Weekend edition—#NATO’s future, empty consumption, studying cuteness

Good morning, Quartz readers.

Article five of NATO’s founding treaty obliges any member of the alliance to come to the defense of another under attack. And yet twice this week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump intimated that, under his administration, the United States might not come to the aid of besieged NATO members that have not satisfactorily covered their fair share of the organization’s expenses.

“You can’t forget the bills. They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments … That’s a big thing,”he told The New York Times on July 21. He would repeat the refrain that evening in a speech at the Republican National Convention.

But a Trump presidency isn’t the only threat facing NATO. A recentattempted coup in Turkey, a NATO member state since 1952, forebodes internal factors pushing the organization apart, too. It strikes a “strong negative impact on the ability of the Turkish military to perform its duties across the spectrum of alliance activities,” particularly in the geopolitically critical Middle East, writes former NATO supreme allied commander James Stavridis.

The parallel rise of far-right ultranationalism in Europe is another potential nail in NATO’s coffin. Ascendant parties like the National Front in France, Jobbik in Hungary, and the Freedom Party of Austriaactively sow contempt for NATO and other Western political institutions among some of the continent’s disaffected voters. A similar dynamic helped the “leave” campaign to victory in the UK vote on Brexit, another sign that a trend toward devolution is afoot.

It all spells uncertainty for a cohesive defense of the West—something Russian president Vladimir Putin has both openly and clandestinely sought to exacerbate in recent years, with an eye toward expanding his country’s sphere of influence.

Understandably, tensions are running high in Brussels. “Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO,” secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said, responding to Trump’s remarks. “Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States.”—Jake Flanagin

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FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED

Trump voters aren’t “idiots.” Using charts, photos, and financial analysis, Chris Arnade tackles the trope that supporters of the officialRepublican nominee for president haven’t thought through their choice. Instead, he argues, their support is a calculated value judgement about Trump’s ability to disrupt a system that has left them socially and economically isolated.

Peter Thiel’s embrace of Trump may be his way of shorting democracy. Politics is intensely personal for the technology investor, who this week acknowledged in a speech to the Republican National Convention that he is gay, making him the first speaker in convention history to do so. Tim Fernholz explores how Thiel’s pessimism about society underlies his enthusiastic support of Trump.

Americans are consuming too much—and barely getting by.US households have never had so much stuff, and yet constantly report feeling anxious and hopeless. Improved living standards might be to blame, writes Allison Schrager. Incomes haven’t kept up with expectations, and this disconnect is leaving Americans feeling vulnerable and stretched.

Maverick women writers are upending the book industry. A renegade generation of self-publishing female authors is redefining the romance novel, adapting the genre to the digital age in a way that has long-lasting lessons for the book industry, writes Thu-Huong Ha. That’s paying off, as voracious readers of romance go online to get their fix.

Roger Ailes was not Fox’s biggest problem. Fox News is facing an impending and potentially devastating crisis, and it doesn’t involve the abrupt ousting of its longtime CEO over sexual harassment allegations. Rather, it’s that the median age of a primetime Fox News viewers is 68, writes Adam Epstein, and that the channel is not doing much to attract younger, more diverse audiences.

FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER

The Dollar Shave Club acquisition is bad news for big brands.Companies with big bucks for research, development, advertising, and distribution have long dominated the shaving industry, writes Ben Thompson at Stratechery. But the success of Dollar Shave Club’s upstart approach—using YouTube, Facebook, Amazon—means thatestablished companies can’t depend on a cash-rich strategy to deliver the same payoff as it once did.

Donald Trump’s ghostwriter is really sorry. In a lengthy interview with the New Yorker, Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter behind Trump’s 1987 memoir The Art of the Deal, said he feels a “deep sense of remorse” for playing a part in the real estate mogul’s rise. Said Schwartz, “I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes, there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Brexit is the disaster we should have seen coming. In an essay for the New York Review of Books, author Zadie Smith says the UK’s Brexit vote “exposed a fracture in British society that’s been 30 years in the making,” a chasm between classes and regions and races that was ultimately capitalized on by political opportunists.

Just how racist are the American police? Police shootings of black men have gotten a lot of press, but it’s hard to disentangle police racial bias from the US gun problem, racial disparities in crime statistics, and police violence in general. FiveThirtyEight’s Carl Bialikoffers a guide through the nuances.

Our brains are hardwired to love cute things. Babies are cute. Dogs are cute. Hello Kitty is cute. But why do we understand these things to be cute, and why does cuteness make us so happy? Neil Steinberg writes in Mosaic about the field of “cuteness studies” that has sprung up to answer these questions. (Spoiler: It’s starting in Japan.)

AND A BOOK THAT MADE US SMARTER, TOO

Hot enough for you? The United States and Europe are suffering through a prolonged summer heat wave, but at least it’s temporary. In J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, published in 1962, the polar ice caps have melted, temperatures rarely dip below 100° Fahrenheit, and the world’s cities have been reduced to lagoons. For the 5 million surviving humans, including researcher Robert Kerans, everything about civilization and the human psyche must be reimagined.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Hello Kitty accessories, and apocalypse-proof air conditioners to hi@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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