My first encounter with China was, oddly, at the top of the Empire State Building. I was a young student, and climbing to the top of the Manhattan landmark was the last thing I did before returning home from my first visit to the U.S., where I now live. I was not particularly thrilled, but was happy that I did it; still, I never went back. Anyway, just as I was preparing to descend, the Empire State opened another horizon to me. I was standing in line for the elevator when a large group of Asian tourists joined the line next to me. I took notice, stepping from the line to watch them interacting. From the little I knew about China, the badges of Mao on their blue uniforms told me this group of people, wearing cotton shoes, some of them silently holding hands, came from the other side of the world. When the elevator arrived, something unexpected happened: the Chinese group refused to step into it. With extreme politeness, they invited the crowd standing behind them to step up and fill the elevator to its full capacity. After the door closed, the Chinese group retook the front position, now holding it firmly, waiting for a new elevator. I don’t remember if I asked them why on earth had they refused to get into the elevator, but the only explanation for what they did was that they did not want to split the group; they wanted to wait until there was enough space for all of them in the elevator. They wanted to travel together.
I loved Amazon when it first appeared. It was the nineties, and I was living in Italy and then China, two countries that are strongly monolingual and therefore have a scarce number of foreign language bookstores. Rome for instance, with three and a half million inhabitants at the time, had a couple of English bookstores and one French, with a modest selection. Foreign books were rare and expensive objects; Italy, to protect its cultural heritage, had a high tax on them despite promoting the translation of texts into Italian, and dubbing all foreign movies. Besides being expensive, ordering different books from bookshops came by unpredictable mail service, labyrinthine customs control and, therefore, extended delivery delays. All this, of course, was before the existence of the world wide web and the installment of the common continental currency, the Euro. When those shifts occurred, the obstacles evaporated almost immediately.
On the night of the midterm elections, my wife and I organized an open house, inviting friends and people from all walks of life to watch the results. The TV ran, but instead of staring at the screen and following the constant predictions of electoral victories and losses, people were interacting and getting to know each other. There was practically no politics mentioned, as the people in the room were evidently oversaturated with political debate. Around midnight, I think, one person announced that the Democrats had won the House, but — he opined — Trump won the elections.
A few minutes later, Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House and Minority Leader since 2011, appeared on the screen declaring a Democratic victory, announcing a new day in America. It was somewhat grotesque. There is nothing new about the 78-years-old Pelosi. With ballots still being counted, the minority leader rushed on stage, surrounded by her colorful staff and two underage grandsons, and claimed her place as next speaker of the House, declaring that her leadership will restore democracy in the United States. Two days later, to ensure her position, she gave an exclusive TV interview on CNN, underscoring without a doubt that she will hold the gavel in the House again.
“China feels cheated by Trump many times — I think many countries that trade with the U.S. would understand,” said Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University, in Beijing, who advises Chinese policymakers. “If he really wants conflict, then we’re not scared of conflict with the United States. We’re scared of not having channels to talk to the United States.”
This Washington Post article, reports on some cases that illustrate the difficulty Chinese officialdom is having trying to understand in which direction the U.S. political wind blows. “They do not seem to want to talk,” said Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, complaining to a group of American business executives about how Beijing feels betrayed by an oscillating White House. “We don’t know if they’re uncoordinated, or if they’re negotiating in bad faith,” said Wang in September.
“My son has very dark skin and unusual grey eyes. They are so intense that you first see his eyes and then the rest of his body,” said Mona, who I picked up for an Uber ride at nearby Howard University, located at northwest of D.C. Our conversation began when she asked about my name and how it was pronounced. It’s a question I’m often asked and, instead of the usual courtesies, I usually cut short the exchange by saying that my name was not meant to be pronounced. It’s my signal that I am ready to chat and put the interlocutors in a comfortable position. They giggle.
It is known that DC, the swamp, is an American political hotbed. But to hear exciting and intelligent talk about politics I had to fly across America, to a distant conservative state, Texas, which is known more for guns than liberal discourse.
Austin, of course, isn’t mainstream Texas. And the Texas Tribune Festival is put on by the eponymous Texas Tribune, a thriving non-profit member-supported newsroom in the state capitol.
Both the future of journalism and the future of American politics were well represented. The festival gave the impression of a post-Trump American incubator.
In darkness less than 50 yards away, a young man in a group of 20 or more college-age young people carousing on the beach in Sag Harbor Hills at about 10:15 p.m. on the night of July 4 yelled the racial epithet “N____r” at a group of black people as they were having a barbecue and playing Charades on the deck of a waterfront house on Ninevah Place.
Sunny Hostin, a legal correspondent for ABC, and a host of “The View,” and her guests couldn’t believe what they’d heard. She has been renting in the historically African-American community for 12 years and had always felt safe and secure there, she said.
“Everyone was so stunned. Everyone just jumped up. I thought I must have misheard,” said Ms. Hostin in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I know everyone on that beach but these voices were not familiar.”
One of her astonished guests called out, “Really?”
“Then they yelled it again,” Ms. Hostin said. “We were so stunned.”
“What?” one of her guests called.
“This is America!” came the reply, Ms. Hostin said. “We are patriots!”
“Yes, this is America,” answered one of her guests, after which the people on the beach began shooting off fireworks, Ms. Hostin said.
Ms. Hostin called the police. Officers “in one or two cars” arrived in minutes with emergency lights flashing, she said, but the crowd had scattered and police found no one on the beach.
The incident continued into the night, as the loud group came back calling the party “pussies” for calling the police. This time the police managed to stop two of the harassers and question them, the SagHarborExpress.com reported, in a story that stirred up the already anxious community. What used to be a mellow and sleepy town on the western coast on South Fork of Long Island was seeing a conversion in the post-Trump era. By mid-August, when I spent some time in the area, I realized that the incident may have been a symptom of the major transformation of the black community there, a minority enclave within an otherwise predominantly rich and white area.
“The dilemma — which he (Trump) does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them.”
The op-ed, published in the New York Times by an anonymous senior official in the Trump administration, begins like an announcement of a soft coup only to grow into a military seizure a few sentences later: “But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
As I write this post, Accuweather tells me it is 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33 Celsius) on the street outside my house and adds that it actually feels like 100 (38C). It’s hot and muggy at 4 p.m.in downtown D.C! The streets of the capital are almost empty. If not for the frequent overflight of three Marine One presidential choppers, Washington might sound more like the capital of cicadas and fireflies. Not exactly a good time for Ubering.
Sitting behind the wheel, stranded in a mass of cars waiting for the red light to turn green, a mirage appeared before my eyes: a skinny and elegant female figure molded as if by the hands of Alberto Giacometti, swinging among honking cars, gliding into the center of the crossing. She zipped among the moving obstacles, made a sharp right turn and vanished. Everything happened fast, silently, her figure upright on a small scooter, her long hair waving goodbye to drivers trapped in cars.