cut into corporate profits). (the Romans made sacrifices to propitiate the god of stem rust).
High-intensity, Borlaug-style industrial farming, Prophets say, Cold usually killed stem rust in the United States, but it was con-
may pay off in the short run, but in the long run will make the day stantly present in warmer Mexico, and every spring winds drove
of ecological reckoning hit harder. The ruination of soil and water it across the border to reinfect U.S. wheat fields.
by heedless overuse will lead to environmental collapse, which will The sole Rockefeller researcher working on wheat, Borlaug
in turn create worldwide social convulsion. Wizards reply: That’s was given so little money that he had to sleep in sheds and fields
exactly the global humanitarian crisis we’re preventing! As the finger- for months on end. But he succeeded by the mid-’50s in breeding
pointing has escalated, conversations about the environment have wheat that was resistant to many strains of rust. Not only that,
turned into dueling monologues, each side unwilling to engage he then created wheat that was much shorter than usual—what
with the other. became known as “semi-dwarf ” wheat. In the past, when wheat
Which might be all right, if we weren’t discussing the fate of was heavily fertilized, it had grown so fast that its stalks became
our children. spindly and fell over in the wind. The plants, unable to pull
themselves erect, had rotted and died. Borlaug’s shorter, stouter
wheat could absorb large doses of fertilizer and channel the extra
growth into grain rather than roots or stalk. In early tests, farmers
sometimes harvested literally 10 times as much grain from their
fields. Yields climbed at such a rate that in 1968 a USAID official
called the rise the Green Revolution, thus naming the phenom-
enon that would come to define the 20th century.
The Green Revolution had its most dramatic effects in
Asia, where in 1962 the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 55
William Vogt

Foundation opened the International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) in the Philippines. At the time, at least half of Asia lived in
hunger and want; farm yields in many places were stagnant or
falling. Governments that had only recently thrown off colonial-
ism were battling communist insurgencies, most notably in Viet-
nam. U.S. leaders believed the appeal of communism lay in its
promise of a better future. Washington wanted to demonstrate
that development occurred best under capitalism. IRRI’s hope
was that top research teams would transform Asia by rapidly
introducing modern rice agriculture—“a Manhattan Project for
food,” in the historian Nick Cullather’s phrase.
Following Borlaug’s lead, IRRI researchers developed new,
high-yielding rice varieties. These swept through Asia in the ’70s
and ’80s, nearly tripling rice harvests. More than 80 percent of the
rice grown in Asia today originated at IRRI. Even though the con-
tinent’s population has soared, Asian men, women, and children
consume an average of 30 percent more calories than they did
when IRRI was founded. Seoul and Shanghai, Jaipur and Jakarta;
shining skyscrapers, pricey hotels, traffic-jammed streets ablaze
with neon—all were built atop a foundation of laboratory-bred rice.
Were the Prophets disproved? Was carrying capacity a chi-
mera? No. As Vogt had predicted, the enormous jump in produc-
tivity led to enormous environmental damage: drained aquifers,
fertilizer runoff, aquatic dead zones, and
degraded and waterlogged soils. Worse in a
human sense, the rapid increase in productiv-
ity made rural land more valuable. Suddenly it
was worth stealing—and rural elites in many Affluence is not our greatest
places did just that, throwing poor farmers
off their land. The Prophets argued that the achievement but our biggest problem.
Green Revolution would merely postpone the
hunger crisis; it was a one-time lucky break,
rather than a permanent solution. And our
rising numbers and wealth mean that, just as
the Prophets said, our harvests will have to jump again—a second see that as a route to further overwhelming the planet’s carrying
Green Revolution, the Wizards add. capacity. We must go in the opposite direction, they say: use less
Even though the global population in 2050 will be just 25 per- land, waste less water, stop pouring chemicals into both.
cent higher than it is now, typical projections claim that farmers It is as if humankind were packed into a bus racing through an
will have to boost food output by 50 to 100 percent. The main rea- impenetrable fog. Somewhere ahead is a cliff: a calamitous rever-
son is that increased affluence has always multiplied the demand sal of humanity’s fortunes. Nobody can see exactly where it is,
for animal products such as cheese, dairy, fish, and especially but everyone knows that at some point the bus will have to turn.
meat—and growing feed for animals requires much more land, Problem is, Wizards and Prophets disagree about which way to
water, and energy than producing food simply by growing and yank the wheel. Each is certain that following the other’s ideas
eating plants. Exactly how much more meat tomorrow’s billions will send the bus over the cliff. As they squabble, the number of
will want to consume is unpredictable, but if they are anywhere passengers keeps rising.
near as carnivorous as today’s Westerners, the task will be huge.
And, Prophets warn, so will the planetary disasters that will come
of trying to satisfy the world’s desire for burgers and bacon: rav-
aged landscapes, struggles over water, and land grabs that leave The Story of Nitrogen
millions of farmers in poor countries with no means of survival.
What to do? Some of the strategies that were available during
the first Green Revolution aren’t anymore. Farmers can’t plant Almost everybody eats every day, but too few of us give any
much more land, because almost every accessible acre of arable thought to how that happens. If agricultural history were
soil is already in use. Nor can the use of fertilizer be increased; required in schools, more people would know the name of Jus-
it is already being overused everywhere except some parts of tus von Liebig, who in the mid-19th century established that the
Africa, and the runoff is polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans. Irri- amount of nitrogen in the soil controls the rate of plant growth.
gation, too, cannot be greatly expanded—most land that can Historians of science have charged Liebig with faking his data
be irrigated already is. Wizards think the best course is to use and stealing others’ ideas—accurately, so far as I can tell. But
genetic modification to create more-productive crops. Prophets he was also a visionary who profoundly changed the human

56 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
their respiration drains oxygen from the lower depths, killing off
most other life. Nitrogen from Midwestern farms flows down
the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico every summer, creating an
oxygen desert that in 2016 covered almost 7,000 square miles.
The next year a still larger dead zone—23,000 square miles—was
Norman Borlaug mapped in the Bay of Bengal, off the east coast of India.
Rising into the air, nitrous oxides from fertilizers is a major
cause of pollution. High in the stratosphere, it combines with and
neutralizes the planet’s ozone, which guards life on the surface by
blocking cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. Were it not for climate
change, suggests the science writer Oliver Morton, the spread of
nitrogen’s empire would probably be our biggest ecological worry.
Passionate resistance to that empire sprang up even before
Haber and Bosch became Nobel laureates. Its leader was an
English farm boy named Albert Howard (1873–1947), who
spent most of his career as British India’s official imperial eco-
nomic botanist. Individually and together, Howard and his wife,
Gabrielle, a Cambridge-educated plant physiologist, spent their
time in India breeding new varieties of wheat and tobacco,
developing novel types of plows, and testing the results of pro-
viding oxen with a superhealthy diet. By the end of the First
World War, they were convinced that soil was not simply a base
for chemical additives. It was an intricate living system that
required a wildly complex mix of nutrients in plant and animal
waste: harvest leftovers, manure. The Howards summed up
their ideas in what they called the Law of Return: “the faithful
species’ relationship with nature. Smarmy but farsighted, Liebig return to the soil of all available vegetable, animal, and human
imagined a new kind of agriculture: farming as a branch of chem- wastes.” We depend on plants, plants depend on soil, and soil
istry and physics. Soil was just a base with the physical attributes depends on us. Howard’s 1943 Agricultural Testament became
necessary to hold roots. Pour in nitrogen-containing compounds— the founding document of the organic movement.
factory-made fertilizer—and gigantic harvests would automati- Wizards attacked Howard and Jerome I. Rodale—a hard-
cally follow. In today’s terms, Liebig was taking the first steps scrabble New York–born entrepreneur, publisher, playwright, gar-
toward chemically regulated industrial agriculture—an early dening theorist, and food experimenter who publicized Howard’s
version of Wizardly thought. ideas through books and magazines—as charlatans and crackpots.
But there was no obvious way to manufacture the nitrog- It is true that their zeal was inspired by a near-religious faith in
D E N V E R P U B L I C L I B R A R Y, W E S T E R N H I S T O R Y P H O T O G R A P H I C C O L L E C T I O N S ;

enous substances that feed plants. That technology was pro- a limit-bound natural order. But when Howard lauded the living
vided before and during the First World War by two German nature of the soil, he was referring to the community of soil organ-
chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. Their subsequent Nobel isms, the dynamic relations between plant roots and the earth
Prizes were richly deserved: The Haber-Bosch process, as it around them, and the physical structure of humus, which stick-
is called, was arguably the most consequential technological ily binds together soil particles into airy crumbs that hold water
innovation of the 20th century. Today the Haber-Bosch process instead of letting it run through. All of this was very real, and all of
is responsible for almost all of the world’s synthetic fertilizer. it was unknown when Liebig shaped the basic ideas behind chemi-
A little more than 1 percent of the world’s industrial energy is cal agriculture. The claim Howard made in his many books and
devoted to it. “That 1 percent,” the futurist Ramez Naam has speeches that industrial farming was depopulating the country-
noted, “roughly doubles the amount of food the world can side and disrupting an older way of life was accurate, too, though
COURTESY OF ROCKEFELLER ARCHIVE CENTER

grow.” The environmental scientist Vaclav Smil has estimated his opponents disagreed with him about whether this was a bad
that nitrogen fertilizer from the Haber-Bosch process accounts thing. Nowadays the Prophets’ fears about industrial agriculture’s
for “the prevailing diets of nearly 45% of the world’s popula- exhausting the soil seem prescient: A landmark 2011 study from
tion.” More than 3 billion men, women, and children—an the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization concluded
incomprehensibly vast cloud of hopes, fears, memories, and that up to a third of the world’s cropland is degraded.
dreams—owe their existence to two obscure German chemists. At first, reconciling the two points of view might have been
Hard on the heels of the gains came the losses. About 40 per- possible. One can imagine Borlaugian Wizards considering
cent of the fertilizer applied in the past 60 years was not absorbed manure and other natural soil inputs, and Vogtian Prophets will-
by plants. Instead, it washed away into rivers or seeped into the ing to use chemicals as a supplement to good soil practice. But
air in the form of nitrous oxides. Fertilizer flushed into water still that didn’t happen. Hurling insults, the two sides moved further
fertilizes: It boosts the growth of algae, weeds, and other aquatic apart. They set in motion a battle that has continued into the
organisms. When these die, they fall to the floor of the river, lake, 21st century—and become ever more intense with the ubiquity
or ocean, where microbes consume their remains. So rapidly do of genetically modified crops. That battle is not just between
the microbes grow on the manna of dead algae and weeds that two philosophies, two approaches to technology, two ways of

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 57
thinking how best to increase the food supply for a growing pop- to form a compound that is then pumped into special, rubisco-
ulation. It is about whether the tools we choose will ensure the filled cells deep in the leaf. These cells have almost no oxygen,
survival of the planet or hasten its destruction. so rubisco can’t bumblingly grab the wrong molecule. The
end result is exactly the same sugars, starches, and cellulose
that ordinary photosynthesis produces, except much faster.
“Not One of Evolution’s C4 plants need less water and fertilizer than ordinary plants,
because they don’t waste water on rubisco’s mistakes. In the
Finest Efforts” sort of convergence that makes biologists snap to attention, C4
photosynthesis has arisen independently more than 60 times.
Corn, tumbleweed, crabgrass, sugarcane, and Bermuda grass—
All the while that Wizards were championing synthetic fertilizer all of these very different plants evolved C4 photosynthesis.
and Prophets were denouncing it, they were united in ignorance: In the botanical equivalent of a moonshot, scientists from
Nobody knew why plants were so dependent on nitrogen. Only around the world are trying to convert rice into a C4 plant—one that
after the Second World War did scientists discover that plants would grow faster, require less water and fertilizer, and produce
need nitrogen chiefly to make a protein called rubisco, a prima more grain. The scope and audacity of the project are hard to
donna in the dance of interactions that is photosynthesis. overstate. Rice is the world’s most important foodstuff, the staple
In photosynthesis, as children learn in school, plants use energy crop for more than half the global population, a food so embed-
from the sun to tear apart carbon dioxide and water, blending their ded in Asian culture that the words rice and meal are variants of
constituents into the compounds necessary to make roots, stems, each other in both Chinese and Japanese. Nobody can predict
leaves, and seeds. Rubisco is an enzyme that plays a key role in the with confidence how much more rice farmers will need to grow
process. Enzymes are biological catalysts. Like jaywalking pedes- by 2050, but estimates range up to a 40 percent rise, driven by
trians who cause automobile accidents but escape untouched, both increasing population numbers and increasing affluence,
enzymes cause biochemical reactions to
occur but are unchanged by those reac-
tions. Rubisco takes carbon dioxide from
the air, inserts it into the maelstrom of
photosynthesis, then goes back for more.
Because these movements are central
to the process, photosynthesis walks at Rather than tinker
the speed of rubisco. with individual genes,
Alas, rubisco is, by biological stan-
dards, a sluggard, a lazybones, a couch the scientists are trying
potato. Whereas typical enzyme mol- to refashion
ecules catalyze thousands of reactions
a second, rubisco molecules deign to photosynthesis.
involve themselves with just two or
three a second. Worse, rubisco is inept.
As many as two out of every five times,
rubisco fumblingly picks up oxygen
instead of carbon dioxide, causing the
chain of reactions in photosynthesis to break down and have to which permits formerly poor people to switch to rice from less
restart, wasting energy and water. Years ago I talked with biolo- prestigious staples such as millet and sweet potato. Meanwhile,
gists about photosynthesis for a magazine article. Not one had a the land available to plant rice is shrinking as cities expand into
good word to say about rubisco. “Nearly the world’s worst, most the countryside, thirsty people drain rivers, farmers switch to
incompetent enzyme,” said one researcher. “Not one of evolu- more-profitable crops, and climate change creates deserts from
tion’s finest efforts,” said another. To overcome rubisco’s lassitude farmland. Running short of rice would be a human catastrophe
and maladroitness, plants make a lot of it, requiring a lot of nitro- with consequences that would ripple around the world.
gen to do so. As much as half of the protein in many plant leaves, by The C4 Rice Consortium is an attempt to ensure that that
weight, is rubisco—it is often said to be the world’s most abundant never happens. Funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun-
protein. One estimate is that plants and microorganisms contain dation, the consortium is the world’s most ambitious genetic-
more than 11 pounds of rubisco for every person on Earth. engineering project. But the term genetic engineering does not
Evolution, one would think, should have improved rubisco. capture the project’s scope. The genetic engineering that appears
No such luck. But it did produce a work-around: C4 photo- in news reports typically involves big companies sticking individ-
synthesis (C4 refers to a four-carbon molecule involved in the ual packets of genetic material, usually from a foreign species, into
scheme). At once a biochemical kludge and a clever mechanism a crop. The paradigmatic example is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready
for turbocharging plant growth, C4 photosynthesis consists of a soybean, which contains a snippet of DNA from a bacterium that
wholesale reorganization of leaf anatomy. was found in a Louisiana waste pond. That snippet makes the plant
When carbon dioxide comes into a C4 leaf, it is initially assemble a chemical compound in its leaves and stems that blocks
grabbed not by rubisco but by a different enzyme that uses it the effects of Roundup, Monsanto’s widely used herbicide. The

58 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
foreign gene lets farmers spray Roundup on their soy fields, killing Directing the C4 Rice Consortium is Jane Langdale, a
weeds but leaving the crop unharmed. Except for making a single molecular geneticist at Oxford’s Department of Plant Sci-
tasteless, odorless, nontoxic protein, Roundup Ready soybeans ences. Initial research, she told me, suggests that about a dozen
are otherwise identical to ordinary soybeans. genes play a major part in leaf structure, and perhaps another
What the C4 Rice Consortium is trying to do with rice bears 10 genes have an equivalent role in the biochemistry. All must
the same resemblance to typical genetically modified crops as be activated in a way that does not affect the plant’s existing,
a Boeing 787 does to a paper airplane. Rather than tinker with desirable qualities and that allows the genes to coordinate their
individual genes in order to monetize seeds, the scientists are actions. The next, equally arduous step would be breeding rice
trying to refashion photosynthesis, one of the most fundamental varieties that can channel the extra growth provided by C4
processes of life. Because C4 has evolved in so many different photosynthesis into additional grains, rather than roots or stalk.
species, scientists believe that most plants must have precur- All the while, varieties must be disease-resistant, easy to grow,
sor C4 genes. The hope is that rice is one of these, and that the and palatable for their intended audience, in Asia, Africa, and
consortium can identify and awaken its dormant C4 genes— Latin America.
following a path evolution has taken many times before. Ideally, “I think it can all happen, but it might not,” Langdale said.
researchers would switch on sleeping chunks of genetic material She was quick to point out that even if C4 rice runs into insur-
already in rice (or use very similar genes from related species that mountable obstacles, it is not the only biological moonshot. Self-
are close cousins but easier to work with) to create, in effect, a fertilizing maize, wheat that can grow in salt water, enhanced
new and more productive species. Common rice, Oryza sativa, soil-microbial ecosystems—all are being researched. The
will become something else: Oryza nova, say. No company will odds that any one of these projects will succeed may be
profit from the result; the International Rice Research Institute, small, the idea goes, but the odds that all of them will fail
where much of the research takes place, will give away seeds for are equally small. The Wizardly process begun by Borlaug
the modified grain, as it did with Green Revolution rice. is, in Langdale’s view, still going strong.

