Ezra Klein brings you far-reaching conversations about hard problems, big ideas, illuminating theories, and cutting-edge research. Want to know how Mark Zuckerberg intends to govern Facebook? What Barack Obama regrets in Obamacare? The dangers Yuval Harari sees in our future? What Michael Pollan learned on psychedelics? The lessons Bryan Stevenson learned freeing the wrongly convicted on death row? The way N.K. Jemisin imagines new worlds? This is the podcast for you. Produced by Vox and the Vox Media Podcast Network.
What kind of news is cable news? (With Brian Stelter)
Brian Stelter is the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, as well as the network’s chief media correspondent. But before he was the host of Reliable Sources, he was just a kid with a blog — a blog that obsessed over the coverage decisions, business models, and consequences of cable news.So he was the perfect person to have this conversation with. I’ve done — and continue to do — a lot of cable news. So I think a lot about the effect cable news has on the political system. How does it change the stories it covers? How does it decide what is and isn’t news? What are its biases? Who actually watches it? How has it been changed by Trump and Twitter? And, with apologies to Jon Stewart, is cable news hurting or helping America?Brian and I see the answers to some of these questions differently. But he’s one of the most thoughtful media analysts going today. Love it or hate it, cable news matters. So it’s worth trying to understand how it works, and why it works the way it does.Book recommendations:American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas BrinkleyThe Culture of Fear by Barry GlassnerEcho Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment by Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella
YouTube is where tomorrow’s politics are happening today.If you’re over 30, and you don’t spend much time on the platform, it’s almost impossible to explain how central it is to young people’s media consumption. YouTube far outranks television in terms of where teens spend their time. It’s foundational to how young people — and plenty of not-so-young people — form their politics. And it features a political divide that’s different than what we see in Washington, but that I think predicts what we’re going to see in Washington.Natalie Wynn, of the channel Contrapoints, is one of YouTube’s political stars. The former philosophy PhD student dropped out and found her calling producing idea-dense and aesthetically rich explanations of everything from capitalism to Jordan Peterson to incels to “the West.” In this conversation, we talk about the political divides on YouTube, how the YouTube right differs from the YouTube left, why obscure ideological movements are making comebacks online, her experience transitioning gender while in the public eye, why you need to take trollish questions seriously, and the anxieties of modern masculinity.
“Between 1830 and 1860, there were more than seventy violent incidents between congressmen in the House and Senate chambers or on nearby streets and dueling grounds.”Here’s the wild thing about that statistic, which comes from Yale historian Joanne Freeman’s remarkable book The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War: It’s an undercount. There was much more violence between members of Congress even than that.Congress used to be thick with duels, brawls, threats, and violent intimidation. That history is often forgotten today, and that forgetting has come at a cost: It lets us pretend that this moment, with all its tumult and terror, is somehow divorced from our traditions, an aberration from our past, when it’s in fact rooted in them.That’s why I wanted to talk to Freeman right now: to remind us that American politics has long been shaped by people who used the threat or practice of national violence as a way to force the political system to accept ongoing injustice. This conversation isn’t as easy as just saying political violence is bad. It’s also about recognizing that political violence has a purpose, and weighing the conditions under which it’s right and even necessary to provoke it.Book recommendations:Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee’s Journal, 1828-1870 by Benjamin Brown FrenchFirst Blows of the Civil Warby James S. PikeThe Impending Crisisby David M. Potter
Time for another AMA! You all hit the big stuff in this one. What’s the purpose of this show? How do I prep for it? What did I think of the Whiteshift conversation? What has fatherhood changed in my worldview? What weird work habits do I recommend? How about weird techno sets? How about comic runs?Should we be optimistic about humanity in 100 years? How about 1,000? Why did I describe Elizabeth Warren as a “fighter” rather than “professor” candidate? What’s the likeliest sci-fi dystopia?All this, plus some vegan recipe recommendations and the proportions for a Vieux Carré cocktail!
2013 was David Brooks’s worst year. “The realities that used to define my life fell away,” he says. His marriage ended. His children moved out. The conservative movement was undergoing the crack-up that would lead to Donald Trump, and to Brooks’s excommunication.For Brooks, the past few years have been a radicalization. His new book, The Second Mountain, is an effort to work out a more service- and community-oriented definition of the good life. But on a deeper level, it’s a searing critique of meritocracy, of productivity, and, as I try to get him to admit in this podcast, of capitalism itself. But is Brooks really willing to embrace what that critique demands?If you liked the “Work as identity, burnout as lifestyle” episode a few weeks back, you’ll love this one.Book recommendations:Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund BurkeAnna Karenina by Leo TolstoyThe Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
I’ve read a lot of Emily Oster over the past year. Her first book, Expecting Better, has become the data-minded parent’s bible on pregnancy. Her new book, Cribsheet, extends that analysis to the first years of life.Oster is an economist at Brown University, and what she brings to this particular pursuit is a passion for good evidence. And here’s the thing: it turns out that much of what we think we know about pregnancy and parenthood isn’t based on good evidence. Sometimes it’s not based on any evidence at all.This is, on one level, a conversation about some topics of particular interest to me right now — breastfeeding, sleep training, brain development — but, it’s also a conversation about a meta-topic of interest to us all: how we assume experts are basing their confident pronouncements on good data, when, in fact, they often are not.Book recommendations:Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth MacyThe Shakespeare Requirement: A Novel by Julie Schumacher The Odyssey by Homer (translation by Emily Wilson)
This is a special episode for me. Vox turns 5 this week! So I sat down with my co-founders, Melissa Bell and Matt Yglesias, to discuss what went right, what went wrong, what changed in the media environment, and what we learned along the way.Matt’s recommendations:Vox’s Explained on Netflix — Episode 4: “K-Pop”“Our incel problem” by Zack Beauchamp“We visited one of America's sickest counties. We're afraid it's about to get worse.” by Julia BelluzVox’s The Weeds podcastMelissa’s recommendations:Vox Observatory by Joss Fong“Apollo astronauts left their poop on the moon. We gotta go back for that shit.” by Brian ResnickToday, Explained: “Friends without benefits”Ezra’s recommendations:“Hospitals keep ER fees secret. We’re uncovering them.” by Sarah Kliff“The rise of American authoritarianism” by Amanda Taub“Show me the evidence” by Julia BelluzToday, Explained: “HQ2-1”This special episode of The Ezra Klein Show was taped in celebration of Vox’s fifth anniversary. Today, we’re hosting live tapings of The Weeds and Recode Decode with Kara Swisher at The Line Hotel in Washington, DC. Subscribe to those shows for free in Apple Podcasts, or in your favorite podcast app, to be the first to hear them when they’re released.
In the past few months, two essays on America’s changing relationship to work caught my eye. The first was Anne Helen Petersen’s viral BuzzFeed piece defining, and describing, “millennial burnout.” The second was Derek Thompson’s Atlantic article on “workism.”The two pieces speak to each other in interesting ways, and to some questions I’ve been reflecting on as my own relationship to work changes. So I asked the authors to join me for a conversation about what happens when work becomes an identity, capitalism becomes a religion, and productivity becomes the way we measure human value. The conversation exceeded even the high hopes I had for it. Enjoy this one.Book recommendations:Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcolm HarrisWhite: Essays on Race and Culture by Richard DyerThe Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 by Philipp BlomA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganIf you’ll be in Washington, DC, on Thursday, April 25, join us for a morning of live podcasts in celebration of our fifth birthday. RSVP here: http://voxmediaevents.com/vox5
Democratic socialism is on the rise in the United States, but it’s been a dominant force for far longer in Europe. Ask Bernie Sanders to define his ideology and he doesn’t start naming political theorists; he points across the Atlantic. “Go to countries like Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden,” he says.The populist right is on the rise in the United States too, and that’s also been a powerful force for far longer in Europe. The mix of economic populism and resentful nationalism that Donald Trump ran on in 2016 and Tucker Carlson offers up nightly on Fox News might be unusual here, but it’s commonplace there.Understanding Europe’s politics, then, is of particular help right now for understanding our own. Sheri Berman is a political scientist at Barnard College, as well as the author of multiple books on European social democracy. We discussed what separates social democrats from progressives and neoliberals, how the populist right co-opted the European left, why social democrats lost ground in the ’90s to Blairite technocrats, whether multi-party political systems work better than our own, and why identity issues tend to unite the right and split the left. Berman is masterful in clearly synthesizing politics across countries and time periods, so there’s a lot to learn in this one.Book recommendations:Nation Building: Why Some Countries Come Together While Others Fall Apartby Andreas WimmerThe Meaning of Race: Race, History, and Culture in Western Societyby Kenan MalikMulticulturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognitionby Charles Taylor and Amy Gutmann
“The big question of our time is less, ‘What does it mean to be American?’ than, ‘What does it mean to be white American in an age of ethnic change?’” writes Eric Kaufmann in his new book Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities. Kaufmann’s book is unusual in two respects. First, it’s explicit (and persuasive) in its argument that demographic change and the white backlash to demographic change are behind the rise of rightwing populism across the West. Second, it argues that the right response is to slow demographic change and calm the fears of white majorities.I think Kaufmann’s framework of what’s driving political conflict right now is correct. I have more trouble with his vision of what to do about it. But this is a book, in my view, that gets to the core debate of contemporary politics and takes it on directly. That’s why I wanted to have this conversation.Book recommendations:The Ethnic Origins of Nationsby Anthony D. SmithThe Cultural Contradictions Of Capitalismby Daniel BellNEXT AMERICAN NATION: The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolutionby Michael Lind
Michael Brendan Dougherty is a senior writer at National Review and the author of My Father Left Me Ireland, a moving, lyrical memoir about fatherhood and identity. It’s also a stirring defense of nationalism, an attack on wonks, and a critique of some of the core assumptions of liberal modernity. When I opened it, I didn’t expect it to be quite so on point to my interests. But here we are.This conversation starts a little slow, but it accelerates into an exploration of some of the biggest questions this podcast has approached. What’s the purpose of the nation-state? Where does identity come from? What kinds of historical inheritances matter? How do human beings discipline their emotions and intuitions without losing their souls? When is violent revolution or resistance merited? And what does it mean to be a wonk?One of the nice things about a conversation like this is it required both of us to articulate and defend some core beliefs that often go unquestioned. So there’s a lot here, including, at about the 32nd minute, probably the clearest description of my moral approach that I’ve offered on this podcast. Enjoy!Recommended books:The Everlasting Man by G.K. ChestertonPolitical Writings and Speeches by Patrick Pearse The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom by James Burnham
An ex-libertarian’s quest to rebuild the center right
Nothing would do more to repair American politics than for the center right to regain power in the Republican coalition. But before that can happen, the center right needs to exist — it needs a theory of both policy and politics, one that would allow it to organize a new right if the Trumpist coalition ever collapses.The Niskanen Center is a new Washington think tank started by refugees from the libertarian right who’ve decided to do exactly that. Will Wilkinson, Niskanen’s director of research, is one of them.A former Ayn Rand devotee, philosophy grad student, and Cato Institute staffer, Wilkinson has come to believe, among other things, that the freest economies feature the biggest welfare states, that unchecked capitalism and unchecked democracy pose similar threats, and that polarization is a function of density and psychology. This is a podcast about those ideas, but also about whether a center right like this is actually possible, or whether it’s a doomed project that misunderstands conservative psychology from the outset.Sometimes conversations go in very interesting directions you didn’t expect. This is one of those. I don’t want to spoil too much of it, but we could’ve, and perhaps should’ve, talked for twice as long. Enjoy!Book recommendations:Open Versus Closed: Personality, Identity, and the Politics of Redistributionby Christopher D. Johnston, Howard Lavine, and Christopher M. FedericoThe Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequalityby Brink Lindsey and Steven TelesThe New Geography of Jobsby Enrico Moretti
How whiteness distorts our democracy, with Eddie Glaude Jr.
“Race isn’t about black people, necessarily,” says Eddie Glaude Jr. “It’s about the way whiteness works to disfigure and distort our democracy, and the ideals that animate our democracy.”Glaude is the chair of Princeton University’s department of African American studies, the president of the American Academy of Religion, and the author of the powerful book Democracy in Black. And this is a conversation about some of the hardest issues in American life: the way racism is intertwined with America’s political system, the worldviews we force ourselves to adopt to justify racial inequality, and the way white fear sets boundaries on black politics.These aren’t easy topics to discuss, but they’re necessary ones. As Glaude says, “We have to have a politics that can interrogate it honestly, and do it in such a way that is mature, that opens up space for us to imagine ourselves otherwise.”Book recommendations:The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action by John Dewey James Baldwin: Collected Essays by James BaldwinNo name in the street by James BaldwinMore Beautiful and More Terrible by Imani Perry
First off. Hello! I’m back from paternity leave. And this is a helluva podcast to restart with.Pete Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar, a Navy veteran, and the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He’s a married gay man, a churchgoing Episcopalian, and a proud millennial. He’s also, according to CNN, “the hottest candidate in the 2020 race right now.”There’s been plenty of discussion of Buttigieg’s biography, and of whether a midsize-city mayorship is appropriate experience for the presidency. But I wanted to talk to him about something else: his theory of political change. How, in a broken system, would he get done even a fraction of what he’s promising? To my surprise, he actually had an answer.Before I did this podcast, I was surprised to see Buttigieg catching fire. Now that I’ve had this conversation, I’m not.Book recommendations:Ulysses by James JoyceArmageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000 by Stephen Kotkin We are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
Meet the policy architect behind the Green New Deal
Last month, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced a Green New Deal resolution, outlining a bold effort to decarbonize the US economy and forestall the worst effects of climate change. Ever since, it has been the talk of the town in Washington, drawing praise and criticism from all quarters.But most critics completely misunderstood the resolution. It is not a policy document. It is a set of goals and principles meant to guide the development of policy.The work of fleshing out the policy details is largely in the hands of Rhiana Gunn-Wright, working out of a think tank called New Consensus. Gunn-Wright is busy consulting a broad slate of experts, with the goal of assembling a policy framework that will be ready to go when/if Democrats take power in 2021.Vox staff writer David Roberts sat down with Gunn-Wright to chat about how she’s approaching this monumental task, why the Green New Deal includes social and economic goals (like full employment) alongside environmental goals, and what she makes of the criticism that the plan is “unrealistic.”Book recommendations:The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths by Mariana Mazzucato Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira KatznelsonWe are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
The somewhat fractured state of American conservatism
Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, sits down with Vox senior politics reporter Jane Coaston to discuss intellectual conservatism, the legacy of William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan, neoconservatism, and the role Donald Trump is playing in both the GOP and conservatism more broadly.Book recommendations:Crisis of the House Divided by Harry V. JaffaNixon's White House Wars by Patrick J. BuchananWe are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
American politics after Christianity, with Ross Douthat
I’m Vox’s interviews writer, Sean Illing. Lately, I’ve been interested in the following question: Is the decline of institutionalized Christianity making our politics worse? The answer may be yes, but I’m not convinced it’s for the reasons many people suppose.Ross Douthat is a conservative columnist for the New York Times who has been one of the more thoughtful writers on this topic. Douthat believes that Christianity’s collapse has not only helped destroy civic bonds in America, it’s also amplified our tribalism problem. As more and more Americans lose any connection to a shared religious or moral worldview, he argues, they’re increasingly drawn to transgressive movements like the alt-right or to the vulgar politics of Donald Trump.My sense is that Douthat’s view of Christianity is somewhat nostalgic and overlooks the racial hierarchy that undergirded previous eras of American politics. But I’m open to his point of view, and admit I might be mistaken. In this conversation, we discuss the forces behind the decline of Christianity, how it’s fueling tribal politics, and why he thinks the left should really be worried about the post-Christian right.Book recommendations:Religion: If There Is No God-- : On God, the Devil, Sin, and Other Worries of the So-Called Philosophy of Religionby Leszek KolakowskiBlack Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca WestThe Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis We are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
Why Gov. Jay Inslee is running for president on climate change
Vox senior politics reporter, Jane Coaston speaks to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee at South by Southwest about climate change, his 2020 candidacy, why it's time to eliminate the filibuster, and the Green New Deal.We are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
For this episode of The Ezra Klein Show, we're digging into the archives to share another of our favorites with you!*At least in politics, this is an era of awful arguments. Arguments made in bad faith. Arguments in which no one, on either side, is willing to change their mind. Arguments where the points being made do not describe or influence the positions being held. Arguments that leave everyone dumber, angrier, sadder. Which is why I wanted to talk to Julia Galef this week. Julia is the host of the Rationally Speaking podcast, a co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, and the creator of the Update Project, which maps out arguments to make it easier for people to disagree clearly and productively. Her work focuses on how we think and argue, as well as the cognitive biases and traps that keep us from hearing what we're really saying, hearing what others are really saying, and preferring answers that make us feel good to answers that are true. I first met her at a Vox Conversation conference, where she ran a session helping people learn to change their minds, and it's struck me since then that more of us could probably use that training. In this episode, Julia and I talk about what she's learned about thinking more clearly and arguing better, as well as my concerns that the traditional paths toward a better discourse open up new traps of their own. (As you'll hear, I find it very easy to get lost in all the ways debate and cognition can go awry.) We talk about signaling, about motivated reasoning, about probabilistic debating, about which identities help us find truth, and about how to make online arguments less terrible. Enjoy!Recommended books: Language, Truth, and Logic by A.J. Ayer Seeing Like a State by James Scott The Robot's Rebellion by Keith Stanovich We are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
What draws someone into an extremist movement? Is it about ideology? Race? Politics? So many of our discussions about extremism try to explain away the problem by reducing its complexity, but that brings us further and further away from actually solving it.Deeyah Khan is a British documentary filmmaker and human rights activist. She’s the creator of two extraordinary films airing on Netflix right now, White Right: Meeting the Enemy and Jihad: A Story of the Others. The films do a remarkable job of showing why these opposing brands of extremism are both similar and reciprocal, and why the people they attract mirror each other in so many ways.Khan spent hours with the most extreme figures she could find, and made a real effort to understand what’s motivating them. She sat down with Vox’s interviews writer, Sean Illing, for a conversation about what she discovered, why the roots of fanaticism are much deeper than we suppose, and what we have to do win the battle against hatred.Recommended reading:It's Not About the Burqa by Mariam KhanFrom Fatwa to Jihad by Kenan MalikFaith and Feminism in Pakistan by Afiya S. ZiaWe are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
For this episode of the Ezra Klein show we're digging back into the archives to share another of our favorite episodes with you!***On October 24, 2016, in the final days of the presidential election, Paul Krugman, the Nobel-prize winning economist and New York Times columnist, tweeted, "When this election is finally over, I'm planning to celebrate with an orgy of...serious policy discussion.” Then, of course, Donald Trump won the election, and serious policy discussion took a backseat to alternative facts, at least for awhile. But now it’s time! In this podcast, Krugman and I cover a lot of ground. We talk taxes, net neutrality, universal basic incomes, job guarantees, antitrust, automation, productivity growth, health care, climate change, college costs, and more. Krugman explains why more information doesn’t make people better thinkers, the “kitchen test” for assessing how much technological progress a society is really making, and what the role of policy analysis is when the policymakers don’t care about evidence. Enjoy! Recommended books: The Foundation novels by Isaac Asimov An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume Plagues and Peoples by William McNeil We are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
Vox takes culture seriously. Our coverage of movies, TV, books, and music delves deep into what our cultural touchstones reveal about who we are and what we care about — and how what we consume influences our world in turn.That's why I'm so excited to introduce you to Switched on Pop. It's a podcast that digs into both the musical theory and the cultural context of pop music, and it's now part of the Vox Media Podcast Network. As a big fan of the show, I wanted to introduce you to the hosts, Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding. In this bonus episode you'll hear some of their favorite interviews, as they pull back the curtain on how pop hits work their magic. Subscribe to Switched on Pop wherever you get your podcasts.
Life after climate change, with David Wallace-Wells
After years of hovering on the periphery of American politics, never quite the star of the show, it seems that climate change is having a moment. An ambitious Green New Deal, backed by a large and active youth movement, identifies global warming as a national emergency and seeks to completely decarbonize the US economy. While it’s a long way from becoming law, it has forced all the Democratic candidates to take very public positions on the subject. Climate, it seems, is finally becoming a priority.But do people really understand it? According to journalist David Wallace-Wells, no, they do not. “It is worse, much worse, than you think,” his book begins, and over the course of several hundred pages, it makes that case in rich, harrowing detail.The sheer variety and scope of physical damages — droughts, storms, heat waves, sea level rise — is greater, and coming faster, than most people appreciate. But that’s just the beginning. Wallace-Walls also considers how a century dominated by global warming will change our politics, our art, and our very self-conception.David Roberts sat down with David Wallace-Wells to discuss the latest science of climate change, the way that political and scientific reticence have caused us to underestimate it, his hopes (such as they are) for the future, and the stories he tells himself about the world his daughter will grow up in. It’s not happy news, but it’s a fascinating conversation.Recommended reading:Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi CoatesThe Really Big One by Kathryn SchulzThe Fever by Wallace ShawnWe are conducting an audience survey to better serve you. It takes no more than five minutes, and it really helps out the show. Please take our survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3X6WMNF
Pramila Jayapal thinks we can get to Medicare-for-All fast
The Democratic Party is quickly coalescing around an ambitious Medicare-for-All platform — and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is shaping up to be a major voice in that debate.Jayapal co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and, earlier this week, released a sweeping new plan for single-payer health care in the United States. Her proposal is arguably the most ambitious we’ve seen yet. It envisions a wider set of benefits and a much quicker transition to government-run health care than the plan offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).Vox Senior Policy Correspondent Sarah Kliff, who is filling in for Ezra, sat down with Rep. Jayapal to walk through how this Medicare-for-All plan came together. We get into why Rep. Jayapal thinks it’s possible for the United States to move to government-run health care in just two years, and which countries’ health systems she thinks of as good models for where the United States should head.In this conversation, you’ll get a sense of Rep. Jayapal’s theories of governing, how they differ from those of Obama-era Democrats, and why she doesn’t think she needs buy-in from the powerful hospital and insurance lobbies to pass new legislation.
Noah Rothman on the "unjustice" of social justice politics
I'm Jane Coaston, senior politics reporter at Vox with a focus on conservatism and the GOP.For the last three years or so, there has been an ongoing discussion among conservatives about identity politics and what many view as the corrosive use of identity politics in the pursuit of "social justice." As they argue, "social justice warriors" are using so-called "identity politics" -- debates around race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity -- as cudgels, often against the Right. In general, to put it mildly, I disagree.Which is why I invited Noah Rothman, an editor at Commentary magazine, an MSNBC contributor, and more relatedly, author of "Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America," released on January 29th, to join me in a discussion on this very topic. We discussed how identity politics are in no way new, and are inherent to our politics, and we talked about his view on where "social justice" went wrong. The conversation was contentious, but hopefully, productive.As you may have noticed, I am not Ezra Klein. Ezra is away on paternity leave (congratulations, Ezra!) and will return in a few weeks.Book recommendations:The Victims' Revolution by Bruce BawerSuicide of the West by Jonah GoldbergThe Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt
Stony Brook University’s Stephanie Kelton is the most influential proponent of Modern Monetary Theory, a heterodox take on government budgets that urges a focus on inflation, rather than deficits. Jason Furman was President Barack Obama’s chief economist, and while he’s firmly in the economic mainstream, he’s been pushing his colleagues to recognize that the economy has changed in ways that make our debt levels less worrying. I asked the two of them to join the podcast together because I wanted to understand some questions at the intersection of their competing theories. Should we worry about government deficits, and if so, when? Does MMT actually offer a free lunch, or is it just a different way of calculating the bill? When can the Federal Reserve print money without triggering inflation? How would an administration that followed MMT actually diverge from what we've seen in the past? Why did so many mainstream economists make such bad predictions about deficits after the financial crisis? And does Medicare-for-all actually need to be paid for?This is a weedsy conversation about one of the most important questions in American governance. Enjoy!Book Recommendations:Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan CottomUnderstanding Modern Money: The Key to Full Employment and Price Stabilityby L. Randall Wray Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists by Raghuram G. RajanThe Worldly Philosophers by Robert L. Heilbroner
To celebrate The Ezra Klein Show's third anniversary, I’m listening back to the very first episode: a conversation with Rachel Maddow. Rachel is, of course, the host of MSNBC's primetime news show and a best-selling author. But she took a winding path to cable news — a path that included scheming to disrupt skinhead rallies, radical AIDS activism at the height of the plague, a gig as a sidekick on drivetime morning radio, and a stint at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. We talk about all of that in this conversation. We also cover our shared love of dogs, Rachel's favorite graphic novels, and why part of her show preparation process is to avoid reading op-ed columns.
