The Quiet Radicalism of Melania Trump

On the first anniversary of his inauguration, President Trump spent the day blasting Democrats for the government shutdown, suggesting that women marching in protest of his presidency were somehow celebrating it, and embroiled in allegations that he paid off a porn star to keep her quiet about their relationship. Melania Trump, meanwhile, commemorated the anniversary by tweeting a single photo of herself on Inauguration Day on the arm of a Marine. Her husband was nowhere in sight, and she did not mention his name. A few days later — on what happened to be the Trumps’ 13th wedding anniversary — she canceled her plans to accompany Mr. Trump to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

She may not be progressive. She may not be political. And yet Mrs. Trump may end up doing more than any of her predecessors to upend our expectations of the slavish devotion a first lady must display toward her husband.

.. With the exception of the Clintons, there has not been a more complicated first couple in modern history: Mrs. Trump is the third wife of a man who once told the radio host Howard Stern he would “give her a week” to lose the baby weight after their son, Barron, was born.

.. First ladies are expected to accept their husband’s infidelities and cruelty and to remain their strongest champions, no matter what the circumstances

.. They are expected to be adoring.

.. The day after President Clinton testified before a grand jury and came clean to the country, Mrs. Clinton marched across the South Lawn together with Bill, their daughter, Chelsea, standing between them, holding both of her parents’ hands, as they headed for Marine One to embark on their annual summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. It was the photo-op the president needed.

.. Mrs. Obama was also the first first lady to challenge people to accept a woman who refused to play the role of the saccharine, adoring spouse. “I can’t do that,” she said in 2007 Vanity Fair interview. “That’s not me. I love my husband. I think he’s one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met, and he knows that. But he’s not perfect, and I don’t want the world to want him to be perfect.”

.. This quiet rebellion started with her decision not to move into the White House until five months after her husband took office. It gathered force when she swatted her husband’s hand away on an airport tarmac in Israel last year. By the time the Trumps leave the White House, Mrs. Trump may have done more to change our notions about this archaic position, which has no job description and no pay, and comes with impossible expectations, than most of her predecessors.

Would it have been beneficial to Donald Trump for his wife to stand beside him in Davos and show a united front, as we have come to expect from first ladies? Absolutely. Does she care? Probably not.

Watson Won Jeopardy, but is it smart enough to Spin Big Blue’s AI into Green

Talking about Watson is a good way to trigger eye rolls from people in the machine learning and AI community. There’s widespread agreement that its triumph on the specific backward-question problem of Jeopardy! was notable. Making sense of language remains one of the biggest challenges in artificial intelligence. But IBM quickly turned Watson into an umbrella brand promising a bewildering variety of bold new applications, from understanding the emotional tone of Tweets to scouring genomes for mutations. It bought startups and rebranded their wares as Watson and touted cute but hardly lucrative projects like Watson-designed recipes and dresses. In one TV commercialWatson chatted with Bob Dylan, confessing “I have never known love.”


Critics say IBM executives overshot badly by allowing marketing messages to suggest that Watson’s Jeopardy! breakthrough meant it could break through on just about anything else. “The original system was a terrific achievement, there’s no question about that,” says Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI. “But they’ve really over-claimed what they can deliver in a big way; the only intelligent thing about Watson is their PR department.”

 .. In fact, like all the AI systems in use today, Watson needs to be carefully trained with example data to take on a new kind of problem. The work needed to curate and label the necessary data has been a drag on some projects using IBM’s system. Ashok Goel, a computer science professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, got written up in The Wall Street Journal and Backchannel after building a Watson bot to answer questions from students to his online course on artificial intelligence. But its performance was limited by the amount of manual labeling of data needed. “It had fairly high precision, but it did not answer a very large number of questions,” Goel says
.. MD Anderson had walked away from more than $62 million and four years spent on contracts promising a Watson system to help oncologists treat patients. An internal audit reserved judgment on Watson’s intelligence but said the center had struggled to connect it with an upgraded medical records system. IBM maintains the system could have been deployed if MD Anderson had kept going; the center is now seeking a new partner to work with on applying AI to cancer care.