The Luddites’ Moonshot

For as long as Wizards and Prophets have been arguing about
feeding the world, Wizards have charged that Prophet-style
agriculture simply cannot produce enough food for tomorrow.
In the past 20 years, scores of research teams have appraised
the relative contributions of industrial and organic agricul-
ture. These inquiries in turn have been gathered together and
assessed, a procedure that is fraught with difficulty: Research-
ers use different definitions of organic, compare different kinds
of farms, and include different costs in their analyses. Nonethe-
less, every attempt to combine and compare data that I know of
has shown that Prophet-style farms yield fewer calories per acre
than do Wizard-style farms—sometimes by a little, sometimes
When I visited IRRI, 35 miles southeast of downtown by quite a lot. The implications are obvious, Wizards say. If farm-
Manila, scores of people were doing what science does best: ers must grow twice as much food to feed the 10 billion, follow-
breaking a problem into individual pieces, then attacking the ing the ecosystem-conserving rules of Sir Albert Howard ties
pieces. Some were sprouting rice in petri dishes. Others were their hands.
trying to find chance variations in existing rice strains that Prophets smite their brows at this logic. To their minds, evalu-
might be helpful. Still others were studying a model organ- ating farm systems wholly in terms of calories per acre is folly.
ism, a C4 species of grass called Setaria viridis. Fast-growing It doesn’t include the sort of costs identified by Vogt: fertilizer
and able to be grown in soil, not paddies, Setaria is easier to runoff, watershed degradation, soil erosion and compaction,
work with in the lab than rice. There were experiments to and pesticide and antibiotic overuse. It doesn’t account for the
measure differences in photosynthetic chemicals, in the rates of destruction of rural communities. It doesn’t consider whether
growth of different varieties, in the transmission of biochemical the food is tasty and nutritious.
markers. Half a dozen people in white coats were sorting seeds Wizards respond that C4 rice will use less fertilizer and water
on a big table, grain by grain. More were in fields outside, tending to produce every calorie—it will be better for the environment
experimental rice paddies. All of the appurtenances of contem- than conventional crops. That’s like trying to put out fires you
porary biology were in evidence: flatscreen monitors, humming started by dousing them with less gasoline! the Prophets say. Just eat
refrigerators and freezers, tables full of beakers of recombinant less meat! To Wizards, the idea of making farms diverse in a way
goo, Dilbert and XKCD cartoons taped to whiteboards, a United that mimics natural ecosystems is hooey: only hyperintensive,
Nations of graduate students a-gossip in the cafeteria, air condi- industrial-scale agriculture using superproductive genetically
tioners whooshing in a row outside the windows. modified crops can feed tomorrow’s world.

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 59
Productivity? the Prophets reply. We have moonshots of our own! Union tried unsuccessfully for decades in the mid-1900s to
And in fact, they do. breed useful hybrids. Bolstered by developments in biology, the
Wheat, rice, maize, oats, barley, rye, and the other common Land Institute, together with researchers in the Pacific North-
cereals are annuals, which need to be planted anew every year. west and Australia, began anew at the turn of this century. When
By contrast, the wild grasses that used to fill the prairie are peren- I visited Stephen S. Jones of Washington State University, he
nials: plants that come back summer after summer, for as long and his colleagues had just suggested a scientific name for the
as a decade. Because perennial grasses build up root systems newly developed and tested hybrid: Tritipyrum aaseae (the spe-
that reach deep into the ground, they hold on to soil better and cies name honors the pioneering cereal geneticist Hannah Aase).
are less dependent on surface rainwater and nutrients—that is, Much work remains; Jones told me that he hoped bread from
irrigation and artificial fertilizer—than annual grasses. Many of T. aaseae would be ready for my daughter’s children.
them are also more disease-resistant. Not needing to build up African and Latin American researchers scratch their heads
new roots every spring, perennials emerge from the soil earlier when they hear about these projects. Breeding perennial grains
and faster than annuals. And because they don’t die in the win- is the hard way for Prophets to raise harvests, says Edwige Botoni,
ter, they keep photosynthesizing in the fall, when annuals stop. a researcher at the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought
Effectively, they have a longer growing season. They produce Control in the Sahel, in Burkina Faso. Botoni gave a lot of thought
food year after year with much less plowing-caused erosion. to the problem of feeding people from low-quality land while
They could be just as productive as Green Revolution–style grain, traveling along the edge of the Sahara. One part of the answer,
Prophets say, but without ruining land, sucking up scarce water, she told me, would be to emulate the farms that flourish in
or requiring heavy doses of polluting, energy-intensive fertilizer. tropical places such as Nigeria and Brazil. Whereas farmers in
Echoing Borlaug’s program in Mexico, the Rodale Institute, the the temperate zones focus on cereals, tropical growers focus on
country’s oldest organization that researches organic agriculture, tubers and trees, both of which are generally more productive
gathered 250 samples of intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum than cereals.
intermedium) in the late 1980s. A perennial cousin to bread wheat, Consider cassava, a big tuber also known as manioc, mogo,
wheatgrass was introduced to the Western Hemisphere from Asia and yuca. The 11th-most-important crop in the world in terms
in the 1930s as fodder for farm animals. Working with U.S. Depart- of production, it is grown in wide swathes of Africa, Asia, and
ment of Agriculture researchers, the Rodale Institute’s Peggy Latin America. The edible part grows underground; no mat-
Wagoner, a pioneering plant breeder and agricultural researcher, ter how big the tuber, the plant will never fall over. On a
planted samples, measured their yields, and crossbred the best per-acre basis, cassava harvests far outstrip those of wheat
performers in an attempt to make a commercially viable perennial. and other cereals. The comparison is unfair, because cas-
Wagoner and the Rodale Institute passed the baton in 2002 to the sava tubers contain more water than wheat kernels. But even
Land Institute, in Salina, Kansas, a nonprofit agricultural-research when this is taken into account, cassava produces many more
center dedicated to replacing conventional agriculture with pro- calories per acre than wheat. (The potato is a northern equiva-
cesses akin to those that occur in natural ecosystems. The Land lent. The average 2016 U.S. potato yield was 43,700 pounds
Institute, collaborating with other researchers, has been develop- per acre, more than 10 times the equivalent figure for wheat.) “I
ing wheatgrass ever since. It has even given its new variety of inter- don’t know why this alternative is not considered,” Botoni said.
mediate wheatgrass a trade name: Kernza. Although cassava is unfamiliar to many cultures, introducing it
Like C4 rice, wheatgrass may not fulfill its originators’ hopes. “seems easier than breeding entirely new species.”
Wheatgrass kernels are one-quarter the size of wheat kernels, Much the same is true for tree crops. A mature McIntosh
sometimes smaller, and have a thicker layer of bran. Unlike wheat, apple tree might grow 350 to 550 pounds of apples a year. Orchard
wheatgrass grows into a dark, dense mass of foliage that covers the growers commonly plant 200 to 250 trees per acre. In good years
field; the thick layer of vegetation protects the soil and keeps out this can work out to 35 to 65 tons of fruit per acre. The equivalent
weeds, but it also reduces the amount of grain that the plant pro- figure for wheat, by contrast, is about a ton and a half. As with
duces. To make wheatgrass useful to farmers, breeders will have cassava and potatoes, apples contain more water than wheat
to increase kernel size, alter the plant’s architecture, and improve does—but the caloric yield per acre is still higher. Even papayas
its bread-making qualities. The work has been slow.
Because wheatgrass is a perennial, it must be eval-
uated over years, rather than a single season. The
Land Institute hopes to have field-ready, bread-
worthy wheatgrass with kernels that are twice their
current size (if still half the size of wheat’s) in the Farming is a kind of useful drudgery
2020s, though nothing is guaranteed. that should be eased and
Domesticating wheatgrass is the long game.
Other plant breeders have been trying for a reduced as much as possible
shortcut: creating a hybrid of bread wheat and
wheatgrass, hoping to marry the former’s large,
to maximize individual liberty.
plentiful grain and the latter’s disease resistance
and perennial life cycle. The two species produce
viable offspring just often enough that biolo-
gists in North America, Germany, and the Soviet

60 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
and bananas are more productive than wheat. So are some nuts,
like chestnuts. Apples, chestnuts, and papayas cannot make
crusty baguettes, crunchy tortillas, or cloud-light chiffon cakes, G O AT O N A P I L E O F S C R A P L U M B E R
but most grain today is destined for highly processed substances
like animal feed, breakfast cereal, sweet syrups, and ethanol— The goat lowers his head like a fur-covered anvil,
and tree and tuber crops can be readily deployed for those. as if he knows all things in the world change.
Am I arguing that farmers around the world should replace their His eyes are bisected by a horizon line of yellow
plots of wheat, rice, and maize with fields of cassava, potato, and
light.
sweet potato and orchards of bananas, apples, and chestnuts? No.
The argument is rather that Prophets have multiple ways to meet You’re wondering what might happen if you move
tomorrow’s needs. These alternative paths are difficult, but so is closer.
the Wizards’ path exemplified in C4 rice. The greatest obstacle for There’s a language we speak to ourselves and one
Prophets is something else: labor. we use for others.
I told you, he’s lowered his head.
Nevertheless, you can see for yourself he’s
The Right chewing.
Way to Live What he swallows becomes his rumination.
I too was attracted to someone I did not
understand.
Since the end of the Second World War, most national govern- With each other we were bestial, that’s not too
ments have intentionally directed labor away from agriculture strong a word.
(Communist China was long an exception). The goal was to con-
Although at first, at first, when our foreheads
solidate and mechanize farms, which would increase harvests
and reduce costs, especially for labor. Farmworkers, no longer touched, we were curious.
needed, would move to the cities, where they could get better-
paying jobs in factories. In the Borlaugian ideal, both the remain- — Michael Collier
ing farm owners and the factory workers would earn more, the
former by growing more and better crops, the latter by obtaining Michael Collier’s seventh poetry collection, My Bishop
better-paying jobs in industry. The nation as a whole would ben- and Other Poems, will be published this year.
efit: increased exports from industry and agriculture, cheaper
food in the cities, a plentiful labor supply.
There were downsides: Cities in developing nations acquired system that encourages the use of labor. Such large shifts in social
entire slums full of displaced families. And in many areas, includ- arrangements are not easily accomplished.
ing most of the developed world, the countryside was emptied— And here is the origin of the decades-long dispute between
exactly what Borlaugians intended, as part of the goal of freeing Wizards and Prophets. Although the argument is couched in
agriculture workers to pursue their dreams. In the United States, terms of calories per acre and ecosystem conservation, the dis-
the proportion of the workforce employed in agriculture went agreement at bottom is about the nature of agriculture—and,
from 21.5 percent in 1930 to 1.9 percent in 2000; the number with it, the best form of society. To Borlaugians, farming is a kind
of farms fell by almost two-thirds. The average size of the sur- of useful drudgery that should be eased and reduced as much
viving farms increased to compensate for the smaller number. as possible to maximize individual liberty. To Vogtians, agricul-
Meanwhile, states around the world established networks of tax ture is about maintaining a set of communities, ecological and
incentives, loan plans, training programs, and direct subsidies human, that have cradled life since the first agricultural revolu-
to help big farmers acquire large-scale farm machinery, stock up tion, 10,000-plus years ago. It can be drudgery, but it is also work
on chemicals, and grow certain government-favored crops for that reinforces the human connection to the Earth. The two argu-
export. Because these systems remain in effect, Vogtian farmers ments are like skew lines, not on the same plane.
are swimming against the tide. My daughter is 19 now, a sophomore in college. In 2050, she
To Vogtians, the best agriculture takes care of the soil first and will be middle-aged. It will be up to her generation to set up the
foremost, a goal that entails smaller patches of multiple crops— institutions, laws, and customs that will provide for basic human
difficult to accomplish when concentrating on the mass produc- needs in the world of 10 billion. Every generation decides the
tion of a single crop. Truly extending agriculture that does this future, but the choices made by my children’s generation will
would require bringing back at least some of the people whose resonate for as long as demographers can foresee. Wizard or
parents and grandparents left the countryside. Providing these Prophet? The choice will be less about what this generation
workers with a decent living would drive up costs. Some labor- thinks is feasible than what it thinks is good.
sparing mechanization is possible, but no small farmer I have
spoken with thinks that it would be possible to shrink the labor Charles C. Mann is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the
force to the level seen in big industrial operations. The whole author of 1491. This article is adapted from his most recent book,
system can grow only with a wall-to-wall rewrite of the legal The Wizard and the Prophet.

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 61
AMERICAN

62 T H E AT L A N T I C
HUSTLER
OLIGARCHS, SHADY DEALS, FOREIGN MONEY—HOW
PAUL MANAFORT HELPED CORRUPT WASHINGTON AND LAID
THE GROUNDWORK FOR THE SUBVERSION OF AMERICAN POLITICS
By

FRANKLIN FOER
protesters gathered on the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square,
and swept his patron from power. Fearing for his life, Yanukovych
sought protective shelter in Russia. Manafort avoided any harm
by keeping a careful distance from the enflamed city. But in his
Kiev office, he’d left behind a safe filled with papers that he would
not have wanted to fall into public view or the wrong hands.
Money, which had always flowed freely to Manafort and
which he’d spent more freely still, soon became a problem. After
the revolution, Manafort cadged some business from former
minions of the ousted president, the ones who hadn’t needed to

I.
run for their lives. But he complained about unpaid bills and, at
age 66, scoured the world (Hungary, Uganda, Kenya) for fresh
clients, hustling without any apparent luck. Andrea noted her
father’s “tight cash flow state,” texting Jessica, “He is suddenly

The
extremely cheap.” His change in spending habits was dampening
her wedding plans. For her “wedding weekend kick off ” party,
he suggested scaling back the menu to hot dogs and eliminated

WISDOM
a line item for ice.
He seemed unwilling, or perhaps unable, to access his off-
shore accounts; an FBI investigation scrutinizing his work in
Ukraine had begun not long
after Yanukovych’s fall. Mean-
while, a Russian oligarch named

of FRIENDS
Oleg Deripaska had been after
Manafort to explain what had
happened to an $18.9 million
investment in a Ukrainian com-
pany that Manafort had claimed
to have made on his behalf.
Manafort had known Deri-
paska for years, so he surely
understood the oligarch’s history.
Deripaska had won his fortune by
prevailing in the so-called alumi-
THE CLINIC PERMITTED PAUL MANAFORT one 10-minute call num wars of the 1990s, a corpse-filled struggle, one of the most
each day. And each day, he would use it to ring his wife from Ari- violent of all the competitions for dominance in a post-Soviet
zona, his voice often soaked in tears. “Apparently he sobs daily,” industry. In 2006, the U.S. State Department had revoked Deripas-
his daughter Andrea, then 29, texted a friend. During the spring ka’s visa, reportedly out of concern over his ties to organized crime
of 2015, Manafort’s life had tipped into a deep trough. A few (which he has denied). Despite Deripaska’s reputation, or perhaps
months earlier, he had intimated to his other daughter, Jessica, because of it, Manafort had been dodging the oligarch’s attempts
that suicide was a possibility. He would “be gone forever,” she to contact him. As Deripaska’s lawyers informed a court in 2014
texted Andrea. while attempting to claw back their client’s money, “It appears that
His work, the source of the status he cherished, had taken a Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have simply disappeared.”
devastating turn. For nearly a decade, he had counted primarily

N
on a single client, albeit an exceedingly lucrative one. He’d been I N E M O N T H S A F T E R the Ukrainian revolution,
the chief political strategist to the man who became the presi- Manafort’s family life also went into crisis. The nature of his
dent of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, with whom he’d developed home life can be observed in detail because Andrea’s text
a highly personal relationship. Manafort would swim naked with messages were obtained last year by a “hacktivist collective”—
his boss outside his banya, play tennis with him at his palace (“Of most likely Ukrainians furious with Manafort’s meddling in their
course, I let him win,” Manafort made it known), and generally country—which posted the purloined material on the dark web.
serve as an arbiter of power in a vast country. One of his depu- The texts extend over four years (2012–16) and 6 million words.
ties, Rick Gates, once boasted to a group of Washington lobbyists, Manafort has previously confirmed that his daughter’s phone
“You have to understand, we’ve been working in Ukraine a long was hacked and acknowledged the authenticity of some texts
time, and Paul has a whole separate shadow government struc- quoted by Politico and The New York Times. Manafort and Andrea
ture … In every ministry, he has a guy.” Only a small handful of both declined to comment on this article. Jessica could not be
Americans— oil executives, Cold War spymasters—could claim reached for comment.
to have ever amassed such influence in a foreign regime. The Collectively, the texts show a sometimes fraught series of
power had helped fill Manafort’s bank accounts; according to his relationships, by turns loving and manipulative. Manafort was
recent indictment, he had tens of millions of dollars stashed in generous with his family financially—he’d invested millions
havens like Cyprus and the Grenadines. in Jessica’s film projects, and millions more in her now-ex-
Manafort had profited from the sort of excesses that make husband’s real-estate ventures. But when he called home in
a country ripe for revolution. And in the early months of 2014, tears or threatened suicide in the spring of 2015, he was pleading

64 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C Previous spread photograph by MARK PETERSON/REDUX
for his marriage. The previous November, as the cache of texts came in the form of Georgetown mansions, with their antique
shows, his daughters had caught him in an affair with a woman imperfections and worn rugs projecting power so certain of itself,
more than 30 years his junior. It was an expensive relationship. it needn’t shout. But that old boarding-school establishment
According to the text messages, Manafort had rented his mistress wasn’t Manafort’s style. As he made a name for himself, he began
a $9,000-a-month apartment in Manhattan and a house in the to dress differently than the Brooks Brothers crowd on K Street,
Hamptons, not far from his own. He had handed her an Ameri- more European, with funky, colorful blazers and collarless shirts.
can Express card, which she’d used to good effect. “I only go to If he entertained the notion, say, of moving his backyard swim-
luxury restaurants,” she once declared on a friend’s fledgling ming pool a few feet, nothing stopped him from the expense.
podcast, speaking expansively about her photo posts on social Colleagues, amused by his sartorial quirks and his cosmopolitan
media: caviar, lobster, haute cuisine. lifestyle, referred to him as “the Count of Monte Cristo.”
The affair had been an unexpected His acts of rebellion were not merely aesthetic.
revelation. Manafort had nursed his Manafort rewrote the rules of his adopted city. In the
wife after a horseback-riding acci- early ’80s, he created a consulting firm that ignored
dent had nearly killed her in 1997. “I the conventions that had previously governed lobby-
always marveled at how patient and MANAFORT ing. When it came to taking on new clients, he was
devoted he was with her during that
HAD BEEN uninhibited by moral limits. In 2016, his friends might

DODGING
time,” an old friend of Manafort’s not have known the specifics of his Cyprus accounts,
told me. But after the exposure of his all the alleged off-the-books payments to him captured
infidelity, his wife had begun to con-
DERIPASKA. in Cyrillic ledgers in Kiev. But they knew enough to

THE RUSSIAN
fess simmering marital issues to her believe that he could never sustain the exposure that
daughters. Manafort had committed comes with running a presidential campaign in the age
to couples therapy but, the texts reveal, OLIGARCH of opposition research and aggressive media. “The
that hadn’t prevented him from con-
tinuing his affair. Because he clumsily WANTED risks couldn’t have been more obvious,” one friend
who attempted to dissuade him from the job told me.
obscured his infidelity—and because TO KNOW But in his frayed state, these warnings failed to register.
his mistress posted about their travels
on Instagram—his family caught him WHAT HAD When Paul Manafort officially joined the Trump
campaign, on March 28, 2016, he represented a danger
again, six months later. He entered the BECOME OF not only to himself but to the political organization he
clinic in Arizona soon after, accord-
ing to Andrea’s texts. “My dad,” she HIS MONEY. would ultimately run. A lifetime of foreign adventures
didn’t just contain scandalous stories, it evinced the
wrote, “is in the middle of a massive character of a man who would very likely commandeer
emotional breakdown.” the campaign to serve his own interests, with little con-
cern for the collective consequences.

