Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

In the wake of the shocking results of November’s election, readers in Notes had a robust discussion titled, “Will Trump Voters and Clinton Voters Ever Relate?” One of the most revealing and contentious entries came from a Trump supporter who “voted for the middle finger, the wrecking ball.” He began by countering some common stereotypes about Trump voters:

I have a Masters degree. My kids go to public school with kids of all races, colors, and creeds. Our neighborhood has immigrant families, mixed-race families, minorities, and same-sex couples. Our sports teams are multi-cultural, diverse, and play beautifully together, on and off the field. I have neither the time, energy, or room in my heart for hatred, bigotry, or racism.

His was a protest vote:

I am tired of the machine rolling over us—all of us. The Clinton machine, the Republican machine, the big media, investment banking, hedge fund carrying interest, corporatist, lobbying, influence peddling, getting elected and immediately begin fundraising for the next election machine—they can all kiss my ass.

Maybe Trump won’t do a thing to change or fix any of it. Hillary definitely would not have changed any of it.

Many readers disagreed here. Another one, Susan, emailed this week asking, “Could we have an update from the guy who ‘voted for the middle finger, the wrecking ball’? I’d be very interested to know what he thinks of the first two months of President Trump.”

I actually wondered the same thing in early February, when I emailed the wrecking ball reader to see if his views on Trump has shifted during the presidential transition and his first few weeks in office. Here’s the reader’s verdict on February 9 (followed by a reply to Susan’s request):

It’s too early to tell, really—kind of like calling the Falcons to win after their first touchdown, right? I think Trump is still too combative and his messaging is awful at times—a lot of the time—but so far he is the guy (ass?) he’s been through the entire run. Trump thinks of himself as an executive in the most stringent application of the word—the buck stops here, the buck begins here, the buck is always here—but he’ll that learn running a company and the country are not the same thing, not matter how much I sometimes like the idea of someone “running the government like a business.”

I wish Trump had what we call down here—the land of obesity, fireworks, and Flannery O’Connor-inspired realities—a “pull-back guy.”

See, we love our college football down in the buckle of the Bible Belt. We love to watch our Clemson Tiger defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, go crazy on the sidelines. To handle him, they have to get a designated staffer be the “pull-back guy”—grabbing Venables around his britches and pulling him back off of the field so he doesn’t draw a penalty.

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Susan Walsh / AP

Monday marked the beginning of what will probably be Judge Neil Gorsuch’s toughest job interview: his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. This week, we asked Politics & Policy Daily readers what they would ask Gorsuch if they were on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Here are some of our favorite questions from readers.

Keli Osborn is curious about how the judge would rule on previous Supreme Court cases:

How would your judicial philosophy of originalism have influenced rulings on Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Griswold v. Connecticut, Bigelow v. Virginia, and Obergefell v. Hodges?

Bill Rogers simply wants to know which Supreme Court justice Gorsuch admires most—and why.

Susan Perkins would ask specifically about the case Shelby County v. Holder: “Do you have any views on the Supreme Court decision that limited the Federal Government’s power to monitor state election laws for their discriminatory impact?”

Catherine Tanaka thinks it’s absolutely crucial to know where Gorsuch stands on climate change:

So many of the problems on Earth stem from the heating up of the world, from lack of water, to the die-offs in the ocean, from which so many people get their food, to coastal flooding, and to famine leading to wars and mass migrations. No other problem needs such a coordinated approach. If we don’t fix the climate, really, what else matters?

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Two readers are very wary of hiring practices in Silicon Valley that strongly take gender into account. Here’s Sally:

This article [“Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?”] refers a couple times to people saying that hiring women or minorities may “lower the bar” as some kind of evidence of bias. But usually when people say that, they are referring to using gender as a criteria for hiring. When you do that, you have to give less weight to technical merit.