What Happened on Election Day

People I know were angry. They were tired of being told they were racist and bigoted as they went about the business of mowing their lawns, writing college tuition checks and working their jobs as cops, secretaries and teachers’ aides. They kept being told they needed to look inward, examine their sins and judge themselves guilty. They had not forgotten when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008 and his wife, Michelle, said, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country…”

So now we have President-Elect Donald Trump. I supported him because he promised to curb regulations, cut taxes and appoint constitutionalists to the Supreme Court. I supported him because Mrs. Clinton doesn’t have what it takes to turn around a stagnant economy or stand up to the special interests that block innovation.


.. The real danger Mr. Trump poses is the undermining of our politics — the norms that sustain our liberal democracies. His campaign was based on a divisive politics of identity. Ideals of equity, equal rights, diversity and inclusion were submerged under the weight of a rhetoric that raised racial and ethnic tensions and inflamed passions against imagined enemies — Mexican immigrants, Chinese exporters, Muslim refugees.

Illiberal democracy has been the bane of several nations around the world. Under Mr. Trump, the traditions in the United States of checks and balances and of rule of law will be tested seriously.

The political danger will be greatly magnified by Mr. Trump’s likely economic failure. He comes into office as the putative leader of middle and lower classes who feel they have been left behind. He has raised their expectations in ways that he cannot meet. There is little chance that incomes at the middle and lower end of income distribution will receive a large boost under his policies. The manufacturing jobs that have left will not return no matter how tough Mr. Trump’s trade policies get. These jobs have disappeared for good, largely thanks to technological changes, and not trade.

.. When the full scale of his economic disappointment sinks in sometime during his term, Mr. Trump may well react in the time-honored fashion of global populists like President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. To keep his base mobilized and insulate himself from economic troubles, he may take shelter in an intensified form of the identity politics that worked so well for him during the presidential campaign. This would rip American society further apart along racial and ethnic cleavages.

The ugliness that characterized politics during the presidential campaign may be nothing compared with what may be yet to come.

.. Now it looks like a warning shot. When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, Donald Trump was among the first to call for stonewalling President Obama’s choice to fill the seat.

.. Since 1900, had the Senate ever refused to confirm a nominee in a presidential election year as a result of the impending election? The answer was no (even if Mr. Cruz tried to argue, against the facts, that Justice Anthony Kennedy wasn’t confirmed in the election year of 1988.) The Republicans’ refusal to grant Judge Garland a hearing or schedule a vote was in fact unprecedented.

It was a new kind of hardball.

.. When they assumed Hillary Clinton would win, Republicans including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Richard Burr of North Carolina talked about blocking Democratic Supreme Court picks indefinitely.

.. It’s hard to see how any Republican paid a price for radically altering the norms for Supreme Court appointments. Mr. Trump helped point the way, and the voters rewarded him and those who followed.

.. I believed, and still believe, that he is a man with a disordered personality and authoritarian tendencies. My job is to give him a chance to prove me wrong; his job is to prove me wrong.

.. The way he mistreats people will be normalized.

.. The Republican Party will fundamentally change, from a conservative party to one that champions European-style ethnic nationalism.

.. “Some say God moves in mysterious ways. I say, God grants humans the freedom to move in even more mysterious ways.”

The Big Uneasy: What’s roiling the liberal-arts campus?

there was instead talk about “allyship”: a more contemporary answer to the challenges of pluralism. If you are a white male student, the thought goes, you cannot know what it means to be, say, a Latina; the social and the institutional worlds respond differently to her, and a hundred aggressions, large and small, are baked into the system. You can make yourself her ally, though—deferring to her experience, learning from her accounts, and supporting her struggles. You can reach for unity in difference.

.. students and faculty at one of America’s most progressive colleges felt pressured to make an awkward judgment: whether to ally themselves with the black community or whether to ally themselves with the offended Jews.

.. And when Wesleyan’s newspaper, the Argus, published a controversial opinion piece questioning the integrity of the Black Lives Matter movement, some hundred and seventy people signed a petition that would have defunded the paper.