B
Y T H E E A R LY M O N T H S of Over the decades, Manafort had cut a trail of for-
2016, Manafort was back in greater Washington, his main eign money and influence into Washington, then built that trail
residence and the place where he’d begun his career into a superhighway. When it comes to serving the interests of
as a political consultant and lobbyist. But his attempts at the world’s autocrats, he’s been a great innovator. His indictment
rehabilitation— of his family life, his career, his sense of self- in October after investigation by Special Counsel Robert Muel-
worth—continued. He began to make a different set of calls. As ler alleges money laundering, false statements, and other acts of
he watched the U.S. presidential campaign take an unlikely turn, personal corruption. (He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.)
he saw an opportunity, and he badly wanted in. He wrote Donald But Manafort’s role in Mueller’s broader narrative remains care-
Trump a crisp memo listing all the reasons he would be an ideal fully guarded, and unknown to the public. And his personal cor-
campaign consigliere—and then implored mutual friends to tout ruption is less significant, ultimately, than his lifetime role as a
his skills to the ascendant candidate. corrupter of the American system. That he would be accused of
Shortly before the announcement of his job inside Trump’s helping a foreign power subvert American democracy is a fitting
campaign, Manafort touched base with former colleagues to coda to his life’s story.
let them know of his professional return. He exuded his char-
acteristic confidence, but they surprised him with doubts and
worries. Throughout his long career, Manafort had advised
II. The I N T H E S P R I N G O F 1 9 7 7, a

YOUNG MAN
powerful men—U.S. senators and foreign supreme command- 28-year-old Paul Manafort sat
ers, imposing generals and presidents-for-life. He’d learned at a folding table in a hotel
how to soothe them, how to bend their intransigent wills with
his calmly delivered, diligently researched arguments. But and HIS suite in Memphis. Photos
from that time show him with
Manafort simply couldn’t accept the wisdom of his friends,
advice that he surely would have dispensed to anyone with a MACHINE a Tom Selleck mustache and
meaningful sideburns. He
history like his own—the imperative to shy away from unneces- was surrounded by phones
sary attention. that he’d specially installed
His friends, like all Republican political operatives of a certain for the weekend. The desk
age, could recite the legend of Paul Manafort, which they did with held his copious binders, which he called “whip books.” Eight
fascination, envy, and occasional disdain. When Manafort had hundred delegates had gathered to elect a new leader of the
arrived in Washington in the 1970s, the place reveled in its shabby Young Republicans organization, and Manafort, a budding king-
glories, most notably a self-satisfied sense of high duty. Wealth maker, had compiled a dossier on each one. Those whip books

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 65
provided the basis for deal making. To wheedle and cajole del- These ambitions left a trail of damage, including an Alabama
egates, it helped to have an idea of what job they wanted in return lawyer named Neal Acker. During the Memphis convention,
for their support. Acker had served as a loyal foot soldier on the Team, organizing
Control over the Young Republicans—a political and social the southern delegates on Stone’s behalf. In return, Manafort and
network for professionals ages 18 to 40—was a genuine prize in Stone had promised to throw the Team behind Acker’s campaign
those days. Presidential hopefuls sought to harness the group. to replace Stone as the head of the Young Republicans two years
This was still the era of brokered presidential conventions, and later, in 1979. Manafort would manage the campaign himself.
Young Republicans could descend in numbers sufficient to But as the moment of Acker’s coronation approached,
dominate the state meetings that selected delegates. In 1964, the Manafort suddenly conditioned his plan. If Acker wanted the
group’s efforts had arguably secured Barry Goldwater the GOP job, he had to swear loyalty to Reagan. When Acker ultimately
nomination; by the ’70s every Republican aspirant understood balked—he wanted to stay neutral—Manafort turned on him with
its potency. The attention paid by party elders yielded opportu- fury, “an unprecedented 11th-hour move,” the Associated Press
nities for Young Republican leaders. Patronage flowed in their reported. In the week leading up to the 1979 Young Republicans
direction. To seize the organization was to come into possession convention, Manafort and Stone set out to destroy Acker’s candi-
of a baby Tammany. dacy. At Manafort’s urging, the delegates who were pledged to
In Memphis, Manafort was working on behalf of his friend Acker bolted—and Manafort took over his opponent’s campaign.
Roger Stone, now best known as a pioneer in opposition research In a bravura projection of power that no one in the Reagan cam-
and a promiscuous purveyor of conspiracy theories. He man- paign could miss, Manafort swung the vote sharply against Acker,
aged Stone’s candidacy for chairman of the group. Stone, then 465 to 180. “It was one of the great fuck jobs,” a Manafort whip
24, reveled in the fact that he’d received his political education told me recently.
during Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign in 1972; he even Not long after that, Stone and Manafort won the crucial posi-
admitted to playing dirty tricks to benefit his idol. Stone and tions in the Reagan operation that they’d coveted. Stone directed
Manafort had met through College Republicans. They shared the campaign in the Northeast, Manafort in the South. The cam-
a home state, an affection for finely tailored power suits, and paign had its share of infighting; both men survived factional
a deeper love of power itself. Together, they campaigned with schisms and purges. “They were known as the Young Republican
gleeful ruthlessness. whizzes,” Jeff Bell told me. Their performance positioned them
Even at this early stage in his career, Manafort had acquired for inner-sanctum jobs in the Reagan administration, but they
a remarkable skill for managing a gathering of great size. He had even grander plans.
knew how to command an army of loyalists, who took his
orders via walkie-talkie. And he knew how to put on a show. In
Memphis that year, he rented a Mississippi River paddleboat for
a booze cruise and dispatched his whips to work over wavering Paul Manafort (left),
Roger Stone (center),
delegates within its floating confines. To the Young Republi- and Lee Atwater (right)
can elite, the faction Manafort controlled carried a name that in 1985. Their efforts
conveyed his expectation of unfailing loyalty: the Team. And in helped transform how
the face of the Team’s prowess, Stone’s rival eventually quit the Washington works.
race, mid- convention. “It’s all been scripted in the back room,”
he complained.
Manafort had been bred for politics. While he was in high
school, his father, Paul Manafort Sr., became the mayor of New
Britain, Connecticut, and Manafort Jr. gravitated toward the
action—joining a mock city council, campaigning for the guber-
natorial candidate Thomas Meskill as part of his Kiddie Corps.
For college and law school, he chose Georgetown University, a
taxi ride from the big time.
In the ’70s, the big time was embodied by James A. Baker III,
the shrewdest Republican insider of his generation. During the
epic Republican National Convention of 1976, Manafort holed
up with Baker in a trailer outside the Kemper Arena, in Kansas
City, Missouri. They attempted to protect Gerald Ford’s renomi-
nation bid in the face of Ronald Reagan’s energetic challenge;
Manafort wrangled delegates on Baker’s behalf. From Baker, he
learned the art of ostentatious humility, how to use the knife to
butter up and then stab in the back. “He was studying at the feet
of the master,” Jeff Bell, a Reagan campaign aide, remembers.
By the late ’70s, Manafort and Stone could foresee Ronald
Reagan’s ascendance, and both intended to become players in
his 1980 campaign. For Manafort, this was an audacious volte-
face. By flipping his allegiance from the former Ford faction, he
provoked suspicion among conservatives, who viewed him as a
rank opportunist. There was little denying that the Young Repub-
licans made an ideal vehicle for his ambitions.

66 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
III. The D U R I N G T H E Y E A R S that represented a break with the old Republican establishment. After

FIRM
followed World War II, the long expansion of the regulatory state, business finally had a
Washington’s most effective political partner eager to dismantle it—which generated unprece-
lobbyists transcended the dented demand for lobbyists. Manafort could convincingly claim
transactional nature of their to know the new administration better than anyone. During its
profession. Men such as Abe transition to power, he had run the Office of Personnel Manage-
Fortas, Clark Clifford, Bryce ment, which meant that he’d stacked the incoming government
Harlow, and Thomas Corcoran were known not as grubby with his people. Along with Stone and Charlie Black, another
mercenaries but as elegant avatars of a permanent establish- veteran of the Young Republican wars, he set up a firm, Black,
ment, lauded as “wise men.” Lobbying hardly carried a stigma, Manafort and Stone, which soon compiled an imposing client
because there was so little of it. When the legendary lawyer list: Bethlehem Steel, the Tobacco Institute, Johnson & Johnson,
Tommy Boggs registered himself as a lobbyist, in 1967, his Trans World Airlines.
H A R RY N A LTC H AYA N / T H E WAS H I N GT O N P O ST /G E T T Y

name was only 64th on the active list. Businesses simply didn’t Whereas other firms had operated in specialized niches—
consider lobbying a necessity. Three leading political scientists lobbying, consulting, public relations—Black, Manafort and
had studied the profession in 1963 and concluded: “When we Stone bundled all those services under one roof, a deceptively
look at the typical lobby, we find its opportunities to maneuver simple move that would eventually help transform Washington.
are sharply limited, its staff mediocre, and its typical problem Time magazine deemed the operation “the ultimate supermarket
not the influencing of Congressional votes but finding the cli- of influence peddling.” Fred Wertheimer, a good-government
ents and contributors to enable it to survive at all.” advocate, described this expansive approach as “institutional-
On the cusp of the Reagan era, Republican lobbyists were ized conflict of interest.”
particularly enfeebled. Generations of Democratic majorities The linkage of lobbying to political consulting—the creation
in Congress had been terrible for business. The scant tribe of of what’s now known as a double-breasted operation—was the
Republican lobbyists working the cloakrooms included alumni real breakthrough. Manafort’s was the first lobbying firm to also
of the Nixon and Ford administrations; operating under the house political consultants. (Legally, the two practices were
shame-inducing cloud of Watergate, they were disinclined divided into different companies, but they shared the same
toward either ambition or aggression. founding partners and the same office space.) One venture would
This was the world that brash novices like Manafort and run campaigns; the other would turn around and lobby the poli-
Stone quickly came to dominate. The Reagan administration ticians whom their colleagues had helped elect. The consulting
side hired the hard-edged operative Lee Atwater, notorious for
pioneering race-baiting tactics on behalf of Strom Thurmond.
“We’re getting into servicing what we sell,” Atwater told his
friends. Just as imagined, the firm’s political clients (Jesse Helms,
Phil Gramm, Arlen Specter) became reliable warhorses when the
firm needed them to promote the agendas of its corporate clients.
With this evolution of the profession, the effectiveness and influ-
ence of lobbying grew in tandem.
In 1984, the firm reached across the aisle. It made a partner
of Peter Kelly, a former finance chairman of the Democratic
National Committee, who had earned the loyalty of lawmakers
by raising millions for their campaigns. Some members of the firm
worked for Democratic Senate candidates in Louisiana, Vermont,
and Florida, even as operatives down the hall worked for their
Republican foes. “People said, ‘It’s un-American,’ ” Kelly told me.
“ ‘They can’t lose. They have both sides.’ I kept saying, ‘How is it
un-American to win?’ ” This sense of invincibility permeated the
lobbying operation too. When Congress passed tax-reform legisla-
tion in 1986, the firm managed to get one special rule inserted that
saved Chrysler-Mitsubishi $58 million; it wrangled another clause
that reaped Johnson & Johnson $38 million in savings. Newsweek
pronounced the firm “the hottest shop in town.”
Demand for its services rose to such heights that the firm
engineered a virtual lock on the 1988 Republican primary.
Atwater became the chief strategist for George H. W. Bush;
Black worked with Bob Dole; Stone advised Jack Kemp. A con-
gressional staffer joked to Time, “Why have primaries for the
nomination? Why not have the candidates go over to Black,
Manafort and Stone and argue it out?” Manafort cultivated
this perception. In response to a questionnaire in The Washing-
ton Times, he declared Machiavelli the person he would most
like to meet.
Despite his young age, Manafort projected the sort of confi-
dence that inspires others to have confidence, a demeanor often

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 67
likened to that of a news anchor. “He is authoritative, and you
never see a chink in the armor,” one of his longtime deputies, IV. BY T H E 1 9 9 0 S , the double-
digit list of registered lobbyists
Philip Griffin, told me. Manafort wrote well, especially in pro-
MAN of the that Tommy Boggs had joined

WORLD
posals to prospective clients, and excelled at thinking strate- back in 1967 had swelled to
gically. Name-dropping never substituted for concrete steps more than 10,000. Black,
that would bolster a client. “If politics has done anything, it’s Manafort, Stone and Kelly
taught us to treat everything as a campaign,” he once declared. had greatly abetted that trans-
He toiled for clients with unflagging intensity. His wife once formation, and stood to profit
quipped, according to the text messages, that Andrea was from the rising flood of corpo-
conceived between conference calls. He “hung up the phone, rate money into the capital. But by then, domestic politics had
looked at his watch, and said, ‘Okay, we have 20 minutes until begun to feel a little small, a bit too unexotic, for Paul Manafort,
the next one,’ ” Andrea wrote to her then-fiancé. whom Charlie Black described to me as a self-styled “adventurer.”
The firm exuded the decadent spirit of the 1980s. Each year, Manafort had long befriended ambitious young diplomats at
it hosted a golf outing called Boodles, after the gin brand. “It the trailhead to power, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud,
would have to move almost every year, because we weren’t then the Saudi ambassador to Washington. When Bandar attended
invited back,” John Donaldson, an old friend of Manafort’s the 1984 Republican National Convention, Manafort dedicated a
who worked at the firm, says. “A couple of women in the firm small group of advance men to smooth his way. Manafort arranged
complained that they weren’t ever invited. I told them they for Bandar to arrive at the presidential entrance, then had him
didn’t want to be.” As the head of the firm’s “social committee,” whisked to seats in the vice-presidential box.
Manafort would supply a theme for the annual gatherings. His Foreign lobbying had certainly existed before the ’80s, but
masterwork was a three-year progression: “Excess,” followed it was limited in scale and operated under a penumbra of suspi-
by “Exceed Excess,” capped by “Excess Is Best.” cion. Just before World War II, Congress had passed the Foreign
Partners at the firm let it be known to The Washington Post that Agents Registration Act, largely in response to the campaigns
they each intended to take home at orchestrated by Ivy Lee, an American publicist hired
least $450,000 in 1986 (a little more by the German Dye Trust to soften the image of the
than $1 million today). “All of a sud- Third Reich. Congress hadn’t outlawed influence ped-
den they came into a lot of money, dling on behalf of foreign interests, but the practice sat

MANAFORT’S
and I don’t think any of them were on the far fringes of K Street.
used to earning the money that we Paul Manafort helped change that. The Reagan
were earning,” Kelly said. Senior
LOBBYING administration had remade the contours of the Cold

FIRM EXUDED
partners were given luxury cars and War, stepping up the fight against communism world-
a membership to the country club of wide by funding and training guerrilla armies and
their choosing. Manafort would fly THE DECA- right-wing military forces, such as the Nicaraguan
the Concorde to Europe and back
as if it were the Acela to New York. DENT SPIRIT contras and the Afghan mujahideen. This strategy of
military outsourcing—the Reagan Doctrine—aimed to
“I must confess,” Atwater swooned OF THE ’80S. overload the Soviet Union with confrontations that it
to The Washington Post, “after four
years on a government payroll, I’m “EXCESS couldn’t sustain.
All of the money Congress began spending on anti-
delighted with my new life style.” IS BEST” communist proxies represented a vast opportunity.
The firm hired kids straight
out of college—“wheel men” in
WAS THE Iron-fisted dictators and scruffy commandants around
the world hoped for a share of the largesse. To get it,
the office vernacular—to drive the THEME OF they needed help refining their image, so that Con-
partners around town. When Roger
ONE ANNUAL gress wouldn’t look too hard at their less-than-liberal

GATHERING.
Stone’s old hero, Richard Nixon, tendencies. Other lobbyists sought out authoritarian
came to Washington, the wheel clients, but none did so with the focused intensity of
men would shuttle him about. Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. The firm would
Many of these young associates arrange for image-buffing interviews on American
would eventually climb the firm’s news programs; it would enlist allies in Congress to
ladder, and were often dispatched unleash money. Back home, it would help regimes
to manage campaigns on the firm’s behalf. Climbing the ladder, acquire the whiff of democratic legitimacy that would bolster
however, in most cases required passing what came to be known their standing in Washington.
as Manafort’s “loyalty tests”—challenging tasks that strayed out- The firm won clients because it adeptly marketed its ties to the
side the boundaries of standard professional commitment and Reagan administration, and then the George H. W. Bush adminis-
demonstrated the control that Manafort expected to exert over tration after that. In one proposal, reported in The New York Times
the associates’ lives. At the last minute, he might ask a staffer to in 1988, the firm advertised its “personal relationships” with offi-
entertain his visiting law-school buddies, never mind that the cials and promised to “upgrade” back channels “in the economic
staffer had never met them before. For one Saint Patrick’s Day and foreign policy spheres.” No doubt it helped to have a friend
party, he gave two junior staffers 24 hours to track down a plausi- in James Baker, especially after he became the secretary of state
ble impersonator of Billy Barty, the 3-foot-9-inch actor who made under Bush. “Baker would send the firm clients,” Kelly remem-
movies with Mickey Rooney and Chevy Chase—which they did. bered. “He wanted us to help lead these guys in a better direction.”
“This was in the days before the internet,” one of them told me. But moral improvement never really figured into Manafort’s
“Can you imagine how hard that was?” calculus. “Generally speaking, I would focus on how to bring