I’ve been arguing with Andrew Sullivan online for almost 15 years now. It’s one of my oldest and most rewarding hobbies. In the past, I’ve always felt we understood each other, even in periods of sharp disagreement. Lately, that’s changed.Sullivan and I have both been writing about identity politics and demographic change, though from quite different perspectives. Our arguments of late have felt more like we’re talking past each other, or about each other, than to each other. We decided to do this podcast to talk it out, and trace where our differences really cut, and where they can be bridged. This is a conversation about political movements, American religiosity, and identity. It’s about whether the illiberalism of today is really worse than the illiberalism of yesteryear, and whether the critiques of the campus left accurately describe anyone who holds real power. It’s about how much demographic change a society can absorb, and at what pace that change should occur. It’s about what conservatism is versus what it says it is. A lot of what I try to do on this show is dig beneath the daily fights over whatever is in the news to the differences in worldview that power our disagreements. I think this conversation was unusually successful in doing that. Some background links, if you want to dig into the articles we're discussing:America's new religionsAmerica, land of brutal binariesThe political tribalism of Andrew SullivanDemocrats can't keep dodging immigration as a real issue
The Republican and Democratic parties are not the same. I’ll say it again: The Republican and Democratic parties are not the same.I don’t just mean they believe different things. I mean they’re composed in different ways, they argue from different premises, they’re structured in different ways. We treat them as mirror images of each other — the left and right hands of American politics — but they’re not. And the ways in which they’re different make it hard for them to understand each other, and hard for American politics to function.Political scientists Matt Grossmann and Dan Hopkins literally wrote the book on how the parties are different. In Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats, they argue that the differences between the parties stem from a central and longstanding split in the country’s political personality: We are a country of philosophical conservatives, and policy liberals. We want a small government that does more of everything.I asked Grossmann on the show to walk me through the ways the parties are different, and how those differences explain everything from the GOP’s repeated shutdowns to asymmetric polarization to the rise of Fox News. This is a conversation about the fundamental structure of America’s parties, public opinion, and media institutions. It’s worth the time.Book Recommendations:Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932-1965by Eric SchicklerBefore the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensusby Rick PerlsteinLaw and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960's by Michael W. Flamm
What separates Obama-era liberalism from Sanders-style democratic socialism? What are the fights splitting and transforming the Democratic Party actually about?This is a conversation I’ve wanted to have for a while, in part because I often find myself simultaneously in these debates and confused by them. Sometimes, arguments that are framed as deep ideological disagreements seem to actually be about differing political judgments about what public and political institutions will permit. But perhaps those political judgments are just ideology posing as pragmatism. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole here. Elizabeth Bruenig is an opinion columnist at the Washington Post, co-host of the podcast The Bruenigs, and a thoughtful champion of the democratic socialist worldview. I asked her on the show to help me trace the boundaries of this debate and highlight where the divides really are. This is a conversation about ideology, but it’s also about the limits of persuasion, whether civility is a weapon wielded by the powerful, what Medicare-for-all means, the left’s definition of freedom, the contradictions of being “socially liberal and fiscally responsible,” Howard Schultz, and much more. Book Recommendations:The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Saint AugustineCrime and Punishment by Fyodor DostoevskyThe Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor
Ralph Nader needs no introduction. But if your knowledge of Nader mostly consists of his 2000 campaign for the presidency, his career does demand some context. Nader is one of America’s truly great policy entrepreneurs, and arguably one of its great ideologists. The consumer safety movement he founded and led has saved, literally, millions of lives. His idea of what it means to be a public citizen is deeply rooted in American traditions, but largely, and lamentably, lost today in national American politics.And Nader is still active. Writing books. Writing columns. Releasing podcasts. He’s never stopped. He has led, and continues to lead, one of the most fascinating lives in American political history.In this conversation, we talk about everything from his theories of the media to his approach to political change to how he hired and advised “Nader’s Raiders.” We discuss Howard Schultz’s third-party presidential campaign, whether America is a better country than it was 50 years ago, the differences he sees between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and which parts of life he believes should be de-commercialized. I’ve long wanted to interview Nader, to ask him about the parts of his career, and of his philosophy, that I knew less about. It was a pleasure to get the chance.Book Recommendations:The CEO Pay Machine: How it Trashes America and How to Stop It by Steven CliffordThe Fifth Risk by Michael LewisImpeaching the President: Past, Present, and Future by Alan HirschSkin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas TalebThe Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff
This conversation will change how you understand misogyny
Misogyny has long been understood as something men feel, not something women experience. That, says philosopher Kate Manne, is a mistake. In her book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Manne defines misogyny as “as primarily a property of social environments,” one that not only doesn’t need hatred of women to function, but actually calms hatred of women when it is functioning.Politics is thick right now with arguments over misogyny, patriarchy, and gender roles. These arguments are powering media controversies, political candidacies, and ideological movements. Manne’s framework makes so much more sense of this moment than the definitions and explanations most of us have been given. This is one of those conversations that will let you see the world through a new lens.In part because her framework touches on so much, this is a conversation that covers an unusual amount of ground. We talk about misogyny and patriarchy, of course, but also anxiety, Jordan Peterson, the role of shame in politics, my recent meditation retreat, Sweden, the social roles that grind down men, and a piece of satire in McSweeney’s that might just be the key to understanding the 2016 and 2020 elections. Enjoy!Information about Peltason Lecture at UC IrvineBook Recommendations:Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah ArendtObedience to Authority: An Experimental View by Stanley Milgram Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
Ending the age of animal cruelty, with Bruce Friedrich
You often hear that eating animals is natural. And it is. But not the way we do it.The industrial animal agriculture system is a technological marvel. It relies on engineering broiler chickens that grow almost seven times as quickly as they would naturally, and that could never survive in the wild. It relies on pumping a majority of all the antibiotics used in the United States into farm animals to stop the die-offs that overcrowding would otherwise cause. A list like this could go on endlessly, but the point is simple: Industrial animal agriculture is not a natural food system. It is a triumph of engineering.But though we live in a moment when technology has made animal cruelty possible on a scale never imagined in human history, we also live in a moment when technology may be about to make animal cruelty unnecessary. And nothing changes a society’s values as quickly as innovations that make a new moral system easy and cheap to adopt. And that’s what this podcast is about.Bruce Friedrich is the head of the Good Food Institute, which invests, connects, advises, and advocates for the plant and cell-based meat industries. That work puts him at the hot center of one of the most exciting and important technological stories of our age: the possible replacement of a cruel, environmentally unsustainable form of food production with a system that’s better for the planet, better for animals, and better for our health.I talk a lot about animal suffering issues on this podcast, and I do so because they’re important. We’re causing a lot of suffering right now. But I don’t believe that it’ll be a change in morality or ideology that transforms our system. I think it’ll be a change in technology, and Friedrich knows better than just about anyone else alive how fast that technology is becoming a reality. In a rare change of pace for the Ezra Klein Show, this conversation will leave you, dare I say it, optimistic.Book Recommendations:Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism by Melanie Joy Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World by Paul ShapiroEating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Robert Sapolsky on the toxic intersection of poverty and stress
Robert Sapolsky is a Stanford neuroscientist and primatologist. He’s the author of a slew of important books on human biology and behavior. But it’s an older book he wrote that forms the basis for this conversation. In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Sapolsky works through how a stress response that evolved for fast, fight-or-flight situations on the savannah continuously wears on our bodies and brains in modern life. But stress isn’t just an individual phenomenon. It’s also a social force, applied brutally and unequally across our society. “If you want to see an example of chronic stress, study poverty,” Sapolsky says.I often say on the show that politics and policy need to begin with a realistic model of human nature. This is a show about that level of the policy conversation: It’s about how poverty and stress exist in a doom loop together, each amplifying the other’s effects on the brain and body, deepening their harms.And this is a conversation of intense relevance to how we make social policy. Much of the fight in Washington, and in the states, is about whether the best way to get people out of poverty is to make it harder to access help, to make sure the government doesn’t become, in Paul Ryan’s memorable phrase, “a hammock.” Understanding how the stress of poverty acts on people’s minds, how it saps their will and harms their cognitive function and hurts their children, exposes how cruel and wrongheaded that view really is.Sapolsky and I also discuss whether free will is a myth, why he believes the prison system is incompatible with modern neuroscience, how studying monkeys in times of social change helps makes sense of the current moment in American politics, and much more. This one’s worth your time.Book Recommendations:The 21 Balloons by William Pene DuboisChaos: Making a New Science by James GleickThe Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit by Melvin Konner
There aren’t too many people with an idea that will actually change how you think about American politics. But Frances Lee is one of them. In her new book, Insecure Majorities, Lee makes a point that sounds strange when you hear it, but changes everything once you understand it.For most of American history, American politics has been under one-party rule. For decades, that party was the Republican Party. Then, for decades more, it was the Democratic Party. It’s only been in the past few decades that control of Congress has begun flipping back every few years, that presidential elections have become routinely decided by a few percentage points, that both parties are always this close to gaining or losing the majority.That kind of close competition, Lee shows, makes the daily compromises of bipartisan governance literally irrational. And politicians know it. Lee’s got the receipts."Confrontation fits our strategy,” Dick Cheney once said. "Polarization often has very beneficial results. If everything is handled through compromise and conciliation, if there are no real issues dividing us from the Democrats, why should the country change and make us the majority?”Why indeed? This is a conversation about that question, about how the system we have incentivizes a politics of confrontation we don’t seem to want and makes steady, stable governance a thing of the past.Book Recommendations:The Imprint of Congress by David R. MayhewFear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira KatznelsonCongress's Constitution: Legislative Authority and the Separation of Powers by Josh Chafetz
Sean Decatur doesn’t see a free speech crisis on campus
Sean Decatur is the president of Kenyon College and the first African-American to hold that job. He’s also one of the most thoughtful voices in the debate over free speech and political correctness on campus."Colleges and universities have been charged from their very origins to advance civility, and this has meant regulating student behavior on campus,” he says. "If anything, the approach taken earlier in history was far stricter than anything that 21st-century critics of higher education see as a product of 'political correctness.’” Decatur manages these conflicts as a college president, looks at them as a historian, and brings a perspective that’s unusually alert to the larger social context. As such, this is a conversation that begins in the fights over speech but quickly dives into more fundamental questions, like what kind of learnings we value, whose definitions of civility matter, what we ask colleges to teach, and what the role of the student has become.This debate often plays out with far less nuance than it deserves. Decatur's perspective is an antidote to that.Book Recommendations:Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education by Nathan D. GraweThe Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony AppiahLab Girl by Hope Jahren
Cal Newport suspects you’re a digital maximalist — someone who believes that any potential for benefit is reason enough to start using a new technology. Don’t feel bad. That’s how most of us are. That’s how society teaches us to be.Newport wants us to become digital minimalists. He defines digital minimalism as “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected activities … that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”Newport is making a bid to be the Marie Kondo of technology: someone with an actual plan for helping you realize the digital pursuits that do, and don’t, spark joy and bring value to your life. This is a conversation about becoming a digital minimalist: why to do it, how to do it, and what it might get you. Whether you want to try Newport’s whole plan or just pick and choose some good ideas from his buffet, there’s a lot in here that will help you find a healthier, more intentional approach to technology.Book Recommendations:The Technological Society by Jacques EllulMedieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn White
Eric Holder was attorney general during the first six years of Barack Obama’s presidency, and there are days when it feels like he’s the attorney general of Obama’s post-presidency, too. Holder chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a cause close enough to Obama’s heart that the ex-president recently folded his Organizing for America operation into it.
Holder calls the project “a partisan effort for good government,” a line rich with both the promise and problems of Obamaism. The NDRC doesn’t want to build a redistricting operation to match the GOP’s machine, they want to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians altogether. But critics worry that their organizing will work in blue states, fail in red states, and lead to Democrats unilaterally disarming in the redistricting wars.
In this conversation, Holder lays out his strategy to end redistricting and answers his critics. We discuss whether there’s still the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling on the subject, and what tools Democrats have in red states. We also revisit Holder’s famous “nation of cowards” speech on race, and discuss whether more bankers should’ve been sent to jail during the financial crisis. Enjoy!
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963 by Robert Dallek
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History by Jay Winik
“Marc Andreessen famously said that ‘software is eating the world,’ but it’s far more accurate to say that the neoliberal values of software tycoons are eating the world,” wrote Anil Dash.
Dash’s argument caught my eye. But then, a lot of Dash’s arguments catch my eye. He’s one of the most perceptive interpreters and critics of the tech industry around these days. That’s in part because Dash is part of the world he’s describing: He’s the CEO of Glitch, the host of the excellent tech podcast Function, and a longtime developer and blogger.
In this conversation, Dash and I discuss his excellent list of the 12 things everyone should know about technology. This episode left me with an idea I didn’t have going in: What if the problem with a lot of the social technologies we use — and, lately, lament — isn’t the ethics of their creators or the revenue models they’re built on, but the sheer scale they’ve achieved? What if products like Facebook and Twitter and Google have just gotten too big and too powerful for anyone to truly understand, much less manage?
You know the topics that obsess me on this podcast. Polarization. Identity. Attention. I’ve come to believe that all of them are downstream from the technologies on which they rest. If you feel like society has gone a bit wrong, it’s likely because the internet has gone a bit wrong. And Dash’s arguments help explain why.
Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz
Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl
Jill Lepore is a Harvard historian, a New Yorker contributor, and the author of These Truths, a dazzling one-volume synthesis of American history. She’s the kind of history teacher everyone wishes they’d had, able to effortlessly connect the events and themes of American history to make sense of our past and clarify our present.
“The American Revolution did not begin in 1775 and it didn’t end when the war was over,” Lepore writes. This is a conversation about those revolutions. But more than that, it’s a conversation about who we are as a country, and how that self-definition is always contested and constantly in flux.
And beyond all that, Lepore is just damn fun to talk to. Every answer she gives has something worth chewing over for weeks. You’ll enjoy this one.
Fear Itself by Ira Katznelson
A Godly Hero by Michael Kazin
The Warmth of Other Sons by Isabel Wilkerson
This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a podcast. Nora Jemisin — better known by her pen name, N.K. Jemisin — won the Hugo Award for best novel this year for the third year in a row. No one had ever done that before. Jemisin is also the first author to have every book in a single series — her Broken Earth trilogy — win the Hugo for best novel, and the first black author to win a Hugo for best novel. She’s a badass. But what made this episode such a delight is it isn’t just a conversation. It’s a demonstration. Here, Jemisin takes me through the way she builds new worlds, and in doing, she offers a master class on how to think more rigorously, clearly, and thoroughly about our own world. Don’t miss it.
Here, at the holidays, I wanted to share some of my favorite episodes of the show with you. Bryan Stevenson tops the list. He’s the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, the author of the remarkable book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, a MacArthur genius, and so much more. There are some people you meet who seem like they’re operating on a higher plane of decency, grace, and thoughtfulness. Stevenson is one of them. His thoughts on justice, on poverty, on racism, and on shame have stayed with me ever since this conversation, and they’ll do the same for you.
Kara Swisher interviews me on the Future of Journalism (Live!)
When I decided to start an interview podcast, the first person I went to for advice was Kara Swisher — founder of Recode, host of the Code Conference and the Recode/Decode podcast, and one of the most legendary interviewers in the business. Since then, she’s been a guest on this show, and Vox and Recode have started up a partnership that’s given me the gift of working with her much more closely. Recently, Kara interviewed me in front of a live audience at Manny’s in San Francisco for Recode/Decode. We talked about the future of journalism, the culture of DC, and so much more. One of the secrets to Kara’s success as an interviewer is that even when she’s grilling you, no one is more fun to talk to, and that comes out in this conversation. Enjoy!
You know TED. Black stage, red accents, wireless mic, one speaker. Billions of views each year. TED is more than a conference now; it’s a meme: “Thanks for coming to my TED talk” closes Tumblr and Twitter posts. Chris Anderson is the guy that took TED from tiny conference to global juggernaut. Today, he’s TED’s chief curator and the host of the TED Interview podcast. But I wanted him on the show for something specific — his success with TED relied on answering two questions this podcast has left me obsessed with: 1. How do you convince an audience, or even yourself, to listen openly to what’s being said? 2. How do you find ideas, research, and activists that the media is otherwise overlooking? In this conversation, Anderson offers a visual I love: "the steel door of skepticism" that can slam down on us when we know we don't want to listen to what we're about to hear. How to get control of that door is a topic worth meditating on, and it's the focus of this podcast.
Katie Porter is the Rep.-elect from California’s 45th District, which happens to be the district I grew up in. She’s part of the brigade of Democrats who turned Orange County blue for the first time since the Great Depression. But that’s not why I asked her on the show. I asked her on the show because she’s one of the most interesting members of the incoming House majority. Porter grew up on an Iowa farm, watching the debt crises of the ’80s devastate her family and her region. At Harvard Law, she took the class of a particularly charismatic professor whom you might have heard of: Elizabeth Warren. That class changed Porter’s life. Porter’s academic work explores how rarely markets work the way they’re supposed to, and how often banks and other lenders play by different rules than the law says they need to. In 2012, then-state Attorney General Kamala Harris appointed Porter to be California’s independent monitor of banks, where she saw the lengths they went to to avoid abiding by the settlements they’d signed. In this conversation, Porter and I talk about how all this informed her path to Congress, why she thinks Americans are losing faith in capitalism, whether the Obama administration failed homeowners in the aftermath of the subprime mortgage collapse, and why lenders are always making you fax them documents (the answer is, honestly, infuriating). I know, I know, interviews with politicians are often a bit bland. Trust me. This isn’t one of those. Recommended books: Evicted by Matthew Desmond Denial by Jessica Stern Lonesome Dove Larry McMurtry Notes from our sponsors:LEGO: In today's show you heard advertising content from The LEGO Store. With LEGO, every gift has a story. Start your story today at https://LEGO.build/EKS-Pop
In Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj’s new Netflix show, he does three things political comedians often don’t do. First, he makes political comedy personal. Second, he makes it visual. And third, he makes it last. Minhaj was the last correspondent hired by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. Since then, he’s hosted the 2017 White House Correspondents Dinner, debuted the critically-acclaimed special Homecoming King, and now, with the new show, he’s creating a unique space in the post-Stewart world. In this conversation, we talk about what Minhaj learned from Stewart, what political comedians owe their audiences, and whether creativity requires safe spaces. We also nerd out on process: how he writes his jokes, the difficulty of knowing what you actually think amidst so much noise and so many takes, and how it changes the editorial process when you know people will be watching what you produce a year from now. And most importantly, I force Minhaj to answer for his many, many slurs against my beloved UC Santa Cruz. This is definitely a conversation: Minhaj turns the tables on me more than once. And don’t miss the end, when Minhaj explains his three favorite stand-up specials. Notes from our sponsors:LEGO: In today's show you heard advertising content from The LEGO Store. With LEGO, every gift has a story. Start your story today at https://LEGO.build/EKS-Ship
“What a society finds offensive is not a function of fact or truth,” writes Adam Serwer, “but of power.” Serwer is a writer at the Atlantic, and he’s been looking at the identity politics and political correctness debates from a direction that’s too often ignored. What do identity politics look like when they’re white identity politics? What does political correctness look like when the people enforcing it have so much power that no one dares dispute the boundaries on speech? In general, the debate over identity politics and political correctness is a debate over how those terms apply to the priorities of traditionally marginalized groups. Applying those ideas to the priorities of traditionally powerful groups casts the conversation — and American history — in a whole new light. Recommended books: The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. DuBois Strangers in the Land by John Hingham
“To have a self is to feel as if we are, in the words of neuroscientist Professor Chris Frith, the ‘invisible actor at the centre of the world’.” That’s Will Storr, writing in his fantastic book Selfie. Ignore the very of-the-moment title. Storr dives deep into the cultural, evolutionary, and psychological construction of that thing that feels to us like our self, but is not actually ours, and is not a single thing. This is a mind-bending conversation that should, truly, change your understanding of your self. Definitely in the top five EK Show episodes to listen to stoned. ––– Recommended books: You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat] by Andrew Hankinson The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville Personality by Daniel Nettle ––– Notes from our sponsors:LEGO: In today's show you heard advertising content from The LEGO Store. With LEGO, every gift has a story. Start your story today at https://LEGO.build/EKS-Pop
Here are two things I believe. First, the way we treat the animals we kill for food is shameful. Second, only a tiny percentage of the population will go vegetarian or vegan and stay that way, at least until lab-grown meat gets a lot better.
The middle ground is treating the animals we kill for food more humanely. Take fish. In the United States, most of the fish we eat die by slowly suffocating to death on the deck of a boat, struggling for air. That’s horrendously cruel — and it makes for acidic, rubbery, smelly food.
There’s a better way. And in this episode of Dylan Matthews’s Future Perfect, he explores it. This podcast is also a powerful example of living your deepest values. Dylan is a vegetarian because he cares about animal suffering, but because reducing suffering is what he cares about most, he’s willing to go to a place vegetarianism alone could never have taken him. I can’t recommend it enough.
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Notes from our sponsors:LEGO: In today's show you heard advertising content from The LEGO Store. With LEGO, every gift has a story. Start your story today at https://LEGO.build/EKS-Ship
Peter Beinart on anti-Semitism in America and illiberalism in Israel
This is a conversation I’ve been putting off, if I’m being honest. I can’t hold it from the safe space of journalistic distance. It’s about the strange, vulnerable space that many Jews, myself included, find themselves in today. The first part of this conversation is about being Jewish at a time of rising anti-Semitism in the Western world. The October massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue was the worst act of anti-Semitic violence ever committed on American soil. In 2017, Charlottesville, Virginia, protesters waved torches while chanting “Jews will not replace us.” It’s often said that anti-Semitism is a light sleeper. It feels like it’s stirring. The second, and separate, part of this conversation is about Israel. The peace movement in the Jewish state has collapsed, and the country has decided a repressive illiberalism is the best guarantor of safety. They’ve found plenty of allies on the American right for that project, but it’s one that shreds the humanistic and pluralistic ideals that many diaspora Jews, myself included, believe in. All of this is coming at a time that has reminded many of us of the core lessons of Judaism: the importance of remembering what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land, of knowing that bigotry takes whatever forms it requires to justify itself, of maintaining humanity amid struggle. Peter Beinart is an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York. He’s also a columnist at the Atlantic and the Forward, a CNN contributor, and author of The Crisis of Zionism. He’s a thoughtful and courageous writer on these issues, and I’m grateful he joined me for this conversation. Recommended books: Covenant & Conversation series by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Spiritual Radical: Abraham Joshua Heschel in America by Edward Kaplan The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
Where Jonathan Haidt thinks the American mind went wrong
Jonathan Haidt is a psychologist at New York University and the co-founder of Heterodox University. His book The Righteous Mind, which describes the different moral frameworks that animate the left and the right, was a key influence on my work. But these days, Haidt is worried about something new.
"Teen anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have risen sharply in the last few years," he writes in The Coddling of the American Mind, co-authored with Greg Lukianoff. "The culture on many college campuses has become more ideologically uniform, compromising the ability of scholars to seek truth, and of students to learn from a broad range of thinkers."
The kids, in other words, aren't all right. Haidt sees a generation warped by overparenting and smartphones and flirting with illiberalism. He worries over a culture of "safetyism" that confuses disagreement with violence. He sees political correctness on campus as a threat not just to speakers' incomes, but to students' psyches.
I often find myself a skeptic in this conversation. The panic over campus activism seems overblown to me. It's suffused with bad-faith efforts to nationalize isolated examples of college kids behaving badly in order to discredit serious critiques of social injustice. But that's why I wanted to have Haidt on the show: If anyone could convince me I'm wrong about this, it'd be him.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Authoritarian Dynamic by Karen Stenner
Notes from our sponsors:LEGO: In today's show you heard advertising content from The LEGO Store. With LEGO, every gift has a story. Start your story today at https://LEGO.build/EKS-Pop
For Thanksgiving listening, I have an episode of The Impact, from my Weeds co-host Sarah Kliff. The Impact is a show about how policy shapes our lives. This season, Sarah and her team are focusing on the most exciting, innovative ideas at the state and local level. They crisscrossed the country and found that state and local officials are trying to fix some of our country’s biggest problems: campaign finance, affordable housing, educational inequality, and more. This episode focuses on immigration. While the federal government is trying to deport as many immigrants as possible, Oakland, California, is running a policy experiment to help immigrants stay in their communities. Immigrants have no constitutional right to attorneys in immigration court, but Oakland is giving as many immigrants as possible attorneys in court, free of charge. In this episode, find out how Oakland pulls this off when the federal government is against it — and how immigrants’ lives change when they get representation. Find The Impact on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Overcast | ART19
Molly Ball on Nancy Pelosi’s future and Paul Ryan’s failure
The midterm elections are being interpreted almost entirely as a referendum on President Donald Trump. But it was also a referendum on Paul Ryan’s speakership, which drove Trump’s domestic policy agenda, and Nancy Pelosi’s opposition strategy. In its aftermath, the two parties need to work through a very different question. How do Republicans understand the failure of Ryan’s brief speakership, which managed to betray key promises (like cutting the debt) while crafting an agenda so unpopular that House Democrats ran more ads about Ryan’s plans than Trump’s words? On the Democratic side, Pelosi’s strategy won the day — but she’s still facing significant opposition from within her caucus. She’ll likely be the next speaker of the House, but what kind of speaker will she be? How will her style have to change for this era in the Democratic Party? Molly Ball is Time’s national political correspondent and one of the sharpest analysts, and best reporters, around today. I always feel like I have a much better handle on the deep forces of American politics after talking to her, and this conversation was no exception.
Whitney Phillips explains how Trump controls the media
Here’s a fun fact: The best training for understanding the president’s media strategy is to have studied internet trolls for years and years. Okay, maybe that fact wasn’t so fun. Maybe it’s incredibly depressing. At any rate, Whitney Phillips did exactly that. She was one of the earliest scholars of online trolling (yes, that’s a job). She was studying trolling when it was a tiny sideshow. And she was there, studying it, as online trolling got amplified by algorithmic platforms and a click-hungry media. As Gamergate made it a political movement. Then, most importantly, she was there, watching, as the media manipulation tactics that she had seen perfected by the trolls became the playbook for how Trump controls the media’s agenda, and the national conversation. I’m in the media. I’m inside this machine looking out. It can be hard, from inside, to understand what the hell is happening. But Phillips is outside the machine looking in. And she understands, better than anyone I’ve talked to, what’s gone wrong, and how hard it will be to fix. Recommended books: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble Custodians of the Internet by Tarleton Gillespie
You had questions. Smart, interesting questions. Questions about the zero-sum logic of markets, about whether compromise is possible or even desirable in today’s politics, about where the left goes too far, about local vs. national politics, about how to break into journalism, about Sam Harris and the “Intellectual Dark Web,” about deep work, about spirituality and politics, tribalism and democracy, and whose job it is to persuade racists, anyway. I have, well, not answers, exactly, but thoughts. Musings. Reflections. This is the long-awaited AMA episode. I’m joined by Vox’s master of interviews, Sean Illing, who agreed to make sure I wasn’t weaseling away from the hard questions or completely missing the point. This was a lot of fun. Hope you enjoy it.
Presidents in crisis with Slow Burn’s Leon Neyfakh
Slow Burn is one of my favorite podcasts of the past few years. Its first season, on Watergate, relived the confusion, chaos, and strangeness of the Richard Nixon presidency’s collapse. Its second season, on Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and the surrounding allegations of sexual harassment and even assault, demanded a reckoning with one of the Democratic Party’s living icons. But where some histories use the past to comfort, Leon Neyfakh, Slow Burn’s host and creator, uses it to complicate: His show raises hard questions about presidential corruption, political accountability, public morality, and the partisan mind. This podcast was recorded before the midterm elections. For my take on the elections, head over to the latest episode of The Weeds. But if you want a conversation about whether liberals need to reassess Bill Clinton, whether Watergate would’ve been punished by a Republican Congress, and what all this teaches us about Donald Trump’s presidency, you’re in the right place. Recommended books: Quick Studies: The Best of Lingua Franca ed. by Alexander Star A Wilderness of Error by Errol Morris The Crime of Sheila McGough by Janet Malcolm
Here’s something to consider: For families in which the lead earner has a college degree, the average white family has $180,500 in wealth. The average black family? $23,400. That’s a difference of almost $160,000 — $160,000 that could be used to send a kid to college, get through an illness, start a small business, or make a down payment on a home that builds wealth for the next generation, too. Sandy Darity is an economist at Duke University, and much of his work has focused on the racial wealth gap, and how to close it. He’s a pioneer of “stratification economics” — a branch of study that takes groups seriously as economic units, and thinks hard about how group incentives change our behavior and drive our decisions. In this podcast, we talk about stratification economics, as well as Darity’s idea of “baby bonds”: assets that would build to give poor children up to $50,000 in wealth by the time they become adults, which would in turn give them a chance to invest in themselves or their future the same way children from richer families do. Think of it as a plan for universal basic wealth — and people are listening: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a past guest on this show, recently released a plan to closely tracked Darity’s proposal. I know, I know, the election is in a day. But right now, we don’t know who will win. So how about spending some time thinking about what someone who actually wanted to ease problems like wealth inequality could do if they did have power? Recommended books: Caste, Class, and Race by Oliver Cox Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. DuBois
Identity Crisis is the most important book written on the 2016 election. Based on reams of data covering virtually every controversy, theory, and explanation for the outcome, it settles many of the debates that have raged over the past two years. More importantly, it offers a framework for thinking about American politics in this era. The authors — political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck — show how identity drives American politics, why our political identities are getting stronger and angrier, and how the Obama and Trump eras have changed our parties and made conflict more irresolvable. Only some of the conversations I have on this show really change how I think about politics, but this was one of them. Don’t miss it. Recommended books: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild Divided by Color by Donald Kinder The American Voter by Angus Campbell, Philip E. Converse, Warren E. Miller, and Donald E. Stokes
Rep. Mark Sanford on losing the Republican Party to Donald Trump
Mark Sanford was elected to Congress in 1994, where he quickly established himself as one of the most conservative members of the chamber. In 2002, he was elected governor of South Carolina. He was, again, one of the most conservative elected officials in the country. Many expected him to be the GOP’s nominee against Obama in 2012. Then it all happened. The disappearance. “Hiking the Appalachian trail.” Sanford left public life. He was done, it seemed. And then he wasn’t. He won a House seat in South Carolina. He overcame the kind of scandal that usually destroys a politician. But he couldn’t overcome Trump. Sanford was a rock-ribbed conservative, a Republican, but he was no Trumpist. He accused the president of fanning the flames of intolerance, of being reckless with the truth. He wrote a New York Times op-ed calling on Trump to release his tax returns. Sanford got a primary opponent for his troubles, Trump endorsed her, and Sanford lost. Weeks after Sanford's defeat, Trump appeared before House Republicans and mocked Sanford in front of his colleagues. The president, unusually, was booed. I sat down with Sanford in his final weeks in Congress to talk about what he’s learned about the Republican Party, about Donald Trump, about America, and about himself. Recommended books: Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook by Niall Ferguson
Doris Kearns Goodwin (live!) on how great presidents are made
If you’ve got a question, Doris Kearns Goodwin has a charming, insightful, well-told presidential anecdote for you. Actually, a couple of them.
I interviewed the Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian live onstage for the release of her new book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, and left the building slightly in awe: Some people are truly masterful storytellers, and Goodwin is one of them.
In the book, Goodwin examines how Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson became the men we remember. She focuses, in particular, on the periods of suffering that softened them, eras that preceded the soaring leadership etched into history.
Threaded through the book’s pages, then, is a lot of pain, a lot of mental illness, a lot of uncertainty. That opened space for a conversation about the recurrent link between the presidency and mental illness, about how Goodwin researches the personal lives of presidents, about who the best analogues to our current president may be, about how history will have to be researched and written differently in an age when few write letters but text constantly.
Goodwin makes the humanity of our past vivid enough that it is able to provide ballast, just for a moment, to the inhumanity of our present. Enjoy!
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
What Nate Silver's learned about forecasting elections
This close to an election, who do I want to hear from? Nate Silver, of course. I sat down with the FiveThirtyEight founder and math wizard to talk about how he builds his forecasting models, what they’re saying about 2018, how big the Democrats’ structural disadvantage in the House and Senate really is, whether there's a purpose to predicting election outcomes, which campaign reporters he reads, and whether Trump is the favorite for 2020. Silver and I also share the experience of building journalism outlets trying to do things a bit differently over the past five years, so we discuss what he’s learned along the way, what he wishes he knew at the beginning, and how he hires. Silver brings unusual clarity and rigor to the topics he focuses on, and right now, given the speed and intensity of the elections news cycle, a bit of rigor is a welcome thing. Enjoy! Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman Bad Blood by John Carreyrou Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom
Jay Rosen is pessimistic about the media. So am I.