.. Such reports flummoxed many people who had always thought of themselves as devout liberals. Wasn’t free self-expression the whole point of social progressivism? Wasn’t liberal academe a way for ideas, good and bad, to be subjected to enlightened reason? Generations of professors and students imagined the university to be a temple for productive challenge and perpetually questioned certainties. Now, some feared, schools were being reimagined as safe spaces for coddled youths and the self-defined, untested truths that they held dear.

.. If the new campus activism has a central paradigm, it is intersectionality: a theory, originating in black feminism, that sees identity-based oppression operating in crosshatching ways.

.. The theory is often used to support experiential authority, because, well, who knows what it means to live at an intersection better than the person there?

.. Greg Lukianoff and the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt published a cover story inThe Atlantic called “The Coddling of the American Mind,” arguing that young people taught to embrace “vindictive protectiveness” were being poorly educated for the challenges of the real world. Shielding students from unwelcome ideas was unhealthy for the workforce and the democratic commonweal, they wrote.

.. And students like Eosphoros are where the inclusive-élite model gets tested. If students’ personal experiences are beside the pedagogical point, then diversity on campus serves a cosmetic role: itis a kind of tokenism. If they’re taken into account, though, other inconsistencies emerge.

.. The field of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature is full of misogyny and violence, she says, but she’s never not taught something because of what it contained. Instead, she thinks of trigger warnings in the context of their real-world precedents. (“You’re going to a Quentin Tarantino film. You’ve never seen one before. It would be a normal thing to say, ‘So how are you with blood?’ ”)

.. The field of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature is full of misogyny and violence, she says, but she’s never not taught something because of what it contained. Instead, she thinks of trigger warnings in the context of their real-world precedents. (“You’re going to a Quentin Tarantino film. You’ve never seen one before. It would be a normal thing to say, ‘So how are you with blood?’ ”)

.. ‘Is your identity a kind of knowledge?’ ” James O’Leary, an assistant professor of musicology at the Oberlin Conservatory, told me. “The answer, for forever, has been no.” But his current students often vigorously disagree. In the post-Foucaultian tradition, it’s thought to be impossible to isolate accepted “knowledge” from power structures ..

.. “Students believe that their gender, their ethnicity, their race, whatever, gives them a sort of privileged knowledge—a community-based knowledge—that other groups don’t have,” O’Leary went on.

.. Students recently raised concerns that the mural was exoticizing. “We ended up putting drywall over it, and painting over that,” Robert Bonfiglio, who had been the chair of the Student Union Board, told me. “They were saying, ‘Students are being harmed. Just do something now.’ ” But if individuals’ feelings were grounds to efface art work, he reasoned, every piece of art at Oberlin would be in constant danger of being covered up, or worse—a practice with uncomfortable antecedents.

.. “People are so amazed that other people could have a different opinion from them that they don’t want to hear it.”

.. Bautista, who was finishing her fifth and final year, devoted a lot of time to activism, and she told me that she had lost interest in hanging out with people who didn’t share her views. “I do think that there’s something to be said about exposing yourself to ideas other than your own, but I’ve had enough of that after my fifth year,” she said. She was exhausted.

.. In 1970, Oberlin had modified its grading standards to accommodate activism around the Vietnam War and the Kent State shootings, and Bautista had hoped for something similar.

.. More than thirteen hundred students signed a petition calling for the college to eliminate any grade lower than a C for the semester, but to no avail. “Students felt really unsupported in their endeavors to engage with the world outside Oberlin,” she told me.

.. In exchange, they’re groomed for old-school entry into the liberal upper middle class. An irony surrounds the whole endeavor, and a lot of students seemed to see it.

.. “I understand that I am not just an individual concerned only with comfort but also a part of a society that I believe will benefit from my silence,” she wrote.

.. But she hadn’t been encouraged by her experience in élite schools. When I asked what she hoped to do after she graduated, this spring, she said, “I can see myself leaving the country.”

.. “Working my piece of land somewhere and living autonomously—that’s the dream,” she said. “Just getting the eff out of America. It’s a sinking ship.”