68 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
the general’s 1986 trip to New York
and Washington, Manafort and his
associates created what one maga-
zine called “Savimbi Chic.” Dressed
in a Nehru suit, Savimbi was driven
around in a stretch limousine and
housed in the Waldorf-Astoria and
the Grand Hotel, projecting an image
of refinement. The firm had assidu-
ously prepared him for the mission,
sending him monthly reports on the
poli tical climate in Washington.
According to The Washington Post,
“He was meticulously coached on
everything from how to answer his
critics to how to compliment his
Manafort with the
Republican patrons.” Savimbi emerged from his
presidential tour as a much-championed “free-
nominee Bob dom fighter.” When the neoconserva-
Dole at the 1996 tive icon Jeane Kirkpatrick introduced
GOP convention,
which Manafort
Savimbi at the American Enterprise
managed Institute, she declared that he was a
“linguist, philosopher, poet, politician,
warrior … one of the few authentic
heroes of our time.”
the client in sync with western European or American values,” This was a racket—Savimbi paid the firm $600,000 in 1985
Kelly told me. “Paul took the opposite approach.” (Kelly and alone—that Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly did its best to keep
Manafort have not spoken in recent years; the former sup- alive; the firm’s own business was tied to Savimbi’s continued
ported Hillary Clinton in the last presidential campaign.) In her rebellion against Angola’s leftist regime. As the country stood on
memoir, Riva Levinson, a managing director at the firm from the brink of peace talks in the late ’80s, after nearly 15 years of
1985 to 1995, wrote that when she protested to her boss that she bloody civil war, the firm helped secure fresh batches of arms
needed to believe in what she was doing, Manafort told her that for its client, emboldening Savimbi to push forward with his
it would “be my downfall in this business.” The firm’s client military campaign. Former Senator Bill Bradley wrote in his
base grew to include dictatorial governments in Nigeria, Kenya, memoir, “When Gorbachev pulled the plug on Soviet aid to the
Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among Angolan government, we had absolutely no reason to persist in
others. Manafort’s firm was a primary subject of scorn in a 1992 aiding Savimbi. But by then he had hired an effective Washington
report issued by the Center for Public Integrity called “The lobbying firm.” The war continued for more than a decade, kill-
Torturers’ Lobby.” ing hundreds of thousands of Angolans.
The firm’s international business accelerated when the Phil-
ippines became a client, in 1985. President Ferdinand Marcos
desperately needed a patina of legitimacy: The 1983 assassi-
V. “ PAU L’S N OT E S P EC I A L LY

The FAMILY
nation of the chief opposition leader, Benigno Aquino Jr., had ideological,” his former
imperiled U.S. congressional support for his regime. Marcos partner Charlie Black

BUSINESS
hired Manafort to lift his image; his wife, Imelda, personally told me recently. Many of
delivered an initial payment of $60,000 to the firm while on a Manafort’s colleagues at
trip to the States. When Marcos called a snap election to prove Black, Manafort, Stone and
his democratic bona fides in 1986, Manafort told Time, “What Kelly professed to believe in
we’ve tried to do is make it more of a Chicago-style election and the conservative catechism.
ROBERT GAUTHIER/LOS ANGELES TIMES/GETTY

not Mexico’s.” The quip was honest, if unintentionally so. In the Words like freedom and liberty flowed through their everyday mus-
American political lexicon, Chicago-style elections were gener- ings. But Manafort seldom spoke of first principles or political ide-
ally synonymous with mass voter fraud. The late pollster Warren als. He descends from a different kind of political lineage, and in
Mitofsky traveled to the Philippines with CBS News to set up and his formative experience one can see the makings of his worldview.
conduct an exit poll for the election. When he returned, he told Back in the ’60s, Manafort’s hometown, New Britain, Con-
the political scientist Sam Popkin the story of how a represen- necticut, was known as Hardware City. It housed the factory that
tative of Manafort’s firm had asked him, “What sort of margin turned out Stanley tools and was a tangle of ethnic enclaves—
might make a Marcos victory legitimate?” The implication was Poles, Italians, Irish, Ukrainians. Nancy Johnson, who served
clear, Popkin told me: “How do we rig this thing and still satisfy New Britain in Congress, told me that when she arrived in the city
the Americans?” during those years, she couldn’t believe how little it interacted
The firm’s most successful right-wing makeover was of the with the outside world. “It was a small city and very ingrown.
Angolan guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi, a Maoist turned anti- When my kids were in high school, the number of their class-
communist insurgent, whose army committed atrocities against mates who hadn’t been to Hartford was stunning.” Hartford, the
children and conscripted women into sexual slavery. During state capital, is a 15-minute drive from New Britain.

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 69
THIS CONTENT WAS WRITTEN BY

FORCES OF CHANGE:
What does the

The
future of mobility
look like?

Future
Four concurrent “future states”
could emerge within a new mobility
ecosystem, emanating from the
intersection of who owns the vehicle and

of
who operates the vehicle (see figure 1).

Mobility
Fig. 1
Four potential future states
Autonomous

3
The driverless
4
A new age of
revolution accessible autonomy
Vehicle Control

Low Asset efficiency High
THE ENTIRE WAY people and
goods travel from point A to
Assist

point B is changing, driven
by a series of converging
1
Incremental
2
A world of
technological and social trends. change car sharing
Driver

The result is the emergence of
Personal Shared
a new ecosystem of mobility Vehicle Ownership

that could offer faster, cheaper,
cleaner, safer, more efficient,
Extent to which vehicles are personally
and more customized travel. More on the future owned or shared:
While there is some uncertainty, states of mobility:
ż Depends upon personal preferences and economics
in particular about the speed of
Extent to which autonomous vehicle ż Higher degree of shared ownership increases
this transition, a fundamental technologies become pervasive: system-wide asset efficiency
shift is driving a move away ż Depends upon several key factors as catalysts
from personally owned, human- or deterrents—e.g., technology, regulation, Note: Fully autonomous drive means that
social acceptance the vehicle’s central processing unit has full
driven vehicles and toward a responsibility for controlling its operation and
future mobility system centered ż Vehicle technologies will increasingly become is inherently different from the most advanced
“smart”; the human-machine interface shifts form of driver assist. It is demarcated in the figure
around (but not exclusively toward greater machine control above with a clear dividing line (an “equator”).
composed of) driverless
vehicles and shared mobility.

Enabling seamless intermodal mobility
would require a future ecosystem that
is much more complex than today’s
For more, visit our extended automotive industry. Both
Future of Mobility collection: incumbents and disrupters are beginning
deloitte.com/insights/future-of-mobility to stake out positions, and in the process
providing the contours for how that
ecosystem might look (see figure 2).
THIS CONTENT WAS WRITTEN BY

Fig. 2
The future mobility ecosystem

Components

Digital
Infrastructure
Mobility adviser

In-transit vehicle
experience

Fleet operations

Facilitating
Ecosystems
Physical infrastructure

Energy infrastructure

Vehicles

Vehicle development
New products will likely emerge, from small
What are the impacts of
utilitarian autonomous “pods” to highly the future of mobility?
customized, personally owned self-driving
cars. Self-driving technology will likely
The transition toward a new mobility ecosystem could have wide-
infuse trains, buses, commercial trucks, reaching impacts that span a host of industries and players:
and other forms of transit, demanding
that developers and manufacturers 1 4
evolve their capabilities accordingly. Global automotive OEMs will likely need Cargo delivery and long-haul trucking
to expand their traditional capabilities, systems could become predominantly
Enabling the in-vehicle collaborating with autonomous- driverless through daisy chains or
transit experience vehicle-technology suppliers, software remote operation.
“Experience enablers”—content providers, developers, and others to provide a much
in-vehicle service providers, data broader range of product choices. 5
Insurers, operating within a heavily
and analytics companies, advertisers,
entertainment-equipment providers, 2 regulated environment, will likely have to
Automotive suppliers would have to continue supporting the classic insurance
and social-media companies—will likely
adjust as OEMs transform. Selling parts, model, in which accidents are often the
clamor to make the in-transit experience
components, and systems may result of driver error, while also adapting
relaxing, productive, or entertaining.
be insufficient to deliver desired returns to an autonomous-drive world where
to shareholders. the risk is more technical, related to
Infrastructure enablers
systemic failure of a self-guided vehicle.
Transit stations, roads, highways, waterways,
3
and public parking could become even more $A4A@=ȃ017 have shown to be adept 6
interconnected as customers increasingly at building large, complex information The U.S. public sector will likely have
expect multimodal transportation. A parallel networks and operating systems, to figure out how to offset anticipated
digital infrastructure could emerge that will introducing artificial intelligence to help declines in the more than $200 billion
be every bit as crucial as roads and bridges. minimize human error and randomness, annually generated from fuel taxes, public-
creating compelling environments that transportation fees, tolls, vehicle sales
Mobility management drive consumer behavior, and creating taxes, municipal parking, and registration
The mobility adviser directly interfaces digital communities. and licensing fees.1
with the customer, who would expect a
customized experience that relies on the
As we saw, the future of mobility will likely affect far more than automakers—
mobility assistant’s ability to execute trip
industries from insurance and health care to energy and media should reconsider
planning, adjust routes to allow for traffic
how they create value in this emerging environment.
and disruptions, and handle payments.
Fleet operation is a second opportunity to 1Scott Corwin, Joe Vitale, Eamonn Kelly, and Elizabeth Cathles, The future of mobility: How
transportation technology and social trends are creating a new business ecosystem, Deloitte
create value around mobility management. University Press, September 24, 2015.
In 1919, not long after the Manaforts emigrated from Naples, Conventional wisdom suggests that the temptations of Wash-
the family founded a demolition company, New Britain House ington, D.C., corrupt all the idealists, naïfs, and ingenues who
Wrecking, which eventually became Manafort Brothers, a force settle there. But what if that formulation gets the causation back-
in local construction. When Manafort’s father, Paul Sr., ran for wards? What if it took an outsider to debase the capital and create
mayor in 1965, he was a lonely Republican attempting to seize a the so-called swamp? When Paul Manafort Jr. broke the rules,
blue bastion. But he had the schmoozing gene, as well as an unmis- when he operated outside of a moral code, he was really follow-
takable fierceness. Paul Carver, a former New Britain City Council ing the example he knew best. As he later said of his work with
member and a protégé of the old man, told me, “It was like going his father in an interview with a local Connecticut paper, “Some
to the bar with your grandfather. He would stick his hand out and of the skills that I learned there I still use today … That’s where
buy a round of drinks. He knew almost everybody in town.” Paul I cut my teeth.”
Jr., known as P.J. to his friends, idolized his dad, plunging himself
into the campaign, whose success he would decades later describe
as “magic.” Over the years, he would remain a devoted son. All the
VI. BY THE LATE 1980S, Manafort

AL ASSIR
partners in his firm came to know his father, running into him at had a new friend from abroad,
parties that P.J. hosted in his Mount Vernon, Virginia, home. “He whom he mentioned to his
was dedicated to him,” Nancy Johnson told me. partners more than any other,
The elder Manafort’s outsize capacity for charm made an arms dealer from Lebanon
him the sort of figure whose blemishes tend to be wiped from named Abdul Rahman Al Assir.
public memory. But in 1981, he was charged with perjury for tes- “His name kept popping up,” Peter Kelly remembered. While Al
timony that he had provided in a municipal corruption investi- Assir never rated much attention in the American press, he had a
gation. New Britain police had been accused of casting a blind familial connection who did. He was, for a time, the brother-in-law
eye toward illegal gambling in the city—and of tampering with of the Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, the middleman used
evidence to protect Joseph “Pippi” Guerriero, a member of the in the arms-for-hostages scheme that became the Iran-Contra
DeCavalcante crime family. scandal. In the early ’80s, Khashoggi was worth $4 billion; his biog-
Several investigations into the tampering drilled through New raphy, published in 1986, was titled The Richest Man in the World.

GOOGLE MAPS
Britain’s rotten government. The most devastating report came At the height of his wealth, Khashoggi spent $250,000 a day to
from Palmer McGee, a Hartford lawyer hired by New Britain to maintain his lifestyle—which reportedly included a dozen houses,
sort through its muck. In his findings, he pointed a finger straight 1,000 suits, a $70 million yacht, and a customized airplane, which
at Manafort Sr., calling him the person “most at fault.” Accord- has been described as a “flying Las Vegas discotheque.”
ing to the testimony of a whistle-blower,
Manafort had flatly announced that he
wanted to hire someone “flexible” to
manage his personnel office, a place
that would “not [be] 100 percent by the
rules.” The whistle-blower also testi-
fied that he had delivered an envelope
to Manafort’s home containing the
answers to the exam that aspiring police Manafort’s
officers had to pass—and that Manafort Hamptons estate
had given it to two candidates via a includes a putt-
relative. Manafort never denied receiv- ing green and a
basketball court.
ing the envelope but insisted that he’d He believed only
merely asked for “boning-up materials.” “suckers stay out
A statute of limitations precluded of debt,” a former
prosecutors from filing charges against colleague says.
Manafort for the alleged crime of
test-fixing—and ultimately he was never
convicted of perjury. But his arrest caused the Hartford Courant to Al Assir was the Khashoggi empire’s representative in Spain and
compile a list of dealings that reflected badly on him: “Throughout a broker of big weapons sales to African armies. He’d ensconced
his more than twenty years in public life, he has been the focus of himself among the rich and famous, the set that skied in Gstaad,
controversy, and several accusations of wrongdoing.” The litany Switzerland, and summered in the south of France. The London-
includes a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban based Arabic-language magazine Sourakia wrote, “The miracle of
Development accusing him of steering contracts to Manafort Al Assir is that he will have lunch with Don Juan Carlos [the king of
Brothers, whose stock he still owned while mayor. When investors Spain], dinner with Hassan II [the king of Morocco], and breakfast
from Florida built a jai alai arena in Bridgeport—using the Team- the next day with Felipe González [the prime minister of Spain].”
sters’ pension fund to finance the project—Manafort had “improp- Manafort suggested to his partners that Al Assir might
erly” finagled its environmental permit. His family business had help connect the firm to clients around the world. He wanted
then inflated the fees for its work on the arena so that cash could to increase the firm’s global reach. Manafort’s exploration of
be kicked back to the Teamsters. (The business admitted to inflat- the outermost moral frontiers of the influence business had
ing its fees, but a grand jury declined to issue an indictment.) Even already exposed him to kleptocrats, thugs, and other dubious
before this scandal broke, a former mayor of New Britain blasted characters. But none of these relationships imprinted them-
Manafort for behavior that “violates the very essence of morality.” selves more deeply than his friendship and entrepreneurial

72 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
partnership with Al Assir. By the ’90s, the two had begun to put $300,000 and $5 million. He discovered the south of France.
together big deals. One of the more noteworthy was an arms Al Assir would show him how to live that life.”
sale they helped broker between France and Pakistan, lubri- Colleagues at Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly noticed
cated by bribes and kickbacks involving high-level officials in changes that accompanied the flowering of the friendship.
both countries, that eventually led to murder allegations. Manafort’s sartorial style began to pay homage to Al Assir, with
It all arguably began with a 1993 dinner hosted by Manafort in flourishes of the European dandy. Suddenly he started wearing
his Virginia home and attended by Pakistan’s prime minister, Bena- unconventional shirts and suede loafers without socks. In the
zir Bhutto. Bhutto had just returned to power after three years in firm’s early years, Manafort had been a fixture of the office, a
the opposition, and Manafort badly wanted her business. She knew general presiding over his headquarters. But now he frequently
of him as a skilled manipulator of public opinion, and throughout flew off to France or Spain, collaborating with Al Assir on proj-
the meal, Manafort displayed his most strategic, most charming ects that remained a mystery to his subordinates, and even to his
self. One former Pakistani official who attended the dinner told partners. “Paul went off on different foreign things that none of
me that Bhutto came away determined to make use of his services. us knew about,” Peter Kelly told me.
She suggested that Manafort work with the Pakistani intelligence Manafort’s lifestyle came to feature opulent touches that
service. Spooks in Islamabad had observed the international rush stood out amid the relative fustiness of Washington. When
to hire Washington lobbyists, and they had been clamoring for one Andrea expressed an interest in horseback riding, Manafort
of their own. bought a farm near Palm Beach, then stocked it with specially
At about that same time, Pakistan was looking to upgrade its bred horses imported from Ireland, which required a full-time
submarine fleet, and European arms contractors raced to hawk staff to tend. John Donaldson, Manafort’s friend, recalls, “He
their wares. In the end, France’s was competing with the Al Assirs of the world—and he
state-owned manufacturer won the wanted to live in that lifestyle.”
contract—and Al Assir was added as There were always suspicions among Manafort’s
an intermediary at the last minute. An colleagues in the firm that he was making money for

THE ARMS
ensuing scandal that is still unfolding, himself without regard for his partners. Al Assir’s occa-
some 20 years later, would entangle sional appearance in the international press lent these
both Al Assir and Manafort. It entailed
DEALER suspicions weight. One deal brokered by Al Assir helped

AL ASSIR
alleged kickbacks into the 1995 presi- crash a private bank in Lisbon. In 2002, he and Manafort
dential campaign of Édouard Bal- persuaded the bank to invest 57 million euros in a Puerto
ladur, apparently arranged by the INTRODUCED Rican biometrics company. According to reporting by
French defense minister. Al Assir
seems to have been a key conduit of MANAFORT the Portuguese newspaper Observador, Manafort was
the lead American investor in the company; his involve-
the kickbacks. Years later, in 2002, a TO AN ARIS- ment helped justify the bank’s investment, despite
car bomb went off in Karachi, killing
11 French naval engineers in transit to TOCRATIC evidence of the company’s faulty products and lax
accounting. Al Assir is alleged to have extracted bloated
the shipyard where the submarines WORLD THAT commissions from the deal and to have pocketed some
were being assembled, along with
three Pakistanis. One theory, fervently EXCEEDED of the bank’s loans. Manafort reportedly made $1.5 mil-
lion selling his shares of the biometrics firm before the
supported by some of the engineers’ ANYTHING company eventually came tumbling down.
families, holds that the bombing was
HE HAD EVER Stories about Manafort’s slipperiness have acquired

KNOWN.
orchestrated by Pakistani officials mythic status. In the summer of 2016, Politico’s Kenneth
who were disgruntled that the bribes Vogel, now with The New York Times, wrote a rigorous
promised to them as part of the deal exegesis of a long-standing rumor: Manafort was said
had never arrived. to have walked away with $10 million in cash from Fer-
Manafort was not a central fig- dinand Marcos, money he promised he would deliver
ure in this scandal, and was never to Ronald Reagan’s reelection campaign (which itself
charged with any wrongdoing. But as the former Pakistani offi- would have been illegal). Vogel relied in part on the 1996 memoir
cial told me, “He was an introducer—and he received a fee for his of Ed Rollins, a Republican consultant and Reagan’s reelection-
part.” Documents show that Manafort earned at least $272,000 campaign director. In the book, Rollins recounted a dinner-party
as a consultant to the Balladur campaign, although, as Manafort conversation with a member of the Filipino congress who claimed
later conceded to French investigators, it was Al Assir who actu- to have personally given a suitcase of cash to a “well-known Wash-
ally paid him. (Balladur has denied any wrongdoing and doesn’t ington power lobbyist” involved in the Marcos campaign. Rollins
recall Manafort working for him. Al Assir could not be reached would neither confirm nor deny that the lobbyist was Manafort,
for comment on this story.) though his description doesn’t leave much uncertainty, and he
Manafort and Al Assir were more than business partners. conceded in an email that “it’s a pretty good guess.” Rollins admits
“They were very brotherly,” one mutual acquaintance of theirs in his book to being “stunned” by what he heard—“not in a state of
told me. Manafort took Al Assir as his guest to George H. W. Bush’s total disbelief, though, because I knew the lobbyist well and I had
inauguration, in 1989. When Al Assir and his second wife had a no doubt the money was now in some offshore bank.” This irked
child, Manafort became the godfather. Their families vacationed Rollins greatly: “I ran the [Reagan] campaign for $75,000 a year,
together near Cannes. Al Assir introduced Manafort to an aristo- and this guy got $10 million in cash.”
cratic world that exceeded anything he had ever known. “There’s Manafort has always denied Rollins’s insinuation—“old stuff
money, and there’s really big money,” a friend of Manafort’s that never had any legs,” he told Vogel. And as a practical matter,
told me. “Paul became aware of the difference between making it’s hard to imagine that anyone could stuff $10 million in a suitcase.