This is a tough conversation. It was a tough one to hold, and it’s a tough one to publish. I’m a journalist. I’ve been a journalist for 15 years. I believe in journalism. But right now, I’m worried we’re failing. I’m worried we’re making American politics worse, not better. That’s not because we're not doing remarkable, courageous, heroic work. It’s not because we’re fake news or biased hacks. Look at the #MeToo movement, the investigations of Donald Trump's finances, the remarkable reporting that journalists do every day from war zones and Ebola outbreaks and authoritarian regimes. It's because everything around us has changed — our business models, the way people read us, the way we compete with each other, the way we’re manipulated — and we’re getting played, particularly in political reporting and commentary, by the outrage merchants and con artists and trolls and polarizers who understand this new world better. President Trump is the most successful media hacker out there, but he’s not the only one. They’re using us as tools to fracture American democracy, and I don’t think we know how to stop them. Jay Rosen is a professor of journalism at New York University and the founder of PressThink. He’s one of our sharpest, clearest critics and interpreters. I asked him on the show to help me think through what’s wrong in the press, and what I’m doing wrong in my own work. Recommended books: Deciding What's News by Herbert Gans Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville Exit, Voice, and Loyalty by Albert O. Hirschman Making Democracy Work by Robert Putnam
“To put it bluntly,” wrote Bill and Melinda Gates in their foundation’s annual Goalkeepers Report, “decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling. This is because the poorest parts of the world are growing faster than everywhere else; more babies are being born in the places where it’s hardest to lead a healthy and productive life.” There is no topic in the philanthropic world more fraught than population growth. The history of efforts to analyze and address it is filled with bad predictions and cruel solutions. The Gateses, though, are trying to take a different approach to the issue. Rather than seeing a population problem in the demographic projections, they’re framing it as a poverty problem — and, for that matter, an opportunity. In this conversation, I talk with Bill Gates about the report and about much more: the geographic and political forces that have held African development back, whether economic growth brings political freedom, the risks posed by artificial intelligence, and how we should weigh future human lives and current animal suffering. This conversation also marks the launch of a new Vox podcast and section, Future Perfect, which focuses on evidence-based ways to make the world a better place. You can find the section at Vox.com, and you can find the podcast, which is hosted by my colleague and friend Dylan Matthews, wherever you get your podcasts. Enjoy! Recommended books: The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe Educated by Tara Westover Big Debt Crises by Ray Dalio Find the Future Perfect podcast on Apple Podcasts | Spotify | ART19
In his new book, Melting Pot or Civil War: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders, Reihan Salam tries to do something difficult: build a pro-immigrant case for a more restrictive immigration system. This is an argument, interestingly, that’s as much about inequality as it is about immigration. “Diversity is not the problem,” Salam writes. “What’s uniquely pernicious is extreme between-group inequality.” Salam, the executive editor of the National Review, thus makes a two-sided case: He argues that a socially sustainable immigration system is one where America is more deeply committed to equality, which means both focusing on higher-skilled immigrants who need less support and radically raising the amount of support we’re willing to give immigrants who do need it. And that compromise, he argues, should be paired with a more serious American effort to improve the economic conditions of the places immigrants travel here from. Is this a synthesis that makes sense? Does it really address the cleavages preventing us from moving forward on immigration? And what are the fundamental values that we should base our immigration system on anyway? That’s what Reihan and I discuss in this episode. Recommended books: The Other Side of Assimilation: How Immigrants Are Changing American Life by Tomas Jimenez Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity by Tomas Jimenez Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity by Samuel Huntington
Jose Antonio Vargas on living undocumented in Trump’s America
Jose Antonio Vargas was born in the Philippines in 1981. When he was 12, his mother sent him to America, to live with family. When he was 16, he went to the DMV to get a driver's license and found out his green card was forged; he was an undocumented immigrant. Vargas went on to be a decorated journalist, winning a Pulitzer as part of the Washington Post team covering the Virginia Tech shootings. He profiled Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker and led a technology vertical at the Huffington Post. But he lived in fear of his secret, of the fragile foundation upon which he'd built his life. So he did something few would have the courage to do: He told the world himself. In his new book, Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, Vargas details what happened both before and after his confession. "This book is about constantly hiding from the government and, in the process, hiding from ourselves," he writes. "This book is about what it means to not have a home.” Vargas has spent the better part of the last decade doing something no one should have to do: asking people to see him as a human, not a category; asking the country he lives in to decide what it wants to do with him, or what it wants from him. It is a testament to how strange and broken our system is, how uncertain our values are, that it has refused to give him an answer. Immigration politics is at the core of Trumpism, which means it’s at the core of our politics right now. But the stories of actual immigrants aren’t. In this raw conversation, Vargas and I discuss his life, how being undocumented changes not just your path but your psyche, and what Vargas wants to say to those who see him as the problem they elected this president to fix. Recommended books: The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin There There by Tommy Orange America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
Rebecca Traister: Women's rage is transforming America
Why did Christine Blasey Ford have to smile and politely ask for breaks while Brett Kavanaugh could rage at the cameras and dismiss the hearings as a farce? The answer is in Rebecca Traister’s essential, perfectly timed new book, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger. It’s a book, Traister writes, about how anger works for men in ways it doesn’t for women. I happened to read it the weekend before the Kavanaugh/Ford hearings, and it was eerily prescient: The book was essential to understanding not only what I was seeing at the hearings but, as importantly, what I wasn’t seeing. My conversation with Traister is about those hearings, but about much more too: When is anger constructive and important? Can it tie us together, rather than just pulling us apart? How is the #MeToo movement navigating the fact that sometimes the people it’s angry about are also the people it loves — that our bad guys are also our good guys, as Traister puts it? And what does it mean to see each other in our full humanity, including in our angry humanity? Recommended books and essays: Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin The Uses of Anger by Audre Lorde The Power by Naomi Alderman
Patrick Deneen says liberalism has failed. Is he right?
Liberalism, write Patrick Deneen, "has been for modern Americans like water for a fish, an encompassing political ecosystem in which we have swum, unaware of its existence.” Deneen, a political theorist at Notre Dame, isn’t talking about the liberalism of the left, the liberalism of Elizabeth Warren or Nancy Pelosi. He’s talking about the liberalism that drives both the left and the right, the one that elevates individual flourishing over groups, families, places, nature. That’s the liberalism that is wrecking our societies and our happiness, Deneen says, and while the left and the right often disagree on how to achieve it, they're both disastrously bought into its core ideas. Deneen’s book, Why Liberalism Failed, has become a quiet sensation, gaining plaudits from conservative pundits and even showing up on Barack Obama’s reading list. His is a radical critique, and while I disagree with much of it, the things it gets right are important.
Is all politics identity politics? And if so, then what does it mean to condemn identity politics in the first place? That’s the subject of my discussion with Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama. In his new book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, he builds a theory of what identity means in modern societies and how spiraling demands for recognition are tearing at the fabric of our politics. "The retreat on both sides into ever narrower identities threatens the possibility of deliberation and collective action by the society as a whole," he writes. "Down this road lies, ultimately, state breakdown and failure.” Yikes. Fukuyama’s book revolves around a question I’ve become a bit obsessed by: When do we see political claims as identity politics, and when do we see them as just politics? What’s obscured in the passage from one boundary to another? Whose agendas are served by it? And in a country whose narrative of progress and perfection is inextricably bound up in the success of past moments of identity politics, how did this come to be such a vilified term today? So I asked Fukuyama on the show to discuss it. This is a great conversation with one of the foremost political thinkers of our age. Recommended books: Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
The president of the United States was the runner-up in the popular vote. The majority in the US Senate got fewer votes than the minority. And even if Democrats win a hefty majority of the vote in 2018’s House elections, Republicans, due to gerrymandering and geography, may retain control of the chamber. But it’s not just the structure of our system that eats at America’s democratic claims. It’s the rules being layered on top of it. In 2017, 99 bills to limit voting have been introduced in 31 states. Recent years have seen an explosion of laws meant to make it harder for Americans — particularly nonwhite, young, and poorer Americans — to vote. America calls itself a democracy, but it's elected officials are actively working to make democratic participation harder. This is nothing new, says Carol Anderson, chair of Emory’s African-American studies department, and author of the new book One Person, No Vote. Efforts to limit the franchise, to ensure power remained where it was even as the trappings of democracy gave it legitimacy, are as old as the country itself. “Right now, our democracy is in crisis,” she says. This is a conversation about the distance between what America claims to be, what it is, and how much worse it can get. It's about the continuity between past violations of our democracy that we all understand and condemn and present violations that cloak their true nature. With the 2018 election around the corner, this is a conversation we all need to be having. Recommended books: Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin Kruse White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism by Kevin Kruse It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
Martha C. Nussbaum on how fear deforms our politics
In her new book Monarchy of Fear, famed philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum identifies fear as the oldest and deepest of our emotions. Fear takes hold in our earliest infancy, when we can experience need but we can’t act. And it lurks underneath our psyches, communities, and polities forever after that. This is a conversation about what fear is and how it shapes our worldviews and our politics. It’s also a conversation about what hope is, and whether embracing it is a choice we can, and should, make. Nussbaum is one of our greatest living philosophers. The way she thinks about politics, and her effort to recenter emotions at the core of both political and philosophical inquiry, is worth hearing. The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela by Sahm Venter To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Tommie Shelby and Brandon M. Terry The Opposite of Woe: My Life in Beer and Politics by John Hickenlooper
David French is a senior writer for National Review and one of the conservatives I read most closely. About a month ago, he published an interesting column responding to some things I had said, and to the broader currents cutting through our politics. “Conservative white Americans look at urban multicultural liberalism and notice an important fact,” he wrote. "Its white elite remains, and continues to enjoy staggering amounts of power and privilege. So when that same white elite applauds the decline of 'white America,' what conservatives often hear isn’t a cheer for racial justice but another salvo in our ongoing cultural grudge match, with the victors seeking to elevate black and brown voices while remaining on top themselves." I asked French to come on the podcast to discuss this idea — and the controversies that motivated it — more deeply, and he quickly accepted. The result is a tricky conversation about very sensitive territory in our politics. It’s about how we talk about race and class and status and gender and sexuality and religion, how we understand and misunderstand each other, how our political identities turn conflicts about one thing into conflicts about all things, why groups that are objectively powerful feel so powerless, and much more. I always appreciate the grace, openness, and intelligence French brings to his writing, and all of that is on full display here too. Recommended books: The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt Coming Apart by Charles Murray The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey
Your attention is being hijacked. Chris Bailey can help.
Life is the sum focus of what you pay attention to. You hear that a lot. But look at the verb there: “pay” attention to. As if attention is something we consciously spend out. As if it’s something we control. But do we? Not these days. There’s a war on for our attention, and we’re often losing it. Chris Bailey’s Hyperfocus looks, from the outside, like a book about productivity. But it’s really one of the best books I’ve read about attention: what it is, how much it can hold, how we lose track of it, and how to get it back. This is a conversation about paying attention to your attention, making sure you’re controlling it rather than accidentally letting it — and all the multibillion-dollar companies working to hijack it — control you. This is one of those conversations that, if you can apply it, will actually make your life a bit better, a bit more your own. Recommended books: Getting Things Done by David Allen Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana How Not to Die by Michael Greger
Anand Giridharadas on the elite charade of changing the world
“How can there be anything wrong with trying to do good?” asks Anand Giridharadas in his new book, Winners Take All. “The answer may be: when the good is an accomplice to even greater, if more invisible, harm.” Giridharadas has done his time in elite circles. His education took him through Oxford and Harvard, he spent years as a New York Times columnist, he's a regular on Morning Joe, he’s a TED talker. And so when he mounted the stage at the Aspen Institute and told his fellow fellows that their pretensions of doing good were just that — pretensions — and that they were more the problem than the solution, it caused some controversy. Giridharadas’s new book will make a lot of people angry. It’s about the difference between generosity and justice, the problems with only looking for win-win solutions, the ways the corporate world has come to dominate the discourse of change, and the fact that elite networks change the people who are part of them. But for all the power of Giridharadas’s critique of elite do-goodery, does he have better answers to the problems they’re trying to solve? And what of the very real problems that have left so many disillusioned with government, or the very real accomplishments that exist in the systems we’ve built? If we are pursuing change wrong, then what needs to be changed to pursue it better? Recommended books: There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald (forthcoming) The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment by Francis Fukuyama
I’m just going to say it. This may be the most fun I’ve ever had on a podcast. Nora Jemisin — better known by her pen name, N.K. Jemisin — just won the Hugo Award for best novel for the third year in a row. No one had ever done that before. Jemisin is also the first author to have every book in a single series win the Hugo for best novel, and the first black author to win a Hugo for best novel. She’s a badass. What makes Jemisin’s work so remarkable is the power and detail of the worlds she builds for her characters, and her readers, to inhabit. In this podcast, she shows us how she does it: Jemisin teaches a world-building seminar for sci-fi and fantasy authors, and here, she leads me through that exercise live. It’s a master class not only in building a new world but in understanding our own. You don’t want to miss this. Recommended books: The Murderbot Diaries series from Martha Wells Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler
Zephyr Teachout is a law professor at Fordham University and one of the nation’s foremost experts on political corruption. She’s also, after a glowing New York Times endorsement this week, arguably the frontrunner in the race to replace Eric Schneiderman as New York’s attorney general. The Democratic primary, which will likely decide the race, is on September 13.
The NY AG position is unusually important right now. President Trump’s businesses are in New York, his family works in New York, his associates worked in New York. When special counsel Robert Mueller referred Michael Cohen for prosecution, it was to New York prosecutors. And for all the talk of Trump’s pardon power, he can pardon against federal prosecution, not state prosecution. All that means that the New York attorney general is uniquely situated to investigate, and prosecute, the corruption swirling around Trumpworld.
I had Teachout on this podcast in June 2017. We talked about how political corruption was defined by the Founding Fathers, and why, during the Constitutional Convention, they discussed the threat posed by corruption more than they discussed the threat posed by foreign invasion. And we talked about the way today’s Supreme Court — in the Citizens United and related decisions — has narrowed the definition to be almost meaningless. We also discussed an emoluments lawsuit Teachout was involved in against Trump, as well as the power of corporate monopolies in American life.
It was a great conversation then, and it’s all the more relevant now. Enjoy!
Is our economy totally screwed? Andrew Yang and I debate.
"The future without jobs will come to resemble either the cultivated benevolence of Star Trek or the desperate scramble for resources of Mad Max,” writes Andrew Yang. Well then. Yang is the founder of Venture for America, the author of The War on Normal People, and an outsider candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2020. His campaign is based on a grim view of the economy he sees coming: AI, automation, and globalization leading to mass joblessness. The only things that can save us, he says, are a universal basic income (UBI), a redefinition of what work is and how it’s compensated, and a redefinition of how we measure economic and social progress. I’ll be honest. I’m skeptical of the robots-will-take-all-the-jobs thesis that’s took Silicon Valley, and much of the punditariat, by storm. Yang and I debate those doubts, as well as the different arguments for a UBI (and the various ways to finance it). You want big ideas? Here they are. Recommended Books: Give People Money by Annie Lowrey (I promise I did not push Andrew to recommend this!) AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee Squeezed by Alissa Quart
Chef Marcus Samuelsson on immigration, creativity, and Anthony Bourdain
Marcus Samuelsson is the Michelin-starred chef behind Harlem’s The Red Rooster an award-winning cookbook author,the winner of the first season of Top Chef: Masters, ;nd the host of No Passport Required, a new food and travel show from Eater and PBS. Samuelsson’s story is remarkable. He was born in Ethiopia to a mother who carried him and his sister 75 miles on foot to a hospital when all three of them were suffering from tuberculosis. Samuelsson’s mother died, but he and his sister survived and were adopted by a Swedish family, which is where he grew up. He’s lived and cooked all over the world — Japan, France, Austria, Switzerland — and has a pile of Michelin stars as a testament to his ability to see how the culinary traditions of one place can be informed by another, or introduced to another. This is a conversation about creativity and how diversity powers it. It’s a conversation about what immigration adds to communities, rather than just the role it plays in politics. And it’s a conversation — an emotional one — about what Samuelsson learned from his friend Anthony Bourdain, whose show No Reservations set the template in this space, and whose loss continues to be
During the 2016 campaign, Zeynep Tufekci was watching videos of Donald Trump rallies on YouTube. But then, she writes, she "noticed something peculiar. YouTube started to recommend and ‘autoplay' videos for me that featured white supremacist rants, Holocaust denials and other disturbing content.” And it wasn’t just Trump videos. Watching Hillary Clinton rallies got her "arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11.” Nor was it just politics. "Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons." Tufekci is a New York Times columnist and a professor at the University of North Carolina. She’s also one of the clearest thinkers around on how digital platforms work, how their algorithms understand and shape our preferences, and what the consequences are for society. So as we learn that Facebook is detecting new efforts at electoral manipulation and as we watch online politics become ever more bitter and divisive, I wanted to talk with Tufekci about how digital platforms have become engines of radicalization, and what we can do about it. Recommended books: The Control Revolution by James Beniger Ruling the Waves by Debora Spar Orality and Literacy by Walter Ong
The question of whether President Trump colluded with Russia during the 2016 election has consumed Washington since the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller special counsel in March 2017. But there's another question worth considering: the financial corruption swirling around Trump’s businesses, and now his administration. In any other White House, this would be the ongoing, constant story — the site of endless investigations and inquiries. And it still might be. We know Mueller is looking into the web of financial ties between Trump’s businesses and the post-Soviet bloc, and we know that part of the Mueller investigation gets Trump particularly outraged. Plus, we still don’t know what’s on Trump’s tax returns, or what could be discovered if Democrats take back a chamber of Congress and get subpoena power. Here’s my bet: If there is some scandal lurking that’s going to derail the Trump administration, I think it’s going to be found by following the money, not by following the Russian bots. Adam Davidson has been investigating this since Trump's election. If you're an avid podcast listener, you probably know Adam from his days at Planet Money. He's now at the New Yorker, doing some of the best investigative work on the Trump Organization. You’ll want to hear what he’s found.
The surprising story of how American politics polarized
We talk a lot on this podcast about the epic levels of political polarization and how much of our ongoing breakdown they explain. But what was American politics like before it was polarized? And what got us from there to here?
Sam Rosenfeld is a political scientist at Colgate University and author of the book The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan Era. I’ve read a lot of books on polarization, and Rosenfeld’s is the best I’ve seen at painting a picture of what American politics looked like before Republican meant conservative and Democrat meant liberal, and why polarization seemed like a good, necessary thing to many of the people who drove it.
While you listen to this history, try to think about it not from the perspective of someone sitting in 2018, looking at a political system in crisis, but someone in 1955, observing a system that offered nothing but false and confusing choices. Would you have been on the side of the polarizers?
On Capitol Hill by Julian Zelizer
Making Minnesota Liberal by Jennifer Delton
Social Policy in the United States by Theda Skocpol
The most important idea for understanding American politics in 2018
America is changing. A majority of infants are, for the first time in US history, nonwhite — and the rest of the population is expected to follow suit in the coming decades. The number of religiously affiliated Americans is at a record low, and the share of foreign-born residents is at a historically high level. What happens to a country amid this kind of demographic change and strain? What does it do to our politics, to our identities, to our worldview? I’ve come to believe that you can’t understand politics in America right now without understanding these changes and how they act on us psychologically. And to understand these changes, you need to talk to Yale psychologist Jennifer Richeson, who has done pioneering work on the way perceptions of demographic threat and change affect people’s political opinions, voting behavior, and ideas about themselves. I believe this is one of the most important conversations I’ve had on this podcast for understanding America today — and I also know it’s just the start of trying to understand these questions. Enjoy. Recommended books: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson (who was also on EKS) Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America by Christopher S. Parker and Matt A. Barreto The Space Between Us: Social Geography and Politics by Ryan Enos
What economists and politicians get wrong about trade
For decades, Harvard’s Dani Rodrik has been a lonely voice in the economics profession warning that the academics were getting this one wrong. Trade is not an unalloyed good; “globalization would deepen societal divisions, exacerbate distributional problems, and undermine domestic social bargains,” Rodrik warned. But few listened. The tendency to emphasize trade’s benefits while ignoring its costs created a massive political backlash.
“Economists would have had a greater—and much more positive—impact on the public debate had they stuck closer to their discipline’s teaching, instead of siding with globalization’s cheerleaders,” Rodrik wrote in his excellent book, Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy.
Rodrik isn’t just a rock thrower. He’s a professor of international political economy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the president-elect of the International Economic Association. And so, as Trump’s trade war begins, I asked him on the show to explain what politicians and economists have gotten so wrong about trade, and what it would mean to get it right.
Recommended books (and an article):
Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality by James Kwak
Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium by Ronald Findlay and Kevin O'Rourke
“International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order” by John Ruggie
Arthur Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, one of Washington’s most respected and powerful conservative think tanks. He’s also launching a new podcast, The Arthur Brooks Show, with Vox Media on the art and practice of disagreement.
I’ve known Brooks for a while. And I disagree with him on, well, a lot — at least when it comes to American politics. And yet, those disagreements haven’t ended a years-long conversation between us on everything from management to spirituality to policy. I can say from experience: Brooks really is good at disagreeing.
In this podcast, Brooks — a Seattle native with a liberal family and a background as a traveling musician — reveals what he’s learned on how to disagree better, why civility shouldn’t be the goal in conversation, and why it’s healthy to have a lot of arguments. We talk about why he’s stepping down from his position at AEI, why I stepped down from management at Vox, and why anger is a healthy emotion and contempt isn’t.
This is one of those conversations I’ve thought about daily since having it. The anger versus contempt rubric has been particularly useful for me, and I think it will be for you. Enjoy!
Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel
The Unpersuadables by Will Storr
The Consolations of Mortality by Andrew Stark
Jaron Lanier’s case for deleting social media right now
During my book leave, I took a social media sabbatical. No reading Facebook. No reading Twitter. And you know what? It was great. I felt able to think more clearly, and listen more closely, than had been true in years. I’m not sure that was all because of social media — I was also hanging back from much of the news — but I’m certain the blackout helped.
The experience of coming back, and reopening myself to the feeds and the tweets and the algorithms, has been profound. It feels like, suddenly, someone is following me around and shouting in my ear. Sometimes what they’re shouting is important, or funny, or incisive. Sometimes it’s angry, insulting, or just irrelevant. Sometimes it’s just a cry for attention — Look at me! Post to me! Don’t let your competitors get all the likes and retweets!
I’ve been thinking, a lot, about how I want to engage with social media going forward. And so I called Jaron Lanier. Lanier’s been on this podcast before. Our previous conversation — about virtual reality and the ways the internet went awry from its early utopian ideals — is one of my favorites. But his new book is particularly relevant to me. It’s called Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, and so I asked him on the show to make the case that I should, in fact, delete all my social media accounts right now, and that you should, too.
The most clarifying conversation I’ve had about Trump and Russia (part 2)
What have we actually learned about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, and his administration’s efforts to cover those ties up? What role did Russia really play in the 2016 election? And what are special counsel Robert Mueller’s possible endgames — what can he really do, and when might he do it?
In January, I had Lawfare’s Susan Hennessey on the podcast to guide me through the Trump-Russia case, and it’s one of the most helpful — and popular — episodes we’ve done. Now she’s back, and given how much more we know now than we did eight months ago, it’s an even crazier, more necessary, conversation. Enjoy!
If 75,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania had tipped the other way, President Hillary Clinton would’ve named both Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy’s replacements. But they didn’t. And now Donald Trump, in less than two years, will fill as many Supreme Court seats as Barack Obama did in eight.
When news of Kennedy’s retirement came down, I knew exactly who I wanted to talk to: Dahlia Lithwick, Slate’s exceptional legal analyst, and host of the podcast Amicus. I can’t say our conversation made me feel better about the Supreme Court. If someone as knowledgeable and humane as Lithwick is this alarmed, then, well, it’s alarming. But it at least left me feeling like I understood the stakes.
Lithwick is brilliant in tracing the ideological and political trends that have led us to this moment: We talk about how the Court has moved steadily right for a generation, such that John Roberts — John Roberts! — is now the closest thing to a swing vote; how lifetime appointments have collided with deep politicization; what it means that voting rights are under attack from judges who wouldn’t hold their jobs if America was more of a democracy, and much more.
The right has won the fight for the Supreme Court for the next few decades, and they have done so because they were more focused, more committed, and better organized. This is how they did it, and what comes next.
One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy by Carol Anderson
There’s been a lot of talk about the coming of majority-minority America — the point, projected for roughly 2045, when there will no longer be any racial or ethnic group that makes up a majority of the United States. But there are plenty of places in America where this has already happened. Los Angeles is one of them. LA has about 4 million people, making it more populous than 23 states, and a demography in rapid flux. Non-Hispanic whites make up about 30 percent of the population, while Hispanics and Latinos make up 47 percent, and African Americans make up 10 percent. Eric Garcetti is the mayor of LA. He’s its first Jewish mayor and its second Mexican-American mayor. He was reelected in 2017 with a stunning 81 percent of the vote. And he’s openly considering a run for president in 2020. If Garcetti does jump into the race, he’ll likely do so based on two core ideas: that there’s a better way to talk about and govern amid diversity than either Donald Trump or the Democrats have shown, and that Americans are primed for a manager who makes running the government their core objective, rather than fighting the culture wars. In this conversation, Garcetti and I talk about what he’s learned governing a majority-minority polity, why he thinks national identity is crucial amid rising diversity, his political vison’s central tenant of “belonging,” the roots of LA’s homelessness crisis, whether paving streets is sexy, and much more. Garcetti offers a different vision of where the Democratic Party should go next — one based much more on the lessons of California than backlash to Trump. It’s worth hearing. Recommended books: Stone, Paper, Knife by Marge Piercy Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer
Ellen Pao had a rough 2015. She lost her high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest and most powerful venture capital firms. She also stepped down as CEO of Reddit after a tumultuous tenure in which she came under withering criticism for, among other things, shutting down online communities devoted to shaming fat people and posting upskirt photos.
A few short years later, Pao’s 2015 looks prophetic. Her fight against Kleiner Perkins presaged much of the #MeToo movement. Her campaign to set some limits around what could and couldn’t be done on Reddit presaged the difficulties the social media giants are having as they try to rein in online harassment and fake news.
Ellen Pao, I’ve come to think, was the canary in Silicon Valley’s coal mine.
Pao is now the CEO of Project Include, and in this conversation, we talk about what’s changed since 2015 and how she thinks her 2015 would’ve been different if it had happened in this moment. We discuss how this era may be radicalizing young white men online and what, if anything, can be done about it. We talk about what it really takes to diversify a company — hint: much more than most companies are currently doing or are willing to do — as well as research showing diverse teams are more productive but less happy. And we look at how arguments about biological difference are used to justify the inequalities of our present society.
Much of what's obsessing us in 2018 is rooted in fights Pao has been waging for far longer. It's worth hearing what she's learned.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times
by Eyal Press
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
What accounts for the way most of us eat? What’s the ideology, the theory, behind our diets? And what happens when you stop believing in it?
Over the past decade, I’ve been on a fitful journey toward veganism. At least, that’s the way I normally say it. That’s the polite way to say it. The truth is I’ve been on a fitful journey away from the idea that unnecessarily inflicting suffering and death on literally billions of beings that can feel pain is moral. And it’s been one of the most disorienting, radicalizing experiences of my life. It’s the belief I hold most strongly that I’m most uncomfortable talking about. I find myself, out to dinner with friends, apologizing for it, avoiding it, gently mocking it.
I didn’t really understand why I felt all this until I read Dr. Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. In it, she does something both obvious and brilliant: She names the ideology that governs the way we eat, investigates its beliefs and demands, and explores how its dominance makes it invisible.
This is a conversation about carnism, but it’s also a conversation about how truly dominant worldviews work. "The primary way entrenched ideologies stay entrenched is by remaining invisible,” Joy writes. "And the primary way they stay invisible is by remaining unnamed. If we don't name it, we can't talk about it, and if we can't talk about it, we can't question it.”
Joy’s work applies to much more than how we eat: It’s a lens for thinking about all the systems we’re so deeply embedded in that we can no longer see them, and so we learn not to notice if they compel us to do things that don’t align with what we believe to be right, or who we actually want to be. And it’s about what happens when those ideologies become visible and we have to grapple with what they’ve done to us and the world we live in.
This is among the most important conversations I’ve had on this podcast. I can’t recommend it enough.
How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger
How to Create a Vegan World by Tobias Leenaert
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
How Jane Mayer exposed Eric Schneiderman, Bush’s torture program, and the Kochs
On May 7, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow published a story in the New Yorker detailing New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s alleged history of sexually and psychologically terrorizing the women he dated. Hours later, Schneiderman stepped down.
Schneiderman was only Mayer’s most recent investigation. Over the course of her career, she’s exposed America’s torture programs, the Koch brothers’ takeover of Republican Party politics, the role the reclusive Mercer family had in funding Donald Trump’s rise, the real story of what happened between Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, and more. She’s among the greatest investigative reporters of her generation, and I’ve always wondered how she breaks so many huge stories on such a vast range of topics. And so, in this podcast, I asked her.
The result is a conversation that not only helps make sense of the moment we’re living in — from #MeToo to how the Kochs tamed the Trump administration to why Gina Haspel is our CIA director — but also acts as a primer on the art and practice of investigative reporting. Enjoy!
Winner-Take-All Politics by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal by Kim Phillips-Fein
The racial wealth gap is where past injustice compounds into present inequality. When I asked Ta-Nehisi Coates, on this show, what would prove to him that white supremacy was over in this country, he pointed to the closing of the racial wealth gap.
The numbers here are startling. In 2016, the median white family in America had $171,000 in wealth. The median black family had just $17,400. Put differently, for every dollar in wealth the average white family has, the average black family has a dime. And the chasm is growing.
One of the first episodes of Vox’s new Netflix show, Explained, explores the roots, realities, and future of America’s racial wealth gap. This conversation continues the discussion with one of the key voices in that episode: Mehrsa Baradaran, a law professor at the University of Georgia and author of the extraordinary book The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.
Baradaran focuses on a part of the American story that’s often ignored: the way African Americans were locked out of the financial engines that create wealth in America, and the way the rhetoric of equal treatment under the law was weaponized, as soon as slavery ended, against efforts to achieve economic equality. But Baradaran’s view isn’t just historical: she’s also studied the way African Americans are disproportionately unbanked and underbanked today, and has been advising Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts to do something big and surprising to solve it: building a nationwide postal banking system.
The issues discussed in this episode are, I think, some of the most important facing America right now, and Baradaran’s perspective is unusual in its marriage of analytical rigor, historical analysis, real solutions, and deep compassion. This is worth listening to.
The Human Instinct by Kenneth R. Miller
Master of the Senate by Robert Caro
Feel Free by Zadie Smith
Tyler Cowen on the painful end of American complacency
Headlining any conversation with Tyler Cowen is difficult. This one, for instance, covers how to write a book, single-payer health care, political correctness, loneliness, the expanding Overton window, the tech backlash, technological innovation, the case for American optimism, how to change our cultural assumptions about race, and much more.
But if there is a theme, it calls back to Cowen’s fascinating 2017 book, The Complacent Class. There, Cowen argued that contrary to the widespread belief that America was undergoing convulsive change, it was actually changing less than ever — becoming geographically, ideologically, politically, and technologically complacent. But surveying the past year or so in American life, Cowen thinks that the age of American complacency is ending faster than he expected — and that change of the sort that’s happening now will prove deeply painful, even if it also kick-starts our economy and builds us a better future.
The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order by Bruno MaCaes
Symposium by Plato
Grant by Ron Chernow
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
The Beatles: The Authorized Biography by Hunter Davies
The Autobiography of John Stuart Mill
Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi
This is perhaps the most literal title I’ve given a conversation on this podcast. This is a discussion about how to expand your mind — how to expand the connections it makes, the experiences it’s open to, the sensory information it absorbs. And, more than that, this is a conversation about recognizing that our minds are narrower than we think, that there is a lot we’re filtering out and pruning away and outright ignoring.
You know Michael Pollan’s work. He wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma, perhaps the most influential book about how we eat in the modern era. He’s the guy who told us, sensibly: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” His new book is called How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. And it is, quite honestly, a trip.
