What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Engagements

Can a Corrupt Politician Become a Good President?

A Mysterious Woman’s Letters Made Chester Arthur Fit for the White House

A Puck magazine cartoon expresses the fear that with Chester Arthur as president, U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling, the all-powerful boss of the New York Republican machine, would be running the country. Art courtesy of Library of Congress.

By Scott S. Greenberger

“Who you are, what you are, it doesn’t change after you occupy the Oval Office,” President Barack Obama said during the 2016 election campaign. “It magnifies who you are. It shines a spotlight on who you are.”

But at least one man was transformed by the presidency: Chester Alan Arthur. Arthur’s redemption is all the more remarkable because it was spurred, at least in part, by a mysterious young woman who implored him to rediscover his better self.

Arthur, the country’s …

Identities

The “Crying Indian” Ad That Fooled the Environmental Movement

Behind the '70s Anti-Pollution Icon Was an Italian-American Actor—and the Beverage Industry

Iron Eyes Cody presents President Jimmy Carter with a Native American headdress in the Oval Office in Washington on April 21, 1978. Cody also gave Carter a Native American name, Wamblee Ska, which he said means “great white eagle.” Photo courtesy of Peter Bregg/Associated Press.

By Finis Dunaway

It’s probably the most famous tear in American history: Iron Eyes Cody, an actor in Native American garb, paddles a birch bark canoe on water that seems, at first, tranquil and pristine, but that becomes increasingly polluted along his journey. He pulls his boat ashore and walks toward a bustling freeway. As the lone Indian ponders the polluted landscape, a passenger hurls a paper bag out a car window. The bag bursts on the ground, scattering fast-food wrappers all over …