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Comments: Week of February 20, 2017

1. Trump may say that his main goal is to bring jobs and safety to all Americans, but he’s actually waging “a culture war sold through chimerical economic and security gains,” Jonathan Chait wrote in his latest column for the magazine (“The True Purpose of Trumpism,” February 6–19). Stephen Prothero, author of Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections), appreciated Chait’s attention to this aspect of the president’s appeal. “As persistent as America’s culture wars are proclamations of their demise. So I was glad to see Jonathan Chait reckon with Trump as a culture warrior,” he wrote. “No, culture wars are not just about sex. Neither are they new. The election of 1800 turned on efforts to label Thomas Jefferson an infidel and even a Muslim. Next came efforts to banish Catholics and Mormons from the American family. Like Trumpism, our prior culture wars have been weaponized by anxiety and anger over forms of life that are passing away. What makes Trumpist nostalgia so powerful is its combination of religion and ethnicity — its effort to pit white Christians against everybody else.” But Micaela di Leonardo, a professor of anthropology at Northwestern, argued that Chait’s definition of Trumpism left women out of the equation: “Trump’s misogyny is at least as consequential as his racism — both in terms of voter motivations, and because of the sheer numbers and energy of the multiracial, LGBTQ-inclusive, feminist anti-Trump demonstrations to date. Let’s not forget that American culture wars, since the 1920s, have always been as much about women’s rights and ‘imperiled’ masculinity as about white nationalism.” And Judith Zinn, a clinical social worker, took issue with Chait’s characterization of Trump’s “troubled-adolescent behavior pattern.” “This understates the magnitude of Mr. Trump’s issues,” she wrote. “In my 30-plus years as a practicing psychotherapist, I have never encountered anyone displaying the combination of symptoms manifested by Mr. Trump. Had I met with someone displaying the grandiosity, paranoia, and pathological lying, along with a host of other aberrant behaviors, exhibited by Mr. Trump, I would have deemed that person to be a poor candidate for psychotherapy.”

2. For the “Spring Fashion” issue, Amy Larocca profiled the new editor of Vogue Arabia, Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz (“The Anna Wintour of the Middle East,” February 6–19), prompting this response from Philip Seib, author of The Al Jazeera Effect: “As Abdulaziz and your article make clear, women in the Arab world should not be viewed as if they were aliens from outer space. Their culture may be different than that of the West, but they possess the intelligence and aspirations to exercise positive influence within their societies. During this time when Islamophobes spew mindless hatred, articles such as this are useful in deflating the myths that too often attach to Arab life.” Some readers, though, took issue with how, as Larocca wrote, “Abdulaziz declined to comment on political issues several times over the course of our meeting, insisting that she does not view her role that way.” Yet, as commenter kitteneye pointed out, “she would not be the first Middle Easterner to toe a delicate political line while interacting with the West.”

3. Lauren Schwartzberg went to Hilton Head, South Carolina, to meet Stan Smith, the mustachioed ­former tennis champ whom people primarily know as the namesake of the iconic (and oft-­imitated) Adidas sneaker (“The Kids Think I’m a Shoe,” February 6–19). “Finally, a definitive piece on ex tennis pro, Stan Smith,” @amanimartin tweeted. “If the sneaker world had a Mount Rushmore, he’d belong.” The Wall Street Journal’s Jacob Gallagher wrote, “Next time someone says that Kanye is responsible for making Adidas ‘cool’ right now, just point to this.” Many readers backed up Schwartzberg’s point that people don’t really know the man behind the shoe. @howardblas tweeted, “I have long been asking random people on subway, streets of NYC, etc with these shoes if they know who Stan Smith is?!” And the writer Melissa Malamut added, “As a big sports fan, I’m ashamed I didn’t know any of this.” But sneaker historian Elizabeth Semmelhack noted that this isn’t particularly surprising: “I have often thought about the men behind some of the most famous sneakers of all time; no doubt, Chuck Taylor and Jack Purcell would feel as Smith does, that people simply think they are a shoe … Although the athletic accomplishments of these two men faded over time, their shoes became, like the Stan Smith, enduring style icons. It is a curious fate that seems to await even Michael Jordan. In 2015, research revealed that a sampling of fourth-­graders had no idea who Jordan was despite being fully acquainted with his name-bearing sneakers. It is clear that fame is fickle, but if you happen to get a sneaker endorsement your name might just endure.”