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 73
Still, Vogel found a raft of circumstantial evidence that suggested trailed that shift. His new firm found its way to a fresh set of titans,
the plausibility of the tale. When I asked Manafort’s former col- with the help of an heir to an ancient fortune.
leagues about the apocrypha, they couldn’t confirm the story. But In 2003, Rick Davis, a partner in Manafort’s new firm, was
some didn’t struggle to imagine it might be true, either. Even invited to the office of a hedge fund in Midtown Manhattan. The
though John Donaldson doubts the veracity of the tale, he told summons didn’t reveal the name of the man requesting his pres-
me that it persists because it reflects Manafort’s ethics. “I know ence. When Davis arrived, he found himself pumping the hand of
how Paul would view it. Paul would the Honorable Nathaniel Philip Victor James Rothschild,
sit there and say, ‘These guys can’t the British-born financier known as Nat. Throughout his
get access to Reagan. I can get them young career, Nat had fascinated the London press with
access to Reagan. They want to give his love interests, his residences, and his shrewd invest-

HAVING
$10 million to Reagan. Reagan can’t ments. For his 40th birthday, he threw himself a leg-
take $10 million. I’ll take the $10 mil- endary party in the Balkan state of Montenegro, which
lion. They think they’ll be getting their
SPENT SO reportedly cost well over $1 million—a three-day festival

MUCH TIME
influence. Everybody’s happy.’ ” of hedonism, with palm trees imported from Uruguay.
Another alumnus of Manafort’s Russian oligarchs were drawn to Rothschild, whose
firm answered my questions about IN THE name connoted power—and he to them. “He likes this
the Marcos money with an anec-
dote. After the election of George COMPANY OF wild world,” Anders Åslund, a friend of Rothschild’s,
told me. Rothschild invested heavily in post-communist
H. W. Bush, Black, Manafort, Stone OLIGARCHS, economies and became a primary adviser (and a friend)
and Kelly agreed to help organize
the inauguration festivities. The MANAFORT to the young Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
Rothschild and Deripaska fed off each other’s grand
firm commissioned a company from DECIDED TO ambitions. Like a pair of old imperialists, they imagined
Rhode Island to sell memorabilia on
the parade route—T-shirts, buttons, BECOME ONE new, sympathetic governments across eastern Europe
that would accommodate and protect their invest-
and the like. After crews had taken HIMSELF. ments. Their project required the type of expertise
down the reviewing stand and swept that Manafort had spent years accumulating. In 2004,
up the debris, the alumnus recalled, a Rothschild hired Manafort’s new firm to resurrect the
vendor showed up in the office with a influence of an exiled Georgian politician, a former KGB
bag full of cash. To the disbelief of his operative and friend of Deripaska’s then living in Mos-
colleague, Manafort had arranged to take his own cut. “It was a cow. This made for a heavy lift because the operative had recently
Paul tax,” the former employee told me. “I guess he needed a new been accused in court as a central plotter in a conspiracy to assas-
deck. But this was classic: Somebody else does the work, and he sinate the country’s president, Eduard Shevardnadze. (He denied
walks away with the bag of cash.” involvement.) The rehabilitation scheme never fully developed,
Colleagues suspected the worst about Manafort because they but a few years later, Rick Davis triumphantly managed a referen-
had observed his growing mania for accumulating property, how dum campaign that resulted in the independence of Montenegro—
he’d bought second, third, and fourth homes. “He would buy a an effort that Deripaska funded with the hope of capturing the
house without ever seeing it,” one former colleague told me. His country’s aluminum industry.
Hamptons estate came with a putting green, a basketball court, Deripaska’s interests were not only financial. He was always
a pool, and gardens. “He believed that suckers stay out of debt,” looking to curry favor with the Russian state. An August 2007 email
the colleague told me. His unrestrained spending and pile of debt sent by Lauren Goodrich, an analyst for the global intelligence
required a perpetual search for bigger paydays and riskier ventures. firm Stratfor, and subsequently posted on WikiLeaks, described
In 1991, Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly was purchased by Deripaska boasting to her about how he had set himself up “to be
the mega public-affairs firm Burson-Marsteller, the second-largest indispensable to Putin and the Kremlin.” This made good business
agency in the world. It was a moment of consolidation in the indus- sense, since he had witnessed the Kremlin expropriate the vast
try, where the biggest players came to understand how much empires of oligarchs such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky who’d dared to
money could be made from the model that Manafort had created. challenge Putin. In fact, the Kremlin came to consider Deripaska
But nearly as soon as Burson acquired the firm, Tom Bell, the an essential proxy. When the United States denied Deripaska a
head of its Washington office, began to notice the ways in which visa, the Russians handed him a diplomatic passport, which per-
Manafort hadn’t played by the rules. He’d been operating as a free- mitted him to make his way to Washington and New York.
lancer, working on projects that never went to the bottom line. In Manafort understood how highly Deripaska valued his sym-
1995, Manafort left Burson. Taking a handful of colleagues with biotic relationship with the Kremlin. According to the Associated
him, he started a new firm—Davis, Manafort and Freedman—and a Press, he pitched a contract in 2005, proposing that Deripaska
new chapter, one that would see him enter the sphere of the Kremlin. finance an effort to “influence politics, business dealings and
news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet
Republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government.”
VII. D U R I N G T H E 1 9 8 0 s and (Deripaska says he never took Manafort up on this proposal.)

The MASTER
’90s, an arms dealer had The Kremlin’s grip on its old Soviet sphere was especially
stood at the pinnacle of precarious in the early aughts. President George W. Bush’s
of KIEV global wealth. In the new
century, post-Soviet oligarchs
democratic agenda espoused an almost messianic sense of
how the United States could unleash a new age of freedom. The
climbed closer to that posi- grandiloquent American rhetoric posed an existential threat to
tion. Manafort’s ambitions entrenched rulers of the region who were friendly to Russia, and

74 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
who had become rich by plundering state resources. Suddenly, After he hired Manafort, he invited U.S. Ambassador John Herbst
the threat of democratic revolution no longer felt theoretical. to his office, placed a binder containing Manafort’s strategy in
The risks of popular uprising were very much on Rothschild’s front of him, and announced, “I’m going with Washington.”
and Deripaska’s minds during the last months of 2004, when Manafort often justified his work in Ukraine by arguing that
they handed Manafort a specific task. Ukraine had descended he hoped to guide the country toward Europe and the West. But
into political crisis, one that jeopardized business interests his polling data suggested that Yanukovych should accentuate cul-
they’d already developed in the country (Rothschild had vari- tural divisions in the country, playing to the sense of victimization
ous private-equity investments; Deripaska had an aluminum felt by Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. And sure enough, his
smelter). They sent Manafort to Kiev to understand how they clients railed against NATO expansion. When a U.S. diplomat dis-
might minimize the dangers. covered a rabidly anti-American speech on the Party of Regions’
Of all Paul Manafort’s foreign adventures, Ukraine most website, Manafort told him, “But it isn’t on the English version.”
sustained his attention, ultimately to the exclusion of his other Yanukovych’s party succeeded in the parliamentary elections
business. The country’s politics are hardly as simple as commonly beyond all expectations, and the oligarchs who’d funded it came
to regard Manafort with immense
respect. As a result, Manafort began
spending longer spans of time in
Ukraine. One of his greatest gifts
as a businessman was his audacity,
and his Ukrainian benefactors had
amassed enormous fortunes. The
outrageous amounts that Manafort
billed, sums far greater than any he
had previously received, seemed
perfectly normal. An associate of
Manafort’s described the system
this way: “Paul would ask for a big
sum,” Yanukovych would approve
it, and then his chief of staff “would
go to the other oligarchs and ask
them to kick in. ‘Hey, you need to
portrayed; corruption extends its tentacles into all the major par- pay a million.’ They would complain,
Ferdinand Marcos
ties. Still, the narrative of Manafort’s time in Ukraine isn’t terribly but Yanu kovych asked, so they
(left), Viktor Yanu-
complicated. He worked on behalf of a clique of former gangsters kovych (center), and would give.”
from the country’s east, oligarchs who felt linguistic and cultural Jonas Savimbi (right) When Yanukovych won the pres-
affinity to Russia, and who wanted political control of the entire are among the many idency in 2010, he gave Manafort
nation. When Manafort arrived, the candidate of this clique, Vik- strongmen whom “walk in” privileges, allowing him
Manafort has advised
tor Yanukovych, was facing allegations that he had tried to rig the and assisted.
to stroll into the inner sanctum of
2004 presidential election with fraud and intimidation, and pos- the presidential offices at any time.
sibly by poisoning his opponent with dioxin. He lost the election Yanukovych could be bullheaded,
anyway, despite having imported a slew of consultants from Mos- and as his presidency progressed,
cow. After that humiliating defeat, Yanukovych and the oligarchs he increasingly cut himself off from advisers. Manafort, how-
who’d supported him were desperate for a new guru. ever, knew how to change Yanukovych’s mind, using polling and
AP; DMITRY AZAROV/KOMMERSANT PHOTO; SELW YN TAIT/GETT Y

By the time Manafort first entertained the possibility of work- political arguments to make his case. Oleg Voloshyn, a former
ing with Yanukovych, the defeated candidate had just returned to spokesman in the foreign-affairs ministry, told me that his own
Kiev following a brief self-imposed exile at a Czech resort. They boss, the foreign minister, eventually turned to Manafort to
met at an old movie palace that had been converted into the carry messages and make arguments regarding foreign-policy
headquarters for his political organization, the Party of Regions. priorities on his behalf. “Yanu kovych would listen to him,”
When Manafort entered the grandiose building, the place was Voloshyn told me, “when our arguments were ignored.”
a mausoleum and Yanukovych a pariah. “People avoided him,”
Philip Griffin said. “He was radioactive.”
Manafort groomed Yanukovych to resemble, well, himself.
VIII. BEFORE EVERYTHING

A REVERSAL
Åslund, who had advised the Ukrainian government on economic e x p l o d e d i n U k ra i n e ,
policy, told me, “Yanukovych and Manafort are almost exactly the Manafort saw the country as
same size. So they are big, tall men. He got Yanukovych to wear
the same suits as he did and to comb the hair backwards as he of FORTUNE his golden land, the greatest
of his opportunities. But his
does.” Yanukovych had been wooden in public and in private, but role as adviser, as powerful as
“Manafort taught him how to smile and how to do small talk.” And it was, never quite matched
he did it all quietly, “from a back seat. He did it very elegantly.” his own buccaneering sense
He also directed Yanukovych’s party to harp on a single theme of self. After spending so much time in the company of Rus-
each week—say, the sorry condition of pensioners. These were sian and Ukrainian oligarchs, he set out to become an oligarch
not the most-sophisticated techniques, but they had never been himself. Rick Davis declared their firm to be mostly “in the deal
deployed in Ukraine. Yanukovych was proud of his American turn. business,” according to James Harding’s 2008 book, Alpha Dogs:

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 75
The Americans Who Turned Political Spin Into a Global Business. explanation struck Deripaska’s lawyers as wildly implausible.
“The thing I love,” Davis said, “is that the political elites and the Deripaska began to publicly doubt whether Manafort had even
economic elites in every other country but the United States of bought the telecommunications company in the first place. “At
America are the same.” The elected officials and the people “run- present it seems that the Partnership never acquired any of the
ning the elections are the richest people in the country, who own Chorne More entities,” his lawyers argued.
all the assets.” All of the papers for the initial deal had included Rick Davis’s
In 2006, Rick Gates, who’d begun as a wheel man at the name. They suggested that he would serve as Manafort’s partner,
old firm, arrived in Kiev. (Gates did not respond to multiple and that shares would be divided evenly between the two. But
requests for comment on this article.) Manafort placed him at Davis knew nothing of the Chorne More deal. While Manafort
the helm of a new private-equity firm he’d created called Peri- had been putting together Pericles, Davis had been on leave
cles. He intended to raise $200 million to bankroll investments from Davis, Manafort and Freedman, running John McCain’s
in Ukraine and Russia. “It was a virgin market in virtually any 2008 presidential campaign. Because Davis’s connections to
industry you wanted to pick up,” Philip Griffin told me. Manafort and Deripaska had caused him a public-relations head-
Manafort had always intended to rely on financing from Oleg ache at the outset of the campaign, he’d kept a healthy distance
Deripaska to fund Pericles. In 2007, Manafort persuaded him to from both men. When Deripaska’s lawyers asked him about the
commit $100 million to the project, a sum that would have hardly money he supposedly owed their client, Davis was gobsmacked.
made a dent in the oligarch’s fortune. On the eve of the 2008 He soon discovered that Manafort had also registered a new
global financial crisis, he was worth $28 billion. company—Davis Manafort International—to continue trading
Deripaska handed his money to Paul Manafort because he on the old firm’s name, while cutting him out of consulting fees.
trusted him. Manafort repeatedly traveled to the oligarch’s Mos- Upon returning from the campaign, and witnessing the extent
cow office, where they would sit for hours and tour the business to which Manafort had abused his trust, Davis left the firm they
and political horizon of the former Eastern Bloc. Deripaska had had created together.
become a billionaire in his 30s, and acquired the noisy preten- Deripaska’s attorneys had leveled a serious allegation—and
sions of young wealth. He wanted to become the global face of true to his pattern, Manafort never filed a response. Those who
Russia, he said. But that would require overcoming the reputa- have known Manafort the longest suggest that this reflects his
tion that stalked him, and Manafort could help. In 2001, before tendency to run away from personal crises: “He’ll get on a jet
Manafort and Deripaska met, the World Economic Forum in and fly off to Hawaii—and will come back when everything
Davos had withdrawn its invitation to the oligarch, as a court blows over,” an old colleague told me, recalling Manafort’s
examined his alleged misdeeds in the course of erecting his response to a scandal in the late ’80s. But it was one thing to
empire. (The case was eventually dismissed.) Five years after the hide from reporters; it was another to hide from Oleg Deripaska.
Davos rejection, Rick Davis shepherded Deripaska around the Though no longer the ninth-richest man in the world, he was still
elite confab, taking him to a party brimming with U.S. senators, extremely powerful.
including John McCain.
For Pericles’s first deal, Manafort used Deripaska’s money
to buy a telecommunications firm in Odessa called Chorne
More (“Black Seas,” in English) at a cost of $18.9 million. He
Manafort (right)
also charged a staggering $7.35 million in management fees for at the 2016
overseeing the venture. Republican National
But months after the Chorne More purchase, the 2008 finan- Convention
cial crisis hit, gutting Deripaska’s net worth. It plummeted so far in Cleveland
that he needed a $4.5 billion bailout from the Russian state bank
to survive. The loan included an interest payment in the form of
abject humiliation: Putin traveled to one of Deripaska’s factories
and berated him on television.
As Deripaska’s world came crashing down, his representa-
tives asked Manafort to liquidate Pericles and give him back his
fair share. Manafort had little choice but to agree. But that prom-
ise never translated to action. An audit of Chorne More that Rick
Gates said was under way likewise never materialized. Then, in
2011, Manafort stopped responding to Deripaska’s investment
team altogether.
Deripaska wouldn’t let go of the notion that Manafort owed
him money. In 2015, his lawyers filed a motion in a Virginia court.
They wanted the authority to track down more information on
the deal, even though the initial papers for it had been filed in
the Cayman Islands. The lawyers had already managed to get
their hands on some of the documentation surrounding the deal,
and they had extracted a belated explanation of what had hap-
pened from Gates. According to a spokeswoman for Deripaska,
Gates said that Chorne More had defaulted on a $1 million loan
that it had taken out to pay for capital expenditures, allegedly
forfeiting the partnership’s entire investment in the process. This

76 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
The fact is that by then, Manafort’s options were tightly two years, his indictment says. This is not an uncommon tactic
limited: Despite all the riches he had collected in Ukraine, it among money launderers—a bank loan allows the launderer to
is unlikely that he could have paid Deripaska back. For years, extract clean cash from property purchased with dirty money.
according to his indictment, Manafort had found clever ways to But according to the indictment, some of Manafort’s loans were
transfer money that he’d stashed in foreign havens to the U.S. made on the basis of false information supplied to the bank in
He’d used it to buy real estate, antique rugs, and fancy suits—all order to inflate the sums available to him, suggesting the sever-
relatively safe vehicles for repatriating cash without paying taxes ity of his cash-flow problems. All of these loans would need to
or declaring the manner in which it had been earned. be paid back, of course. And one way or another, he would need
But in the summer of 2014, in the wake of the revolution that to settle Deripaska’s bill.
deposed Viktor Yanukovych, the FBI began scrutinizing the
strongman’s finances. Manafort had stuck with Yanukovych as
the president had initiated criminal investigations of his politi-
IX. “I REALLY NEED to get to”

The PRIZE
cal opponents, opened the government’s coffers to his cronies, Trump, Manafort told an
and turned his country away from Europe and toward Russia. old friend, the real-estate
He’d stuck with him to the gruesome end, amid growing popu- magnate Tom Barrack, in
lar unrest—right up to the slaughter of more than 100 protesters the early months of 2016.
by government forces on the Maidan. He’d remained faithful Barrack, a confidante of
to Yanukovych while large swathes of the strongman’s circle Trump for some 40 years,
abandoned him. Perhaps living so long in moral gray zones had had known Manafort even longer. When Manafort asked for Bar-
eroded Manafort’s capacity to appreciate the kind of ruler Yanu- rack’s help grabbing Trump’s attention, he readily supplied it.
kovych was, or the lines he had crossed. (He is now being tried in Manafort’s spell in the Arizona clinic had ended. It hadn’t
absentia in Ukraine for high treason, although he has denied any been a comfortable stay. After having acquired so many proper-
culpability from his perch in Moscow.) The previous December, ties of his own, he had been forced to share a room with another
as protesters had gathered on the Maidan, Manafort had texted patient, according to Andrea’s texts. Despite his reticence about
his daughter Andrea, “Obama’s approval ratings are lower than his private life, he’d spent his days in group therapy—and he
MARK PETERSON/REDUX

