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Provocative Atlantic asks how civil war can be avoided

This cover image released by The Atlantic shows their December issue "How to Stop a Civil War." (The Atlantic via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Atlantic magazine was founded in the years leading up to the Civil War, so it's worth noting when it produces a special new issue on the theme, "How to stop a Civil War."

    The issue went to newsstands and its articles were posted online Tuesday, the day before the House begins public impeachment hearings on President Donald Trump, timing both fortuitous and coincidental.

    "It seemed fairly obvious that a magazine of the American idea should look hard at the question of whether the country is coming apart," said Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic's editor.

    He's not comparing the current era to November 1857, when the first Atlantic issue was published, "but it does feel that something has come off the rails a little bit," Goldberg said.

    Among the pieces in the new issue are Yoni Appelbaum's look at the impact of demographic changes, where nonwhites will soon become a majority; Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell's report on the destabilizing effect of social media; and Jonathan Rauch and Ray La Raja's examination of a political system that increasingly punishes moderate viewpoints.

    "We have political and media and technological systems that reward extremism," Goldberg said.

    Trump is a symptom of what has been happening to the country, not the cause, the editor said.

    Lest the issue seem unrelentingly negative, it also contains a wistful piece by author Tom Junod on how Mister Rogers might react to the current times, and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda explores the impact of art in a troubled era.

    While Atlantic writers offer some suggestions on how to get beyond current problems, Goldberg cautioned that "it's not the job of journalists to make you feel better. It's the job of journalists to tell you what's going on."

    It may seem quaint to think a magazine with a paid circulation of 450,000 could have an impact on the national conversation. But that measurement is a reflection of another time, too. The Atlantic's website has 30 million unique visitors a month, Goldberg said.

    The magazine has been growing, adding 80 new positions since announcing an expansion in February 2018. It launched a new digital subscription plan with three tiers of service in September. The Atlantic said its digital revenue growth has thus far exceeded expectations.

    Goldberg said the response indicates a desire for carefully reported and edited long-form journalism.

    "Our desire is to inform and contextualize and argue and provoke all at the same time," he said.

    The new issue also coincides with a redesign of both the magazine and website. The December issue's cover image is a red and blue handprint.

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