And indeed, towards the end of the article, using such criteria is advocated. Whenever you set a “goal” (i.e. quota) that 40 percent of your workforce should have quality X when X has nothing to do with your ability, you are going to get people with lower-than-average ability. What’s worse, you have a situation where those in the company with quality X have less ability than those without that quality, which only reinforces the stereotypes about those people—which is unfair to those Xs who are competent.

Personally, I’d much rather companies focus on treating their female employees equally than worry about increasing the number of female employees. But that’s just me.

It’s also Carla Walton, a female engineer in HBO’s Silicon Valley:

More of Carla vs. Jared here. This next reader has an outlook and attitude similar to Sally’s:

I’m a senior tech executive in Silicon Valley who happens to be female. I also have a male name, which makes initial introductions interesting. (“Oh, I thought you would be a man...”) If it matters, in addition to leading an R&D technical team at work, I’m on [the board of a computer engineering department], and a startup advisor [for a prominent venture capital firm].

I have a lot to say about this article. On one side, I am burned out on the “women in tech” topic. I want to be included/recruited because I totally kill it and always bring my A-game—and never ever ever because I am a woman.

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A reader with a Ph.D. in physics has been working in the tech industry for many years, but she’s struggled to cope with the huge gender imbalance at the start-ups she’s worked for. She feels she can’t fully be herself—or a mother:

When I entered the office for my interview, I saw every head in the glass-enclosed conference room pop up and look over at me. I’ve trained myself to have a sort of small, permanent smile plastered on my face, and I hoped, as the room was looking me over, that my smile looked natural, approachable, and genuine.

That is the persona I’ve settled on: Approachable and genuine. Everyone’s little sister.

In that way, I can inhabit a special place, still allowed to be feminine, someone everyone roots for but no one is sexually attracted to, or intellectually threatened by. Everyone wants his kid sister to win. Everyone will defend his little sister from bullies.

Sure, you may forget she is a girl; you may leave her out of some things because you forget about her; but you are not going forget her all together. And you certainly aren’t going to want your friends to sleep with her.

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Zak Bickel / The Atlantic

Henry David Thoreau is something of a poster child for solitude. In his essay “Walking,” published just after his death in our June 1862 issue, Thoreau made the case “for absolute freedom and wildness … to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society”:

We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man—then you are ready for a walk.

Thoreau himself was “a genuine American weirdo,” as Jedediah Purdy recently put it, and solitude suited him: His relentless individualism irritated his friends, including Atlantic co-founder Ralph Waldo Emerson, who described Thoreau’s habit of contradicting every point in pursuit of his own ideals as “a little chilling to the social affections.” Emerson may have had Thoreau in mind when, in our December 1857 issue, he mused that “many fine geniuses” felt the need to separate themselves from the world, to keep it from intruding on their thoughts. Yet he questioned whether such withdrawal was good for a person, not to mention for society as a whole:

Thoreau in his second and final photographic sitting, August 1861 (Wikimedia)

This banishment to the rocks and echoes no metaphysics can make right or tolerable. This result is so against nature, such a half-view, that it must be corrected by a common sense and experience. “A man is born by the side of his father, and there he remains.” A man must be clothed with society, or we shall feel a certain bareness and poverty, as of a displaced and unfurnished member. He is to be dressed in arts and institutions, as well as body-garments. Now and then a man exquisitely made can live alone, and must; but coop up most men, and you undo them. …

When a young barrister said to the late Mr. Mason, “I keep my chamber to read law,”—“Read law!” replied the veteran, “’tis in the courtroom you must read law.” Nor is the rule otherwise for literature. If you would learn to write, ’tis in the street you must learn it. Both for the vehicle and for the aims of fine arts, you must frequent the public square. … Society cannot do without cultivated men.

Emerson concluded that the key to effective, creative thought was to maintain a balance between solitary reflection and social interaction: “The conditions are met, if we keep our independence, yet do not lose our sympathy.”