Over the past decade or so, the scientific community has reengaged with psychedelic substances, and done so to extraordinary effect: The studies Pollan describes in this discussion are remarkable, but so too are the insights into how our minds work, the ways in which they become overly ordered and efficient as we age, and the power that a dedicated dose of disorder can hold.
You don’t have to be interested in taking magic mushrooms to listen to this conversation. Most of it isn’t about psychedelics at all. It’s about how we think, how we sense, how we learn, whether spiritual experiences can have materialist consequences, what makes us afraid of death, what our minds filter out in the world around us, and much more.
Pollan changed how I think about my mind. He’ll change how you think about yours.
The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley
Miserable Miracle by Henri Michaux
The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum
Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker article on refugees, trauma, and psychology
In a February 2017 column, David Brooks wrote about "the Fallows Question, which I unfurl at dinner parties: If you could move to the place on earth where history is most importantly being made right now, where would you go?” The Fallows question is based on the life and work of Jim and Deborah Fallows. Jim is a national correspondent at the Atlantic; Deborah is a writer and linguist. When Japan looked like the future, they moved there to watch it happen; when software was eating the world, they moved to Seattle and Jim dove inside Microsoft; when China was on the rise, that was where they made their home. It’s a reason, when asked, that I’ve always named Jim Fallows as one of my few must-read writers: His journalism is thick with a wisdom that only comes from having immersed himself in many, many different lives. Over the past few years, however, the Fallows have believed the story is happening, well, here. They came to believe that the story America is telling about itself to itself — a story of national decline, of bitter political polarization, of rural resentment and coastal elitism and tribal identity and spiritual malaise — is wrong. And so they got in their plane (yes, Jim is a pilot too), and they spent years traveling the country, trying to see it more clearly by seeing its places more precisely. It has left them with a sense of hope that feels almost alien in this age. Their new book, Our Towns, is a travelogue of this journey and what it revealed to them about America. In this conversation, we talk about the optimism it left them with, as well as what they’ve learned designing their lives around adventure and travel, why they spent their honeymoon in a work camp in Ghana, how to make life feel longer, whether our political identities are our true identities, why Americans hate the media, and the reason libraries are more important than ever. I’ve always admired the Fallowses’ for both their work and their wisdom, and it was a pleasure, in this interview, to get to explore both. Deborah's recommended books: Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville Journals of Lewis and Clark edited by Bernard DeVoto James's recommended books: Grant by Ron Chernow Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
The New York Times’s lead Clinton reporter reflects on her coverage
It’s time to talk about the damn emails — and the way the media covered them.
Amy Chozick reported on Hillary Clinton for a decade. She was there as Clinton’s campaign fell short in the 2008 Democratic primaries. And as the New York Times’s lead reporter on the Clinton campaign in 2016, she was there as Clinton seemed certain to win in 2016 — and there on that night in November when she lost.
Her new book, Chasing Hillary, is a memoir of these years and that reporting. In it, Chozick reflects on her coverage of Clinton, her relationship with the candidate, the incentives of her newsroom, and how all of it intertwined with her own life. It’s an unusually honest book, exposing much more of the psychodrama that exists between politicians, campaign staff, editors, and reporters than is normally shown, and Chozick is frank about both her discomfort with some of the stories she wrote and the ways her subjects tried to manipulate her.
In this conversation, we talk about the emails, as well the media’s deep and pervasive biases, what Trump could do that Clinton couldn’t, the ways campaign coverage distorts campaign reporting, our gendered expectations for politicians, Chozick's clashes with Bernie Sanders supporters, Chelsea Clinton’s criticisms of Chozick’s book, and much more.
What It Takes: The Way to the White House by Richard Ben Cramer
Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man by Gary Willis
A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Carl Bernstein
The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse
Yes, identity politics is breaking our country. But it’s not identity politics as we’re used to thinking about it.
In Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, Lilliana Mason traces the construction of our partisan “mega-identities”: identities that fuse party affiliation to ideology, race, religion, gender, sexuality, geography, and more. These mega-identities didn’t exist 50 or even 30 years ago, but now that they’re here, they change the way we see each other, the way we engage in politics, and the way politics absorbs other — previously non-political —spheres of our culture.
In making her case, Mason offers one of the best primers I’ve read on how little it takes to activate a sense of group identity in human beings, and how far-reaching the cognitive and social implications are once that group identity takes hold. I don’t want to spoil our discussion here, but suffice to say that her recounting of the “minimal group paradigm” experiments is not to be missed. This is the kind of research that will change not just how you think about the world, but how you think about yourself.
Mason’s book is, I think, one of the most important published this year, and this conversation gave me a lens on our political discord that I haven’t stopped thinking about since. If you want to understand the kind of identity politics that’s driving America in 2018, you should listen in.
Ideology in America by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Is American democracy really in decline? A debate.
Yascha Mounk’s new book, The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It, is perhaps the year’s scariest read. In it, Mounk argues that “liberal democracy, the unique mix of individual rights and popular rule that has long characterized most governments in North America and Western Europe, is coming apart at its seams. In its stead, we are seeing the rise of illiberal democracy, or democracy without rights, and undemocratic liberalism, or rights without democracy.”
It’s an excellent book. But reading it left me wondering: Was America really such a textbook liberal democracy before? I have no qualms with Mounk’s concerns about our present, but as I've dived deeper into the declinist literature on American democracy, I have come to wonder whether it relies on an overly nostalgic view of our past.
So I had Mounk — this podcast’s first three-peat guest! — back on the show to argue his case. We discuss whether America was really a democracy in the 20th century, if voters prefer institutions they can control over those they can’t, whether Trump’s illiberalism reflects broader currents in American society, the ways racial progress has long destabilized American politics, and what the currents of today portend for our future.
I recognize the positions I take in this episode may come back to haunt me when Trump fires Robert Mueller and Congress names him sun-god and confirms Michael Cohen as attorney general. But I think for all of us wrapped up in this era, it’s important to question our assumptions, and to contextualize this period within America’s real history rather than our imagined past. And Yascha, who is perhaps the most persuasive champion of the case for alarm, was the perfect guest with which to do it.
As always, you can email me with feedback, thoughts, and guest ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special episode: The Syrian conflict, explained by a UN diplomat who saw it start
Many of you will remember the interview I did with Grant Gordon, who works on humanitarian policy innovation at the International Rescue Committee. That conversation received a huge response — some of you even wrote in to say it had changed your career path and you were now reorienting towards humanitarian work and crisis response.
Now, Vox Media, in partnership with the IRC, is launching Displaced, a podcast about the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises and the people whose lives they upend. Each week, Grant, alongside his co-host, IRC chief innovation officer Ravi Gurumurthy, bring on a guest to dig into the world’s toughest problems — both to understand them and to think through how to solve them.
Today, the world’s most destabilizing crisis is the civil war in Syria — it’s led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of millions more, a refugee crisis that has undermined the European Union and brought America and Russia perilously close to armed conflict.
In this episode, Grant and Ravi interview Stephen Hickey, who served as UK deputy ambassador to Damascus in 2010, and was ejected by the Assad regime as its response to the protests became more vicious. So he was in Syria as this began, and his perspective is crucial to understanding where it’s gone and why it’s been so hard to solve.
If you like this episode, you can subscribe to Displaced wherever you get your podcasts.
“What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief — for our own lives not being as they should?” asks Johann Hari. “What if it is a form of grief for the connections we have lost yet still need?”
In his new book, Lost Connections, Hari advances an argument both radical and obvious: Depression and anxiety are more than just chemical imbalances in the brain. They are the result of our social environments, our relationships, our political contexts — our lives, in short.
Hari, who has struggled with depression since his youth, went on a journey to try to understand the social causes of mental illness, the ones we prefer not to talk about because changing them is harder than handing out a pill. What he returned with is a book that claims to be about depression but is actually about the ways we’ve screwed up modern society and created a world that leaves far too many of us alienated, anxious, despairing, and lost.
The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti famously said, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” So that, then, is the question Hari and I consider in this conversation: How sick, really, is our society?
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit
Carol Anderson is a professor of African-American studies at Emory University and the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide.
Anderson’s book emerged from a viral op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post in 2014, amid the backlash to the Ferguson, Missouri, protests. She writes: "The operative question seemed to be whether African Americans were justified in their rage, even if that rage manifested itself in the most destructive, nonsensical ways. Again and again, across America’s ideological spectrum, from Fox News to MSNBC, the issue was framed in terms of black rage, which, it seemed to me, entirely missed the point.”
"That led to an epiphany: What was really at work here was white rage. With so much attention focused on the flames, everyone had ignored the logs, the kindling. In some ways, it is easy to see why. White rage is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly.”
Anderson, a historian, set about chronicling white rage and its core trigger: black advancement. It’s a lens that makes sense not only of our past but, given this political moment, our present, too. And as you’ll hear in this conversation, it gives Anderson perspective on a question that has been obsessing me of late: Is this moment as bad as it feels, and as many of the guests on this show have suggested? Or does our level of alarm reflect of an overly nostalgic sense of our past and the way past affronts to our political ideals have cloaked themselves in more normal garb?
One note on this conversation: This was taped before Sam Harris resurrected our debate about race, IQ, and American history. So though much that Anderson says bears powerfully on my most recent podcast — as you’ll hear, Anderson brings up Charles Murray’s work unbidden — this is a separate discussion, even as it centers around many of the same themes. That makes it particularly useful if you’re still working through the questions raised in that debate.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Lower Ed by Tressie McMillan Cottom
It's Even Worse Than It Looks by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
There’s a lot of backstory to this podcast, most of which is covered in this piece. The short version is that Sam Harris, the host of the Waking Up podcast, and I have been going back and forth over an interview Harris did with The Bell Curve author Charles Murray about a year ago. In that interview, the two argued that African-Americans are, for a combination of genetic and environmental reasons, intrinsically and immutably less intelligent than white Americans, and Murray argued that the implications of this “forbidden knowledge” should shape social policy.
In response, Vox published a piece by three respected academic specialists on genes and IQ who argued Murray and Harris got both the science and its implications very wrong. Harris felt slandered by the piece we published and publicly demanded I debate him.
After failing to get Harris to debate the authors of the Vox piece instead, I agreed. Over email, he then revoked his invitation to debate me. Harris’s defenders published a few pieces, our authors published a second piece, and everyone moved on. That’s where things sat for months. Then, a few weeks ago, Harris reopened the discussion with me on Twitter, I published a piece on the subject in response, and he published all the private emails we’d sent each other along the way. As you’ll hear him say, that backfired, so he decided, at last, to debate me.
Whew. So here we are.
For all that, I think this discussion — which is also being released on Harris’ podcast — is worth listening to. Harris’s view is that the criticism he and Murray have received is a moral panic driven by identity politics and political correctness. My view is that these IQ tests are inseparable from both the past and present of racism in America, and to conduct this conversation without voices who are expert on that subject and who hail from the affected communities is to miss the point from the outset.
So that’s where we begin. Where we go, I think, is worthwhile: these hypotheses about biological racial difference are now, and have alway been, used to advance clear political agendas — in Murray’s case, an end to programs meant to redress racial inequality, and in Harris’s case, a counterstrike against identitarian concerns he sees as a threat to his own career. Yes, identity politics are at play in this conversation, but that includes white identity politics.
To Harris, and you’ll hear this explicitly, identity politics is something others do. To me, it’s something we all do, and that he and many others simply refuse to admit they’re doing. This is one of the advantages of being the majority group: your concerns get coded as concerns, it’s everyone else who is playing identity politics.
Even if you’re not interested in the specifics of our debate, I think this discussion goes to some important questions in American life — questions that drive our culture and politics today. I hope you enjoy it.
A few links mentioned in the discussion:
My piece on this whole debate, which links all the relevant articles.
Harris and Murray's original podcast
Vox's original response piece
The Haier piece Harris wanted us to publish defending him
Our authors' response to various criticisms
The emails between me and Harris
Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s hardest year, and what comes next
It’s been a tough year for Facebook. The social networking juggernaut found itself engulfed by controversies over fake news, electoral interference, privacy violations, and a broad backlash to smartphone addiction. Wall Street has noticed: the company has lost almost $100 billion in market cap in recent weeks. Behind Facebook’s hard year is a collision between the company’s values, ambitions, business model, and mindboggling scale. Mark Zuckerberg, the site’s founder, has long held that the company’s mission is to make the world more open and connected — with the assumption being that a more open and connected world is a better world. But a more open world can make it easier for governments to undermine each other’s elections from afar; a more connected world can make it easier to spread hatred and incite violence. So has Facebook become too big to manage, and too dangerous when it fails? Should the social infrastructure of the global community be managed by a corporation headquartered in Northern California? What’s Zuckerberg’s reply to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who says the social media giant’s business model is at odds with its users’ interests? And how has all this changed Zuckerberg’s ambitions for Facebook’s future, and confidence in its mission? Zuckerberg and I talk about all of this and more in this conversation.
Is Mitch Landrieu the "White, Southern Anti-Trump"?
Mitch Landrieu is the white mayor of New Orleans, and he wants America to talk about race. Landrieu is the author of the new book, In The Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History. The statues he refers to are Confederate war memorials, four of which he controversially took down in May of 2017.
"These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for,” Landrieu said, in a speech that went viral nationally. "After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.”
Since then, Landrieu's profile has skyrocketed. He is often talked about as a Democratic candidate for 2020. In the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg called him "the white, Southern anti-Trump."
In this conversation, Landrieu and I discuss how he came to believe it necessary to remove the statues, and what happened in the aftermath. We also talk about his experience serving in the Louisiana legislature with David Duke ("a dress rehearsal for the rise of Donald Trump,” he says), the power of dog whistle politics, why you can’t run a government like a business, whether Democrats can still talk to the whole country, what makes a “ radical centrist," why leaders need to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations, and whether confronting America’s divisions opens a path towards healing or just deepens our divides.
Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, by Martin Luther King Jr.
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Melinda Gates (live!) on stopping climate change, ending malaria, and the problems money can’t solve
Melinda Gates is the co-founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest private foundation in the United States. With more than $40 billion in assets, the Gates Foundation works on a dizzying array of issues, from eradicating polio to feeding the world to treating HIV to stopping climate change to reforming the US education system.
Gates has also been working, in recent years, on increasing diversity in the technology industry. “If you [only] have products created by white guys in their 20s, you’re gonna miss the mark,” she says.
I sat down with Gates at South by Southwest for an interview that covered a lot of ground. We talked, among other things, about bioterrorism, comic sans, climate change, the culture of Silicon Valley, the Damore memo about gender and technology, the future of food, the problems money can and can’t solve, what makes America culturally distinct, and more.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
Want to know why we can’t make any progress on the guns debate? Because this isn’t a debate over policy. It’s a debate over identity.
After last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I remembered a book Evan Osnos recommended on this show, called Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline by Jennifer Carlson.
Carlson, a sociologist, realized that her discipline had missed a major social transformation: that Americans weren’t just buying guns for hunting or home protection. Guns had become part of their everyday lives, structuring how they saw the world, their country, and their role in it. And so she dove deep into the experiences of gun carriers in Michigan, becoming a gun carrier and even certified instructor herself, examining how the NRA’s training programs construct new models of citizenship, and digging into how gun ownership interacts with race, gender, and class.
I don’t believe that empathy alone offers a way forward in the guns debate. But I do believe that understanding the identities at play here — both among those who own guns and those who want to see gun ownership restricted — is the only way to have a debate that makes sense. This conversation helped me, at least, see those identities much more clearly.
Columbine by Dave Cullen
Chokehold by Paul Butler
The Limits of Whiteness by Neda Maghbouleh
This isn’t Joe Kennedy’s grandfather’s Democratic Party, and he knows it
When you’re sitting in front of Rep. Joe Kennedy, it’s clear that you’re sitting in front of a Kennedy. The face, the jawline — it’s all uncannily familiar.
But Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is rising in a changed Democratic Party. In the 1950s, the nonwhite share of the Democratic vote was about 7 percent. In 2012, it was about 44 percent — and that number is ticking upward.
Kennedy is navigating it smoothly. Tapped to give the Democratic response to the State of the Union — and you’ll want to listen to him tell the story of how that came about — he delivered a powerful performance in a speaking slot that usually buries ambitious young politicians. And he did it by reminding Democrats that their rhetoric can be bigger than their divisions, that a party built on difference can still see its way to a national identity.
In this conversation, Kennedy and I talk about the vision and the policies that lie behind that speech. Where should Democrats go on health care, on economics, on drugs? Is the divide over identity politics and economic populism really a “false choice,” as Kennedy argues? And how do Democrats talk about unity when Trump keeps driving the national conversation into divisive issues?
Matt Yglesias' piece on Rep. Kennedy's SOTU response
The Ezra Klein Show episode with the authors of How Democracies Die
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Amy Chua on how tribalism is tearing America apart
Human beings are tribal creatures, particularly when they feel threatened. And the reality of living in America in 2018, at a time of massive demographic change and social upheaval, is that we all feel threatened, and so we are all becoming more tribal.
In her new book, Political Tribes, Amy Chua argues that America’s foreign policy has long been undermined by our underestimation of tribalism abroad, and that our domestic stability is now being hollowed out by our inability to see it clearly at home. Donald Trump, she argues, is a product of tribal threat — of a country where “race has split America’s poor and class has split America’s whites.” And progressives, she argues, are a big part of the problem — they have become judgmental, exclusionary, and smug.
The question that animates much of my conversation with Chua is: What can be done to calm American tribalism? Is it a product of overheated rhetoric and political choices? Or is it the inevitable result of a country teetering on demographic instability, a moment when no group can truly consolidate power so all groups are left fighting for it?
The book about sports rivalry that Ezra mentions as an example of the power of divisive sports identities
Amy Chua mentioned Better Angels, a group working to depolarize America
She also mentioned Sarah Silverman's new show, I Love You, America, which aims to bridge our political divide with comedy
Anne Jones' "whitelash" idea is articulated here
Ezra mentioned that the Soviet Union exploited American racial tensions. Here’s an explanation of that history.
The Possessed by Elif Batuman
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Ethnic Groups in Conflict by Donald L. Horowitz
Amy Chua also did a By the Book with the New York Times recently, so here's a full breakdown of her reading recommendations.
How technology brings out the worst in us, with Tristan Harris
In 2011, Tristan Harris’s company, Apture, was acquired by Google. Inside Google, he became unnerved by how the company worked. There was all this energy going into making the products better, more addicting, more delightful. But what if all that made the users’ lives worse, more busy, more distracted?
Harris wrote up his worries in a slide deck manifesto. “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention” went viral within the company and led to Harris being named Google’s “design ethicist.” But he soon realized that he couldn’t change enough from the inside. The business model wasn’t built to give users back their time. It was built to take ever more of it.
Harris, who co-founded the Center for Humane Technology, has become the most influential critic of how Silicon Valley designs products to addict us. His terms, like the need to focus on “Time Well Spent,” have been adopted (or perhaps coopted) by, among others, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
I interviewed Harris recently for my podcast. We talked about how the 2016 election threw Silicon Valley into crisis, why negative emotions dominate online, where Silicon Valley’s model of human decisionmaking went wrong, whether he buys Zuckerberg's change of heart, what happened when meditation master Thich Nhat Hahn came to Google, what it means to control your own time, and what can be done about it.
A Verge interview with Jaron Lanier where he talks about the idea that to maximize engagement, you need to maximize emotional engagement, and the emotions that are most engaging are the negative ones.
Tristan mentions Kahneman’s System 1 & System 2 thinking. Here’s an explanation of that.
The Onion article Ezra mentioned about the ways meditation is applied in Silicon Valley
The New York Times piece with a headline Tristan says is somewhat different from the truth
A description of the Facebook earnings call that Tristan mentioned
The Stanford Persuasive Technology lab Tristan mentioned to explain the psychology behind the Snapchat Streak
Ezra mentioned Ralph Nader’s Consumer Movement. Here’s a description of that.
The New York Times article on greyscaling a phone that Tristan and Ezra discuss
Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves Reprint Edition by Adam Hochschild
Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman
Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman
Steven Pinker: enlightenment values made this the best moment in human history
Does the daily news feel depressing? Does the world feel grim? It’s not, says Harvard professor Steven Pinker. This is, in fact, the best moment in human history — there’s less war, less violence, less famine, less poverty, than there ever has been. There’s more opportunities for human flourishing, more personal freedom, more democracy, more education, more equality, more technological wonder, than the world has ever seen.
In Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, he mounts both his case that the world that this moment is astonishingly great from a historical perspective, and argues that there’s a reason for that: enlightenment values of science, reason, humanism, and faith in progress. Values that he says are under attack from a right that is retreating into zero-sum nationalism, a left that has lost faith in progress, and a public that doesn't always appreciate just how much progress has been made.
In this conversation, we talk about Pinker’s new book, as well as his views on political correctness on campus, how politics drives us to irrationality, and what future generations will look back on us with horror for doing. There are things Pinker says in here that I’m skeptical of, as you’ll hear, but I agree with his big point: if all you’re following is the daily news cycle, with our deep bias towards what’s going wrong right now, it’s easy to miss how much has gone right to get us to this moment.
Books and articles mentioned in this episode:
Pinker's piece for the New Repulibic, Science Is Not Your Enemy
Leon Wieseltier's reponse to that piece
Yuval Noah Harari's, Sapiens
Paul Shapiro's Clean Meat
Philip Tetlock's Superforecasting
Peter Singer's The Expanding Circle
Richard Herrnstein's controversial Atlantic piece on IQ
E.O. Wilson's book, Sociobiology
German Lopez's reporting on "The Ferguson Effect"
Factfulness by Hans Rosling
The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch
Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brandt
Atrocities by Matthew White
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
Bhaskar Sunkara is the founder and publisher of Jacobin, a journal of “socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” He launched the publication in 2011 when he was an undergraduate at George Washington University. Today, its print edition has 40,000 subscribers and a million readers monthly online.
Jacobin is at the vanguard of a resurgent American left that judges traditional liberalism as too weak and feckless for the times we live in and sees politics as fundamentally about class struggle. And Sunkara has been an able and interesting articulator of that view, as well as a longtime critic of mine.
I wanted to have Sunkara on the podcast to talk through what his form of socialism means in America and elsewhere today, what’s wrong with my politics, and what separates traditional forms of liberalism from democratic socialism. If you want to understand what the new American left is thinking, where it’s going, and what challenges it’s facing, his answers are worth listening to. Enjoy!
The Prophet: The Life of Leon Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher
The Other America by Michael Harrington
The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century by Eric Hobsbawm
Bhaskar Sunkara's piece that he and Ezra discuss
The year is young, but Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die is going to be one of its most important books. It will be read as a commentary on Donald Trump, which is fair enough, because the book is, in part, a commentary on Donald Trump. But it deserves more than that. It is more than that.
How Democracies Die is three books woven together. One summarizes acres of research on how democracies tumble into autocracy. The second is an analysis of the troubling conditions under which American democracy thrived and the reasons it has entered into decline. The third book is a fretful tour of Trump’s first year in office, and the ways in which his instincts and actions mirror those of would-be autocrats before him.
Of these, the book about Donald Trump is the least interesting, and so in this interview, I didn’t focus on it. Instead, this is a discussion about how modern democracies fall, and the ways in which American democracy has been creeping towards crisis for decades now.
Viewed this way, Trump is much more a symptom of our democratic decline than its cause. So let's talk about the cause.
Books and Articles Mentioned
The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger
The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910 by J. Morgan. Kousser
The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1) by Robert Caro
Political Order in Changing Societies by Samuel P. Huntington (edited)
Donald Matthews' book about the Senate in the 1950s
Julia Azari's piece, Weak parties and strong partisanship are a bad combination:
Rosenthal political polarization
The webcomic Ezra mentioned, "Different"
James Carse's book, Finite and Infinite Games
How to oppose Trump without becoming more like him
Krista Tippett is the host of the award-winning radio show and podcast On Being. In 2014, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama. For good reason. She's created, over decades, something rare in American life: spaces where people of different faiths, disciplines, and ideologies discuss divisive questions without becoming more divided, without losing sight of each other's humanity.
Tippett comes from a political family, and spent her early adulthood working on Cold War policy in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. She was a wonk who talked SALT treaties and nuclear policy for a living. But she left that life, believing that there were harder, deeper questions that language wasn’t allowing her to explore, much less answer.
I've been wanting to talk with Tippett because I think this is a moment that challenges our humanity as we engage in the daily thrum of politics. Trump makes everything he touches a bit Trumpier, he calls on our worst selves, he makes it seem more acceptable — even more necessary — to act more like him. And he degrades all of us in the process.
It has never, to me, felt harder to keep hold of decency in public life than it is now. This is something Tippett has rare skill at. Here, she both offers and models an approach all of us can learn from.
Walking the Pastures of Wonder by John O’Donahue
Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
Let Your Life Speak, by Parker Palmer
You will love this conversation with Jaron Lanier, but I can’t describe it
Oftentimes it’s easy for me to describe these conversations. This one is on Trump and Russia. That one is on health care. But not this time.
I want you to listen to this conversation, because Jaron Lanier is brilliant and his mind is unusual and spending some time within it is a privilege. But I don’t know how to describe it to you. It begins with the story of Lanier tripsitting Richard Feynman, the famed physicist, when he was dying from cancer and decided to try LSD, and it goes from there.
Lanier is a VR pioneer and a digital philosopher. He coined the term "virtual reality,” founded one of the first companies in the space, and has been involved in both the practice and theory of creating and living in virtual worlds for decades now. He's one of the most trenchant critics of Silicon Valley's business model, and the way it's screwed up both the internet and the world. And somehow, all this has made him a much more humanistic, insightful analyst of what it’s like to live in this world, too.
His latest book, “Dawn of the New Everything,” is one of my favorites of the last year — it’s thrilling to read a memoir that smart, and that strange, in an era that is so focused on making us dumber and angrier. And in person, Lanier is just as exciting — every answer has an insight worth hearing in it.
This is one of my favorite conversations I've had on the pod. Give it 15 minutes. If you don’t love it, I’ll give you your money back.
Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
I and Thou by Martin Buber
The most clarifying conversation I’ve had on Trump and Russia
What really happened between the Trump campaign and the Russian government?
The investigation into that question has rocked American politics. The FBI director was fired over it. The attorney general might get fired over it. The president’s former campaign manager and his original national security adviser were charged with crimes as part of it. The president himself might ultimately be charged with obstruction of justice for his response to it.
It’s also a devilishly difficult story to follow, with information coming out in half-true dribs and drabs, new names grabbing headlines and then disappearing for weeks, and countless threads that need to somehow be stitched into a coherent whole. Which is why I asked Susan Hennessey to join the podcast this week.
Hennessey, a former lawyer at the National Security Agency, is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and managing editor of Lawfare, which has done extraordinary work both tracking and driving this story. And in this conversation, she pulls it all together in ways I found extremely clarifying, and occasionally horrifying.
This is a conversation about the big picture of the Russia investigation: what we know and what we don’t know, what Robert Mueller has actually promised to deliver, what collusion really means, how Trump’s aides could have done what they’ve been accused of doing, and much more.
Pod Save America’s Jon Favreau on Trump’s first year, the GOP’s “rot,” and the left’s failures
Jon Favreau was President Obama’s chief speechwriter. In those days, he was a frequent critic of the political media, frustrated, as many in the Obama administration were, with its focus on conflict, on ephemera, on appearing even-handed even when reality was persistently skewed.
Today, Favreau is changing the media from the inside. He’s a co-host on Pod Save America, and co-founder of Crooked Media, both of which have seen tremendous growth in 2017.
In this conversation, we look back on 2017, talk through the first year of the Trump White House (“a day-to-day shitshow”); the Democrats he’s watching for 2020; the mechanics of building a podcast empire; Favreau’s concern about the left (“we need to take the time to persuade other people of what we believe”); and the rot in the Republican Party.
To Favreau, the right-wing media is “the real center of gravity in that party; it’s not the Republicans in Congress, it’s not even really Donald Trump, although I guess you could say that he is, in some ways, a creation of that media machine.”
What Happened by Hillary Clinton
The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton
All the Truth is Out by Matt Bai
“The day before the Washington Post story came out, we were behind by one point, 46 to 45,” says Joe Trippi. “And the day before the election, we were ahead in our own survey by two points. We ended up winning by 1.8.”
This, Trippi says, was the reality of the Alabama Senate election. It was a dead heat when it started. It was a dead heat on the day it ended. And a lot of what the media thinks they know about it is wrong.
Trippi, who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, was the chief media strategist on the Jones campaign. And in this conversation, he tells the inside story of that effort, and what people don’t know about it. The sexual abuse allegations against Roy Moore, for instance, played a more complex role than many realize — the Jones campaign found that they often re-tribalized a race that they were desperately trying de-tribalize, and would occasionally boost Roy Moore’s numbers.
Trippi says the central insight of the Jones campaign was that many voters, including many Trump-friendly Republicans, are already exhausted by the chaos and hostility of Trump’s Washington, and they're open to alternatives. That was the opportunity Jones exploited, and it’s a lesson Trippi thinks other Democrats could learn in 2018. Here's how the Jones campaign did it.
What It Takes: The Way to the White House by Richard Ben Cramer
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
Grant by Ron Chernow
The most important story in the world right now is how real the chance of war with North Korea is — and how cataclysmic such a war would be.
Part of the reason the risk of war is so real is that our understanding of North Korea is so sparse. "The Hermit Kingdom" is a world unto itself; a land of deprivation, of lunacy, of tyranny, of delusion. We have no diplomatic relations, no trade, no cross-cultural exchanges. We don't understand Kim Jong Un, we don't understand his people, and they don't understand us. And so, ignorant, we lurch towards the possibility of nuclear war built atop mutual miscomprehension.
