Category Archives: Literature

Not what you’d call “a reader.”

Ahead of the election, the editors of this magazine wrote that the Republican candidate “appears not to read.” Before the inauguration, Trump told Axios, “I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.” In February, The New York Times reported that National Security Council members had been instructed to keep policy papers to a single page and include lots of graphics and maps. Mother Jones reviewed classified information indicating Trump’s briefings were a quarter as long as Barack Obama’s.

In March, Reuters reported that briefers had strategically placed the president’s name in as many paragraphs of briefing documents as possible so as to attract his fickle attention. In September, the Associated Press reported that top aides had decided the president needed a crash course on America’s role in the world and arranged a 90-minute, map-and-chart heavy lecture at the Pentagon. And amid the hype over Wolff’s book, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough wrote a column Friday saying that in September 2015, he confronted Trump over poor debate performances, saying, “Can you read?” Met with silence, Scarborough pressed again: “I’m serious, Donald. Do you read? If someone wrote you a one-page paper on a policy, could you read it?” Trump replied by brandishing a Bible from his mother and saying he read it all the time—probably a self-aware joke, given Trump’s proud impiety and displayed ignorance of the Bible.

The Scarborough anecdote is the strangest of these. This is not only because Scarborough held on to the story for nearly a year and a half, and continued to hype Trump’s candidacy on air and advise him privately. (As James Fallows notes, the real scandal of the Wolff book is that so many people have such grave misgivings about Trump but have kept their heads down.) It is also unfortunate because Trump is clearly, in strictly literal terms, literate. He displays his basic grasp of the language—if in sloppy, often typo-ridden ways—on Twitter on a roughly daily basis. Such stories, by dint of their hyperbole, offer a bit of a distraction from how serious the problem is.

–David A. Graham, The President Who Doesn’t Read

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Imaginative exercise and practice.

There’s a tendency in American culture to leave the imagination to kids — they’ll grow out of it and grow up to be good businessmen or politicians. […]

But much of it is derivative; you can a mash lot of orcs and unicorns and intergalactic wars together without actually imagining anything. One of the troubles with our culture is we do not respect and train the imagination. It needs exercise. It needs practice. You can’t tell a story unless you’ve listened to a lot of stories and then learned how to do it.

–Ursula K. Le Guin, interviewed by David Streitfeld


If true.

If true. If true. If true. In one way, certainly, it’s a fitting refrain for the America of 2017, with all its concessions to the conditional tense: alternative facts, siloed reality, a political moment that has summoned and witnessed a resurgence of the paranoid style. And yet it’s also an abdication—“moral cowardice,” the journalist Jamelle Bouie put it—and in that sense is part of a much longer story. If true is a reply, but it has in recent cases become more effectively a verb—a phrase of action, done to women, to remind them that they are doubted. If true used as a weapon. If true used as a mechanism to enforce the status quo. For years. For centuries. The woman says, This happened. The world says, If true.

–Megan Garber, Al Franken, That Photo, and Trusting the Women


“Let’s start with just being less stupid.”

For the past 50 years, some of this country’s most celebrated historians have taken up the task of making Americans less stupid about the Civil War. These historians have been more effective than generally realized. It’s worth remembering that General Kelly’s remarks, which were greeted with mass howls of protests, reflected the way much of this country’s stupid-ass intellectual class once understood the Civil War. I do not contend that this improved history has solved everything. But it is a ray of light cutting through the gloom of stupid. You should run to that light. Embrace it. Bathe in it. Become it.

Okay, maybe that’s too far. Let’s start with just being less stupid.

–Ta-Nehisi Coates, Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War


“Perhaps more importantly, I don’t have a desire to do it.”

via Vox.


Thoughts and Prayers

I look at it this way: I’m not going to effect a change in anyone’s condition by doing X, Y, or Z “take action” thing (from Oxford, as an academic theologian) right away. I can continue engaging in the political system, work with university life to underscore the devastating folly of uncontrolled gun ownership, and so on. But at this minute, in the face of such catastrophic evil, I can take an action that binds me closer in solidarity with many others around the globe, and that (in the faith by which I live) responds positively to a divine command and orients me toward a radically more benign state of affairs. So I pray.

I get the force of the “don’t pray, do something” admonition — but it relies for its force on the premise that prayer is “doing nothing” (a premise I don’t share), on the premise that I’m trading away a more effectual course of activity (when prayer and activism are not zero-sum alternatives), and on a general resentment of public figures who make much of theological platitudes without directing any of the executive or legislative authority they have toward ameliorating a situation. Is tweeting, “Don’t pray,” an improvement over tweeting, “I’m praying”?

–Fr. A.K.M. Adam, when asked about critiques to “thoughts and prayers” responses to tragedies by Vox‘s Tara Isabella Burton


White tears white tears

The most popular public forum at Reed is Facebook, where social tribes coalesce and where the most emotive and partisan views get the most attention. “Facebook conversations at Reed bring out the extreme aspects of political discourse on campus,” said Yuta, a sophomore who recently co-founded a student group, The Thinkery, “dedicated to critical and open discussion.”(The Atlantic used first names for students out of concern for online harassment.) Raphael, the founder of the Political Dissidents Club, warned incoming students over Facebook that “Reed’s culture can be stifling/suffocating and narrow minded.”

It can also be bullying. When the parent of a freshman rebuked RAR for derailing a lecture, a RAR supporter tagged the parent’s employer in a post. In mid-April, when students were studying for finals, a RAR leader grew frustrated that more supporters weren’t showing up to protest Hum 110. In a post viewable only to Reed students, the leader let loose:

To all the white & able(mentally/physically) who don’t come to sit-ins(ever, anymore, rarely): all i got is shade for you. [… If] you ain’t with me, then I will accept that you are against me. There’s 6 hums left, I best be seein all u phony ass white allies show-up. […] How you gonna be makin all ur white supremacy messes & not help clean-up your own community by coming and sitting for a frickin hour & still claim that you ain’t a laughin at a lynchin kinda white.

The RAR leader proceeded to call out at least 15 students by name. One named Patrick defended himself, saying in part, “I didn’t realize this was [your] opinion of me as a friend. … I will not give you my support simply because you are leading a noble cause.” The leader referred to that defense as “white supremacy.” Another leader used a vulgar insult, followed by “White tears white tears.”

Non-white students weren’t spared; a group of them agreed to “like” Patrick’s comment in a show of support. A RAR member demanded those “non-black pocs [people of color]” explain themselves, calling them “anti-black pos [pieces of shit].” Another member tried to get Patrick on track: “Hey man, everyone getting called out on here, me included, is getting a second chance tomorrow to wake up and make the right decision.”

–Chris Bodenner, The Surprising Revolt at the Most Liberal College in the Country