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Dear Chief Justice John Roberts: Our Country Has Not Changed

Rescue workers aiding victims of the car attack in Charlottesville.
Rescue workers aiding victims of the car attack in Charlottesville. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Trump’s embrace of racist extremism is not just troubling for our country in the present moment, it’s even scarier when you consider the politicos who see it as a winning campaign strategy for 2018 and beyond. Picture all the baby Trumps mimicking their grotesque idol, and weep for our republic.

To understand this extremism, and to fight it, we must return to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The killing in Charlottesville, the violent outbursts by emboldened white supremacists, and Trump’s utter failure to condemn domestic terrorism, offers yet another chance to reflect on how we got here. We can start with recent Supreme Court history, when it struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, which allowed nine, mostly Southern states, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. In the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “our country has changed,” and he argued that many of the “extraordinary measures” in the Voting Rights Act were no longer justified.

Yet here we are in 2017: camouflaged racists with semiautomatic weapons marched through Charlottesville, and one of them plowed his car through a crowd of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

On Sunday, a discussion began on Twitter as to whether Roberts (and Justice Anthony Kennedy) would like to revisit their decision.

Ari Berman’s outstanding 2015 book Give Us the Ballot offers a deep history of voter suppression in the United States, and it makes clear that we must fight the rights for all Americans to vote if we are to ever take the country back from a President and a party that winks at the white supremacy.

Republicans may “privately wince” at Trump’s moral failure, but their actions to disenfranchise voters lit the torches in Charlottesville. They fostered an environment where the white vote matters more, and convinced those voters they are under attack from people who don’t look like them. In his book, Berman explains that Obama’s 2008 election led to a spate of new, restrictive state voting laws:

In 2011 and 2012, 180 new voting restrictions were introduced in forty-one states, with twenty-seven new laws taking effect in nineteen states, nearly all of them controlled by Republicans. The right to vote had become deeply politicized. The country hadn’t seen anything like it since the end of Reconstruction, when every southern state placed severe limits on the franchise.

The election of the first black president and the resurrection of new barriers to the ballot box were not a coincidence. “The proposal of restrictive voter-access legislation has been substantially more likely to occur where African-Americans are concentrated and both minorities and low-income individuals have begun turning out at the polls more frequently,” reported a study from the University of Massachusetts–Boston.

“As minorities grow in the political process, it’s in the interest of one of the parties to tamp down voter turnout,” said Mel Watt. “It’s the same system that other people went through when there were poll taxes and literacy tests. This is just another iteration of that.”

Before 2010, only Indiana, Georgia, and Missouri had passed strict voter ID laws. Nine states controlled by Republicans adopted them following the 2010 election: Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The accelerated push for voter ID laws didn’t emerge from nowhere. In 1980, Paul Weyrich, the tart-tongued first director of the Heritage Foundation, convened a gathering of fifteen thousand evangelical Christians for Ronald Reagan. Acolytes described Weyrich as “the Lenin of social conservatism.” He said in his speech: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

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Choire Sicha’s New Role: Editor of The New York Times Styles Section

Choire Sicha
Photo via YouTube

Choire Sicha is a very special human being. Just look at these Twitter mentions congratulating him on his new role as editor of The New York Times Styles section. It’s a trip through the past 20 years of New York media featuring an all-star cast of writers, many of whom he helped shepherd to fame (or at least a steady job).

Choire makes people feel good about themselves and their work, and this of course is what makes an editor truly great. Like any other nobody with a blog, I have my own Choire story: I started Longreads shortly after he and Alex Balk started The Awl, and he was supportive and encouraging from the start. (He also condemned me for not having Renata Adler anywhere on the site yet.) Great editors will save you from future embarrassment.  Read more…

Meet ‘The Mooch,’ Your New White House Communications Director

(Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Anthony Scaramucci is the new White House Communications Director, and like many Trump hires before him, he arrives with a televised history of trashing his new boss. From ThinkProgress:

“I don’t like the way he talks about women, I don’t like the way he talks about our friend Megyn Kelly, and you know what, the politicians don’t want to go at Trump because he’s got a big mouth and because [they’re] afraid he’s going to light them up on Fox News and all these other places,” he said. “But I’m not a politician. Bring it. You’re an inherited money dude from Queens County. Bring it, Donald.”