The best view we have into life in North Korea is Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: The Ordinary Lives of North Koreans. Demick was the Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Seoul and Beijing, and she found herself obsessed with this country she couldn't cover and couldn't understand. So she began talking to the people who had left it, the refugees who escaped across the DMZ. She began asking them to reconstruct their lives, to tell her what it was like, to make everyday life in North Korea intelligible. And they did. They told her what it was like to grow up, and to fall in love, and to go to school, and to have dinner, and to flee. They told her what it was like to build new lives, to remember past friends, to know their family was in a place they could never visit again, to hear the rest of the world fear and pity the place they had once called home.
This conversation is about North Korea, but it's also about North Koreans — about what it's like to live in the most closed society on earth, about what they know and don't know of the outside world, about how their existence can be both ordinary and extraordinary, about what would happen to them if there was a war. And this is a conversation about what we need to know about North Korea, about how the country's past informs its present, about what Demick would tell Trump if he would just listen.
"An orgy of serious policy discussion" with Paul Krugman
On October 24, 2016, in the final days of the presidential election, Paul Krugman, the Nobel-prize winning economist and New York Times columnist, tweeted, "When this election is finally over, I'm planning to celebrate with an orgy of...serious policy discussion.”
Then, of course, Donald Trump won the election, and serious policy discussion took a backseat to alternative facts, at least for awhile. But now it’s time!
In this podcast, Krugman and I cover a lot of ground. We talk taxes, net neutrality, universal basic incomes, job guarantees, antitrust, automation, productivity growth, health care, climate change, college costs, and more. Krugman explains why more information doesn’t make people better thinkers, the “kitchen test” for assessing how much technological progress a society is really making, and what the role of policy analysis is when the policymakers don’t care about evidence.
The Foundation novels by Isaac Asimov
An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume
Plagues and Peoples by William McNeil
I have grown obsessed with a seemingly simple question: Does the American political system have a remedy if we elect the wrong person to be president? There are clear answers if we elect a criminal or if the president falls into a coma. But what if we just make a hiring mistake, as companies do all the time? What if we elect someone who proves himself or herself unfit for office — impulsive, conspiratorial, undisciplined, destructive, cruel?
I’ve spent the past few months reporting out a story on that question — a story that is about Donald Trump, sure, but also about the American political system more broadly — and so today, on the podcast, the tables are turned: Sean Rameswaram, the host of Vox's new, soon-to-be daily explainer podcast, interviewed me about “The case for normalizing impeachment.”
The big question here is one that I've been weighing on the podcast in recent months (listen to my second episode with Chris Hayes and you'll hear an early version of it): Are the civic and political consequences of impeachment worse than the consequences of leaving a dangerously unfit president in office? I think I've come to an answer — but it's not the answer I started with. Enjoy!
Suggested books on impeachment:
Impeachment: A Handbook by Charles Black Jr.
Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide by Cass Sunstein
Young Radicals: In the War for American Ideals by Jeremy McCarter
Constitutional Law Stories edited by Michael C. Dorf
I wanted to take a post-Thanksgiving break from politics and current events this week to talk to Robert Wright. He's written some of the best books on religion and evolutionary psychology, including Non-Zero and The Evolution of God.
His latest book is Why Buddhism is True, and it’s fantastic. I’m interested in mindfulness, and so have read a lot of books on the subject. This isn’t like those. It’s a not a how-to guide, or an argument for meditation’s health benefits. It’s a deep dive into theories of the mind, informed both by Wright’s scientific background and his study and practice of Buddhism. It’s about how our minds evolved to keep us alive, not to keep us happy or satisfied — and what can be done about it.
There is practical advice in this podcast, too. Wright beautifully describes what happens when he reaches what he calls "meditative depths,” what it’s like to go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, and why a mindful outlook doesn’t lead to complacency or neutrality. But whether you’re interested in meditation or not, you should be interested in how your mind works, and on that, Wright has a lot to say that’s worth hearing.
What is Life? / Mind and Matter by Erwin Schrödinger
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratan
What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula
Rebecca Traister on #MeToo, female rage, and Anita Hill’s legacy
We’re living through an upheaval. The #MeToo moment has engulfed some of the most powerful men in politics, entertainment, and media. It has also forced a national reckoning with the reality of America’s sexual and workplace cultures — how often they permitted harassment and assault to flourish, how routinely they protected perpetrators and blamed victims. But why is it happening now? And will it continue or be swept away in backlash? Rebecca Traister is a writer-at-large at New York magazine, as well as the author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women. And she’s one of the most essential writers to read on the intersection of gender and politics. In this conversation, Traister traces this moment back to Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas — a “turning point” that changed American politics. We talk about Bill Clinton’s complex legacy, and Traister’s view that there would be no #MeToo moment without Trump. We talk about why the Weinstein allegations were able to set off such a chain reaction — and also how this is a more fragile movement than many realize, and the various ways in which Traister fears it could collapse. Books: Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas by Jill Abramson and Jane Meyer Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper One Woman One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement ed. Marjorie Spruill Wheeler
Ai-jen Poo: the future of work isn’t robots. It’s caring humans.
When we talk about the future of work, we usually focus on artificial intelligence, robotics, driverless cars. The future of work, we’re told, is a future where humans cease to be necessary.
Ai-jen Poo wants to refocus that conversation. When we think about the future of work, she says, we need to think about care workers. Home care work — caring for the elderly and for children — is the fastest-growing occupation in the entire workforce, expanding at five times the rate of any other job. By the year 2030, child care and elder care jobs will be our economy's single largest occupation. If you’re talking about the future of work and you’re not talking about care work, you’re doing it wrong.
Poo is a MacArthur "genius" grant-winning activist and organizer. She began her career in New York City, organizing domestic workers, and eventually lobbied New York state to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Thanks to her efforts, seven other states have now passed similar legislation.
Today, Poo is the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the co-director of Caring Across Generations, and the author of The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America. In this episode, we talk about how she managed to organize a population of workers that spend most of their lives behind closed doors, why she calls herself a "futurist," and the central paradox of care work in America — that the folks who care for those we love are often the most undervalued and least protected.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes,
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
Evan Osnos on the North Korea crisis, Trump’s mental health, and China's rise
Evan Osnos is the author of the National Book Award-winning The Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, as well as a staff writer at the New Yorker. And he’s recently back from a trip to North Korea, where he learned how Trump’s threats are playing in one of the strangest and most sealed-off regimes on earth.
“To go between Washington and Pyongyang at this nuclear moment is to be struck, most of all, by how little the two understand each other,” he wrote. “In eighteen years of reporting, I’ve never felt as much uncertainty at the end of a project, a feeling that nobody—not the diplomats, the strategists, or the scholars who have devoted their lives to the subject—is able to describe with confidence how the other side thinks.”
In this discussion, Osnos and I talk about that trip: about what North Korea is like, what they think about us, and what war with them would actually mean. We also talk about China — they literally can’t believe their luck with Donald Trump, he says — and whether the widespread rumors that Trump is facing some kind of mental deterioration are true. Osnos, who dove deep into the subject for a New Yorker article on the 25th Amendment, fears they are.
And that’s not all: We dig into the pressures for war in Washington, the tendency toward survivalism in Silicon Valley, and why Osnos finds his best article subjects by looking at some of the worst things that could possibly happen to the human race. I enjoyed this conversation immensely. I think you will, too.
Citizen-Protectors by Jennifer Carlson
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The China Fantasy by James Mann
Here’s a counterintuitive thought: maybe Congress in particular, and politics in general, has too little conflict, not too much.
That’s James Wallner’s argument, and it’s more persuasive than you might think. Wallner is a political scientist who became a top Republican Senate aide, working as legislative director for Senators Jeff Sessions and Pat Toomey, as well as executive director of the Senate Steering Committee under Toomey and Lee. He’s now a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, and the author of “The Death of Deliberation: Partisanship and Polarization in the United States Senate.”
Wallner is immersed in congressional history and procedure, and one of his conclusions after years of both study and experience is that the leadership in both parties are using the rules to stymie disagreement and suppress chaos — and well-intentioned though this might be, it’s making everything worse. Congress, Wallner believes, is an institution designed to surface conflict so that positions can be made clear, compromises can be tested, and a way forward can be found. That’s not happening now, and the results are disastrous.
The Republican Party is particularly bad on this score, he says. “They pretend like they all agree on everything...But if you never deal with your problems, what do you think happens? A break-up! And that's literally what you're seeing right now.”
The first few times I hard Wallner’s arguments, I was skeptical. In some ways, I’m still skeptical, as you’ll hear in this conversation. But I’m also convinced he’s onto something important.
The Professor's House by Willa Cather
Democracy and Leadership by Irving Babbitt
Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 by James Madison
Why the Weinstein scandal gives Tig Notaro hope about Hollywood
Tig Notaro dropped out of high school. She drifted between odd jobs for a long time and eventually found her way to Colorado, where she discovered open mic nights and a talent for stand-up comedy. Stand-up brought discipline to her life. But fame eluded her until 2012, when she released "Live," the comedy album of the stand-up set she performed just four days after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and soon after her mother suddenly passed away. Now, Notaro has her own show, "One Mississippi," on Amazon Prime. The show is semi-autobiographical, and she plays a version of herself, a radio host who recently lost her mother and struggles after a double mastectomy. As we discuss here, "One Mississippi" brilliantly tackles workplace sexual harassment, in terms all too familiar in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations. And it doesn’t stop within the boundaries of the show: Notaro has said that Louis CK, one of her executive producers, needs to “handle” the sexual harassment allegations that have swirled around him.
What happens when human beings take control of their own evolution?
Over the past decade, scientists have developed what was once just the subject of dystopian fiction: gene editing technology.
It's known as CRISPR. Jennifer Doudna, a professor of molecular and cell biology and chemistry at the University of California Berkeley, was a key member of the research group that developed the technology. She's also the co-author of the recent book A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution.
A straightforward description of CRISPR is mind-boggling in what it suggests. As Doudna writes, “the genome — an organism’s entire DNA content, including all its genes — has become almost as editable as a simple piece of text.” It is possible that when the history of this era is written, most of our obsessions — Trump, tax rates, cybersecurity, Obamacare, NFL protests — will be forgotten, and CRISPR will be where historians focus.
With great power comes great responsibility — and genuine terror. Doudna had a nightmare as her lab and others started to use CRISPR to make heritable changes in genes. She dreamed that her colleague wanted her to meet someone interested in her research — and it was Adolf Hitler with a pig face, waiting to take notes on the technology she developed. She awoke from that dream in a cold sweat. And the concerns that dream represent pushed her to discuss the implications of CRISPR technology publicly.
CRISPR could do enormous good or tremendous harm — or both. In this conversation, Doudna and I discuss its possibilities, its dangers, its technical obstacles, the regulatory questions it raises, and much more.
The Double Helix by Jim Watson
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
“It’s important to remember the inconsequence of one’s talent and hard work and the incredible and unmatched sway of luck and fate,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his new book, We Were Eight Years in Power.
Coates’s view of his career flows from his view of human events: contingent, unguided, and devoid of higher morality or cosmic justice. He is not here to comfort you. He is not here to comfort himself. "Nothing in the record of human history argues for a divine morality, and a great deal argues against it," he writes. "What we know is that good people very often suffer terribly, while the perpetrators of horrific evil backstroke through all the pleasures of the world."
It’s this worldview that makes conversations with Coates so bracing. His philosophy leaves room for chaos, for disorder, for things to go terribly wrong and stay that way. In this discussion, I asked him what would make him hopeful, what it would mean for America to live up to its ideals. Closing the 20-to-1 white-black wealth gap, he replied. But what would that take, he asked? “Maybe something so large that you find yourself in a country that's not even America anymore.”
Maybe, he mused, it’s something that he couldn’t even support. "It's very easy for me to see myself being contemporary with processes that might make for an equal world, more equality, and maybe the complete abolition of race as a construct, and being horrified by the process, maybe even attacking the process. I think these things don't tend to happen peacefully."
This is a discussion about race, about luck, about history, about politics, but above all, about how the stories we tell ourselves are often designed to carry comfort rather than truth.
"For me, my part in this struggle, my part to make a better world, is not simply to have people pick up my work and say, 'Well, all the facts seem correct. I think this is right,' and, then move on with their lives," says Coates. "My job is to bring across the emotion, to make them feel a certain way, to haunt them, to make it hard to sleep."
Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have studied American politics for more than three decades. They are the town’s go-to experts on the workings of Congress. In 2012, they rocked Washington when they published It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, a book that marshaled their considerable authority to argue that the dysfunction poisoning American government was the result of “asymmetric polarization,” notably a Republican Party that “has become an insurgent outlier in American politics — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
This was a controversial diagnosis then. After Trump, it’s closer to the conventional wisdom.
E.J. Dionne is a columnist at the Washington Post, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and the author of the classic book Why Americans Hate Politics. He’s one of the sharpest political observers alive.
And now, like a Canadian indie-rock supergroup, the three of them have come together to write One Nation After Trump, a dive into how the Republican Party created Trump, how Trump won, and what comes next.
As Dionne says in this interview, the American system was "not supposed to produce a president like this,” and so a lot of our conversation is about how the guardrails failed and whether they can be rebuilt. Mann, Ornstein, and Dionne may be political sages, but they're also a lot of fun, and they have a lot of fun together. You'll hear that in this conversation.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal by William Leuchtenburg
Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr.
The First Congress by Fergus Bordewich
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Democracy for Realists by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels
Reihan Salam wants to remake the Republican Party -- again
In 2008, Reihan Salam co-wrote Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream with his frequent collaborator Ross Douthat.
After nearly eight years of President Bush, Salam wanted to remake the Republican Party to appeal to the working-class voters it needed. The vision was idea-driven: tax policy that helped the middle class, healthcare ideas that would mean more insurance for more people, and a generalized effort to remake the safety net to support modern families.
In 2016, Donald Trump managed to make the Republican Party more popular among working class whites. But he didn’t do it the way Salam hoped.
Today, Salam is executive editor at the National Review, and he’s trying to puzzle his way towards a new synthesis on the questions fracturing American politics. In this episode, we talk about the future of the Republican Party, the healthcare debate, and how he would reform our immigration system (and upend the whole way we talk about it). Salam is a fast, original thinker, and he packs a lot into this conversation. Enjoy!
Greater Than Ever: New York's Big Comeback by Dan Doctoroff
How Change Happens -- Or Doesn't: The Politics of US Public Policy by Elaine Kamarck
The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration by David Goodhart
David Remnick on journalism in the Trump era and why he hires obsessives
For the past 19 years, David Remnick has been the editor of the New Yorker, perhaps the greatest magazine in the English language. Under his leadership, the New Yorker has received 149 nominations for National Magazine Awards and won 37. It’s also, perhaps more impressively, been consistently profitable in an era where many august journalism organizations have seen their business models collapse.
And Remnick keeps writing. He’s the author of six books, including Lenin’s Tomb, which won a Pulitzer Prize, and The Bridge, a fascinating biography of Barack Obama, and he churns out a steady stream of deeply reported profiles of musicians, athletes, and politicians. Oh, and he hosts the New Yorker Radio Hour.
He’s a busy guy.
Remnick started his career as a beat reporter at the Washington Post. In 1988, the Post sent him to Moscow, an auspicious time for a young reporter to land in what was then the Soviet Union. There, he witnessed the fall of the USSR and the creation of modern Russia — a journalistic background that has become startlingly relevant in recent years.
In this wide-ranging discussion, the New Yorker editor discusses Russia’s meddling in the US election, Russia’s transformation from communist rule to Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, his magazine’s coverage of President Donald Trump, how he chooses his reporters and editors, and how to build a real business around great journalism. Whether you care about politics or journalism or just the role of truth in society today, there's a lot of wisdom here.
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The novels of Vladimir Nabokov
On page 239 of What Happened, Hillary Clinton reveals that she almost ran a very different campaign in 2016. Before announcing for president, she read Peter Barnes’s book With Liberty and Dividends for All, and became fascinated by the idea of using revenue from shared natural resources, like fossil fuel extraction and public airwaves, alongside revenue from taxing public harms, like carbon emissions and risky financial practices, to give every American “a modest basic income.”
Her ambitions for this idea were expansive, touching on not just the country’s economic ills but its political and spiritual ones. “Besides cash in people’s pockets,” she writes, “it would be also be a way of making every American feel more connected to our country and to each other.”
This is the kind of transformative vision that Clinton was often criticized for not having. It’s an idea bigger than a wall, perhaps bigger even than single-payer health care or free college. But she couldn’t make the numbers work. Every version of the plan she tried either raised taxes too high or slashed essential programs. So she scrapped it. “That was the responsible decision,” she writes. But after the 2016 election, Clinton is no longer sure that “responsible” is the right litmus test for campaign rhetoric. “I wonder now whether we should’ve thrown caution to the wind, embraced [it] as a long-term goal and figured out the details later,” she writes.
What Happened has been sold as Clinton’s apologia for her 2016 campaign, and it is that. But it’s more remarkable for Clinton’s extended defense of a political style that has become unfashionable in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Clinton is not a radical or a revolutionary, a disruptor or a socialist, and she’s proud of that fact. She’s a pragmatist who believes in working within the system, in promising roughly what you believe you can deliver, in saying how you’ll pay for your plans. She is frustrated by a polity that doesn’t share her “thrill” over incremental policies that help real people or her skepticism of sweeping plans that will never come to fruition. She believes in politics the way it is actually practiced, and she holds to that belief at a moment when it’s never been less popular.
This makes Clinton a more unusual figure than she gets credit for being: Not only does she refuse to paint an inspiring vision of a political process rid of corruption, partisanship, and rancor, but she’s also actively dismissive of those promises and the politicians who make them.
On Tuesday morning, I sat down with Clinton for an hour on the first official day of her book tour. It is a cliché that stiff candidates become freer, easier, and more confident after they lose — see Gore, Al — but it is true for Clinton. Jon Stewart used to talk of the “buffering” you could see happening in the milliseconds between when Clinton was asked a question and when she answered; the moments when she played out the angles, envisioned the ways her words could be twisted, and came up with a response devoid of danger but suffused with caution. That buffering is gone.
In our conversation, she was as quick and confident as I’ve seen her, making the case for her politics without worrying too much about the coalitional angles or the possible lines of offense. And she says plenty that can, and will, offend. In our discussion, she lit into Bernie Sanders’s single-payer plan, warned that Donald Trump is dragging us down an authoritarian path, spoke openly of the role racism and white resentment played in the campaign, and argued that the outcome of the 2016 election represented a failure of the media above all. This was Clinton unleashed, and while she talked about what happened, it was much more interesting when she talked about what she believed should have happened.
Dan Rather thought he'd seen it all. But then came President Trump.
Dan Rather has covered the most momentous events of the modern era. He was in Dallas, Texas, during President Kennedy's assassination. He was in Vietnam, embedded with US troops, in 1965 and 1966. He reported on Watergate, stood at the Berlin Wall as it fell, and interviewed young Chinese dissidents as tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square.
Rather has seen it all. So when I sat down with him a few weeks back, I wanted to know how he compared our current political climate to all of the contentious moments he's covered.
"I am an optimist by experience and by nature," he told me. And yet, he continued, "this is a very difficult period. This is a test of our whole democratic system."
Rather and I discuss the Trump presidency and what it means for the Republican Party's future, our fractured media landscape, and Rather's own evolving career in media.
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
From 4Chan to Charlottesville: where the alt-right came from, and where it's going
Angela Nagle spent the better part of the past decade in the darkest corners of the internet, learning how online subcultures emerge and thrive on forums like 4chan and Tumblr.
The result is her fantastic new book, Kill All the Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, a comprehensive exploration of the origins of our current political moment.
We talk about the origins of the alt-right, and how the movement morphed from transgressive aesthetics on the internet to the violence in Charlottesville, but we also discuss PC culture on the left, demographic change in America, and the toxicity of online politics in general. Nagle is particularly interested in how the left's policing of language radicalizes its victims and creates space for alt-right groups to find eager recruits, and so we dive deep into that.
Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud
This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture by Whitney Phillips
The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom by Evgeny Morozov
Why prosecutors, not cops, are the keys to criminal justice reform
Angela J. Davis is the former director of the DC public defender service, a professor of law at American University, and editor of a remarkable new book titled Policing the Black Man, which pulls together deeply researched essays on virtually every aspect of how black men and black boys interact with the criminal justice system.
It is a revelatory, comprehensive tour of the subject that’s often in the news but rarely treated in a thorough way.
We cover a lot of ground in this podcast, looking at everything from disparities in crime rates to sentencing to policing. But perhaps the most important point we cover — which is also the subject of Davis’s chapter in the book — is that the conversation around criminal justice reform often misses the key actors.
The debate tends to focus on police, but as Davis writes, "prosecutors are the most powerful officials in the criminal justice system, bar none. Police officers have the power to arrest and bring individuals to the courthouse door. But prosecutors decide whether they enter the door and what happens to them if and when they do.”
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
My Beloved World by Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Chris Hayes on whether Trump should be removed from office
In the aftermath of Trump’s bizarre, dangerous North Korea tweets, I’ve been fixated on a question: Should Trump be removed from office?
The mechanisms we have for curbing a dangerous presidency are limited, at least as we normally think about them. Though legal scholars argue over the founders’ intent, impeachment is thought to be a remedy for executive criminality, while the 25th Amendment is only meant to be used amid physical and mental incapacitation.
But what if neither condition is present? What if the United States of America — a nuclear hyperpower — just puts the wrong person in the job? What if we make a mistake — now or in the future — that is not clearly driven by breaches of law or catastrophic changes in health? What remedies does our system offer? What would the cost of invoking those remedies be?
Chris Hayes is the host of MSNBC’s All In, and he’s also an unusually thoughtful analyst of political institutions and systems. So I asked him back to the podcast to talk about this question, and a few more. We cover the infighting between different factions of the Democratic Party, the signs that congressional Republicans are growing some backbone, and the reports that Trump’s closest aides are conspiring to keep him from doing too much damage to the country.
This is a great conversation about some topics you’re going to hear a lot more from me on soon. Enjoy!
(One note: This conversation was recorded a few days before the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, which is why you don’t hear us cover it. But Trump’s reaction to the rally only underscores many of the points we make in this podcast.)
Sen. Michael Bennet on why this is a dismal, sociopathic era in Congress
Michael Bennet is an accidental senator. He was unexpectedly appointed to fill an open seat after Ken Salazar joined the Obama administration. He had never run for elected office before, or served in a legislative body. Perhaps that’s why he’s always, in my experience, been appropriately shocked by how the US Congress actually works.
Since joining the Senate (and winning reelection in 2010 and 2016), Bennet has become one of its more effective members. He was part of the Gang of Eight that authored the immigration reform plan that passed the body, and he’s known for working well with both Republicans and Democrats. And yet, he is despairing over the state of the institution in which he serves.
This is a conversation about why Congress is broken, and what broke it. We discuss money, partisanship, the media, the rules, the leadership, and much more. We talk about what Bennet thinks House of Cards gets right (hint: it’s the sociopathy) and whether President Trump’s antics are creating some hope of institutional renewal.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this conversation, and I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say, if you care about the US Congress in this age — and you should — this is a discussion worth hearing.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce
What’s scary isn’t Trump’s illiberalism but America's acceptance of it
Yascha Mounk is a lecturer at Harvard, a columnist at Slate, and the host of The Good Fight podcast. He’s also an expert on how democracies backslide into illiberalism — which was the topic of our first conversation on this podcast.
But when Mounk and I last spoke, fears of Trump’s illiberal instincts seemed to have been overblown. This was an administration too incompetent to be authoritarian.
But Mounk made a prediction then that has, I think, been borne out: Trump’s illiberal instincts would be catalyzed by his failures, not his successes. As Trump finds himself frustrated by Congress, and by the FBI investigation, and by Robert Mueller’s inquiry, and by White House leakers, he lashes out at the system he thinks is unfairly, even dangerously, constraining him.
Of late, Trump’s illiberalism has made a comeback — he’s giving speeches calling for more police brutality, he fired an FBI director who threatened him, he’s attacking his own attorney general for doing too little to shield him from investigation, he’s demanding vast changes to congressional rules, he’s calling for administration lawyers to begin exploring the reach of his pardon powers, and he's running a White House where the clear guiding principle is loyalty to Trump rather than loyalty to country. But as Mounk and I discuss in this podcast, that’s not the scary part.
The scary part isn’t Trump’s illiberalism but the political system’s acceptance of it. If you had read off Trump’s list of offenses as a hypothetical 12 months ago, you would’ve been told that neither Congress nor the public would allow any of this to go unpunished. But Trump remains around 40 percent in the polls and his support among congressional Republicans has barely wavered.
This is a lesson that goes far beyond Trump: We’re learning that American politics is much more vulnerable to, and much less offended by, leaders who want to subvert the rule of law than we thought. It may be that Trump is too impulsive and short-tempered to take advantage of that fact. But will that be true of his successors, too?
As you’ll hear in this podcast, as Mounk and I were discussing that question, we got news that Trump had fired his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and replaced him with Gen. John Kelly. You’ll get to hear us react to that in real time. Enjoy!
Julia Galef on how to argue better and change your mind more
At least in politics, this is an era of awful arguments. Arguments made in bad faith. Arguments in which no one, on either side, is willing to change their mind. Arguments where the points being made do not describe, or influence, the positions being held. Arguments that leave everyone dumber, angrier, sadder.
Which is why I wanted to talk to Julia Galef this week. Julia is the host of the Rationally Speaking podcast, a co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, and the creator of the Update Project, which maps out arguments to make it easier for people to disagree clearly and productively. Her work focuses on how we think and argue, as well as the cognitive biases and traps that keep us from hearing what we're really saying, hearing what others are really saying, and preferring answers that make us feel good to answers that are true. I first met her at a Vox Conversation conference, where she ran a session helping people learn to change their minds, and it's struck me since then that more of us could probably use that training.
In this episode, Julia and I talk about what she's learned about thinking more clearly and arguing better, as well as my concerns that the traditional paths toward a better discourse open up new traps of their own. (As you'll hear, I find it very easy to get lost in all the ways debate and cognition can go awry.) We talk about signaling, about motivated reasoning, about probabilistic debating, about which identities help us find truth, and about how to make online arguments less terrible.
Language, Truth, and Logic by A.J. Ayer
Seeing Like a State by James Scott
The Robot's Rebellion by Keith Stanovich
Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, the first psychologist to run a jail
Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart calls the 8,000-person Cook County Jail the largest mental health institution in the country. Thirty percent of its inmates have diagnosed mental health issues, and the number with undiagnosed conditions is thought to push the true percentage much higher. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Dart chose Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, a psychologist, to run it.
What is surprising is that Jones Tapia is the first mental health profession to run a jail. In this conversation, we talk about how the justice system looks when you begin with a mental health lens — how you balance punishment and treatment, how you think about personal responsibility versus mental instability, and how you manage the tension between what we use jail for and what we should use jail for.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck, M.D.
Eddie Izzard on World War I, cake or death, and marathoning
Now that I've gotten Eddie Izzard to re-derive his famed "cake or death?" routine in real time, I'm ending this podcast. Always good to go out on top.
Okay, maybe I won't actually end it. But this episode was a thrill to do. Eddie Izzard has long been one of my favorite comics. I've watched his specials more times than I can count. And this conversation was a real pleasure. Izzard — whose new memoir, Believe Me, is now on shelves — thinks fast, and not always linearly, so we covered a lot of ground.
Among our topics:
- How he ran 27 marathons in 27 days, and why he did it
- His process for writing jokes
- Why he wants to run for parliament, and how he's taken inspiration from Al Franken's career
- His techniques for borrowing confidence from his future self
- What he learned as a street performer
- Why so many of his routines are based on history and anthropology
- His off-the-cuff and hilarious explanation of World War I
- The thought process that led to his famous "cake or death?" routine
- His gender identity, and how he integrated it into his act early on
- How he managed being the first transgender person many Americans ever saw
- Who excites him in comedy now
- His thoughts on the recent British election
And much more. Enjoy this conversation. I certainly did.
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Avik Roy and Ezra debate the Senate GOP's health bill
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate GOP’s health care bill — officially known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act — will lead to 22 million fewer people with health insurance and plans with such high deductibles that low-income people won’t be able to afford them. On the bright side? Massive tax cuts for the rich.
It’s not a widely popular vision — the bill is struggling to attract Republican support, and is polling between 12 and 17 percent. But it does have defenders. Chief among them is Avik Roy, a past guest on this podcast and the co-founder of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. The bill’s passage, Roy said, would be "the greatest policy achievement by a GOP Congress in my lifetime.”
I am, to say the least, not a fan of this legislation. So I asked Roy to return to the podcast to discuss it. I wanted to hear the best possible case for the bill.
In this conversation, we discuss the Better Care Reconciliation Act, but also the broader health care philosophies that fracture the right. We talk about Roy’s disagreements with the CBO’s methodology, as well as the many, many ways he thinks the Senate bill needs to improve. We talk about the ways the GOP has moved left on health care policy without coming to a consensus about what the policy is meant to accomplish. We talk about Medicaid, about welfare reform, and about how policymakers should think about the needy who are hard to help. We talk about the many ways the American health care system subsidizes the rich, and the way that money could be better used.
Roy, I would say, is a lot more enthusiastic about the Senate bill in theory than in practice. After this discussion, I better understood why he sees the bill as a victory for Republicans who want their party to embrace universal health care, but I left thinking he was underrating the dangers of a party that isn’t united behind that vision implementing legislation like this. We discuss that, too.