[Yanukovych’s] and you don’t see him being ousted.” claimed that it had changed him. “I have a real self awareness of
The FBI investigation into Yanukovych’s finances came to why I broke down,” he texted her.
cover Manafort’s own dealings. Soon after the feds took an inter- Still, most of the proximate causes of his breakdown remained
est, interviewing Manafort in July 2014, the repatriations ceased. in place. Once an indispensable man, he had not been missed
Meanwhile, Manafort struggled to collect the money owed him in professional circles. He was without a big-paying client, and
by Yanukovych’s cronies. To finance his expensive life, he began held heavy debts. His attempts to prove his entrepreneurial skills
taking out loans against his real estate—some $15 million over had ended as expensive busts. Because of his biggest bust of all,
Deripaska was looking for him. “He has too many skel-
etons,” Andrea had written her sister soon after he had
entered the clinic, noting that his work in Ukraine was
legally dubious. “Don’t fool yourself,” she had texted
Jessica a few months before. “That money we have is
blood money.”
She had not forgiven him for his affair. She com-
plained to a cousin about her father’s treatment of her
mother. “We keep showing up and eating the lobster,”
she wrote. “Nothing changes.” But Manafort’s abil-
ity to provide lavishly for his family—a role he had
always played, whatever his other failings—had in fact
changed. The millions he’d invested in Jessica’s films
were gone; so, too, were the millions he’d blown on her
then-husband’s real-estate ventures.
With the arrival of Donald Trump, Manafort
smelled an opportunity to regain his losses, and to
return to relevance. It was, in some ways, perfect: The
campaign was a shambolic masterpiece of improvisa-
tion that required an infusion of technical knowledge
and establishment credibility.
Barrack forwarded to Trump’s team a memo
Manafort had written about why he was the ideal
match for the ascendant candidate. Old colleagues
describe Manafort as a master pitchman with a preter-
natural ability to read his audience. He told Trump that
he had “avoided the political establishment in Wash-
ington since 2005,” and described himself as a lifelong
enemy of Karl Rove, who represented the entrenched
party chieftains conspiring to dynamite Trump’s

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 77
nomination. In other words, to get back on the inside, Manafort avarice and desperation, someone who traffics in dark money and
presented himself as the ultimate outsider—a strained case that dark causes. It seems inevitable, in retrospect, that Robert Muel-
would strike Trump, and perhaps only Trump, as compelling. ler, the special counsel, would treat Manafort’s banking practices
Manafort could write such a calibrated pitch because he had while in Ukraine as his first subject of public scrutiny, the obvious
observed Trump over the decades. Back in the ’80s, his firm had starting point for his investigation. The sad truth is that all of the
represented Trump when the mogul wanted to reroute planes damning information contained within the Mueller indictment
flying over Mar-a-Lago, his resort in Palm Beach. Since 2006, would have remained submerged if Manafort had withstood
Manafort had kept a pied-à-terre in Trump Tower, where he the temptation to seek out a role in Trump’s campaign. Even if
and Trump had occasionally seen each other and made small his record had become known, it would have felt unexceptional:
talk. This exposure yielded perhaps another crucial insight: Manafort’s misdeeds, in our current era, would not have seemed
Trump’s parsimony. When Manafort offered Trump his ser- so inconsistent with the run of global play.
vices, he resisted his tendency to slap a big price tag on them; he From both the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, vast
would provide his counsel, he said, free of charge. To his fam- disclosures illuminating previously hidden offshore accounts of
ily, Manafort described this decision as a matter of strategy: If the rich and powerful worldwide, we can see the full extent to
Trump viewed him as wealthy, then he would treat him as a near- which corruption has become the master narrative of our times.
equal, not as a campaign parasite. We live in a world of smash-and-grab fortunes, amassed through
But Manafort must have also believed that money would political connections and outright theft. Paul Manafort, over the
eventually come, just as it always had, from the influence he course of his career, was a great normalizer of corruption. The
would wield in the campaign, and exponentially more so if firm he created in the 1980s obliterated traditional concerns
Trump won. So might other favors and dispensations. These about conflicts of interest. It imported the ethos of the perma-
notions were very likely what led him to reach out to Oleg Deri- nent campaign into lobbying and, therefore, into the construc-
paska almost immediately upon securing a post within the cam- tion of public policy.
paign, after having evaded him for And while Manafort is alleged to have laundered
years. Through one of his old deputies, cash for his own benefit, his long history of launder-
a Ukrainian named Konstantin Kilim- ing reputations is what truly sets him apart. He helped
nik, he sent along press clippings that persuade the American political elite to look past the

MANAFORT
highlighted his new job. “How do we atrocities and heists of kleptocrats and goons. He took
use to get whole,” Manafort emailed figures who should have never been permitted influ-
Kilimnik. “Has OVD operation seen?”
REACHED ence in Washington and softened their image just

OUT TO
Manafort’s spokesman has acknowl- enough to guide them past the moral barriers to entry.
edged that the initials refer to Oleg He weakened the capital’s ethical immune system.
Vladimirovich Deripaska. In the DERIPASKA Helping elect Donald Trump, in so many ways,
course of the exchanges, Kilimnik
expressed optimism that “we will get ALMOST represents the culmination of Paul Manafort’s work.
The president bears some likeness to the oligarchs
back to the original relationship” with IMMEDIATELY Manafort long served: a businessman with a portfolio
the oligarch.
All of Manafort’s hopes, of course, UPON of shady deals, who benefited from a cozy relationship
to government; a man whose urge to dominate, and to
proved to be pure fantasy. Instead SECURING enrich himself, overwhelms any higher ideal. It wasn’t
of becoming the biggest player in
Donald Trump’s Washington, he A POST so long ago that Trump would have been decisively
rejected as an alien incursion into the realm of public
has emerged as a central villain in WITH service. And while the cynicism about government that
its central scandal. An ever-growing
THE TRUMP enabled Trump’s rise results from many causes, one of

CAMPAIGN.
pile of circumstantial evidence sug- them is the slow transformation of Washington, D.C.,
gests that the Trump campaign col- into something more like the New Britain, Connecticut,
luded with Russian efforts to turn the of Paul Manafort’s youth.
2016 presidential election in its favor. Last year, a group of Manafort’s longtime friends,
Given Manafort’s long relationship led by an old Republican hand named Bill Greener,
with close Kremlin allies including tried to organize a cadre of surrogates to defend
Yanukovych and Deripaska, and in Manafort from the allegations against him, including
particular his indebtedness to the latter, it is hard to imagine him the worst one: that he collaborated with a hostile foreign power
as either a naive or passive actor in such a scheme—although Deri- to subvert the American democratic process. Manafort’s old part-
paska denies knowledge of any plan by Manafort to get back into ner Charlie Black even showed up for a meeting, though the two
his good graces. Manafort was in the room with Donald Trump Jr. had largely fallen out of touch. A few of the wheel men from the
when a Russian lawyer and lobbyist descended on Trump Tower in old firm wanted to help too. Yet, when volunteers were needed to
the summer of 2016, promising incriminating material on Hillary go on TV as character witnesses, nobody raised his hand. “There
Clinton. That same summer, the Trump campaign, with Manafort wasn’t a lot to work with,” one person contacted by this group
as its manager, successfully changed the GOP’s platform, watering told me. “And nobody could be sure that Paul didn’t do it.” In
down support for Ukraine’s pro-Western, post-Yanukovych gov- fact, everything about the man and the life he chose suggests that
ernment, a change welcomed by Russia and previously anathema he did.
to Republicans. When the Department of Justice indicted Paul
Manafort in October—for failing to register as a foreign agent, Franklin Foer is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and
for hiding money abroad—its portrait of the man depicted both the author, most recently, of World Without Mind.

78 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
mounted a last-ditch effort to take a sec- theory predicts that business groups such
ond vote, but before it could be organized, as the Independent Insurance Agents and
a lobbyist for Aquarion pulled a fire alarm. Brokers of America and the National Beer
The building had to be evacuated, and the Wholesalers Association carry the day. A
meeting adjourned. Aquarion retains con- fourth theory holds that policy reflects
trol of Oxford’s water system to this day. the views of the economic elite.
The company denied that the lobbyist Gilens and Page tested those theories
was acting on its behalf when he pulled by tracking how well the preferences of
the alarm; it also denies that its rates various groups predicted the way that
were abnormally high or that it provides Congress and the executive branch would
poor service. Some Oxford residents sup- act on 1,779 policy issues over a span of
ported Aquarion, and others opposed the two decades. The results were shock-
buyout because they feared the cost and ing. Economic elites and narrow interest
complication of the town running its own groups were very influential: They suc-
water company. But many residents, lib- ceeded in getting their favored policies
eral and conservative, were frustrated by adopted about half of the time, and in
the process. The vote, they felt, hadn’t stopping legislation to which they were
taken place on a level playing field. opposed nearly all of the time. Mass-
“It was a violation of the sanctity of based interest groups, meanwhile, had lit-
our local government by big money,” Jen tle effect on public policy. As for the views
Caissie, a former chairman of the board of ordinary citizens, they had virtually
of selectmen in Oxford, told me. “Their
messiah is their bottom line, not the
health of the local community. And I say
that as a Republican, someone who is in
favor of local business.”
A New England town meeting would
seem to be one of the oldest and purest
expressions of the American style of
government. Yet even in this bastion of
deliberation and direct democracy, a nasty
Massachusetts, seethed with anger at the suspicion had taken hold: that the levers of
company that controlled the local water power are not controlled by the people.
supply. The company, locals complained, It’s a suspicion stoked by the fact that,
charged inflated prices and provided ter- across a range of issues, public policy does “The preferences
rible service. But unless the town’s resi-
dents wanted to get by without running
not reflect the preferences of the majority
of Americans. If it did, the country would
of the average
water, they had to pay up, again and again. look radically different: Marijuana would American appear
The people of Oxford resolved to be legal and campaign contributions
buy the company out. At a town meet- more tightly regulated; paid parental to have only
ing in the local high-school auditorium,
an overwhelming majority of residents
leave would be the law of the land and
public colleges free; the minimum wage
a minuscule,
voted to raise the millions of dollars that would be higher and gun control much near-zero,
would be required for the purchase. It stricter; abortions would be more acces-
took years, but in May 2014, the deal was sible in the early stages of pregnancy and statistically
nearly done: One last vote stood between illegal in the third trimester. non-significant
the small town and its long-awaited goal. The subversion of the people’s pref-
The company, however, was not going erences in our supposedly democratic impact upon
down without a fight. It mounted a cam- system was explored in a 2014 study by
paign against the buyout. On the day of the political scientists Martin Gilens of
public policy.”
the crucial vote, the high-school audi- Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of North-
torium swelled to capacity. Locals who western. Four broad theories have long
had toiled on the issue for years noticed sought to answer a fundamental question
many newcomers—residents who hadn’t about our government: Who rules? One
showed up to previous town meetings theory, the one we teach our children in
about the buyout. When the vote was civics classes, holds that the views of aver-
called, the measure failed—the company, age people are decisive. Another theory
called Aquarion, would remain the town’s suggests that mass-based interest groups
water supplier. Supporters of the buyout such as the AARP have the power. A third

82 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
no independent effect at all. “When the In 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment as disenchanted with democracy as the
preferences of economic elites and the stipulated that senators had to be elected people of Oxford, Massachusetts, did.
stands of organized interest groups are directly by the people, not by state legis- The politician who best intuited this
controlled for, the preferences of the latures. In 1920, the Nineteenth Amend- discontent—and most loudly promised to
average American appear to have only a ment gave women the vote. In 1965, the remedy it—is Donald Trump. The claim
minuscule, near-zero, statistically non- Voting Rights Act, drawing on the Fif- that he would channel the voice of the peo-
significant impact upon public policy,” teenth Amendment, set out to protect ple to combat a corrupt and unresponsive
Gilens and Page wrote. the vote of black Americans. The once- elite was at the very core of his candidacy.
Outlets from The Washington Post to peculiar claim that the United States was “I am your voice,” Trump promised as he
Breitbart News cited this explosive find- a democracy slowly came to have some accepted his party’s nomination at the
ing as evidence of what overeager head- basis in reality. Republican National Convention. “Today,
line writers called American oligarchy. That basis is now crumbling, and the we are not merely transferring power from
Subsequent studies critiqued some of people have taken notice. In no small part one administration to another or from one
the authors’ assumptions and questioned that’s because the long era during which party to another,” he proclaimed in his
whether the political system is quite as average Americans grew more wealthy inaugural address, “but we are transfer-
insulated from the views of ordinary peo- has come to a sputtering stop. People who ring power from Washington, D.C., and
ple as Gilens and Page found. The most are asked how well they are doing eco- giving it back to you, the people.”
breathless claims made on the basis of nomically frequently compare their own Donald Trump won the presidency for
their study were clearly exaggerations. standard of living with that of their par- many reasons, including racial animus,
Yet their work is another serious indica- ents. Until recently, this comparison was concerns over immigration, and a widen-
tion of a creeping democratic deficit in heartening. At the age of 30, more than ing divide between urban and rural areas.
the land of liberty. nine in 10 Americans born in 1940 were But public- opinion data suggest that a
To some degree, of course, the unre- earning more than their parents had at deep feeling of powerlessness among vot-
sponsiveness of America’s political the same stage of their lives. But accord- ers was also important. I analyzed 2016
system is by design. The United States ing to eye-popping research led by the data from the American National Elec-
was founded as a republic, not a democ- economist Raj Chetty and his co-authors, tion Studies. Those who voted for Trump
racy. As Alexander Hamilton and James many Millennials do not share in this age- in the Republican primaries, more than
Madison made clear in the Federal- old American experience of improving those who supported his competition,
ist Papers, the essence of this republic fortunes. Among those Americans born said that they “don’t have any say about
would consist— their emphasis—“IN in the early 1980s, only half earn more what the government does,” that “pub-
THE TOTAL EXCLU SION OF THE than their parents did at a similar age. lic officials don’t care much what people
PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE Americans have never loved their like me think,” and that “most politicians
CAPACITY, from any share” in the gov- politicians or thought of Washington as care only about the interests of the rich
ernment. Instead, popular views would a repository of moral virtue. But so long and powerful.”
be translated into public policy through as the system worked for them—so long Trump has no real intention of devolv-
the election of representatives “whose as they were wealthier than their parents ing power back to the people. He’s filled
wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best had been and could expect that their kids his administration with members of the
discern the true interest of their country.” would be better off than them—people same elite he disparaged on the campaign
That this radically curtailed the degree to trusted that politicians were ultimately trail. His biggest legislative success, the
which the people could directly influence on their side. Not anymore. tax bill, has handed gifts to corporations
the government was no accident. The rise of digital media, meanwhile, and the donor class. A little more than a
Only over the course of the 19th has given ordinary Americans, especially year after America rebelled against politi-
century did a set of entrepreneurial younger ones, an instinctive feel for direct cal elites by electing a self-proclaimed
thinkers begin to dress an ideologically democracy. Whether they’re stuffing the champion of the people, its government
self-conscious republic up in the unaccus- electronic ballot boxes of The Voice and is more deeply in the pockets of lobbyists
tomed robes of a democracy. Throughout Dancing With the Stars, liking a post on and billionaires than ever before.
America, the old social hierarchies were Facebook, or up-voting a comment on It would be easy to draw the wrong
being upended by rapid industrialization, Reddit, they are seeing what it looks like lesson from this: If the American elector-
mass immigration, westward expansion, when their vote makes an immediate ate can be duped by a figure like Trump,
and civil war. Egalitarian sentiment was difference. Compared with these digital it can’t be trusted with whatever power it
rising. The idea that the people should plebiscites, the work of the United States does retain. To avoid further damage to
rule came to seem appealing and even government seems sluggish, outmoded, the rule of law and the rights of the most-
natural. The same institutions that had and shockingly unresponsive. vulnerable Americans, traditional elites
once been designed to exclude the people As a result, average voters feel more should appropriate even more power for
from government were now commended alienated from traditional political insti- themselves. But that response plays into
for facilitating government “of the people, tutions than perhaps ever before. When the populist narrative: The political class
by the people, for the people.” they look at decisions made by politicians, dislikes Trump because he threatens to
The shifting justification for our polit- they don’t see their preferences reflected take its power away. It also refuses to rec-
ical system inspired important reforms. in them. For good reason, they are growing ognize that the people have a point.

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 83
America does have a democracy prob- which people might seek to sway polit- expand their power on Capitol Hill. At
lem. If we want to address the root causes ical decisions for their own personal gain. first, their activities were mostly defen-
of populism, we need to start by taking an Many forms of lobbying were banned sive: The goal was to stop legislation that
honest accounting of the ways in which throughout the 19th century. In Georgia, might harm their interests. But as the
power has slipped out of the people’s the state constitution at one time read political influence of big corporations
hands, and think more honestly about the that “lobbying is declared to be a crime.” grew, and their profits soared, a new class
ways in which we can—and cannot—put In California, it was a felony. of professional lobbyists managed to con-
the people back in control. Over the course of the 20th century, vince the nation’s CEOs that, in the words
lobbying gradually lost the stench of the of Lee Drutman, the author of the 2015
illicit. But even once the activity became book The Business of America Is Lobbying,
normalized, businesses remained reluc- their activity “was not just about keeping
tant to exert their influence. As late as the the government far away—it could also be
1960s, major corporations did not lobby about drawing government close.”
directly on their own behalf. Instead, Today, corporations wield immense
they relied on collectives such as the power in Washington: “For every dollar
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had spent on lobbying by labor unions and
a weaker voice in Washington than labor public-interest groups,” Drutman shows,
unions or public- interest groups. “As “large corporations and their associations
every business executive knows,” the now spend $34. Of the 100 organiza-
future Supreme Court Justice Lewis tions that spend the most on lobbying, 95
F. Powell Jr. complained in 1971, “few consistently represent business.” (Read
of the Mexican–American War, Nicholas elements of American society today have about a principal architect of the lobbying
Trist traveled to Mexico and negotiated the as little influence in government as the industry—Paul Manafort—on page 62.)
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended American businessman.” The work of K Street lobbyists, and the
the hostilities between the two nations and All of this began to change in the early violation of our government by big money,
helped delineate America’s southern bor- 1970s. Determined to fight rising wages has fundamentally transformed the work—
der. Two decades later, the U.S. govern- and stricter labor and environmental and the lives—of the people’s supposed
ment still hadn’t paid him for his services. standards, which would bring higher costs, representatives. Steve Israel, a Demo-
Too old and weak to travel to Washington CEOs of companies like General Electric cratic congressman from Long Island,
to collect the money himself, Trist hired and General Motors banded together to was a consummate moneyman. Over the
a prominent lawyer by the name of Linus
Child to act on his behalf, promising him
25 percent of his recovered earnings.
Congress finally appropriated the
money to settle its debt. But now it was
Trist who refused to pay up, even after
his lawyer sued for his share. Though the
contract between Trist and Child hardly
seems untoward by today’s standards,
the Supreme Court refused to uphold it
out of fear that it might provide a legal
basis for the activities of lobbyists:

If any of the great corporations of the
country were to hire adventurers who
make market of themselves in this way,
to procure the passage of a general law
with a view to the promotion of their pri-
vate interests, the moral sense of every
right-minded man would instinctively
denounce the employer and employed
as steeped in corruption.

