ith this issue we inaugurate a new monthly feature, in which Meir Y. Soloveichik will reflect on Jewish themes and how they reflect contemporary social and political realities. Solly, as he is known to his friends, is the rabbi of the oldest congregation in America, Shearith Israel in Manhattan. He also has a Ph.D. from Princeton, runs the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, has six extraordinarily well-behaved children under the age of 14, and can quote liberally from The Simpsons. And he only turns 40 this year. Contemplating such prodigiousness should be enough to make anyone sick, but if you can still your envious nausea (I have), you will find much enlightenment and amusement in his brilliant first column on the larger meaning of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.
Soloveichik’s column is called “Jewish Commentary,” and you’ll note in this issue that our other monthly features have been renamed in what passes for “rebranding” at our mom-and-pop shop here. Christine Rosen’s “The Way We Live Now” is now called “Social Commentary.” Andrew Ferguson’s “Letter from Washington” is now called “Washington Commentary.” Matthew Continetti’s “Mediacracy” is now called “Media Commentary.” Our legendary Letters section is now called “Reader Commentary.” This column, formerly “From the Editor,” is now “Editor’s Commentary.”
I leave it to you to discover the common theme we’re trying to hit here. (We have a fifth feature, Terry Teachout’s monthly essay on culture, but that is of elastic length and doesn’t fit into a column format.)
These changes come at a time of ferment for Commentary, which is enjoying a growth spurt unparalleled in the institution’s 72-year history. Since Election Day, we have increased our subscription numbers by 15 percent. Much of that is due to the publication of the most-read article in Commentary history, Nicholas Eberstadt’s “Our Miserable 21st Century.” Nearly 1 million people have read Eberstadt’s piece in the month following its release online at commentarymagazine.com.
In addition, the twice-weekly podcast we began in 2016—in which Abe Greenwald, Noah Rothman, and I bat the news around—now has roughly 30,000 listeners.
What’s interesting about this surge of interest, enthusiasm, and subscribership is that it comes off-cycle for us. Remember at the end of 2015 when Les Moonves, who runs CBS, said he didn’t know whether Donald Trump’s candidacy was good for the country but that it was certainly good for CBS’s bottom line? The same could not have been said about Commentary. The 2016 election was my fifth at the magazine. In the four previous cases (2008, ’10, ’12, and ’14), the upcoming election spiked reader interest; the number of unique visitors and page views on our website would grow during the year and then double or triple from Labor Day to Election Day. Not so in 2016. We stayed flat, and so did our subscription numbers.
This was due to a combination of factors. This election seemed to inspire a withdrawal of affect from many people who found the Clinton–Trump contest depressing rather than stimulating and didn’t want to read about it in the way they wanted to read about previous contests. In addition, many websites favorably disposed toward Donald Trump’s candidacy ceased linking to Commentary items. We did not decline; we just didn’t grow.
The election and its result changed all that. Readers who had withdrawn from the playing field came back with energy and purpose. New readers have joined them. It would appear the unprecedented results of 2016 have given people a renewed sense that their understanding of the world will be enhanced by the depth of analysis, historical perspective, and rational thinking that have been the hallmark of Commentary since its inception in 1945.