If you want to understand the GOP’s internal dynamics on health care, listen to this conversation. I cover this stuff for a living, and I learned a lot.
danah boyd is an anthropologist and computer scientist who studies the way people actually use technology. Not the way we wish we used technology, or the way we hope we will use technology, but the way we actually use it.“Technology,” she says, "is made by people. In a society. And it has a tendency to mirror and magnify the issues that affect everyday life.”boyd is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, the founder of Data & Society, a visiting professor at New York University, and a fantastically interesting thinker. She packs more insight into a blog post than many authors get into a book. I’ve been reading her and learning from her for a long time, so I’ve been looking forward to this discussion, and it didn’t disappoint.In this conversation, we discuss why fake news is so easy to believe, digital white flight, how an anthropologist studies social media, the reasons machine learning algorithms reflect our prejudices rather than fixing them, what Netflix initially got wrong about their recommendations engine, the value of pretending your audience is only six people, the early utopian visions of the internet, and so, so much more. Enjoy!Books:Jean Briggs's "Inuit Morality Play: The Emotional Education of a Three-Year-Old”Hannah Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil”Margaret Mead's collection of her Redbook essays
Sen. Al Franken’s new book, Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, is the rare politician memoir that’s actually interesting. And note that I said interesting, not funny (though it is also funny).Most books by politicians are about how they’re not really politicians — they’re authentic, they’re honest, they shoot from the hip, they still remember what it was like growing up in a mill town raised by feral dogs and subsisting on nothing but hay.Franken’s book is the opposite: It’s the story of how he learned to be a politician, and even how he learned to respect politicians. It’s about realizing he couldn’t litigate his past comedy, about trusting his staff, about understanding why politicians act the way they do in interviews, about recognizing why the norms of the Senate matter.So this is an interview about what it’s like to be a politician, why perfectly nice and interesting people end up acting like all those other politicians after getting elected, and the role we as voters (and we in the media) play in it. If you’re interested in how politics actually works, you should listen.Books!Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy by Sheldon WhitehouseHow Children Succeed: Confidence, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul ToughOur Kids by Robert Putnam
Zephyr Teachout on suing Trump, fighting corruption, and breaking monopolies
Zephyr Teachout is a law professor at Fordham University, the author of Corruption in America, one of the lead lawyers in the emoluments case that’s been brought against Donald Trump, and a former gubernatorial and congressional candidate.Which is all to say that Teachout is someone who knows a lot about political corruption, and so we dive deep into that topic in this podcast.We talk about how political corruption was defined by the Founding Fathers, and why, during the Constitutional Convention, they discussed the threat posed by corruption more than they discussed the threat posed by foreign invasion. And we talk about the way today’s Supreme Court — in the Citizens United and related decisions — has narrowed the definition to be almost meaningless. Teachout is also one of the lead lawyers in the case being brought against Trump on his foreign profits and gifts — “emoluments” that, arguably, are unconstitutional. We go through that lawsuit — and its prospects and potential remedies — in some detail.We also dig into the role monopolies and related concentrations of industry power are playing in American life — this is an increasingly influential argument on today’s left, and Teachout does a nice job here explaining why.Finally, we talk a lot about an issue that I think today’s politicians wildly underestimate in importance: not corruption itself, but the appearance of corruption, and the way it’s rotting the public’s faith in the political system. How do you solve that? What are the possible unintended consequences of the solutions that get proposed?As they say, all that and more!Books:Middlemarch by George Eliot The Gilded Age by Mark TwainAll the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Masha Gessen offers a plausible Trump-Russia theory
Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist and the author of, among other books, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Since the election, she has been analyzing Donald Trump through the lens of Russian politics and personalities in a series of viral essays in the New York Review of Books. But as the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia has evolved into a dominant storyline of his presidency, Gessen has grown skeptical. She thinks the left has been overwhelmed by conspiratorial thinking on Russia. That doesn't mean, she hastens to say, that there is no conspiracy. But there is also wishful thinking, and lazy thinking, and a hope that the normal mechanisms of politics can be bypassed."For more than six months now, Russia has served as a crutch for the American imagination," Gessen wrote. "It is used to explain how Trump could have happened to us, and it is also called upon to give us hope. When the Russian conspiracy behind Trump is finally fully exposed, our national nightmare will be over."In this podcast, Gessen and I talk about all things Trump and Russia. I ask her for both the plausible and sinister explanations for the many meetings and mysteries that surround Trump's associates. We talk about the ways Trump is and isn't like Putin, how studying autocracies has helped her interpret this moment in American politics, the psychology of Jared Kushner, and much more. Enjoy!Books:Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear WitnessTimothy Snyder, On Tyranny
Few words are as reviled in American politics as “cosmopolitan.” The term invokes sneering, urban, elite condescension. It’s those smug cosmopolitans who led to Donald Trump’s election. It’s those rootless cosmopolitans who’re shipping jobs overseas with no thought for their home communities. Cosmopolitans. Ick. Kwame Anthony Appiah is a British-born Ghanaian-American philosopher at New York University, as well the writer of the New York Times Magazine’s “Ethicist” column. He’s also the author of the wonderful book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. And this is a conversation I’ve been wanting to have with him for a long time. “For most of human history, we were born into small societies of a few score people, bands of hunters and gatherers, and would see, on a typical day, only people we had known most of our lives,” Appiah writes. “Everything our long-ago ancestors ate or wore, every tool they used, every shrine at which they worshipped, was made within that group. Their knowledge came from their ancestors or from their own experiences. That is the world that shaped us, the world in which our nature was formed.”“Now, if I walk down New York’s Fifth Avenue on an ordinary day, I will have within sight more human beings than most of those prehistoric hunter-gatherers saw in a lifetime.”This, Appiah says, is the challenge we face today: how to live in a world much larger and more diverse than the one we were built for. The answer, he argues, is an ethic of cosmopolitanism — an ethic that honors our moral obligations to each other even as we recognize and respect the differences between us.In this podcast, we dive deep into Appiah’s philosophy of cosmopolitanism. What do we owe a Syrian refugee? How much more should the lives of our neighbors mean to us than the lives of those in foreign lands? When is difference something to be celebrated, and when is it something to be battled? And how did the term “cosmopolitan” become such a slur anyway?We also discuss the controversy in philosophy circles over Rebecca Tuvel’s essay on “transracial” identity, what Appiah has learned as the Ethicist, the moral quandary facing Trump staffers who want to make things better from the inside but realize that means becoming complicit in what’s done, and more. Enjoy!Books:The Philosophy of 'As If' by Hans VaihingerThings Fall Apart by Chinua AchebeAny anthology of Thomas Hardy’s poems
Yascha Mounk: Is Trump’s incompetence saving us from his illiberalism?
Yascha Mounk is a Lecturer on Government at Harvard University, a Fellow in the Political Reform Program at New America, and host of the podcast, The Good Fight. He’s also the author of some of the scariest political science research I’ve seen in a long time.What Mounk found is that the consensus we thought existed on behalf of democracy and democratic norms is weakening. The percentage of Americans who think it’s important to live in a democracy has been plummeting in recent decades. The percentage of Americans who say they would support a military coup is worrying high. This is the context in which Donald Trump — a politician with clearly illiberal instincts — won the presidency. And this may help explain why he won the presidency: the political consensus elites thought he violated may not actually be a consensus anymore. The good news, which Mounk and I talk about in this podcast, is that Trump may have authoritarian instincts, but he doesn’t appear to have plans, and he definitely doesn’t appear to have the discipline to stick to his plans. We also discuss Trump’s bizarre first few months in office, as well as the challenges democracies face across the western world, and whether diverse societies make pluralist liberal democracies harder to sustain. Mounk is scary smart, he’s got an international perspective most commentators on American politics lack, and his story about becoming an American citizen after growing up Jewish in Germany is worth the price of admission on its own (that would be true even if this podcast wasn’t free). Enjoy!Books:“The Subjection of Women," by John Stuart Mill"A House for Mr. Biswas," by V. S. Naipaul“The Leopard," by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
Bryan Stevenson on why the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, but justice
Bryan Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release for more than 115 wrongly convicted prisoners on death row. He’s the author of the power book Just Mercy, and a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” grant. There are only a few people I’d say this about, but he’s a genuine American hero.This conversation begins with one of Stevenson’s most provocative arguments. “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth,” he says. “It’s justice.” In this podcast, he explains what he means.We also talk at length about his argument — an argument I am now fully convinced by — that the question is not whether a criminal deserves to die but whether the state deserves to kill. We talk about America’s history, our justice system, our prejudices. We talk about what it’s like to be a black man in the South, driving down highways named for Robert E. Lee and attending high schools named for Jefferson Davis. We talk about the value of shame, and the way we honor it in the justice system even as we dismiss it in our national dialogue.The nature of writing these podcast descriptions is that they lend themselves to hype. I want you to listen, and I use this space to try to persuade you to listen. But that backfires a bit when it gets to a conversation like this one, which left me more changed than perhaps any of the discussions that came before it. This is worth listening to.Books:“The Brothers Karamazov," by Fyodor Dostoyevsky"Gilead," by Marilynne Robinson“Anna Karenina," by Leo Tolstoy
Death, Sex, and Money’s Anna Sale on bringing empathy to politics
There’s much talk of “empathy” in today’s politics, but it’s a cramped, weaponized form of empathy — an empathy designed to force us to grudgingly tolerate each other, or an empathy used to explain away the reasons we hurt each other.You can glimpse something better in the space Anna Sale creates on the WNYC podcast Death, Sex, and Money. Her show is, in this moment, powerful; the empathy she extends to her guests feels real and deep; the conversations she holds are bracingly difficult while still being honest and kind.Sale, it turns out, developed the idea for Death, Sex, and Money when she was a reporter covering politics, shouting questions at Anthony Weiner, crisscrossing the campaign trail. As we discuss in this podcast, that’s no accident.Sale and I talk about what she learned covering politics, as well as how she’d cover it if she were to do it again today. We dive into her interviewing technique — you’ll hear her turn it on me more than once — and the wonderful story behind her marriage, in which former Sen. Alan Simpson plays an unexpected but crucial role. We talk about death, about religion, and about what she learned from Bill Withers. Enjoy!Books:“Goodnight Moon," by Margaret Wise Brown"Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood," by Kai T. Erikson“Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls," by Mary Pipher
Cory Booker returns, live, to talk trust, Trump, and basic incomes
Senator Cory Booker is back! In this special live episode of The Ezra Klein Show — taped at Vox Conversations — Booker and I dig into America’s crisis of trust. Faith in both political figures and political institutions has plummeted in recent decades, and the product is, among other things, Trump’s presidency. So what does Booker think can be done about it?We also talk about: Whether Democrats need to be angry to fight Trump The $400,000 President Barack Obama recently accepted for a speech to a bond firm The lecture Booker’s mother gave him when he was sworn into the SenateBooker’s fight with the left over drug reimportation, and how he and Bernie Sanders came to agreementWhat Booker thinks of a universal basic income, single payer health care, political correctness on campus, artificial intelligence as a threat to humanity, and more.Speaking of which, when I asked Booker about a UBI — which he says his staff is aggressively exploring — he responded with an expansive, surprising riff that sure sounded a nascent presidential platform. So don’t miss that!
Washington has been gripped of late by the world’s most depressing, least imaginative, debate over health care. The question, as it stands, is whether Obamacare will survive (while being mildly, but persistently, sabotaged by the Trump administration), or whether it will be rolled back and replaced with a system that covers 24 million fewer people in order to fund tax cuts for the richest Americans. Huzzah!But a better conversation awaits. Bill Gurley is a partner at Benchmark Capital, and an early investor in Uber, Grubhub, Opentable, and more. In 2016, TechCrunch named him venture capitalist of the year. And for the last few years, he’s been studying the American health care system, trying to find an opening where technology can make a difference, and build a business. Now he thinks he’s found it.This is a conversation about what kinds of health care systems are, and aren’t, possible in this country. As you’ll hear in this discussion, I’m much more skeptical than Gurley is about both the need and the desirability for reforms that push costs onto consumers, but I agree with him that Obamacare has moved the system farther and faster in that direction than people realize. We talk about that, as well as why it’s been so hard for technology to cut costs in health care, the Singaporean health care system and the lessons American can learn from it, the way regulation protects incumbents, the government’s strangely structured investments in electronic medical records, and whether Silicon Valley’s move-fast-and-break-things culture can work for something as personal as medical care. We also discuss Gurley’s view that democracy and capitalism will, if given enough time, eat each other, and why he’s looking to China for the next great health innovations. This conversation won’t fix the American health care system, but it was, for me, a refreshing reminder that better, more productive discussions are possible. Books:“Catastrophic Care: Why Everything We Think We Know about Health Care Is Wrong," by David Goldhill"Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure," by Jerry Kaplan“Myth or Magic - The Singapore Healthcare System," by Jeremy Lim"Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike," by Phil Knight
Elizabeth Warren is the founder of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the senior senator from Massachusetts, and the author of the new book, “This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class.”You might have heard of her.Warren is also one of the Democrats most capable of defining the Democratic Party’s soul and message in a post-Trump era. In her book, she says she had at least one big disagreement with President Obama — a disagreement that speaks to the direction she wants to lead the party. Obama told Americans, “the system isn’t as rigged as you think.”"No, President Obama,” Warren replies, "the system is as rigged as we think. In fact, it’s worse than most Americans realize.”In this interview, we go deep into Warren’s view on how, where, and why the system is rigged — as well as what can be done about it. We also talk about whether fighting Trump requires matching his tone and tactics, how complex policies and processes create space for special interests to take over, and why Trump’s abandonment of economic populism hasn’t affected his support among his voters.Warren is an able, thoughtful advocate for one of the Democratic Party’s possible futures: becoming a party that represents the economic populism Trump claimed to champion, but quickly abandoned. But as she’s the first to admit, that won’t be easy.Books:“Evicted," by Matthew Desmond"Two Dollars a Day," by Kathryn Edin “The Little Engine that Could," by Watty Piper
Cal Newport on doing Deep Work and escaping social media
I was asked recently to name a book that changed my life. The book I chose was Cal Newport’s “Deep Work,” and for the most literal of reasons: it’s changed how I lived my life. Particularly, it’s led me to stop scheduling morning meetings, and to preserve that time for more sustained, creative work.Which is all to say that I’m a bit obsessed with Newport’s work right now, and especially his account of how the digital environment we inhabit is training us out of concentration and into distraction in ways that are bad for us, bad for our work, and ultimately bad for the world. Most of the conversations on this podcast are how to think about things differently. This one is too, but it’s more importantly about how to do things differently, and why you should do them differently. We discuss:-How Newport defines depth when it comes to work-Why the information revolution boosted productivity up until the 2000s, but then stagnated-What he thinks is problematic about the constant accessibility of technologies like email, Slack, and other communication tools-His perspective about how we’re still in an early age of the internet, and what looking back at periods like the Industrial Revolution can teach us about using new technology to work smarter-How to take productive breaks, rather than flicking through email and Facebook and Twitter-How “flow work” and deep work overlap, and how they’re distinct from each other-Why he consumes and produces information more slowly and more traditionally—through newspapers and radio, and why that might benefit people who work in the knowledge economy-His vision of the workplace of the futureI hope you get as much out of Newport’s ideas as I have.Books:-Jaron Lanier, “You Are Not A Gadget” and “Who Will Own The Future"-Douglas Rushkoff’s “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus”
G. Willow Wilson on religion, comics, and modern myths
This is a podcast about topics we don’t always cover on this show. Religion. Spirituality. Gender roles. Traditionalist societies. Comic books.G. Willow Wilson is the author of The Butterfly Mosque, Alif the Unseen, and the Hugo award winning comic book, Ms. Marvel. She’s also lived a fascinating, unusual life: she’s an American who converted to Islam and then moved to Egypt, where she met her now-husband. The hallmark of her work is an empathy and appreciation for societies that are often caricatured or even reviled by Americans. This conversation went in some wonderful, weird directions. We talk about Richard Dawkins’ “God gene,” and why Wilson feels she has it, and I don’t. We talk about how sickness can strengthen faith, what happens to spirituality when it’s decoupled from beauty, and why being in Egypt made Wilson feel less free, but more appreciated.We also talk about writing and comics, about the ways in which superheroes have become modern myths, and how her character, Ms. Marvel, became an surprise commercial success as well as an unexpected protest icon. We touch on Gamergate, representation in comic books, and Mike Pence’s rules for interacting with women who aren’t his wife.Wilson has a quality you find in the very best writers: an ability to look at the same world you see every day, but somehow discover much more behind it. Books:Anya’s Ghost, by Vera BrosgolThe Color of Earth, by Dong Hwa KimFun Home, by Alison Bechdel“A Revolution Undone,” by H.A. Hellyer“Throne of the Crescent Moon,” by Saladin Ahmed“The Meccan Revelations,” by Ibn al'Arabi
Chris Hayes on the crisis of elites and the politics of order
I could describe this podcast, and I will. But the tl;dr is this is one of my favorite conversations so far, and you’re going to enjoy it. So just go listen. Chris Hayes is, of course, the host of the MSNBC primetime show, “All In.” He’s also the author of the new book “Colony in a Nation,” as well as (the extremely prescient) Twilight of the Elites. But beyond the bio, Chris is a crazily smart and insightful thinker on US politics and society, and he's in rare form here. Among our topics:• The way Donald Trump’s success represents both the problems of elite power and elite weaknessWho even counts as an elite, anyway?How people decide what to trustThe difficulties of trying to approach politics with decency and charity in the age of TrumpWhy the key to “law and order politics” isn’t law, but orderThe underestimated power of humiliation in daily American life, and during America’s foundingHow Chris would cover Trump if he were a White House correspondentThe ways in which the media actually can be unfair to TrumpWhy the fight between Trump and the press is more a staged WWE-match than an actual warThe power of seeing politics as a zero-sum competition, even when it isn’t oneAnd much more. This conversation is dense and it’s fast and it’s interesting and it’s fun. Enjoy!Books:“Democracy for Realists,” by Chris Achen and Larry Bartels"Locking up our own,” by James Forman“Racecraft,” by Barbara Fields and Karen Fields"Ghettoside,” by Jill Leovy
I have never come across a mind quite like Tyler Cowen’s. The George Mason economist, and Marginal Revolution blogger, has an interesting opinion on, well, everything. He’s a genuine polymath who can talk knowledgeably about more subjects than I even know exist.So coming in to this interview, I had a simple plan: ask Cowen for his thoughts on as many topics as possible. And I think it worked out pretty well. We discuss everything from New Jersey to high school sports to finding love to smoked trout to nootropics to Thomas Schelling to Ayn Rand to social media to speed reading strategies to happy relationships to the disadvantages of growing up in Manhattan. And believe me when I say that is a small sampling of the topics we cover. We also talk about Tyler’s new book, “The Complacent Class,” which argues, in true Cowenian fashion, that everything we think we know about the present is wrong, and far from being an age of rapid change and constant risk, we have become a cautious, even stagnant, society. This as information dense a discussion as I’ve hosted on this podcast. I took a lot away from it, and I think you will too. Books:-Autobiography of John Stuart Mills-Derek Parfitt’s Reasons and Persons-Fisher Black’s On Business Cycles
You may remember the Atlantic's Molly Ball from the fantastic pre-election conversation we had on this podcast. She's back this week to talk about an issue I've become more and more obsessed with — does factual argument matter in American politics? Or is it just a contest of identity activation?In the most recent Atlantic, Ball profiles Kellyanne Conway, whose television appearances and "alternative facts" offer an unusually clear window into this debate. We talk about that, as well as:- What's surprised us about Trump's presidency so far- How different elections activate different political identities- Fake news, how much it matters, and the ways in which it's rising among liberals- Why presidencies are defined by crises, and what we've learned about how Trump will manage his first- Whether Democrats are completely irrelevant now- How hatred of the other party became a more powerful motivator than belief in your party- Sean Trende's "missing white voters" theory- The low-grade espionage happening all over DC all of the time- Ezra's theory of what really happened between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives- Why Trump's approval numbers are far from disastrousAnd much more. Ball is one of my favorite people to talk politics with, and I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
How do you actually run a White House? What is the president’s actual job? What is the chief of staff’s role? What happens if you screw up? These are questions I’ve been reflecting on rather a lot lately, for obvious reasons. And so I asked Denis McDonough on the podcast to talk about them.McDonough served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff from 2013 to 2017 — a position in which he earned the nickname “Obama’s Obama.” This is his first lengthy interview since leaving the White House, and he was thoughtful, reflective, and sober about both the job he did, and the job his successors must do.This is a discussion about running the most important organization in the world well — and what happens when you fail. McDonough and the Obama administration did have their failures, and those failures taught them hard lessons.This discussion, to me, speaks to a great vulnerability opening up under the Trump White House. They are trying to pursue their agenda, but they are not effectively managing the vast organization they’re in charge of. That’s going to lead to mistakes, and those mistakes could come to define, or even destroy, this administration.Which is why, if there’s anyone who should listen to this podcast, it’s the current occupants of McDonough’s old workplace. This discussion is full of advice that’s useful to anyone running anything big, or anyone interested in how big things are run. I learned a lot from it. You will too.
Cecile Richards on Planned Parenthood, labor organizing, and the Supreme Court
Before Cecile Richards was president of Planned Parenthood, she was a labor organizer working with garment workers in El Paso, Texas. The experience taught her a key principle of political change: people do things for their reasons, not your reasons.In this conversation, we talk about her organizing background, and how it's informing her work as she tries to protect her the institution she leads. Defunding Planned Parenthood is a core Republican promise. It is also, as she explains, a more punitive policy idea than people realize — there is no Planned Parenthood line in the federal budget, and so defunding the organization means denying it reimbursement for cancer screenings, birth control, and wellness visits. We dig into the possible consequences of that, as well as:-Why the core skill of organizing is listening-How she talks about Planned Parenthood with people who are pro-life-What today’s politicians could learn from her mother, Texas Governor Ann Richards-Why unplanned pregnancy and abortion rates are at post-Roe lows-The reason Planned Parenthood has tried to stop using the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice”-What’s behind the sharp rise in IUD use-Why she thinks there’d be a very different debate over women’s health if more members of Congress could get pregnant-Which policies she thinks would work to drive down unplanned pregnancy in the US -What she thinks of Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme CourtAnd much more. Also, a quick programming note: we’re accepting applications for Vox’s next unconference, which will be held April 26-27th, and focus on the first 100 days of policy under Trump. Head to https://conversations.vox.com/events/spring-2017/ for more!Books:-Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder-Barbarian Days by William Finnegan
Tim Ferriss on suffering, psychedelics, and spirituality
Tim Ferriss is the author of the 4-Hour Workweek, as well as the new book, Tools of Titans. He’s also the host of The Tim Ferriss Show, which is one of my favorite podcasts, and an inspiration for this show. Tim is a relentless optimizer, and on his program, he interviews fascinating people to discover how they work, think, and get things done. It’s a show about the secrets of high performers. Here, I ask Tim about basically the reverse of that. How does he think about the parts of his life that, though crucial, are harder to optimize and systematize? We discuss friendship, love, psychedelics, spirituality, death, health, and whether it’s possible to get too addicted to productivity hacks. Amidst all that, we dig into:-Why Tim’s house is filled with reminders of his eventual death-Why he tries to build new friendships atop a foundation of shared suffering-Why he hasn't written a book on romantic relationships and probably won't-How productivity goes bad-How a serious bout of Lyme disease changed how he lives his life-Why some strange experiences on psychedelics convinced him there’s much more to this world than we understand-The difficulty of describing a sneeze-How his interviews have evolved since doing his podcast-What he feels constitutes good adviceOn his own show, Tim is always trying to offer takeaways and lessons about how to live, and he does that here, too. This episode is packed with ideas you can apply to your own life. Books:-David Deida’s The Way of the Superior Man-Frank Luntz’s Words That Work-Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others-Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive-Sebastian Junger’s Tribe-Oliver Sacks’ Gratitude-Less is More, an anthology on minimalist thinking-Ann Lamont’s Bird by Bird-Frank Herbert’s Dune-The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz-Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek-Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning
Yuval Harari, author of “Sapiens,” on AI, religion, and 60-day meditation retreats
Yuval Noah Harari’s first book, “Sapiens,” was an international sensation. The Israeli historian’s mind-bending tour through the trump of Homo sapiens is a favorite of, among others, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Barack Obama. His new book, Homo Deus, is about what comes next for humanity — and the threat our own intelligence and creative capacity poses to our future. And it, too, is fantastically interesting. I’ve wanted to talk to Harari since reading Sapiens. I’ve had one big question about him: what kind of mind creates a book like that? And now I know. A clear one.Virtually everything Harari says in this conversation in fascinating. But what I didn’t expect was how central his consistent practice of vipassana meditation — which includes a 60-day silent retreat each year — is to understanding the works of both history and futurism he produces. We talk about that, and also:-His theory on how all large-scale collaboration is based on fictions, from mythologies and religions to nationalism to human rights-Why he sees money as one of the greatest stories human beings have ever told-Why he reads only 5-10 pages of a huge number of books-His theory that human beings have moved from venerating gods, to venerating themselves, to venerating data — and what that means for our future-How we treat other animals and what that might imply for how artificial intelligences could treat us -Whether wide swaths of human beings will be rendered useless by advances in computing-The ways in which a narrow idea of what intelligence is — and the way it relates to consciousness — is holding us back from understanding AIThis is one of my favorite conversations we’ve had. Enjoy! Books:-Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, & Steel-Frans de Waal’s Chimpanzee Politics-Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
Elizabeth Drew covered Watergate. Here's what she thinks of Trump.
Elizabeth Drew is the author of Washington Journal, one of my favorite books about Watergate. Drew covered the story as a reporter for the New Yorker, and the book emerges from the real-time, journalistic diary she kept amidst the chaos. As such, it does something no other Watergate book does: tells the story not as a tidy tale with a clear beginning and inevitable end, but as an experience thick with confusion, rumors, alarm, and half-truths.Of late, I've heard a lot of people comparing the early days of Donald Trump's administration — with the strange scandals around Russia, the fast resignation of Trump's national Security Advisor, and the mounting pressure for investigation — with Watergate. And so I asked Drew, who is now a writer at the New York Review of Books, to provide some perspective on whether that comparison makes sense, and how to think about the Trump scandals that are unfolding, slowly and haltingly, right now.Books:-Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America-Andrew Schlesinger’s The Age of Jackson
Avik Roy on why conservatives need to embrace diversity
Avik Roy advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign on health care, ran the policy shop on Rick Perry’s 2016 campaign, and then worked for Marco Rubio after Perry dropped out. So Roy’s Republican credentials are pretty solid. But he’s aghast at the direction his party has taken in recent years. The question Roy asks of conservatives today is a profound one: what is it you’re seeking to conserve? Under Donald Trump, he fears Republicans are fighting to conserve the idea of America as a fundamentally white, Christian country. “Trump showed me that white identity politics was the dominant force driving the Republican grass roots,” Roy told the Atlantic.Roy, who recently founded The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, believes conservatism believes is bigger than that — and in this podcast, he explains why, even as he clearly details the difficulties the movement faces moving beyond white identity politics. We also go deep into healthcare, a subject Roy and I have been arguing about for years. A few other topics we cover:-What he thinks Trumpism represents as a phenomenon-How he feels he’s dealt with his identity as a conservative as opposed to as a Republican-How the aftermath of 9/11 led him to abandon a “colorblind” outlook on race-His hope for a new type of reform within the conservative movement that might result in “diverso-cons”-How the innovator’s dilemma helps explain the GOP’s current problems-Why many conservatives don’t spend much time thinking about healthcare as an issue, and what they could learn from progressives who do-His thoughts on setting price controls for medical procedures and other costs to consumers-Why he thinks AI doctors might change medical practice and costs in the not-too-distant future-His criticism of how people on the left see nonprofit institutions as inherently more beneficial to society than for-profit companies, and the implications that has for healthcare-Whether Republicans are prepared to really offer an Obamacare replacement, and if so, what it might look likeBooks:-Leah Wright Rigueur’s The Loneliness of the Black Republican-Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind-Rationalism & Politics and Other Essays by Michael Oakeshott
Kara Swisher gives a master class on reporting and interviewing
Before I launched this podcast, I asked Kara Swisher to coffee. Swisher founded the technology news site Recode, hosts the excellent Recode Decode podcast, and runs a legendary conference series. She is among the best interviewers working today. Some of her gets — including the first and only dual interview of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates — have passed nearly into myth. I've used the advice Swisher gave me in every episode of this podcast. But in this conversation, she goes further, offering her tips both for interviewing and reporting. If you want to be a journalist, or you just want to talk to people, you should listen to this. Swisher is also an excellent, hilarious storyteller who has lived an incredible, strange life. You really, really don't want to miss the story of how she became part of a sexual harassment lawsuit against John McLaughlin, and why he thanked her for stabbing him "in the front." You also don't want to miss:-The alternative life she might have led as a CIA analyst-Why she thinks journalism school is a waste of time and what she advises people to do instead-The importance of staying in touch with sources when you're not writing about them-Her thoughts on relative friendliness of reporters and sources on politics versus tech beats-Her advice about interviewing -Why she wants to run for mayor of San Francisco, and what she'd want to do as mayor-What aspects of Trump appeal to her-Why she thinks social media’s bad for the world and probably won’t get betterThis is one of the funnest conversations I've had on this podcast, and it's also perhaps the most useful. Enjoy it. Books:-The Woman at the Washington Zoo by Marjorie Williams-Barbarians at the Gate by John Helyar and Bryan Burrough-Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow-Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies-The audiobook of Hilbilly Elegy by JD Vance -Megyn Kelly’s Settle For More-Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal-When Air Becomes Breath by Paul Kalanithi-A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engel-The Time Machine by Jules Verne-Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel-Time and Again by Jack Finney
Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning Muslim refugees from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, and indefinitely banning them from Syria, doesn't come in a vacuum. The world is currently experience the worst refugee crisis since World War II — a crisis that has destabilized the Middle East, torn at the fabric of Europe, and left 65 million people displaced.This is what America is turning its back on. And just because we slam our doors, it doesn't mean the crisis eases. It could get worse, and if it leads to, say, the collapse of Jordan and Turkey, the consequences for America and the rest of the world would be disastrous.David Miliband served as Britain's foreign secretary from 2007 to 2010. He's now President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, which operates humanitarian relief operations in more than 40 countries and has refugee resettlement and assistance programs in 26 United States cities. I asked him on the show to offer a broader perspective than what we're hearing in the US conversation right now. Why is the refugee crisis so bad now? What are the solutions beyond resettlement? What is the vetting process for refugees who come to America, and how have they experienced Trump's order? Who are the world's refugees, and what do they need?What's happening right now is bigger than America. It's imperative we understand it.