Extreme as this case may appear, it
was far from idiosyncratic. In her book
Corruption in America, the legal scholar
Zephyr Teachout notes that the institu-
tions of the United States were explicitly
designed to counter the myriad ways in

84 M A RC H 20 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
course of his 16 years on Capitol Hill, he Big donors and large corporations use
arranged 1,600 fund-raisers for himself, their largesse to sway political decisions.
averaging one every four days. Israel cited But their influence goes far beyond those
fund-raising as one of the main reasons instances in which legislators knowingly
he decided to retire from Congress, in sacrifice their constituents’ interests to
2016: “I don’t think I can spend another stay on the right side of their financial
day in another call room making another backers. The people we spend time with
call begging for money,” he told The New day in and day out shape our tastes, our
York Times. “I always knew the system was assumptions, and our values. The impera-
dysfunctional. Now it is beyond broken.” tive to raise so much money means that
A model schedule for freshman mem- members of Congress log more time
bers of Congress prepared a few years ago with donors and lobbyists and less time that money yields in Washington is hardly
by the Democratic Congressional Cam- with their constituents. Often, when a secret. But another, equally important
paign Committee instructs them to spend faced with a vote on a bill of concern to development has largely gone ignored:
about four hours every day cold-calling their well-heeled backers, legislators More and more issues have simply been
donors for cash. The party encourages so don’t have to compromise their ideals— taken out of democratic contestation.
many phone calls because the phone calls because they spend so much of their lives In many policy areas, the job of legis-
work. Total spending on American elec- around donors and lobbyists, they have lating has been supplanted by so-called
tions has grown to unprecedented levels. long ago come to share their views. independent agencies such as the Fed-
From 2000 to 2012, reported federal cam- The problem goes even deeper than eral Communications Commission, the
paign spending doubled. It’s no surprise, that. In America’s imagined past, mem- Securities and Exchange Commission,
then, that a majority of Americans now bers of Congress had a strong sense the Environmental Protection Agency,
believe Congress to be corrupt, according of place. Democrats might have risen and the Consumer Financial Protection
to a 2015 Gallup poll. As Israel memora- through the ranks of local trade unions Bureau. Once they are founded by Con-
bly put it to HBO’s John Oliver, the hours or schoolhouses. Repub licans might gress, these organizations can formulate
he had spent raising money had been “a have been local business or community policy on their own. In fact, they are free
form of torture—and the real victims of leaders. Members of both parties lived from legislative oversight to a remark-
this torture have become the American lives intertwined with those of their con- able degree, even though they are often
people, because they believe that they stituents. But spend some time reading charged with settling issues that are not
don’t have a voice in this system.” the biographies of your representatives just technically complicated but politi-
in Congress, and you’ll notice, as I did, cally controversial.
that by the time they reach office, many The range of crucial issues that these
politicians have already been social- agencies have taken on testifies to their
ized into a cultural, educational, and importance. From banning the use of the
financial elite that sets them apart from insecticide DDT to ensuring the quality of
average Americans. While some repre- drinking water, for example, the EPA has
sentatives do have strong roots in their been a key player in fights about environ-
district, for many others the connection mental policy for almost 50 years; more
is tenuous at best. Even for those mem- recently, it has also made itself central to
bers who were born and raised in the part the American response to climate change,
of the country they represent, that place regulating pollutants and proposing lim-
“I always knew is for many of them not their true home. its on carbon-dioxide emissions from new
the system was Educated at expensive colleges, likely
on the coasts, they spend their 20s and
power plants.
While independent agencies occa-
dysfunctional,” 30s in the nation’s great metropolitan sionally generate big headlines, they
centers. After stints in law, business, or often wield their real power in more
said Congressman finance, or on Capitol Hill, they move to obscure policy areas. They are now
Steve Israel. the hinterlands out of political ambition.
Once they retire from Congress, even if
responsible for the vast majority of new
federal regulations. A 2008 article in the
“Now it is they retain some kind of home in their California Law Review noted that, during
district, few make it the center of their the previous year, Congress had enacted
beyond broken.” lives: They seem much more likely than 138 public laws. In the same year, federal
their predecessors to pursue lucrative agencies had finalized 2,926 rules. Such
opportunities in cities such as New York, rules run the gamut from technical stipu-
San Francisco, and, of course, Washing- lations that affect only a few specialized
ton. By just about every metric—from life businesses to substantial reforms that
experience to education to net worth— have a direct impact on the lives of mil-
these politicians are thoroughly discon- lions. In October 2017, for example, the
nected from the rest of the population. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 85
passed a rule that would require provid- millions of undocumented immigrants “assigning a kind of equality indiscrimi-
ers of payday loans to determine whether need to live in fear of being deported. nately to equals and unequals alike”—has
customers would actually be able to pay Whether you see judicial review as made a remarkable comeback. As early
them back—potentially saving millions interpreting the law or usurping the peo- as 2003, the journalist Fareed Zakaria
of people from exploitative fees, but ple’s power probably depends on your argued, “There can be such a thing as
also making it more difficult for them to view of the outcome. The American right too much democracy.” In the years since,
access cash in an emergency. has long railed against “activist judges” many scholars have built this case: The
The rise of independent agencies while the American left, which enjoyed a political scientist Larry Bartels pain-
such as the EPA is only a small piece of majority on the Court for a long stretch stakingly demonstrated just how irra-
a larger trend in which government has during the postwar era, has claimed that tional ordinary voters are; the political
grown less accountable to the people. In justices were merely doing their job. Now philosopher Jason Brennan turned the
the latter half of the 20th century, the that the Court has started to lean further premise that irrational or partisan vot-
Federal Reserve won much greater inde- right, these views are rapidly reversing. ers are terrible decision makers into a
pendence from elected politicians and But regardless of your politics, there’s no book titled Against Democracy; and Parag
began to deploy far more powerful mon- question that the justices frequently play Khanna, an inveterate defender of glo-
etary tools. Trade treaties, from NAFTA to an outsize role in settling major political balization, argued for a technocracy in
more-recent agreements with countries conflicts—and that many of their deci- which many decisions are made by “com-
such as Australia, Morocco, and South sions serve to amplify undemocratic ele- mittees of accountable experts.” Writing
Korea, have restricted Congress’s ability ments of the system. near the end of the 2016 primary season,
to set tariffs, subsidize domestic indus- Take Citizens United. By overturn- when Trump’s ascent to the Republican
tries, and halt the inflow of certain cate- ing legislation that restricted campaign nomination already looked unstoppable,
gories of migrant workers. At one point I spending by corporations and other pri- Andrew Sullivan offered the most forceful
planned to count the number of treaties vate groups, the Supreme Court issued a distillation of this line of antidemocratic
to which the United States is subject; I decision that was unpopular at the time laments: “Democracies end when they
gave up when I realized that the State and has remained unpopular since. (In are too democratic,” the headline of his
Department’s “List of Treaties and Other a 2015 poll by Bloomberg, 78 percent of essay announced. “And right now, Amer-
International Agreements of the United respondents disapproved of the ruling.) ica is a breeding ground for tyranny.”
States” runs to 551 pages. It also massively amplified the voice of The antidemocratic view gets at
Most of these treaties and agreements moneyed interest groups, making it easier something real. What makes our politi-
offer real benefits or help us confront for the economic elite to override the pref- cal system uniquely legitimate, at least
urgent challenges. Whatever your view of erences of the population for years to come. when it functions well, is that it manages
their merit, however, there is no denying to deliver on two key values at once: lib-
that they curtail the power of Congress eralism (the rule of law) and democracy
in ways that also disempower Ameri- (the rule of the people). With liberal-
can voters. Trade treaties, for example, ism now under concerted attack from
can include obscure provisions about the Trump administration, which has
“investor– state dispute settlements,” declared war on independent institu-
which give international arbitration courts tions such as the FBI and has used the
the right to award huge sums of money to president’s pulpit to bully ethnic and
corporations if they are harmed by labor religious minorities, it’s perhaps under-
or environmental standards—potentially standable that many thinkers are willing
making it riskier for Congress to pass to give up a modicum of democracy to
such measures. is the first president in the history of the protect the rule of law and the country’s
This same tension between popular United States to have served in no pub- most vulnerable groups.
sovereignty and good governance is also lic capacity before entering to the White If only it were that easy. As we saw in
evident in the debates over the power House. He belittles experts, seems to lack 2016, the feeling that power is slipping
of the nine unelected justices of the the most basic grasp of public policy, and out of their hands makes citizens more,
Supreme Court. Since the early 1950s, loves to indulge the worst whims of his not less, likely to entrust their fate to a
the Supreme Court has ended legal seg- supporters. In all things, personal and strongman leader who promises to smash
regation in schools and universities. It political, Plato’s disdainful description the system. And as the examples of Egypt,
has ended and then reintroduced the of the “democratic man” fits the 45th Thailand, and other countries have dem-
death penalty. It has legalized abortion. It president like a glove: Given to “false and onstrated again and again, a political elite
has limited censorship on television and braggart words and opinions,” he consid- with less and less backing from the people
the radio. It has decriminalized homo- ers “insolence ‘good breeding,’ license ultimately has to resort to more and more
sexuality and allowed same-sex marriage. ‘liberty,’ prodigality ‘magnificence,’ and repressive steps to hold on to its power; in
It has struck down campaign-finance shamelessness ‘manly spirit.’ ” the end, any serious attempt to sacrifice
regulations and gun-control measures. It is little wonder, then, that Plato’s democracy in order to safeguard liberty is
It has determined whether millions of haughty complaint about democracy— likely to culminate in an end to the rule of
people get health insurance and whether its primary ill, he claimed, consists in law as well as the rule of the people.

86 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
The easy alternative is to lean in the carbon emissions and contain the spread
other direction, to call for as much direct of nuclear weapons, regulate banks and
democracy as possible. The origins of the enforce consumer-safety standards. All of
people’s displacement, the thinking goes, these tasks require a tremendous amount
lie in a cynical power grab by financial of expertise and a great degree of coordi-
and political elites. Large corporations nation. It’s unrealistic to think that ordi-
and the superrich advocated independent nary voters or even their representatives
central banks and business-friendly trade in Congress might become experts in
treaties to score big windfalls. Politicians,
academics, and journalists favor a tech-
In 2007, Congress what makes for a safe power plant, or that
the world could find an effective response
nocratic mode of governance because enacted 138 to climate change without entering
they think they know what’s best and cumbersome international agreements.
don’t want the people to meddle. All of public laws. If we simply abolish technocratic institu-
this selfishness is effectively cloaked in a
pro-market ideology propagated by think
In the same year, tions, the future for most Americans will
look more rather than less dangerous,
tanks and research outfits that are funded independent and less rather than more affluent.
by rich donors. Since the roots of the cur- It is true that to recover its citizens’
rent situation are straightforwardly sinis- federal agencies loyalty, our democracy needs to curb the
ter, the solutions to it are equally simple: finalized power of unelected elites who seek only to
The people need to reclaim their power— pad their influence and line their pockets.
and abolish technocratic institutions. 2,926 rules. But it is also true that to protect its citizens’
This antitechnocratic view has cur- lives and promote their prosperity, our
rency on both ends of the political spec- democracy needs institutions that are,
trum. On the far left, the late political by their nature, deeply elitist. This, to my
scientist Peter Mair, writing about Europe, mind, is the great dilemma that the United
lamented the decline in “popular” democ- States—and other democracies around the
racy, which he contrasted with a more world—will have to resolve if they wish to
top-down “constitutional” democracy. survive in the coming decades.
The English sociologist Colin Crouch has We don’t need to abolish all techno-
argued that even anarchy and violence cratic institutions or merely save the ones
can serve a useful purpose if they seek to that exist. We need to build a new set of
vanquish what he calls “post-democracy.” senators were able to attract—and retain— political institutions that are both more
The far right puts more emphasis on more knowledgeable and experienced responsive to the views and interests of
nationalism, but otherwise agrees with staffers, they might be less tempted to let ordinary people, and better able to solve
this basic analysis. In the inaugural issue of K Street lobbyists write their bills for them. the immense problems that our society
the journal American Affairs, the self-styled Similarly, the rules that currently gov- will face in the decades to come.
intellectual home of the Trump move- ern conflicts of interest are far too weak. Writing about the dawn of democ-
ment, its founder Julius Krein decried “the There is no reason members of Congress racy in his native Italy, the great novelist
existence of a transpartisan elite,” which should be allowed to lobby for the com- Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa has Tan-
sustains a pernicious “managerial con- panies they were supposed to regulate so credi, a young aristocrat, recognize that
sensus.” Steve Bannon, the former White soon after they step down from office. It he will have to let go of some of his most
House chief strategist, said his chief politi- is time to jam the revolving door between cherished habits to rescue what is most
cal objective was to return power to the politics and industry. valuable in the old order: “If everything is
people and advocated for the “deconstruc- Real change will also require an to stay the same,” Tancredi says, “every-
tion of the administrative state.” ambitious reform of campaign finance. thing has to change.” The United States is
Mair and Crouch, Krein and Bannon Because of Citizens United, this is going to now at an inflection point of its own. If we
are right to recognize that the people have be extremely difficult. But the Supreme rigidly hold on to the status quo, we will
less and less hold over the political system, Court has had a change of heart in the lose what is most valuable in the world we
an insight that can point the way to genu- past. As evidence that the current system know, and find ourselves cast as bit play-
ine reforms that would make our political threatens American democracy keeps ers in the fading age of liberal democracy.
system both more democratic and better piling up, the Court might finally rec- Only by embarking on bold and imagina-
functioning. One of the reasons well- ognize that stricter limits on campaign tive reform can we recover a democracy
intentioned politicians are so easily swayed spending are desperately needed. worthy of the name.
by lobbyists, for example, is that their staffs For all that the enemies of technocracy
lack the skills and experience to draft leg- get right, though, their view is ultimately Yascha Mounk is a lecturer on government
islation or to understand highly complex as simplistic as the antidemocratic one. at Harvard and the author of The People
policy issues. This could be addressed by The world we now inhabit is extremely vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in
boosting the woefully inadequate fund- complex. We need to monitor hurricanes Danger and How to Save It, from which
ing of Congress: If representatives and and inspect power plants, reduce global this essay is adapted.

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 87
Forward Operating Base
Sharana, Afghanistan
FICTION

A FIGHT BROKE OU T on the far side of the dining facility, over
by the milk. A fridge door slapped shut, followed by sounds of
shoving and punches being thrown. Soldiers dodged out of the
way before a few brave souls went in to break it up. There were
noises of slipped holds and flail, of tables and chairs scraping
across the concrete floor. Then Digger’s voice rang out—I’ll kill
you!—and for a moment it seemed like this night, a Friday, was
about to transcend all its false promises.
Every Friday was rib night at this D-FAC. Soldiers spent all
day making the sauce, marinating the ribs, and stoking mesquite
embers in split oil drums. They baked a cake the size of a garage
door. They decorated the D-FAC—a giant white tent—with bal-
loons and streamers. They went to all this trouble, I knew, with
good intentions. They wanted us to feel appreciated, and to give
us a taste of home. They wanted us to enjoy, at least, the illusion
of a party—as if this were a real Friday night, with an actual week-
end to follow, and we might find it within ourselves to break a few
weekday rules. Fighting, however, was prohibited.
Tables and chairs were being moved back to where they
belonged, and a new line was forming for the milk. Digger
walked over to where Hal and I sat, where we always sat, by the
Jell-O cart.
“No one waits their goddamn turn anymore,” Digger said. The
collar of his T-shirt appeared to have been balled up and jerked

Rib
By W I L L M AC K I N
Illustrations by Tomer Hanuka

88 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E
Night
AT L A N T I C
around. Bright-pink scratches swelled on eyes wild with heat exhaustion. Their shifted as he began to dream. I watched
his neck. His eyes were red and bleary laughter bounced off the tent’s taut skin, them draw triangles under their lids.
because he hadn’t slept. reverberated in its aluminum frame, and

A
“You all right?,” Hal, our troop chief, rattled the turnbuckles, S-hooks, and gal- ROUND 2 O’CLOCK that morn-
asked. vanized wire that held the whole thing ing, during the raid on a com-
“I’m fine,” Digger said. together. Hal dropped one clean bone pound out in Wardak, Digger
Digger set a partially crushed carton after another on the center of the table. had killed three men in a room. They were
of chocolate milk on the table. He laid Flies walked across Digger’s face to drink sleeping in three corners, with an AK-47
down his cardboard tray, scattered with a from the corners of his mouth. He’d been resting on the floor in the center of the
few ribs he must’ve salvaged off the floor. room, when Digger crept in. The man in
He sat across from me, and flies settled on The dining facility was the first corner woke and reached for the
his salvaged ribs. AK, and Digger shot him. The man in the
“I can’t eat this,” Digger said.
packed with soldiers next corner reached, and Digger shot him,
I’d tripled up on trays to prevent rib who’d spent all day in too. The third man’s fingers were almost
grease from soaking through. I separated the summer sun. Their touching the weapon when he died.
the bottom tray and loaded it with half my faces were shiny with I heard the shots from where I stood,
ribs. Hal gave half his ribs, too. Digger— outside the walls of that compound, with
on the backside of the adrenaline rush
sweat, their eyes wild Hal. Each shot sounded like when you
that had fueled his fistfight—was staring with heat exhaustion. walk into a dark room and flip a switch,
off into nowhere, so I reached across the and the filament in the bulb pops. I went
table and slid his old tray aside. The flies up all night, on that mission out in War- into the room after the fact. Seeing the
lifted off those ribs and spun their little dak, then up all day wrestling demons in men reaching out for that AK in death,
orbits. Digger tilted a bit in his seat. As I the heat. Tired as he was, he’d fought that I figured there had to have been some
pushed the new tray in front of him, his poor guy over by the milk. sort of conversation among them. Like,
mouth dropped open and his eyes closed. Digger appeared to skip the early who would sleep in which corner, and
The D-FAC was packed with soldiers stages of sleep—in which his body where would they put their only weapon,
who’d spent all day in the summer sun. would’ve cooled, his heart rate slowed— the muzzle of which had been wrapped
Their faces were shiny with sweat, their and plunged directly into REM. His eyes in orange wire, in what seemed to me a