Four decades later, in our November 1901 issue, Paul Elmore More identified a radical sympathy in the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which stemmed, he argued, from Hawthorne’s own “imperial loneliness of soul”:

Hester Prynne, the lonely protagonist of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (Wikimedia)

His words have at last expressed what has long slumbered in human consciousness. … Not with impunity had the human race for ages dwelt on the eternal welfare of the soul; for from such meditation the sense of personal importance had become exacerbated to an extraordinary degree. … And when the alluring faith attendant on this form of introspection paled, as it did during the so-called transcendental movement into which Hawthorne was born, there resulted necessarily a feeling of anguish and bereavement more tragic than any previous moral stage through which the world had passed. The loneliness of the individual, which had been vaguely felt and lamented by poets and philosophers of the past, took on a poignancy altogether unexampled. It needed but an artist with the vision of Hawthorne to represent this feeling as the one tragic calamity of mortal life, as the great primeval curse of sin … the universal protest of the human heart.

Fast-forward a century, and what More described as “the solitude that invests the modern world” had only gotten deeper invested—while “the sense of personal importance” gained new narcissistic vehicles in the form of social-media tools that let us “connect” online while keeping our real, messy selves as private as we choose. Which is not a bad thing: In some ways, the internet looks like the perfect way to achieve Emerson’s ideal balance between independent thought and social engagement.

In our May 2012 issue, however, Steven Marche wondered if the rise of social media is making us lonely:

A considerable part of Facebook’s appeal stems from its miraculous fusion of distance with intimacy, or the illusion of distance with the illusion of intimacy. Our online communities become engines of self-image, and self-image becomes the engine of community. The real danger with Facebook is not that it allows us to isolate ourselves, but that by mixing our appetite for isolation with our vanity, it threatens to alter the very nature of solitude.

The new isolation is not of the kind that Americans once idealized, the lonesomeness of the proudly nonconformist, independent-minded, solitary stoic, or that of the astronaut who blasts into new worlds. Facebook’s isolation is a grind. What’s truly staggering about Facebook usage is not its volume—750 million photographs uploaded over a single weekend—but the constancy of the performance it demands. More than half its users—and one of every 13 people on Earth is a Facebook user—log on every day. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, nearly half check Facebook minutes after waking up, and 28 percent do so before getting out of bed. The relentlessness is what is so new, so potentially transformative. Facebook never takes a break. We never take a break.

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A reader revives our collection of miscarriage stories with an uncommon case of her own—two cases, in fact:

Thank you so much for the series on abortion you carry, Chris—turning the abstract (which is very easy to judge, from a distance) into real-life stories, of real-life people. The many stories exemplify that there is no “one-size-fits-all” in this matter—that people’s lives tend to have many nuances that, when judged from a distance, are easily overlooked.

I have two healthy children, but it took us years to conceive, and we were helped by fertility treatments. [See many infertility stories from readers here.] My first pregnancy ended in an early miscarriage, around the 6-to-8-week mark. Same for my third pregnancy.

In both cases I never felt like I lost a child; rather, I grieved because of the missed opportunity. Fertility treatments are usually like that. In many cases, you need several trials before having one that takes.

Early in my second pregnancy, the doctor could see I was pregnant with twins, with one of the twins showing delayed development. The doctor told me to just wait and see what happened, and so I did.

In our next check-up, we saw that one of the twins had vanished.

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Katie Martin / The Atlantic

In this week’s Atlantic coverage, our writers explored the cult classics of the future, Monopoly’s forgotten meaning, the legacy of Carol Field, a volcano’s impending explosion, the history behind a far-right candidate’s rise, and more.

Can you remember the key facts? Find the answers to this week’s questions in the articles linked above—or go ahead and test your memory now:

For more tricky questions and surprising facts, try last week’s quiz, and subscribe to our daily newsletter.

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Last year, Julie Beck wrote a popular piece centered on the question, “When Are You Really an Adult?” She went beyond the biological and legal answers to delve into the more subjective realms of culture and personal experience. The many markers of adulthood were then illustrated in the variety of stories we collected from readers—clustered around commonplace themes of financial independence, parenthood, and divorce, but also less common experiences such as losing a parent at a young age, rape, and dodging the wrath of a dictatorship.