Jennifer Lawless on why you — yes, you — should run for office
There are 500,000 elected positions in the United States. I'll say that again: 500,000. And that's no accident. "Our political system is built on the premise that running for office is something that a broad group of citizens should want to do," writes political scientist Jennifer Lawless.But Lawless's research reveals something scary — something that helps explain the political moment we're in. Participating in politics has begun to repulse the average America. 89 percent of high schoolers says they've already decided they will never run for office. 85 percent doubt elected officials want to help people. 79% don’t think politicians are smart or hardworking. And when good, normal people turn away from politics, the system breaks down.Well, be the change you want to see in the world. Lawless is the director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University. Her recent book, along with co-author Richard Fox, is “Running from Office: Why Young Americans Are Turned Off to Politics." Her work, which details why young people and women are increasingly turned off by a political system that badly needs their participation, has never been more essential.This is an inspiring discussion, or at least I think it is. It's about the steps in political participation that come after Facebook posts and even marches. It's about how involving yourself directly in the daily work of politics is both easier and more meaningful than you might think. It's about the myths that keep people — and particularly keep women — from ever considering running for office. It's about recognizing that politics is much more than the presidency and the Congress, and that the opportunities it offers to make the world you live in a bit better are more numerous than you think.Lawless practices what she preaches. She ran for Congress in Rhode Island, and her story of that race, as well as the best advice she got while running it, should not be missed. I hear from a lot of people who feel powerless right now. But they're not powerless. This podcast is for them. Books:-Why We Lost the ERA by Jane Mansbridge-My Life by Bill Clinton-Hard Choices by Hillary Clinton
J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy has been adopted as the book that explains Trumpism. It's the book that both Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Rob Portman recommended as their favorite of 2016. It's a book Keith Ellison, the frontrunner to lead the DNC, brought up in our conversation last week. Everyone, on both sides of the aisle, has turned to Vance to explain What It All Means.All of which is a bit odd, because Vance's book is an awkward fit with Trumpism. As Vance describes it, it's about "what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It’s about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It’s about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it." It's a memoir about growing up amidst a particular slice of the white working class — the Scots-Irish who settled in and around Appalachia — and the ways that both propelled Vance forward and held him back. It's a book about one man's story — a story that is universal in some ways, particular in others, but was certainly not written with Donald J. Trump in mind.Vance, today, works for an investment firm founded by Peter Thiel. He's an Iraq veteran and Yale-educated lawyer who fits comfortably among the elites he never expected to know. He's a conservative who doesn't like Trump, but has nevertheless become a favored interpreter for his movement. He's a private person who finds himself having shared the most intimate details of his life with total strangers.We talk about all that, as well as some specific debates that have emerged in the age of Trump, and that speak to issues in Vance's book:- The resentment members of the lower-middle class have towards the non-working poor - The ways in which the discussion over poor white communities has come to mirror the debate over poorer African-American communities- How Trump constructed an "other" that merged both marginalized communities and powerful elites- Slights Vance faced as a member of the military attending elite schools, and how that made him think about the broader debate over political correctness- The difference between "economic anxiety" and "cultural anxiety," and why it matters- How members of Vance's family reconcile their support for Trump with their close friendships with unauthorized immigrants- What he feels defines the values held by elites, and how they differ from those he grew up withAnd, as always, much more. Enjoy. Books:-Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids”-William Julius Wilson’s “The Truly Disadvantaged”-Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart”-Robert Tombs’s “The English and Their History”
Keith Ellison: The Democratic National Committee has become the Democratic Presidential Committee, and that needs to end
Congressman Keith Ellison is the frontrunner to lead the Democratic National Committee in the Trump era. Ellison has a fascinating backstory: he's the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, and he was the second member of Congress to endorse Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign. Now, Sanders has returned the favor, backing Ellison to lead the DNC. But in an unexpected effort to close ranks, Senator Chuck Schumer — who does not exactly come from Sanders's wing of the Democratic Party — has also backed Ellison. Which isn't to say Ellison doesn't face a race. Many in the White House are known to be skeptical of Ellison for this job, and have recruited Tom Perez, the popular Labor Secretary (and previous EK Show guest), to challenge Ellison. The campaign between the two men is increasingly seen as a new front in the Sanders-Clinton fight — but that's a bit absurd. Both are extremely progressive, and neither is actually running for president. Which is why, in this conversation, I wanted to draw Ellison out on his vision for the job of DNC Chair, which is not a role that sets the ideological direction for the Democratic Party. What powers does the DNC chair have? How does Ellison want to use them? What is his philosophy of party organizing? How does a party — as opposed to a candidate — build a relationship with voters? What should the national party apparatus be doing in off-years? How much confrontation should there be with Trump? We get into the weeds of party-building here, and it's obviously a topic Ellison has thought about a lot — both in his own campaigns, and in his run for DNC Chair. The Democratic Party has some hard choices to make in the coming years, and so it's well worth hearing where Ellison wants to push it. Books (so many books!):-Evicted, by Matthew Desmond-Give Us Liberty, by Dick Armey-What a Party, by Terry Mcauliffe-Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Hocschild-Hilbilly Elegy, by JD Vance-Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown-The Autobiography of Malcolm X-The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabelle Wilkerson-Who Stole The American Dream, by Hendrick Smith-Give Us the Ballot, by Ari Berman
Elizabeth Kolbert: We have locked in centuries of climate change
Elizabeth Kolbert covers climate change for the New Yorker. She's the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction. And she recently wrote a paragraph I can't stop thinking about. "The problem with global warming—and the reason it continues to resist illustration, even as the streets flood and the forests die and the mussels rot on the shores—is that experience is an inadequate guide to what’s going on. The climate operates on a time delay. When carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere, it takes decades—in a technical sense, millennia—for the earth to equilibrate. This summer’s fish kill was a product of warming that had become inevitable twenty or thirty years ago, and the warming that’s being locked in today won’t be fully felt until today’s toddlers reach middle age. In effect, we are living in the climate of the past, but already we’ve determined the climate’s future."Kolbert lives, to an unusual degree, in the planet's future. She travels to the places around the world where the climate of tomorrow is visible today. She has watched glaciers melting, and seen species dying. And she is able to convey both the science and the cost with a rare lucidity. Talking with Kolbert left me with an unnerving thought. We look back on past eras in human history and judge them morally failed. We think of the Spanish Inquisition or the Mongol hordes and believe ourselves civilized, rational, moral in a way our ancestors weren't. But if the science is right, and we do unto our descendants what the data says we are doing to them, we will be judged monsters. And it will be all the worse because we knew what we were doing and we knew how to stop, but we decided it was easier to disbelieve the science or ignore the consequences. Kolbert and I talk about the consequences, but also about what would be necessary to stabilize the climate and back off the mass extinction event that is currently underway. We discuss geoengineering, political will, the environmental cost of meat, and what individuals can and can't do. We talk about Trump's cabinet, about whether technological innovation will save us, and if pricing carbon is enough. We talk about whether hope remains a realistic emotion when it comes to our environmental future.Books:-Edward Abbe’s “Desert Solitaire”-Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”-David G. Haskell’s “The Forest Unseen”-Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature”
At long last, here’s the Ask Ezra Anything episode. You sent in great questions, and I answered as many as I could. To keep me honest — and to make sure I didn’t just talk to myself for two hours — I invited friend-of-the-show Grant Gordon back to the program to help out. We covered a lot of ground. Topics included:- Immortality - The best concerts I’ve been to- Why I think culture is the biggest impediment to a universal basic income- Three lessons this podcast has taught me- Three lessons the 2016 election taught me- Three lessons running Vox has taught me- Why my interview questions are so annoyingly long and rambling- How explanatory reporting differs from other kinds of reporting- The best advice I’ve been given about interviewing- My favorite books- Why the idea that this reality is a computer simulation reflects a failure of imaginationAnd much, much more. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions, and apologies for all the ones we didn’t get to. This was a lot of fun. We’ll definitely do it again soon.
Evelyn Farkas explains the crisis in Syria and the threat of Russia
From 2012 to 2015, Evelyn Farkas served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, where she was responsible for policy toward Russia, the Black Sea, the Balkans, and Caucasus regions and conventional arms control.Farkas is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and I asked her on the show to explain two of the issues that worry me most right now: the horror that has befallen Syria, and the risky belligerence that has overtaken Russia. If this sounds like a tough episode to you, give it a chance. This conversation doesn’t presuppose deep — or really any — knowledge of either conflict. Farkas is clear, thoughtful, and insightful, and at a moment when Syria is destabilizing Europe and Russia is destabilizing the United States, it’s more than worth taking the time to dig into both.Along the way, we talk about Farkas’s time in Bosnia, her frustrations with President Obama’s hands-off approach to the Syria conflict, why she’s sick of “slippery slope” arguments in foreign policy, the ways in which the lessons of Yugoslavia and Bosnia collided with the lessons Iraq and Afghanistan, and what to make of Russia’s hack of the US election.Also, a number of you have asked me to start putting book recommendations in the show notes, so here they are:-David Rhode’s "Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica, Europe's Worst Massacre Since World War II” -Peter Pomerantsev’s "Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia” In the days since our interview, I picked up “ Nothing is True,” and Farkas is right: it’s amazing.
Columbia law professor Tim Wu makes me feel boring and underaccomplished. He’s been a Supreme Court clerk, a Silicon Valley startup employee, a bestselling author, and a star academic. He coined the term "network neutrality," wrote the superb book The Master Switch, and was dubbed "Genius Wu" by Richard Posner — a man many consider to be our smartest living judge. And this is to say nothing of Wu's award-winning side-gig as a — yes — travel writer.Anyway, screw that guy. Wu's new book is The Attention Merchants, and it's a history of how the advertising business has shaped the information we consume, the products we crave, and the way we think. We talk about that book, but we also talk about Wu's approach to life. He explains why his great strength is his ability to ignore inconsistency, how Larry Lessig shaped his career and his marriage, why working in Silicon Valley left him skeptical of markets, and Marshall McLuhan and Timothy Leary’s advertising jingle for acid (really).We also go deep into antitrust law, the inner workings of the Supreme Court, whether Google and Facebook are monopolies, and what a world without advertising in media might look like. So this conversation covers a lot of ground. Enjoy!
Ta-Nehisi Coates: "There’s not gonna be a happy ending to this story"
Ta-Nehisi Coates is an author at the Atlantic. His book, Between the World and Me, won the National Book Award, and was spoofed on SNL. He's writing the (awesome) Black Panther series for Marvel. He's a certified MacArthur Genius. And he just released a blockbuster story based on hours of interviews with President Obama about the role race played in Obama's upbringing, his presidency, and the 2016 campaign.Coates is also one of my favorite people to talk to, and I think this conversation shows why.The first half of our conversation is political: it's about Coates's conversations with Obama, his impressions of the president, his perspective on American politics, the way his atheism informs his worldview, why he thinks a tragic outlook is important for finding the truth but — at least for nonwhite politicians — a hindrance for winning political power. The second half is much more personal: it's about his frustrations as a writer, his discomfort with the way "Between the World and Me" was adopted by white audiences, how he learns, his surprising advice for young writers, his belief that personal stability enables professional wildness, his past as a blogger, his desire to return to school, his favorite books. I loved this interview. I think you will, too.
Stripe CEO Patrick Collison on management, rationalism, and the enlightenment
Patrick Collison is the 28-year-old CEO of Stripe, the online payments company that was just valued at $9 billion.Haven't heard of Stripe? You've probably used it. Last year, 40 percent of people who bought something online used Stripe's payment systems. The company has become an integral part of the internet's financial plumbing. And Collison has become one of Silicon Valley's leading lights — he made the cover of Forbes last year, where one venture capitalist described him as "the LeBron James of entrepreneurs."Collison is also one of the few people I've met who is a genuine polymath. He seems to know everything about everything, and his recall — particularly his ability to live-footnote his own comments — is something to behold. We talk about how he and his brother conceived of, and launched, Stripe, and then we go much deeper. Among the topics we discussed: -Why there was a market opportunity for Stripe in a world that had PayPal-Why people are often wrong when they look at a market and think an incumbent has dominated it-What he thinks is untrue about the stereotypes of how Silicon Valley handles regulation-How we might be able to tell whether a buildup of regulations are preventing new companies from emerging-Why jobs like home healthcare and childcare are becoming tension points in our national immigration discussion-The difference in the way politicians and tech leaders approach problem-solving-How he tries to shape culture within his company to help it become, in his words, more like itself-What he admires about CEOs like Jeff Bezos and Jim Simons-The culture of "rationalist” bloggers, and why he reads them-How we underestimate the importance of the Enlightenment periodEnjoy!
Award-winning chef José Andrés on cooking, creativity, and learning from the best
José Andrés isn't just a chef. He's a force. All that talk of how DC is now a hot dining scene? Andrés deserves more than a bit of the credit. He's popularized Spanish tapas through Jaleo, brought El Bulli-style molecular gastronomy to America through MiniBar, and racked up some Michelin stars and James Beard awards along the way.Andrés has hosted television shows, taught courses on the science of cooking at Harvard, extended his restaurant empire to Las Vegas and South Beach, set up a nonprofit in Haiti, and launched a fast-casual chain focused on vegetables. He's been named "Man of the Year" by GQ and one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time. I've known Andrés for a couple of years, and I've never met a better storyteller, or seen anyone who thinks harder about the component parts of creativity. We talk about that, as well as:-What Andrés learned from his father-Why the most important job when making paella is tending the fire-Why cooking at home is important but not essential-What he makes of Americans eating out of the house more than ever before-Why we need to be pragmatic about sourcing food-How he applies what he learned in the Spanish navy to his restaurants-What he learned from Ferran Adrià, the founder of molecular gastronomy-How he takes ideas from other disciplines and applies them in his kitchens-How important hiring is to him and why immigration policy is so crucial to the American restaurant business-Why his fast-casual restaurants called Beefsteak are nearly meatless-How he's managed to run an empire while remaining focused on the creative side-What he thinks we might lose by eating synthetic food or soylent-The one dish he thinks people should learn to cookDo you eat? Do you think? Then listen to this.
Heather McGhee returns to talk Trump, race, and empathy
There are few episodes of this show that people loved as much as my conversation with Heather McGhee, president of the think tank Demos. Our first discussion focused on race, class, populism, and the sometimes toxic ways the three interact. It's a topic I wanted to revisit in the aftermath of Trump's election, and so I asked Heather back to the show. After this conversation, I'm very, very glad I did. Among other things, we discussed:-The three factors that explain the election results-Why race is a more complex force in politics than either liberals or conservatives assume-The dangers of Democrats convincing themselves that populism and racial justice are either/or-Her experience talking with a white man who realized he was prejudiced, and asked her help in changing-Why Clinton lost states Obama won-Why Clinton didn't outperform Obama among nonwhite voters-Why the core of modern racism is seeing some races as made of individuals and others as collectives-Whether the very language around race and racism makes empathy more difficult-How Democrats should think about cooperating — and not cooperating — with TrumpAnd, as always, much more. Heather is brilliant on these topics, and this is worth listening to.Also, a lot of you have asked for an episode where I answer your questions, and we're going to make it happen. So send your questions for me to email@example.com.
Ron Brownstein: Clinton didn’t lose because of the white working class
Why did Hillary Clinton lose the election? Why did Donald Trump win it? And why was the polling so completely wrong?No one digs deeper into the demographics, polls, and trends of modern American politics than the Atlantic's Ron Brownstein. Though he didn't predict Trump's win, his pre-election writing explained exactly how it could — and eventually did — happen. And it's a more complicated story than you've heard.In the week since the election, much has been made of Trump's strength among white working class voters — and properly so, as they were core to his victory. But the white working class wasn't the primary cause of Clinton's loss. Her real problem were groups that didn't turn out for her in the numbers her campaign expected — college-educated whites, African-Americans, and millennials. And that suggests a very different future for the Democrats. In this conversation, Brownstein goes through the math of the election in detail. We also talk about:-What Clinton’s campaign assumed, wrongly, about winning the middle of the country.-The two quotes that Brownstein thinks explain the entire election-How much James Comey influenced the election’s outcome-Why Trump was able to win the support of voters who thought him unqualified-What might have happened if Democrats had chosen Bernie Sanders as their nominee.-Whether the next Democratic nominee should be focused on winning back working-class whites or energizing the Obama coalition-The worrying signs the Republican Party will see if it compares Trump's win to Reagan's wins-Why Brownstein sees Trump as a political independent candidate who happened to run under the Republican banner (and why Ezra disagrees)-What will be hard and easy for a Trump administration to do while working with a Republican Congress.And much more. There's a lot of confusion about this election. Brownstein is here to clear it up.
David Frum on the 2016 election, and the long decline of the GOP
We’re bringing the Ezra Klein Show to you a little early this week because, well, there's an election coming in a few days. And we wanted to talk about it. The 2016 election is the product of profound failures on the part of different institutions in American life: the Republican Party, the media, the financial system. And few have tracked those failures as clearly, or closely, as David Frum.Frum is Canadian by birth — a perspective, he says, that helps him see American politics as the product of institutions, rather than just personalities. Since moving to the US in the 80s and finding himself inspired by Ronald Reagan, he's chronicled and commentated on conservatism in America. His book, Dead Right, is one of the key documents for understanding the Republican Party of the 1990s. He then did a stint as speechwriter in George W. Bush's White House, where he wrote the famous "Axis of Evil" line in Bush's 2002 State of the Union. More recently, he's written for the Atlantic, where he's been unsparing — and largely proven right — in his assessment of the Republican Party's institutional collapse.This conversation is an exploration of what has happened to the Republican Party — what it was, what it's become, and why. We talk about:-Why journalists need to account for governing institutions before turning to cultural explanations-How he thinks diversity and inequality are linked-How Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump differ-What he learned about inequality while working for the Wall Street Journal editorial page-The best-titled speech Newt Gingrich probably ever gave-His critique of the 1994 Republican Revolution and Newt Gingrich’s consolidation of the Speaker’s power-How Fox News and conservative talk radio echo chamber have harmed the Republican Party-The apocalyptic attitude conservatives rely on while campaigning -Why Trump was so successful running against the Bush family legacy-The role white nationalism plays in Trump's rise (This is an argument I found particularly valuable)-How Canada avoided the nationalist backlash that plagues the US-His best and worst-case scenarios for a Hillary Clinton presidencyEnjoy! And then go vote.
Deborah Tannen on gendered speech, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and you
To understand the 2012 election, you had to ask a political scientist. To understand the 2016 election, you need to call a linguist.At least, I did. Deborah Tannen is a Georgetown University linguist who's done pioneering work in how men and women's communication styles differ. Her book You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, was on the New York Times best seller list for nearly four years, including eight months as number one. But I got to know her earlier this year, as part of a reporting project to understand Hillary Clinton's leadership style, and the ways in which it's lost — and even a liability — on the campaign trail.Tannen's work has helped me understand not just Clinton and Trump's communication styles, but my own — her analysis of how men and women communication at home, and in the workplace, is useful no matter who you are. This episode, more than any other I've done, is full of practical insight into situations we all face daily. Among our topics:-How she became a linguist-Why everyone in her doctoral program was recording the conversations at dinner parties-The ways in which linguistics can solve the same problems as psychology-How cultural attitudes about interruptions and silence lead to miscommunication and frustration (I found this one *very* relevant)-The debate over African-American Vernacular English, and the crucial research that both powered it, and has been forgotten about it -The components of what she calls “conversational style” and how they vary depending on who you are-How gender roles can create conflict within relationships, even just in end-of-the-day check-ins with your partner-Why women are perceived to speak more than men, even when they're speaking less-How gendered forms of communication have changed perceptions of Hillary Clinton-Why she tries to never use the word "sexism" when discussing evaluations of Clinton and other female politicians-How expectations of good leadership are caught up in gendered ideas of what leaders look and sound likeAnd so, so much more. Enjoy!
Joseph Stiglitz on broken markets, bad trade deals, and basic incomes
This week’s guest is a Nobel Prize winner. We like to sprinkle those in every so often. Joseph Stiglitz revolutionized how economists understood market failures (hence that prize), served as chief economist at The World Bank, led the Council of Economic Advisers under Bill Clinton, has written more great books and articles than I can count, and now leads The Roosevelt Institute. He's a pretty smart guy. Markets, Stiglitz argues, are man-made, and we need to make them a lot better. We often treat markets as natural phenomena, but they have rules, their rules create some winners and some losers, and, crucially, those rules can be changed. How to change those rules, and which rules to change, is where Stiglitz's recent work has focused — work that is known to have caught the eye of Hillary Clinton — and we talk about it at length, as well as:-Why he became an economist-The nature of the work that won him the Nobel prize-His basic explanation of “information asymmetry,” the term for which he’s probably most famous-His time as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors-The unintended consequences that can come from rewriting economic rules, even when it's being done with good intentions-Why we can’t use NAFTA to try to understand the Trans-Pacific Partnership-What a good trade deal would look like in this day and age-The difference between Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s economic priorities-Who he’d like to see working at the Treasury Department and on the National Economic Council in the future-What he thinks about a Universal Basic Income-What he learned from the economic failings of Venezuela and GreeceThe arguments you hear in this podcast are very likely to be things a Clinton administration will be thinking about as it tries to craft a post-Obama economic agenda. So there's a lot worth mulling over here.
Let's talk about Hillary Clinton's policy ideas, with Jonathan Cohn
The overwhelming focus of this election has been Donald Trump — the things he does, says, tweets. But the next president is likely to be Hillary Clinton. And we've put a lot less effort into understanding her lengthy, detailed agenda for the country.So I sat down with one of my favorite journalists, The Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn, who has been doing that work, to talk through what Clinton's platform actually says, and what it all adds up to. We also discussed:-How the stereotype of her has gone from "radical liberal feminist" to "sell-out conservative Democrat," and what both miss-How childcare, work-life balance issues, and parental leave define Clinton's platform-How racial dynamics have changed since Clinton’s emergence as a national public figure in the 90s-The people who surround Clinton and shape her policy platforms-Jon’s evaluation of how Obamacare’s doing and what about it still needs work-The way geography’s complicating the way Obamacare works by creating so many healthcare marketplaces-Why Obamacare's specific struggles have made it so hard for Republicans to promote their own healthcare plansAll this and more. I hope you enjoy!
Francis Fukuyama on whether America's democracy is decaying
Francis Fukuyama is a political scientist, a public intellectual, and progenitor of the famed "End of History" thesis. But his recent work is his most important yet. Over two volumes, he's been studying how societies become safe, pluralistic liberal democracies — and then how those advanced democracies descend, and decay, into chaos.Sound familiar?This is a scary conversation that comes at just the right time. We discussed:-How American became a “vetocracy”-Why the representative democracy we have has calcified-Why the internet may be overwhelming our ability for government agencies to deal efficiently with public comment-What he thinks is stoking Trump supporters in the way we talk about diversity and pluralism-Why conversations about class are important-What he thinks about different models of government around the world, especially Denmark’s-How we overcompensate for what we’ve learned through past wars-How polarization is disrupting the way the public views government agencies like the Fed and NOAA-What he's learned from Samuel Huntington, from the Iraq War, and from the Black Lives Matter movement-What an agenda to reverse America's political decay would look likeEnjoy!We want you to tell us about the podcasts you enjoy, and how often you listen to them. So we created a survey that takes just a couple of minutes to complete. If you fill it out, you'll help Panoply to make great podcasts about the things you love. And things you didn’t even know you loved. To fill out the survey, just go to www.panoply.fm/survey
Tyler Cowen interviews Ezra Klein about politics, media, and more
A number of you have asked that we turn the tables and have someone interview me for the show. So when Tyler Cowen — economist at George Mason University, blogger at Marginal Revolution, and generalized genius — invited me on his podcast Conversations with Tyler, I said yes, and asked if we could post the discussion here, too. Tyler — whose podcast you should listen to — asks some of the hardest, strangest, most provocative questions of anyone I know, and so this was a lot of fun. Among the topics we discussed:-What we do now that we will reflect on as kind of crazy or unethical in the next few decades-How my video team at Vox has taught me to think about visual stories-The value of making content that’s made to be re-discovered-Why identity as a driver of virality is important to the current online media landscape-The ethics of eating meat, and why I think those attitudes will change fast in the coming decades-My thoughts on how CEOs work and how the job of being a CEO has become its own profession-What I think I’m good at in leading Vox, and how I try to support my team in fostering the things they do-The importance of to-do lists-My biggest talent-spotting tip-Why the government doing clunky, difficult things is sometimes good-How you shouldn’t probably trust my taste in culture, like sports or music-The role of shame in the mediaAll this and so much more on this week’s episode. I hope you all enjoy.Panoply SurveyWe want you to tell us about the podcasts you enjoy, and how often you listen to them. So we created a survey that takes just a couple of minutes to complete. If you fill it out, you'll help Panoply to make great podcasts about the things you love. And things you didn’t even know you loved. To fill out the survey, just go to www.panoply.fm/survey
The best conversation I’ve had about the election, with Molly Ball
This election season has left pretty much everything I thought I knew about politics in doubt. Both parties nominated unpopular candidates, even when they had popular alternatives. One party's nominee isn't really running any ads, and has barely bothered to build a field operation. The same party's nominee says things on a regular basis that would've been — or would've been thought to be — disqualifying in any other year. So it's been weird.One of the best chroniclers of that weirdness has been the Atlantic's Molly Ball. In the latest edition of the magazine, she has a fantastic piece looking at whether Trump's candidacy is proving that most of what's done by campaigns — the ads, the microtargeting, the message-crafting, etc — is just a waste of money. We talk about that, as well as:-Whether there's actually a floor in American politics — if even Trump is remaining competitive, does that mean basically anyone can get 45 percent of the vote?-How Hillary Clinton’s experience within the political system has come hurt her in some ways-Whether we've been fooling ourselves by thinking elections are about policy rather than identity -The difference between Pat Buchanan in the 90s and Trump now-Why some voters are rooting for Trump even if they’re not always screwed by the economy in the way you might think -How current demographic trends are bearing out the anxieties of older white men-What might come after Trump for the GOP, and whether a candidate like him could be replicated in other races-Why high-information voters, especially educated Republican women, are often still undecided-What the liberalism of millennials coupled with the unpopularity of the major parties means for the future of politics in the US-Why Hillary Clinton has so much trouble ginning up enthusiasm among her base-What Molly's learned about human nature after doing a ton of reporting on this presidential campaign cycleThis really is the best conversation I’ve had with anyone about the election yet. Enjoy!We want you to tell us about the podcasts you enjoy, and how often you listen to them. So we created a survey that takes just a couple of minutes to complete. If you fill it out, you'll help Panoply to make great podcasts about the things you love. And things you didn’t even know you loved. To fill out the survey, just go to www.panoply.fm/survey
HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell on running Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid
This week, I've turned over the mic to The Weeds' Sarah Kliff. She went to Capitol Hill to interview HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell about all things healthcare. They talked about how to pay doctors to provide better care, the current state of the Obamacare marketplaces, and what she's learned about management running the federal government's largest agency. I hope you enjoy this, and I'll be back next week!
Dr. Leana Wen on why the opposite of poverty is health
There are a couple of ideas that drive how I see policy and politics. One of them is that most of what drives health outcomes has nothing to do with what happens in doctor's offices. Another is that we overestimate the importance of the president national politics and underestimate the important of city officials and local politics.Dr. Leana Wen — and this episode — stands at the intersection of those two ideas.Wen is the Baltimore City Health Commissioner — a job she got when she was only 31, after a stint as an ER doctor, and a background as a Rhodes Scholar and medical activist. Her work in Baltimore coincided with the aftermath of Freddy Gray's killing, a brutal opioid epidemic, and a renewed focus on urban health disparities (there are counties in Baltimore that have higher infant mortality than the West Bank).In this conversation, we talk about all that and more. Here's some of the more:-Why her family moved to Utah after leaving China after the Tiananmen Square protests-Whether America's culture of sharing problems and working through pain is actually healthy-How she learned to deal with a serious speech impediment (and how I did)-What it was like growing up in Compton in the early 90s-How Bill Clinton’s autobiography changed her life-What motivated her to become a doctor-How she squares her idea of herself as an activist with being a government official-The unexpected process by which you get a job like Baltimore City Health Commissioner-How the medical community’s understanding of pain has changed, and how that led to the opioid crisis-The misunderstandings of outdated ideas that have made the opioid crisis so much worse-Why she prescribed a drug to treat heroin overdoses to everyone — yes, everyone — in Baltimore-Her thoughts on the paradox of Baltimore’s great health institutions and its huge health disparities-What disturbs her about the patterns that lead up to infant mortalityI particularly want to call out Wen's discussion of the opioid crisis, and what needs to be done about it. It's one of the clearest and most impassioned tours through that epidemic I've heard, and it's worth listening to this conversation just for that.
Arlie Hochschild on how America feels to Trump supporters
I’ve been reading sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s writing for about a decade now. Her immersive projects have revolutionized how we understand labor, gender equity, and work-life balance. But her latest book, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, is something new: she spent five years among tea party supporters in Louisiana, trying to bridge the deepest divide in American politics. It was, she says, an effort to scale the "empathy wall," to create an understanding of how politics feels to people whose experiences felt alien to her. In this conversation, we discuss:-How she approaches immersive sociology-The kinds of questions she asks people in order to get them to open up about their political feelings-What it takes to “turn off your alarm system” when you encounter oppositional ideas-What she describes as the “deep story” that explains how conservative Americans, particularly older white men, feel increasingly looked down on-Why she feels empathy on the part of people who disagree is an important part of creating dialogue-Whether empathy and respect are in tension with each other-Why many white men don't feel they're part of a privileged group-What she thought of Clinton's comments that half of Trump's supporters are a "basket of deplorables"And much more. This is a time when listening and empathy are in shorter supply than ever, at least in American politics. It's well worth listening to Hochschild's advice on how to bring both back.