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90 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C
superstitious way. As though the wire
had transformed the AK into a good-
luck charm, and the men had seen fit to
leave it in the center of the room, beyond
arm’s length of any one of them, so that
the good luck might extend to them
equally. Yet they’d all reached for the AK
when Digger had snuck into the room.
We searched the compound and
found nothing. We took digital finger-
prints of the dead men and beamed them
back to Higher, which ran them through
the database. The results were inconclu-
sive. From the compound, we walked a
mile through tall grass to where the heli-
copters would pick us up. An owl circled
overhead in the twilight, until the heli-
copters dropped out of the sky and scared
it away. Digger and I climbed into the
same helo and sat across from each other
in the cargo bay. The sunrise through the
window behind me lit Digger’s stoic face
as we flew back to Sharana.
It was already hot by the time we
arrived at our compound, on the north
end of the runway, where we lived in old
shipping containers. Mine smelled as if
it had been used to transport pepper. I
stood my rifle in a corner and propped

Some called the pills
“time machines”;
others called them
“TKOs.” I buttoned mine
into the pocket of my
flannel shirt.
my armor against a wall. I closed the ship-
ping container’s heavy metal door and lay
down on my cot. I fell into as deep a sleep
as the heat of the day would allow.
My dream went like this: We walked
uphill into a village at night. A woman ran
downhill, into our ranks, and searched
the troop for me. I was the one wearing all
the antennas. I was the one who’d talked
to the plane that had shot up her house.
I could see smoke rising from her house
on the hill. Inside, in a corner of a room, a
dead grandfather held his dead grandson.
It was the daughter/mother who found
me. It was she who insisted that I come
inside her house to see what I’d done.
I’d brought the A-10 down for a
30-millimeter strafe on four enemies
standing at the top of the hill. The attack
had killed three and left the fourth severely
wounded. The wounded man had been
trying to drag himself to cover. He had

T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 91
been bleeding from an artery in his shat- and the woman was running downhill to long trip to Afghanistan. They eased our
tered leg. I could’ve done nothing, and he meet us halfway. transition to the nocturnal schedule on
would’ve died soon enough. Rather, I’d Somewhere in there, Digger entered which the success of our mission relied.
brought the A-10 back for another strafe. my shipping container, which woke me And they rendered us comatose and
Rounds had drifted into the house. They’d up. Light and heat streamed through the dreamless when, for whatever reason,
found the boy and his grandfather hiding open door. we couldn’t sleep.
in the corner. The woman had run out of “What?,” I asked. Every time we deployed, a medic
the house to find me. “I need a pill,” Digger said. would issue these pills, in little plastic
I didn’t want to go into the house, My duffel bag lay against the wall bags, as we boarded the cargo jet that
because I knew it wouldn’t do anyone opposite my armor. From it, Digger would deliver us from our home base, in
any good, and I was right. But the wom- removed my flannel shirt. He searched Virginia, to the war. We always left home
an’s grief was so profound, it resembled the pocket where I kept my sleeping pills. around midnight. This last time, my
joy. I couldn’t ignore her, and I didn’t “I don’t have any more,” I said. fourth, it was March. Frost hung in the air.
want to push her away. Nor did I want to “Bullshit,” Digger said. “Hal says he Stars tangled in the bare branches of the
threaten her, then be in a position where gave you, like, 20.” tallest oaks. Hal received his pills from the
I might have to carry out those threats. So Digger dumped the contents of my medic and stuffed them in his backpack.
I followed her up the hill, through a dis- duffel bag onto the floor. Car keys clinked Digger tucked his plastic bag of pills into
integrated wall of her house, and into a against the plywood. My wallet flopped the front pocket of his jeans. I buttoned
clouded room. I walked over broken tiles open. Live 5.56- and 9-mm rounds rolled mine into the pocket of my flannel shirt,
toward the corner, where she pointed. out the door and into the sun. and when I looked up, there was Digger,
There, I discovered the grandfather and looking back at me. “Here we go again,”

S
grandson alive. OME CALLED THE PILLS “time he said, smiling. Together we climbed the
The grandfather brushed dust off his machines”; others called them stairs into the dimly lit cargo bay.
grandson’s shoulders. Can I help you? “TKOs.” They were tiny blue ovals We took off, refueled high over the
he asked, like stray 30 mike-mike blew coated in shine. Standard-issue was 10 continental shelf, then drilled eastbound
through his house all the time. Then— pills per man, and no more, because through the stratosphere. Halfway across
bzzt!—the dream short-circuited, and we they were addictive. But the pills helped the black Atlantic, as others slept on the
were walking uphill into the village again, us get over the jet lag resulting from our cold metal floor, I stood at the starboard

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than it would’ve been during summer.
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T H E AT L A N T I C M A RC H 20 1 8 93
Atlantic Ocean
Gatun Locks Embera Village
Gamboa
Gatun Lake Rainforest Resort
Cruise absence of her father and son, and I felt sioned the honeycombs and checker-
C a na l

Cr
Gaillard Cut her wish that I could bring them back. boards. I imagined Alexander the Great,

ui s
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Pedro Miguel Locks She might’ve felt me wishing the same riding his elephant down from the moun-
Miraflores Locks Panama City thing, believing that if only I wished tains into battle. I considered what the
Beach Resort Pacific Ocean hard enough, it might happen. The A-10 next morning would be like, trying to
was still in the sky. We were still walking fall asleep without a pill, and I wondered
Daystop Overnight Two Nights
uphill. Although I knew better, I followed where I might find more. Tearing a piece
Join the smart shoppers & experienced travelers the woman into her house. of duct tape from a roll, I stuck the pill to
who have chosen Caravan since 1952 Returning to my shipping container the ceiling over my cot. The little blue
after sunrise that morning, I didn’t care capsule was perfectly hidden between the
about the ramifications. I intended to take gray tape and the gray steel. As I drifted
a pill. I opened my duffel bag, dug out my off to sleep, only I knew it was there.
8-Days $1295 flannel shirt, and discovered the pocket The steel walls of my shipping
Panama Canal Cruise & Tour empty. Ditto for the other pocket of that container turned to glass in my dream. I
Fully guided tour w/ all hotels, all meals, shirt, and all the pockets of my other found myself alone on the barren steppe
all activities, and a great itinerary. shirts. I thought that maybe, in a blind fit where Sharana once stood. The sun rolled
of self-preservation, I might’ve hidden backwards across the sky. Night fell, frost
Your Panama Tour Itinerary the pills somewhere so perfect that even formed on the glass, and it began to snow.
Day 1. Welcome to I couldn’t find them. Then I remembered A glacier descended from the mountains
Panama City, Panama. Digger, in line to board the cargo jet back to bury me in ice for an eon before the
Day 2. Visit the ruins in Virginia, turning around. thaw delivered a millennium of floods
of Panama Viejo. I walked over to Digger’s shipping and driving rain. Then, one day, the
Keel-billed Toucan Day 3. Gatun Lake and container and banged on its big orange clouds broke and the sun shined down
Panama Canal Cruise. door. He answered in his underwear. on a forest of petrified mulberries. That
“Yeah?” he said. night, the harvest moon crashed into
Day 4. Cruise more of
“Did you take my pills?,” I asked. the Earth, smashing it to smithereens. I
the Panama Canal.
“Your what?” drifted in my glass box through space and
Day 5. Visit an Embera Looking into Digger’s eyes, I saw sea- time toward a tiny, oval-shaped star that
Pollera Dancer Village in the jungle. horse tails spinning clockwise. shined blue in the distance.
Day 6. Free time today “You know what,” I said. And that was the pill Digger wanted,
at your beach resort. Digger blinked, and those tails spun on that hot morning in June, after he’d
Day 7. Explore a Kuna the other way. killed three men out in Wardak.
Tribal Marketplace. “I get all I need from Hal,” Digger

S
Panama Canal Day 8. You return with said. He shut his door and barred it from O M E O N E H A D G O N E to great
great memories! the inside. lengths to find helium; then to
Detailed Itinerary at Caravan∙ com I walked to Hal’s shipping container, inflate each red, white, or blue bal-
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We’d passed three colonels smoking cigars, from a distance. Maybe it had looked come the brave souls to break up the fight.
and a gaggle of majors playing horseshoes. colder than the rest, or fresher. Maybe At that point, it must’ve looked to Digger
Sergeants, silhouetted by flame, had been Digger had thought that, as a killer, he was like the entire population of the D-FAC
grilling the ribs on the oil drums. Clouds of entitled to whichever box he wanted. After was closing in, which might’ve made it
bittersweet smoke had flavored the night all, he hadn’t spent his day making bar- seem like he was squaring off against the
air. Before entering the D-FAC, we’d each becue sauce, or stoking fires, or baking a world. When he’d shouted I’ll kill you!, I
cleared our pistols into a barrel full of sand. figured that he’d meant everybody.
We’d dropped our magazines, pulled back The noise arrived after Hal returned to our table with an extra
our slides, and caught the rounds that the rounds hit. The tray of ribs for Digger and me to share. I
flipped out of the chambers. Hal and I had took all the burned ones, and Digger took
pushed our rounds back in our magazines,
woman ran downhill all the rare. The three of us ate, and made
but Digger had thrown his out over the into our ranks, her a big mess of bones on the table.
T-walls and into tent city, where all the screams no different A gray-haired master sergeant carry-
daywalkers slept. from laughter. ing a walkie-talkie appeared. He was fol-
Inside the D-FAC, at the steam table, lowed by a skinny PFC with a widow’s
Digger had just pointed at what he fucking cake. He hadn’t blown up balloons peak and sleeves too long for his arms.
wanted. No please or thank you to the or hung streamers. Someone must’ve cut The master sergeant pointed at Digger
privates in their hairnets and aprons, in front of Digger and taken his box of milk. with the antenna of his walkie-talkie.
holding their tongs and serving forks. Digger had probably drilled the guy in “This the guy?” he asked the PFC.
No wishing them happy hunting, as was the jaw. That was his signature move, any- “Yeah,” the PFC said.
customary. From the steam table, Digger way, the jaw drill. I’d seen him do it under “You need to come with me,” the mas-
had set off for the milk. a streetlight in Virginia Beach, at a gas ter sergeant said to Digger.
A row of industrial-size refrigerators, station in Salt Lake City, and on a bridge “I don’t need to do shit,” Digger said.
each packed with hundreds of those grade- in Milwaukee. When Digger put his back “That’s how you want to handle this?”
school boxes of milk, stood adjacent to the into it, it was devastating. So whoever had the master sergeant asked.
steam table. A muddled line of soldiers taken Digger’s milk had probably hit the “Yup,” Digger said.
formed in front of each. Digger, I guessed, fridge door unconscious. And his tray of The master sergeant radioed for secu-
had picked his box of chocolate milk out ribs had probably gone flying. Then had rity. The name Grimes was embroidered on
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his camouflaged blouse. The PFC looked
at us like he didn’t know who we were or
where we came from, but he wanted in.
“This guy’s mine,” Hal said to Grimes,
while pointing at Digger. “How about you
and me figure this out at our level.”
“How about you eat, and let me handle
this,” Grimes said.
“I’m just trying to save us both some
ass pain,” Hal said. “Incident reports, and
all that bullshit.”
“Assault is not bullshit,” Grimes said.
This made Digger laugh, which made
Hal laugh, too.
“You’re not helping,” Hal said.
Double doors swung open behind the
steam table. Two soldiers backed into the
tent, each supporting one corner of the A lieutenant with his own walkie- in a slow circle. Soldiers beat their tables
gigantic cake that had been decorated talkie appeared. He asked Grimes, “Are with their fists.
to look like the American flag. Knowing you ready for the cake, Master Sergeant?” “Fuck you if you’re here to eat cake,
the routine, birthday girls and boys stood The cake, by then, was up onstage. and not to fight!,” Digger yelled.
up from their tables and made their way Soldiers were sticking candles into it. A There were more cheers than boos this
toward the stage. dozen birthday girls and boys, all way too time, as Digger climbed down from the
“Go tell them to wait,” Grimes said to young, stood around, waiting for those table and returned to his seat.
the PFC with the long sleeves, who walked candles to be lit and for the lights to go out “See, now, that’s where you and I
off while shaking his head. Grimes turned and for all of us to sing “Happy Birthday,” agree,” Grimes said to Digger. “You think
to Digger. “You think you can just come which happened every rib night. they had birthday cakes in ’Nam?”
in here and tune up one of my soldiers?” “Does it look like I’m ready for the god- “Exactly,” Digger said.
“He started it,” Digger said. damn cake?,” Grimes said. Grimes’s walkie-talkie squawked. He
“That’s not what I’m hearing,” Grimes “I’m just asking,” the lieutenant said. put the speaker to his ear while looking
said. He held his walkie-talkie up to his “If I was ready for the fucking cake, at the D-FAC’s entrance, on the far side
ear and fiddled with the volume. do you think I’d be down here and not of the steam table. Finding no security
“Whatever’s gonna happen, can you up there?” there, Grimes turned to check the fire exit
make it quick?,” Digger said. “I got shit “Sorry, Master Sergeant,” the lieuten- next to the stage. “I’m in the middle, by
to do.” ant said. “I didn’t know.” the Jell-O cart,” Grimes said into the mic.
“Oh, it’ll be quick, all right,” Grimes said. The D-FAC’s aluminum frame creaked “Where are you?”
“How long you been doing this?,” Hal gently against the wind, as if it were being They could’ve been on the ground,
asked. held down by ropes. As if, absent those surrounded by cut ropes, watching us
At that, Grimes smiled. He almost ropes, we’d float to a new and faraway place, float away. They could’ve been asking
laughed. As a master sergeant, he had to where we might live by our own rules. themselves where the hell we thought we
have been in long enough to understand “Your attention please!” the lieutenant were going.
that nothing ever happened quick. Army, yelled from the stage. No one paid atten- I couldn’t speak for anybody else in
Navy—it didn’t matter which service. tion. Then Grimes whistled, and every- the D-FAC on rib night. But Digger, it
Try as you might, there was always that body shut up. was safe to say, had joined to fight. Hal
unbeatable thing pushing back. Grimes “We’re going to postpone the birthday had joined because if he hadn’t, the war
had to know. So when I saw him smile, I celebration for a few minutes,” the lieu- would’ve never been the same. And as for
thought he was going to sit down with us, tenant announced, “due to a problem that me, I’d joined to see the world.
and he and Hal were going to work things we need to take care of first.”
out. Then we’d all shake our heads over “That’s me!,” Digger shouted, climbing Will Mackin, a U.S. Navy veteran, served
how fucked up everything was, and how on top of our table. “I’m the problem!” in Iraq and Afghanistan. This story
we’d almost gotten caught up in it, there, Soldiers booed and cheered. Digger appears in his debut collection, Bring Out
for a second. held his arms open to them while turning the Dog, out this month.

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THE BIG QUESTION

Q:
What was the
most influential act of by his officers in Newburgh,
New York, General George
for silence were a deafening
and decorum-shattering roar
protest in history? Washington ensured the U.S.
military’s subordination to
that brought a centuries-old
oppression to an end.
civilian authority.
Gordon S. Wood, Pulitzer prior to and during the parti-
Prize–winning historian tion of India and Pakistan. Steve Ignorant, singer,
and author Crass
The protests against the David S. Meyer, author, The U.K. miners’ strike
Stamp Act in 1765, which The Politics of Protest in the 1980s: Although the
inevitably led to the cre- The conscientious objec- miners ultimately lost, they
ation of the United States a tor Randy Kehler went to showed the British public
decade later. jail for nearly two years to just how far the government
protest against the Viet- would go to achieve its aims,
Harry Leslie Smith, World nam War. Years later, Dan- even if it meant destroying
War II veteran, activist, and iel Ellsberg said that Kehler’s whole communities.
author, Harry’s Last Stand sacrifice persuaded him to
Like in our own era, corrup- share the Pentagon Papers. READER RESPONSES Mark Roberts, Lisbon, N.H.
tion and nepotism were ubiq- Charles Lerable, Monterey, Mahatma Gandhi’s 241-
uitous in the 16th century. Calif. mile Salt March in 1930
They stifled social and scien- On June 5, 1989, on peacefully defied British
tific progress. Were it not for Tiananmen Square, one colonial tax policy in India.
Martin Luther’s 95 theses, man stood against the Gandhi’s example of civil
reportedly hammered to the entire Chinese govern- disobedience inspired mil-
door of Wittenberg Castle ment to protest the oppres- lions worldwide.
Church, which instigated sion of more than 1 billion
the Reformation, our mod- people. Using only his body, Lucia Perri, Guthrie, Okla.
ern democratic world might he managed to stop an The Beatles’ refusal
never have germinated. T. V. Reed, author, armored tank column and, to play for segregated
The Art of Protest even if for a moment, a bru- audiences in Jackson-
Kit Miller, director, Gandhi Rosa Parks’s refusal, tal crackdown on freedom ville, Florida, in Sep-
Institute for Nonviolence in 1955, to move to the and democracy. tember 1964. The band’s
In the 1930s, 80,000 back of a segregated bus contracts, signed by its man-
Muslim men and women in Alabama. Erin Lisser, Mount Vernon, ager, Brian Epstein, stated
formed an “army of peace” Wash. that it would not play to seg-
to protest England’s oppres- Michael C. Quinn, president The Silent Sentinels’ pro- regated audiences. Since
sive occupation of what is and CEO, Museum of the test outside the White then, we’ve come together.
now Pakistan. Led by Abdul American Revolution House, which in 1919 helped
Ghaffar Khan, whose non- The Newburgh Conspir- finally grant half of Amer- Want to see your name on this page?
Email bigquestion@theatlantic.com
violent leadership prefig- acy, on March 15, 1783—a ica’s citizens the right to with your response to the question
ured Martin Luther King Jr.’s protest that failed! By vote. Their patriotic quoting for our May issue: What item would
you put in a time capsule to help
and Nelson Mandela’s, they facing down the apparent of the president and abid- the next century understand our
endured severe maltreatment beginnings of a coup d’état ing by gender expectations current moment?

100 M A RC H 2 0 1 8 T H E AT L A N T I C Illustrations by GRAHAM ROUMIEU
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