This week, we posed a related question to readers: “When does childhood end?”—and, more interestingly, “When did you become an adult in your parents’ eyes?,” a version that adds a layer of subjectivity to an already subjective topic. Here’s a response from Terri:

When I was 11, my mother died. My father had become blind a few years before, from a rare form of glaucoma. He had no choice but to allow me to do things that are normally done by an adult, such as budgeting and paying bills, cooking and cleaning, and other various things. He had to talk to me in an honest way, and make me understand things and rely on my judgement in lots of matters. Other adults did too. I was never a child again after my mother died and my dad knew it.

Another reader’s mother also died at a pretty young age:

I became an adult when my mother died and my dad started dating four months later. I was 20 years old. Once he had a new woman in his life (whom he is still married to now) and essentially a new family, I was out. We had really started to be at odds the year before, when I had started to do things my way instead of his way. He had pretty much taken for granted that I could make it in this world without his advice or anything.

For this next reader, it was boarding school:

I’m not sure the end of childhood is the sort of thing that one can pinpoint; seems to me there were rather a number of distinct rites of passage. The first was when I went to boarding school, around age 10. When my parents dropped me off that first day, I knew I was on my own. Calling home to say they should come get you was not an option; my parents made this pretty clear, but it was not necessary. I knew.

Another reader had to go abroad to step out of childhood:

When I was an exchange student, my father came down to visit. There I was, living independently in a foreign country at 17. I could speak the language fluently and had to navigate us for him.

George also left the country to become an adult:

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        President Obama tosses up a basketball presented to him as a gift by UConn Huskies head basketball coach Geno Auriemma during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

        This week, in honor of March Madness, we asked Politics & Policy Daily readers: If you had to pick a lawmaker to coach your team and take it to the Final Four, who would you pick—and why?

        Eileen is one of several readers who thought of Arizona Senator John McCain:

        His military service and his ability to survive as a POW held by the Vietcong are a tribute to his character. Equally impressive is his courage as a Republican to speak out when he sees something is wrong. He did this recently in asking President Trump to show evidence of wiretapping by former President Obama or to stop talking about it.

        But after some consideration, Eileen decided she’d rather have Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as her team’s coach:

        His energy, enthusiasm, clear thinking, and ability to decipher complex issues and explain them in simple terms is more than impressive. He is a role model for all people, no matter their race, nationality, or religion. He gets my vote for the above reasons. He is my go-to guy. If there is a job to be done, he can be counted on to do it.

        For reader Adela, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is the obvious choice:

        Can’t you just see her on the court cheering on her players? She’d be a dynamo! And she’d defend her team like a mother tigress. No ref would dare to argue with her if she knew she was right. She would, no doubt, get ejected from many games because she’d be warned, but, nevertheless, she’d persist!

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        In the 1920s, young women worked in an Ottawa, Illinois, factory painting radioactive glow-in-the-dark numbers onto watches. They were told to lick their brushes to a fine point. They were told that the glowing radium in the paint was safe.

        Radium is extremely dangerous. The element gets absorbed into the bones like calcium, and these women would go on to lose their teeth, jaws, and limbs to the radium poisoning. Many died. Earlier this month, I spoke with Kate Moore, author of the new book The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, about how the surviving women fought for justice in court in the 1930s.

        That seems like it should be the end of the story, but it isn’t.

        Zak Bickel / The Atlantic

        Here’s how an Atlantic author answered that question in September 1858:

        Full of anticipations, full of simple, sweet delights, are these [childhood] years, the most valuable of [a] lifetime. Then wisdom and religion are intuitive. But the child hastens to leave its beautiful time and state, and watches its own growth with impatient eye. Soon he will seek to return. The expectation of the future has been disappointed. Manhood is not that free, powerful, and commanding state the imagination had delineated. And the world, too, disappoints his hope. He finds there things which none of his teachers ever hinted to him. He beholds a universal system of compromise and conformity, and in a fatal day he learns to compromise and conform.

