In last week’s New Yorker

April 30, 2018

Before I crack open the new issue, I want to draw your attention to two noteworthy pieces in the April 30 issue:

“Life Sentences,” Dana Goodyear’s profile of novelist Rachel Kushner (below, photographed by Amanda Demme), which details Kushner’s deep engagement with female prisoners in her local California prison — not for “research,” but out of solidarity and identification.

“McMaster and Commander,” Patrick Radden Keefe’s long, intricately reported piece about recently fired National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster — I didn’t think I wanted to know much about him, but the article is among other things an unsparing recap of the outrages to international diplomacy committed by the current administration. Nowadays it all just feels like the latest bullshit tweet, but one day we’ll look back at this coverage in the New Yorker and the New York Times and the Washington Post as crucial historical documentation of the bleakest period in American history. Here’s a key passage:

In December, the White House unveiled its “National Security Strategy,” a sixty-eight-page document in which the N.S.C. staff laid out Trump’s official view of the world. McMaster’s aides proudly claimed that this was the first time a national-security-strategy document had been published within the first year of a Presidential Administration. The document had conspicuously Trumpian lacunae; there were no references to climate change as a national-security threat, for example. But it seemed to be an effort to domesticate some of Trump’s bellicose rhetoric, emphasizing the importance of competition among the great powers but also of American leadership. Trump had mocked NATO as “obsolete”; the document described the alliance as “one of our greatest advantages.” It explicitly named Russia and China as malign influences, and declared that the Russians had used technology “to undermine the legitimacy of democracies.” Such language was in sharp contrast with Trump’s strenuous avoidance of blaming the Kremlin for election interference. An N.S.C. official told me, “The fundamental question is, can you divorce Presidential rhetoric from American foreign policy?”

Composing the document was a challenge, because Trump did not have many concrete views on foreign policy beyond bumper-sticker sentiments like “America first.” When McMaster requested Trump’s input, the President grew frustrated and defensive, as if he’d been ambushed with a pop quiz. So staffers adopted Trump’s broad ideal of American competitiveness and tried to extrapolate which policies he might favor in specific instances. McMaster touted the resulting document as “highly readable,” and as a text it seems reassuringly plausible. But nobody on McMaster’s staff could confirm for me with any conviction that the President himself had read it.

 

 

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