This was in 2015, a year before the money manager began supporting Trump’s bid for president. But like all Trump hires, there’s almost nothing Scaramucci has said in the past his new boss will hold against him. As White House Communications Director, this is a helpful indicator of how reliable their future statements will be, too.

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California’s Housing Crisis Is About Jobs, Not Houses

Frederic J. Brown /AFP/Getty Images

The median home price in California has reached $500,000 — more than double the cost nationally — and a new brand of housing crisis is here. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to afford a home in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, or any surrounding suburbs. As today’s New York Times reports, this means people like Heather Lile, a nurse making $180,000 a year, live in distant Central Valley towns like Manteca and commute two hours to get to work. “I make really good money and it’s frustrating to me that I can’t afford to live close to my job,” she tells the reporter. Read more…

‘Many Immigrant Stories and Refugee Stories Need to Be Understood as War Stories’

Viet Thanh Nguyen
Viet Thanh Nguyen. Photo by Rex Features via AP Images

Author Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for his novel The Sympathizer, about a communist double agent during the Vietnam War who comes to America after the Fall of Saigon.

Nguyen, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of 2017’s collection The Refugees, was born in Ban Me Thuot and came to the United States as refugee in 1975, moving with his family to San Jose. In a 2016 Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Nguyen spoke of the importance of the connection between refugee and immigrant stories and war stories: Read more…

Please Watch This Video Showing the Unfathomable Cruelty of U.S. Immigration Policy

I’ve been obsessed with systems in government, and in business, that completely erase our humanity. That could mean an algorithm on Facebook that’s designed to prevent nudity but unwittingly bans one of those most powerful images from the Vietnam War. It means the lengths we’ll go to pretend that our phones are not built from slave labor. Or it could mean the layers of bureaucracy built into a company that allows its owner, now one of the President’s top advisers, to target and harass low-income tenants without sullying his own hands in the process. Read more…

Garrett Graff Joins Longreads to Cover Border Patrol and Government Policy

Arizona border
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agents gather along the International border near Naco, Ariz. Photo: AP Images

We’re excited to announce that journalist Garrett M. Graff is joining Longreads as a contributing writer covering border security and immigration, federal law enforcement, and the mechanics of how government works. Read more…

Betsy DeVos’s Cynical Defense of the Trump Education Budget Cuts

Betsy DeVos
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Early in Betsy DeVos’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday we got to see how the Education Secretary can magically turn less money into “more latitude.”

In her opening remarks to a House Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos, argued that the budget — which proposes cutting Department of Education programs by more than $10 billion — represents a rethinking of the role of the federal government in education, giving states and communities greater control and freedom in how they serve students and families. DeVos’s “control and freedom” narrative includes a proposed $250 million for school vouchers, which diverts money to private and religious schools.  Read more…

‘Just Pure Greed’: A Journalist Exposes Jared Kushner’s Baltimore Housing History

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Jared, meet Kamiia Warren. Your company nearly ruined her life.

ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis has an infuriating new story in The New York Times Magazine on a company called JK2 Westminster L.L.C., which for years relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent. In Warren’s case, the single mother of three had received written permission to break her lease early, and she owed no rent, but Westminster sued her anyway — for $3,014.08. She ended up losing on a series of technicalities — she did not have a lawyer — and the company went so far as to garnish her wages from her in-home elder-care job.

The company, meanwhile, ignored multiple complaints about poor upkeep and disrepair in its housing developments. Read more…

Longreads Just Turned 8 Years Old. Here’s What the Next Eight Years Look Like.

This month, Longreads turns eight years old. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the site over the years — from the Longreads Members who fund our story budget, to my colleagues past and present at our parent company Automattic/WordPress.com, and to editor in chief Mike Dang and our growing team of editors, writers, and journalists who are producing outstanding essays and reporting every day.

I’ve often used these anniversary posts to look back, but we’re undergoing some big changes this year — not just publishing more original and exclusive stories, but also funding more serious reporting from around the world. It’s time to look ahead.
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