        But it wasn’t until the 20th century that scientists began to seriously study child development. In our July 1961 issue, Peter B. Neubauer heralded “The Century of the Child”:

        Gone is the sentimental view that childhood is an era of innocence and the belief that an innate process of development continuously unfolds along more or less immutable lines. Freud suggested that, from birth on, the child’s development proceeds in a succession of well-defined stages, each with its own distinctive psychic organization, and that at each stage environmental factors can foster health and achievement or bring about lasting retardation and pathology. …

        Freudian psychology does not, as some people apparently imagine, provide a set of ready-made prescriptions for the rearing of children. … The complexity of the interactions between mother and child cannot be reduced to rigid formulas. Love and understanding cannot be prescribed, and if they are not genuinely manifested, the most enlightened efforts to do what is best for the child may not be effective.

        According to this view, children weren’t miniature adults, but they were preparing for adulthood. Growing up was a process that had to be managed by adults, which made the boundaries of childhood both more important and more nebulous.

        A few years later, in our October 1968 issue, Richard Poirier described the backlash to a wave of campus protests as “The War Against the Young.” He implored older adults to take young people’s ideas seriously:

        It is perhaps already irrelevant, for example, to discuss the so-called student revolt as if it were an expression of “youth.” The revolt might more properly be taken as a repudiation by the young of what adults call “youth.” It may be an attempt to cast aside the strangely exploitative and at once cloying, the protective and impotizing concept of “youth” which society foists on people who often want to consider themselves adults.

        What’s more, Poirier argued, idealism shouldn’t just be the province of the young:

        If young people are freeing themselves from a repressive myth of youth only to be absorbed into a repressive myth of adulthood, then youth in its best and truest form, of rebellion and hope, will have been lost to us, and we will have exhausted the best of our natural resources.

        But how much redefinition could adulthood handle? In our February 1975 issue, Midge Decter addressed an anxious letter to that generation of student revolutionaries, who—though “no longer entitled to be called children”—had not yet fulfilled the necessary rites of passage for being “fully accredited adults”:

        Why have you, the children, found it so hard to take your rightful place in the world? Just that. Why have your parents’ hopes for you come to seem so impossible of attainment?

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        The initial wave of reader response to our question “Is a long life really worth it?” was overwhelming “meh, not so much.” But since then, many sexagenarians, septuagenarians, octogenarians, and nonagenarians have emailed more enthusiastic outlooks on old age. Here’s Jim:

        A thought-provoking discussion, but it really misses the key point. I turn 65 in a couple of months, but I don’t expect to “retire” at 65—or ever. I’m fit and healthy and having the greatest fun of my life at the head of a fast-growing business. In a quarter century, if still alive, I might have to slow down a bit, but there will still be something useful for me to do.

        The founding pastor of our church has poor hearing and is almost blind, but a few weeks ago he preached a great sermon to celebrate his 100th birthday. He still contributes in other ways as well.

        Not everyone can continue working, but there is a huge need for volunteers in areas that do not require physical agility. Unless totally senile—and that’s something that will never happen to most of us—we all have something to offer.

        Maggie is a quarter century older than Jim but has a very similar view:

        Life isn’t over because I’m not longer “useful.” I’m 90 and have spent the last decade trying to be okay with not always being the helping hand. Though my greatest joy has come from knowing I have touched another’s life by being helpful, I have to remember that I am still touching people’s lives as long as I am alive. I’m so pleasantly surprised that people want to be around me.

        I was pretty grim when I had to stop driving because a slight accident damaged the car beyond repair. My health also gave way and I was briefly hospitalized. It was a big adjustment. But now I am walking, exercising at the gym once a week, taking part in demonstrations, and forgetting about how old I am. I don’t see any other options.

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