.. Alexis de Tocqueville observed that, in the decades leading up to the Revolution, France had been notably prosperous and progressive.

.. an observation that radical movements appear not when expectations are low but when they’re high, and vulnerable to disappointment.


Although we speak today of “millennials,” the group comprises at least two culturally distinct generations. Students in college about a decade ago (my cohort) faced an uncertain future. September 11th happened, homeland-security projects slithered out in unsettling ways, the Iraq War became a morass, and the world markets collapsed. People coming of age in that era of inevitable evils tend to be conservative in their life-style ideals (if not yet in their politics), and might be called the Builders: having reached adulthood on unstable ground, they’re opportunistic entrepreneurs, restless climbers, and deferential compromisers.

.. The kids in college now could be called the Firebrand Generation. They are adept and accomplished, but many feel betrayed by their supposed political guardians, and aspire to tear down the web of deceptions from the inside.

.. “They do not make eye contact!

.. In September, 2015, the original inquiry was still going on, and Copeland said that the dean told him that if he wouldn’t meet without his lawyer he would be brought before the Professional Conduct Review Committee. Copeland and his lawyer welcomed that idea: the committee process would bring some daylight. They never heard back.

.. “One of the hypocrisies of the call for a globalized curriculum is that the people calling for it don’t give a flying fuck if a subject is being taught properly,” he told me. He says that he lobbied his department for years to hire a scholar of East Asian theatre to help balance out his Western expertise. Instead, he sees a game of retitling courses and bowing to complaints in a transparent attempt to appease the college’s crucial customers: the students.

.. thinking in terms of cultural identities often leaves out a critical factor: class.

.. “When we opposed the Vietnam War, we didn’t take seriously that all the draft dodging we were doing was screwing black people and poor people and forcing them to go fight,”

.. Identity politics used to be obligate: I am a woman of color, because the world sees me as such. Now there is an elective element: I identify as X and Y and Z right now. That can distract from the overriding class privilege of élite education. “Intersectionality is taken as a kind of gospel around here,” Blecher complained. For this he put a lot of the blame on Comparative American Studies, an influential program among Oberlin activists.

.. when in truth most identities operate more like the night sky: we see meaningful shapes by picking out some stars and ignoring others, and these imagined pictures can change all the time.

.. Student movements have an odd habit of ending up on the right side of history.

.. Kozol noticed something alarming: the students had started seating themselves by race. Those of color had difficulty with anything that white students had to say; they didn’t want to hear it anymore.

.. Kozol took over the class for the spring, and, she told me, “it played out through identity politics.” The class was supposed to be a research workshop. But students went cold when they had to engage with anyone outside their community.

.. Adams goes on, “Me trying to appeal to people? Ain’t working. Me trying to be the quiet, sit-back-and-be-chill-and-do-my-work black person? Doesn’t work. Me trying to be friends with non-black folks? Doesn’t work.” She draws out her final syllables. “Whatever you do at Oberlin as a person of color or a low-income person, it just doesn’t work! So you’re just, like, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

“I have to be political,” Slay says.

“I have to be political in whatever form or fashion,” Adams says. “Because I havenothing else to do.

.. “We knew realistically that most of those demands were not going to be met. We understand legality. We understand finances—”

.. “I literally am so tired of learning about Marx, when he did not include race in his discussion of the market!” She shrugs incredulously. “As a person who plans on returning to my community, I don’t want to assimilate into middle-class values. I’m goinghome, back to the ’hood of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.”

.. You know, we’re paying for a service. We’re paying for our attendance here. We need to be able to get what we need in a way that we can actually consume it.”

.. “I will not respond directly to any document that explicitly rejects the notion of collaborative engagement. Many of its demands contravene principles of shared governance. And it contains personal attacks on a number of faculty and staff members who are dedicated and valued members of this community.”

.. students such as Adams and Eosphoros, speak of higher education as a con sold to them on phony premises.

.. the basic frame for American progressivism has remained the same for the past fifty years.

.. She put together the symposium without support from the college, in part because she thinks that higher education, being a tool of capitalism, can’t be redeemed.