Stewart Butterfield on creating Slack, learning from games, and finding your online identity
If you came by the Vox office, you would find it oddly quiet. That's not because we don't like each other, or because we're not social, or because we don't have anything to say. It's because almost all our communication happens silently, digitally, in Slack.Slack is Stewart Butterfield's creation, and it's the fastest-growing piece on enterprise software in history. But here's the kicker: he didn't mean to create it, just like he didn't mean to create Flickr before it. In both cases, Butterfield was trying to create a new kind of game: immersive, endless, and focused on experiences rather than victories. The story of Butterfield's pivots from the game to Flickr and Slack have become Silicon Valley lore. But in this conversation, we go deep into the part that's always fascinated me: the game Butterfield wanted to create, the reasons he thinks gaming is so important, and the ways in which his philosophy background informs his current work. We also talk a lot about the nature of status, identity, and communication in online spaces, as Butterfield's company is now revolutionizing all three.This is a deep, interesting, and unusual conversation — we went places I didn't expect, and I left thinking about topics I'd never really considered. Butterfield is as thoughtful as they come, and I hope you get as much out of this as I did.
W. Kamau Bell on the lessons of parenthood, Twitter, and fame
W. Kamau Bell is a comedian and a writer. But you probably know him from one of his podcasts(Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period and Politically Re-Active) or his CNN show The United Shades of America.In this conversation, Bell and I go wide. We begin with an inquiry into the nature of health food, transition into a discussion of how future historians will view our present (and, particularly, a discussion of which stories we're ignoring that they'll see as central), move into the lessons Bell has learned from parenthood and fame, dig into his decision to move to Northern California from New York, examine his path to comedy, talk through the opportunities presented by podcasting, and more. There's also a damn good Eddie Murphy story in here.Here's how good this conversation is: I spoke with Bell just a few days after getting my wisdom teeth out, and I still had a great time. You will too.
Malcolm Gladwell on the danger of joining consensus opinions
Malcolm Gladwell needs no introduction (though if you didn't know the famed author has launched a podcast, you should — it's called Revisionist History, and it's great.).Gladwell's work has become so iconic, so known, that it's become easy to take it for granted. But Gladwell is perhaps the greatest contrarian journalist of his generation — he looks at things you've seen before, comes to conclusions that are often the opposite of the conventional wisdom, and then leaves you wondering how you could ever have missed what he saw. To see something new in something old is a talent, it's a process, and it's what we discuss, in a dozen different ways, in this episode. Among the topics we tackle:-How Gladwell got started at the Washington Post after being fired from another job for waking up late-Gladwell’s high school zine based on personal attacks and Bill Buckley-How Canadians are disinclined to escalate conflicts-The value and nature of boredom in childhood-How people reflexively pile on to convenient narratives -How the economics of media might be influencing its current tone-Why pickup trucks today are so much larger than they used to be-His insights about the current identity of journalists as a culture-Why podcasting is different from writing for the page/screen-Why talking about numbers can be difficult in audio-How the internet will one day seem like an experiment gone completely awry-Why you shouldn’t have satellite radio in your car-Whether more individualized education is a a good idea-The importance of people who are above average though not exceptionalThis is a fun conversation, but it's also a useful one. It's hard to look at something that is believed to be understood and realize it's been misunderstood. Hell, it's hard to look at something that is believed to be understood and take seriously the idea that it might have been misunderstood. This is Gladwell's great skill — it is the product of both a process and an outlook, and it's worth hearing how he does it.
Grant Gordon on studying the world's worst conflicts
Grant Gordon is a political scientist and policymaker who specializes in humanitarian intervention. He’s a fellow at the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation, and has worked on humanitarian and development policy for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Office of Humanitarian Coordination, the UN Refugee Agency, as well as the Rwandan Government, Open Society Justice Initiative and other organizations. All of that is a long way of saying he works on the some of the world's worst problems and conflicts, and tries to figure out which interventions will actually help. He’s embedded with the Congolese military to try to understand why soldiers attack citizens, he's used satellites to monitor and deter genocidal violence in Darfur, and he's studied the ways in which peacekeepers can win hearts and minds with local communities in Haiti. And over and over again, he's found that good intentions do not always make good policies. It's a valuable lesson — and Grant is a valuable voice — for anyone who thinks seriously about policymaking. Grant is also a good friend whose work has long fascinated me, and so it was great to get a chance to interrogate him on it for two hours. Among other things, we covered:- How to read academic literature efficiently- Grant’s path from being a kid in California to working in the Rwandan health ministry to hiding under cars in Congo- What his whiteness and Jewish heritage means in his work on humanitarian policy- How the politics around humanitarian intervention have changed since the 90s- How and why he got an internship, as a college student, in the Rwandan health ministry by cold emailing Rwanda's health minister- How randomized controlled trials do and don’t help humanitarian work- Why it's actually difficult for a fragile society to build an army strong enough to protect its citizens but not so strong it overthrows the government- How to care for yourself when you work in and out of conflict-torn placesAnd much more. Towards the end of the interview, Grant turns the tables and questions me for a bit, so keep an ear out for that.
Melissa Bell on starting Vox, managing media, and connecting newsrooms
I first started working with Melissa Bell at the Washington Post. I was trying to launch a new product — Wonkblog — and I needed some design work done. Melissa wasn't a designer. She wasn't a coder. She didn't manage designers or coders. She was, rather, a blogger, like me. But somehow, no one would meet with me to talk Wonkblog unless Melissa was also in the room.It was my first exposure to Melissa's unusual talent for finding and connecting the different parts of a modern newsroom. We went on to start Vox together, and it's no exaggeration to say Vox simply wouldn't exist without Melissa's vision, her managerial brilliance, or her unerring sense of where journalism is going. She's also one of my very favorite people — working with her has been one of the highlights of my career. Melissa was recently named publisher for all of Vox Media — so if you're wondering what's next in journalism, she's someone you'll want to listen to, because she'll be building it. In this conversation, we discuss:-How Melissa started her journalism career in India-Her experience working near the World Trade Center on 9/11-What she learned from her time as a waitress, and how it was crucial to her development as a journalist-Her pending case before the Indian Supreme Court-How observing large institutions reveals how little information and control any one person really has-How she thinks about “mapping out” organizations and creating informal networks within those organizations to get things done-Why it’s hard to create new things in big organizations and how to create better systems for making those things-How the distinctions between "old" and "new" media have largely collapsed-What it was like starting Vox, and what we got wrong from the beginning-How Vox's brand identity emerged, and why it proved more important than either of us expectedAnd much more. I work very closely with Melissa, and I learned a lot about her in this discussion. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Atul Gawande on surgery, writing, Obamacare, and indie music
I've wanted to do this interview for a long, long time.Atul Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He's a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation, and chairman of Lifebox, a nonprofit organization making surgery safer globally. He's a New Yorker writer. He's the author of some of my favorite books, including Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance and The Checklist Manifesto. He's a MacArthur Genius. Atul Gawande makes me feel like a slow, boring, unproductive person. What makes it worse is that he's a helluva nice guy, too. And he knows more new music than I do. There haven't been many conversations on this podcast I've looked forward to more, or enjoyed as much. Among many other things, we talked about:- How Atul makes time to do all of the writing, large-scale research, and surgery he does- His time working in Congress and in the White House- His writing process and how it’s evolved since his early days writing for Slate- Why he hates writing and likes being edited (and why I am the exact opposite)- His thoughts on ignorance, ineptitude, why we fail at things, and what hand washing has to do with it- How effective Medicaid coverage is in improving health outcomes- The ways we need to more effectively deliver existing knowledge and technology rather than always focusing on the next big discovery- What he thinks we’ve learned so far from Obamacare- How Rivers Cuomo from Weezer has applied lessons from Atul’s writing to his music- His work with the Clintons, Jim Cooper, and Al Gore and thoughts on their private versus public personas- How all the different parts of his life — the writing, the surgery, the policy work — come together into one single engine for actually making change- What new albums he thinks everyone should listen toAnd so much more. Talking to Atul was a real pleasure. I hope you enjoy it too.
This is a serious conversation with a very funny man.Trevor Noah is the host of Comedy Central's the Daily Show. He's also a stand-up comic who grew up in apartheid South Africa, the son of a black mother and a white father. That was illegal in apartheid-era South Africa, so Noah grew up hiding his real parentage, only seeing his father in carefully controlled circumstances. Somehow, he managed to turn this into a very funny, very incisive stand-up act. Today, he occupies one of the commanding heights of American comedy, and when you talk to him, you can see why: he's funny, but he's also damn smart, with an outsider's perspective on America's very unique problems. In this conversation, we talk about:- What it was like growing up biracial in apartheid South Africa- Noah's experience watching South Africa’s post-apartheid truth and reconciliation commission, and what an American one might look like- Noah's thoughts on the right to be forgotten on the internet- How Donald Trump's superpower is his lack of shame- The ways in which Obama’s presidency changed – and sometimes inflamed — the conversation about race over the last eight years- What Obama does and doesn’t share with other Black celebrities in “transcending” race- The parallels between experiencing catcalling and experiencing racism- Noah's critique of both "objective" news sources, and biased ones- Why Noah was taken aback by the response he got criticizing Bernie Sanders- Noah's news diet, and why he doesn’t watch as much Fox News as you might think- How Noah develops a joke, from start to finishAnd much more. Enjoy!
Conservative intellectual Yuval Levin on how the Republican Party lost its way
Yuval Levin has been called "the most influential conservative intellectual of the Obama era," and the moniker fits. As editor of National Affairs — in my opinion, the best policy journal going on the right — he's been at the head of the "reformicon" movement, and his work has had a heavy influence on top Republicans like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio. If you had asked me a year ago to name the conservatives likely to set the agenda for the Republican Party in 2016 and beyond, Levin would've been atop my list. And then, of course, Donald Trump won the Republican nomination.In this atmosphere, Levin's new book, Fractured America, reads like a warning. Written before "Make America Great Again" became the rallying cry of the Republican Party, it argues that both Democrats and Republicans were trapped inside a dangerous nostalgia, and tried to propose a way out. We talk about that way out in this podcast, as well as:- How Levin defines the Republican Party, and how he thinks it’s changed with Trump- Why Republicans misunderstand their own voters- His distinction between the conservative movement and the Republican party- Why he views Brexit and Trump’s rise as a kind of “counter-cosmopolitanism” - The role of nostalgia in our current politics- Why a universal basic income is the most interesting idea on the left today- How the free market undermines cultural traditionalism- The way in which we have cultural/moral arguments under the guise of debates about how efficient/effective policies are- What Levin learned working for Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush- Why you’d have to be crazy to want to be presidentIf you want to understand the Republican Party today, you should listen to this interview.
My interview this week is with Hillary Clinton. You may have heard of her.I won't bore you with Clinton's bio. Instead, I want to say a few words about what this interview is, as it's a bit different than the EK Show's normal fare (though I do ask her for book recommendations!).I got about 40 minutes with Hillary Clinton. I wanted to use that time to try to answer a question I've had about Clinton for years: why is the candidate I see on the campaign trail so different from the person described to me by her staff, colleagues, friends, and even foes? I wanted, in other words, to try to see what Clinton is like when she's working her way through policy and governance issues. And so that's what we talk about. Among the topics we covered are:- Extreme poverty, welfare reform, and the working poor- Is it time for more deficit spending?- Would more immigration be good for the economy?- The difficulties of free college and universal health care- What skills does a president need that campaigns don't test?- What's on her bookshelf?- Why America stopped trusting elites — and what elites should do about itIf you want more on this discussion, I also reported out a long piece on how Clinton governs — you can find it on Vox.com.
Patrick Brown on plant-meat that bleeds and the science of flavor
Not long ago, I had the chance to eat a burger from a company called Impossible Foods. The burger was delicious. It was juicy, savory, and bloody. Oh, and it was made from plants.Yes, they've created a veggie burger that bleeds. Patrick Brown is the CEO and Founder of Impossible Foods. His company is the Tesla of plant-based meat: they are trying to create a burger that carnivores will prefer to the thing cut from the side of the cow. And they've got some big backers in that effort: Brown has hundreds of millions of dollars from investors including Bill Gates and Google.I sat down with Brown, a biochemist, to talk about the science and business of Impossible Foods. Among other things, we discussed:- Why meat tastes like meat- How to find the flavor of blood in plants - The ways in which the company is mimicking Tesla's strategy for electric cars- The environmental impact of meat, and how plant-based burgers compare- What happens when you break down the individual flavors of your favorite foods- What it means for a food to be "natural"- Why the market for plant-based proteins hasn't developed many premium productsAnd much more. This episode is interesting even if you love your animal protein and will never, ever give it up: we're really talking here about the science of flavor, the business of food, and whether you can combine technology and marketing to change the most entrenched consumer behaviors of all.
Heather McGhee on what Democrats get wrong about racism
Heather McGhee is the president of the think tank Demos, and one of the most interesting thinkers today on the intersection of racism and economic inequality.Among Heather's most interesting arguments is her belief that "the left will have to challenge its own orthodoxy that defines racism as something that wholly benefits whites and solely victimizes people of color." In this podcast, she explains why. We also talk about:- Why Heather, an African-American woman, worked for John Edwards rather than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in 2008- The lame presidency of The West Wing's Josiah Bartlet- Whether the wealthy are actually able to buy the political outcomes they want (spoiler: I'm skeptical)- How racism has been used as a tool to discredit government action- Whether Barack Obama's presidency has led to more racial division in AmericaAnd much more. This is a fascinating conversation about some genuinely tricky topics. It's left me with a lot to think about, and I believe it'll do the same for you.
Jesse Eisenberg on Jewish humor, writing lessons, and interrogating strangers
My guest on this episode is Jesse Eisenberg — who you may know as Lex Luthor in Batman V. Superman, Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, or Daniel Atlas in the just-released Now You See Me 2.I was apprehensive about this interview. I haven't interviewed many movie stars. But this turned out to be one of the most natural, easy, and interesting conversations I've had for the show. Eisenberg is a cerebral Jewish writer who sees the world through the lens of sociolology and has a lot of trouble relaxing. So we had a lot to talk about, including:- Jewish humor and the dangers of assimilation- How it's different to write for the page than the stage- Whether Eisenberg has become happier as he's become more successful- What he learned backpacking through China- Why his family never takes vacations- How he turns the tables on fans who stop him in the street- Why he thinks it's easier to ask extremely personal questions of total strangers, and why it's worth doing- How his training as an actor helps him understand Donald TrumpAnd much more. So, so much more.
Jessica Valenti on honesty, internet trolls, and modern feminism
Jessica Valenti is the founder of Feministing, a columnist at the Guardian, and the author of the new book "Sex Object." She's also a friend from the early days of blogging. In this podcast, we talk about the early days of blogging, as well as how the internet has changed as the conversation has moved from comment sections to the social web. Jessica's insight here — that in comment sections, trolling was something you did, while on Twitter, a troll is something you are — is powerful, and I've been thinking about it since our conversation. We also talk about:- How feminism was different when Jessica started her blog- How she sees the fights over trigger warnings and political correctness- What it's like to write a book where you reveal some of your deepest secrets to the whole world- The advice Jessica wishes she was given at 15- Whether perceptions of Hillary Clinton are influenced by sexism- Why she rereads the same few books over and overAnd, as always, there's much more. Enjoy!
Moby's new memoir, Porcelain, is a great read for policy wonks. Really.It's less a history of music than a history of New York in the 80s and 90s, and a reflection on how density, crime, racial and sexual marginalization, and lax zoning policy created the conditions for an explosion of creativity. No one would want to recreate those conditions today. But as a non-New Yorker, Moby has written one of the only tracts I've seen that helps explain why so many are nostalgic for that era in NYC history. Moby is, more broadly, a smart, thoughtful guy with a lot to say about art, science fiction, and animal rights. And his story carries a lot of hope for anyone trying to make it in a creative profession today: it's amazing how little he needed to get started in music, and as he explains, even less is needed now. If you're an aspiring artist, Moby's argument is definitely worth hearing.
Tom Perez is President Obama's Secretary of Labor. He is also, according to the New York Times, on Hillary Clinton's shortlist for the vice presidency.I spoke with Perez about his path to the Labor Department, the powers of the Secretary of Labor, the push for a $15 minimum wage, the future of unions, a universal basic income, and much more. Perez sees his role as pushing a new contract between the government, employers, and workers, and in this episode, we delve deep into that vision.This is a policy-heavy conversation with arguably the most activist member of Obama's cabinet, and a leader who may be central to the next presidential administration, too. I think you'll enjoy it.
Andrew Sullivan on quitting blogging, fearing political correctness, and Donald Trump
Last year, Andrew Sullivan quit blogging — the medium he had done so much to create. And you know what? He was pretty damn happy about it. He was taking walks, meditating, exercising, reading, and generally living the good life. Of course, then Donald Trump just had to go and drag him back into the fray...In this extremely, extremely fun conversation, I talked with Andrew about:- His 10-day silent meditation retreat- His central role pushing gay marriage from a fringe idea to a constitutional right- What it was like being an HIV-positive writer during the height of the plague, and how the experience deepened his faith- Why he believes in God- Whether you can build a media business based off of advertising- How his thinking on Obama has changed since 2008- What he thinks is so unusually dangerous about Donald Trump- Why a politics based on how people feel scares himAnd much more. This is one of the most fun conversations I've had for this show. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
There is no budget wonk in Washington with a resume as thick as Alice Rivlin's. She was the founding director of the Congressional Budget Office. She was the director of President Bill Clinton's Office of Management and Budget. She was vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board. She was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission. She's co-authored policies with Paul Ryan, served as president of the American Economic Association, and, in 2008, was named as one of the greatest public servants of the last 25 years by the Council for Excellence in Government.It's a helluva career.In this podcast, I talk with her about that career, including:- Why she became an economist in the first place- How economists think about problems- How a sexist senator almost blocked her appointment to the Congressional Budget Office, and how an angry stripper saved her nomination- What the Congressional Budget Office does, and why it's so quietly powerful- What she's learned working with Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Paul Ryan- Why Washington's policy discussion has become more sophisticated in recent decades, and whether that's even a good thingAnd, as always, much more. If you're interested in how policy is really made in Washington, you should listen to this interview.
Arianna Huffington on sleep, death, and social media
Arianna Huffington is, of course, the editor and namesake of the Huffington Post, one of the true juggernauts of the new media world. But her path to that position has been a winding one. She was a prominent conservative — and a confidante of Newt Gingrich — in the 1990s. Her first web site was actually dedicated to persuading Bill Clinton to resign from the presidency. The Huffington Post came later, and the stress of it nearly destroyed her. After fainting from exhaustion and seriously injuring herself, she embarked on a quest to reevaluate both her and America's attitude towards work, towards sleep, and towards wellness. The result, she says, has made her a better leader — and a more well-rested one. Arianna and I also talk about:- How she launched the Huffington Post- Her strategy for persuading celebrities and experts to contribute to her site, often for free- What she learned launching versions of the Huffington Post in 15 other countries- How she knows when she's burnt out- How Huffington Post reinvented itselffor the age of social media- Why she doesn't believe in death- Her favorite books And much more. Enjoy!This episode is sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/EZRA to stream hundreds of courses for free! And by MeUndies. Visit MeUndies.com/EZRA for 20% off your first order.
Robert Reich on supporting Bernie Sanders, dating Hillary Clinton, and fighting inequality
You could fill a podcast just reciting Robert Reich's biography. Rhodes Scholar. Assistant to U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork. Director of policy planning at the Federal Trade Commission under Carter. Secretary of Labor for Bill Clinton. Candidate for governor of Massachusetts. Co-founder of the American Prospect (where I got my first job in journalism!). Member of Barack Obama's economic transition team. Author of bestselling book after bestselling book. Professor. Viral video star. Documentary maker.More recently, Reich has emerged as perhaps the most persuasive (and, on Facebook, widely shared) surrogate for Bernie Sanders. It's a turn that likely would have surprised Reich's younger self — he worked with Hillary Clinton in college, was close friends with Bill Clinton at Oxford, and served Secretary of Labor during Bill Clinton's first term.Among the topics Reich and I cover:- His early relationship with the Clintons, including the time he went on a date with Hillary Clinton- His effort to create an experimental, participatory alternative to college at Dartmouth- The three policies he would change first to curb inequality- The story behind his co-founding of the American Prospect — the magazine that gave me my first job in journalism- What Bernie Sanders is like in person, and how that does or doesn't differ from his public persona- How to communicate effectively about public policy- Whether inequality or political polarization is the root cause of government dysfunction- His relationship with his mentor, John Kenneth GalbraithAnd there is, honestly, much, much more. Reich is, as you'll hear, an incredible storyteller, a sharp thinker, and a very fun guy to talk to, Enjoy!This episode of The Ezra Klein Show is brought to you by The Great Courses Plus. Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/EZRA to watch hundreds of courses for free!
Bruce Friedrich on how technology will reduce animal suffering
When I first met Bruce Friedrich, he was running PETA's awareness campaigns. Yeah, those campaigns — the ones where naked people stuffed themselves in saran wrap and cages, and where wounded chickens limped outside KFCs.He was also one of the smartest, most informed, and most thoughtful experts I'd found on animal suffering. He had immersed himself in a subject most of us — myself very much included — would prefer to ignore, and he had learned some surprising things, including that vegetarianism was probably worse for animal welfare than cutting out eggs but keeping beef.Since then, Friedrich has become director of the Good Food Institute, as well as a founding partner in New Crop Capital, an investment fund that backs companies creating alternatives to animal-based protein. In this podcast, we talk at length about:- Why you can't trust the humane labels on eggs- Friedrich's path to becoming a food-tech investor- Why Bill Gates and the Google founders are investing in lab-grown meat- How the market for plant-based proteins has changed- Why the all-or-nothing frame around vegetarianism is counterproductive- Why eating eggs is much worse for animal suffering than eating beef- Whether we can really solve global warming without looking at our food choicesAnd, of course, much more. This was, for me, a fascinating conversation that is already changing the way I eat. I hope it does the same for you. This episode is brought to you by The Great Courses Plus. Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/EZRA to stream hundreds of courses for free!
Note: If you saw this twice, this is a reissue of a previous episode, with corrected audio.Since starting his site Stratechery in 2013, Ben Thompson has established himself as one of the smartest and most thoughtful analysts at the intersection of media, business, and technology. I’ve become addicted to his commentary, as have many of my colleagues.So getting to geek out with Ben on these topics is a lot of fun. In this conversation, we discuss a couple of issues very close to my heart, including:Whether you can still make it as an individual blogger — Ben is showing you can, but the path has really changed;How to make money as a modern media company;Ben's time working for Apple and Microsoft and what he learned about both companies and their cultures;Why the Innovator’s Dilemma is worth reading even if you think you already know what it says;Why so few companies advertise on podcasts;Why the most important piece of writing on your site is the second one a reader finds;And much, much more.I enjoyed this conversation tremendously, I hope you do too. As always, please do me a big favor and share this podcast with your friends, put it on Facebook, on Twitter, Snapchat, wherever. And please send me your feedback at EzraKleinShow@Vox.com.
Ben Thompson on how the media business is changing
Note: There was a technical issue with the first upload of this show, please re-download if you got to it early.Since starting his site Stratechery in 2013, Ben Thompson has established himself as one of the smartest and most thoughtful analysts at the intersection of media, business, and technology. I’ve become addicted to his commentary, as have many of my colleagues.So getting to geek out with Ben on these topics is a lot of fun. In this conversation, we discuss a couple of issues very close to my heart, including:Whether you can still make it as an individual blogger — Ben is showing you can, but the path has really changed;How to make money as a modern media company;Ben's time working for Apple and Microsoft and what he learned about both companies and their cultures;Why the Innovator’s Dilemma is worth reading even if you think you already know what it says;Why so few companies advertise on podcasts;Why the most important piece of writing on your site is the second one a reader finds;And much, much more.I enjoyed this conversation tremendously, I hope you do too. As always, please do me a big favor and share this podcast with your friends, put it on Facebook, on Twitter, Snapchat, wherever. And please send me your feedback at EzraKleinShow@Vox.com.
Grover Norquist explains what it takes to change American politics
This is an interview you all have been asking for since day one. Grover Norquist is the head of Americans for Tax Reform, the creator of the no-new-taxes pledge that virtually every Republican officeholder has signed, and the founder of the Wednesday meetings that bring together basically every group of note on the American right. Newt Gingrich has called him "the single most effective conservative activist in the country." MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell called him "the most powerful man in America who does not sleep in the White House."He’s also, in my experience, one of the savviest observers of American politics around — in a town where people tend to be tactical and reactive, he’s unusually strategic and forward-looking, which is something he talks a bit about in the discussion. Among the other topics we cover:- Norquist's time in Angola and Mozambique helping anti-communist rebels - Whether the rise of Trump shows the conservative base isn’t quite as committed to small government and low taxes as Norquist would hope - Norquist's strategy for building durable political coalitions- Why Norquist thinks Silicon Valley will eventually turn Republican, and what he's doing to make it happen- That time Norquist did stand-up comedy at Burning Man Whether you’re on the left or the right, you should understand how Grover Norquist thinks, and I’m grateful to him for taking so much time to let us into his worldview here. As always, please, if you’re enjoying this podcast, share it with your friends, put it on the Twitters, on Facebook, email it around — it means a lot to me, and it does a lot to help the show!This episode is brought to you by The Great Courses Plus. Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/EZRA to stream hundreds of courses in subjects like photography, physics, and history for free!
Neera Tanden on what it's like to work for Hillary Clinton
Neera Tanden is CEO of the Center for American Progress — perhaps the most influential left-leaning think tank in Washington. Before that, though, she was the policy director for both Hillary Clinton's Senate office and 2008 campaign, as well as a senior advisor to the Department of Health and Human Services during the drafting of Obamacare. She’s also someone many of you requested to hear on the program.Neera Tanden has had a unique vantage point on the Democratic frontrunner. Tanden is a Hillary supporter and a strong one, but she's worked for Clinton for a long time, and so has a perspective on her former boss that most people don't get to see. And that's something I'm interested in. There is, I think it's fair to say, a wide gap between Clinton's reputation as a campaigner as a politician and her reputation as a boss and colleague. And it's that gap that I Tanden is able to shine some light on. Among the topic we cover are:- What it was like for Tanden growing up on welfare, and whether she thinks welfare reform was good for the poor- How she met Hillary Clinton, and why she initially thought of herself as "a Bill Clinton person." - Why Clinton's public reputation confuses Tanden- Whether Washington is governed more by individuals or structural forces- What she thinks of criticisms of Clinton's speeches to Goldman Sachs- Why she thinks money has a more poisonous influence in Congress than in the White House- What her favorite think tank papers on both the left and the right are- What policy books she thinks everyone should readTanden is a Hillary Clinton supporter, and a proud one. And in this podcast, she talks about what it's like to actually work for and with Clinton. This episode is brought to you by The Great The Great Courses Plus is offering listeners a chance to stream hundreds of their courses-including The Fundamentals of Photography-free when you visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/EZRA.
David Chang has driven many of the most important food trends of the last decade. His Momofuku empire has put pork belly on your plate, ramen on your corner, and bagel bombs in your local coffee shop. He's received four James Beard awards, been named a GQ Man of the Year, and appeared on Time's 100 most influential people list.He's also just a smart, funny, thoughtful and profane guy. In this episode, Ezra and David cover a lot of ground, including:- Whether restauranteurs should be able to patent recipes- Why two weeks more in one of New York's best restaurants could have killed Chang's career- The first recipe Chang ever truly invented- Why his R&D lab is entirely vegan- Whether eating animals is ethical- Whether big farms can be humane- The joys of Buddhist temple cuisine- How Chang hired Momofuku's first employees, and what he looks for when hiring today- How nuns made the best potato chips Chang has ever had- The one recipe Chang thinks everyone should knowThis episode is brought to you by The Great Courses Plus. Visit TheGreatCoursesPlus.com/EZRA to stream Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries and hundreds of other courses for free!
Cory Booker on the spiritual dimension of politics
Cory Booker is a United States senator from New Jersey, the only vegan in Congress, and the author of the new book "United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good". In this conversation, Ezra and Booker go deep on Booker's history and unusual approach to politics. Topics covered include:- How Booker's parents used a sting operation to desegregate a neighborhood, and why they did it- Why Ezra doesn't eat breakfast- Booker's disagreements with Ta-Nehisi Coates- How a 10-day fast led to a (temporary) peace with Booker's worst political enemy- How spirituality informs Booker's approach to politics- The lessons Booker took from his early losses in with elections and city council fights- What it's like to be the only vegan in Congress- Why Booker hates penguins- Whether it's cynical or simply realistic to doubt America's political institutions- Which books have influenced Booker mostAnd much, much more. Oh, and Ezra gives Booker some advice on productivity apps, drawn from the weird, possibly wrongheaded, way he lives his own life.
Michael Needham on the Republican Party's crack-up
Want to understand what's happened to the Republican Party? Then listen to this discussion.Michael Needham is the CEO of Heritage Action for America, where he's been one of the activists at the center of the fight between the Republican establishment and the conservative movement that's trying to overturn it. The Wall Street Journal called Needham "the strategist at the center of the shutdown" and the Washington Post wrote that "Before Donald Trump began terrorizing the Republican establishment, there was Michael Needham."But Needham is no fan of Trump, either. In this discussion, Needham talks with Ezra about the roots of Trumpism, whether the conservative insurgents have released forces they can't control, and what kinds of statesmen he thinks American politics has lost. Also, Ezra finds someone who is even more confident in the healing, unifying powers of public policy than he is.
Jim Yong Kim on revolutionizing how we treat the world's poor
This was an amazing interview.Jim Yong Kim is the president of the World Bank — the massive, multilateral institution dedicated to eradicating poverty. But Kim is also a public-health legend: he was a co-founder of Partners in Health, which revolutionized how we treat the world's poor. He's won a MacArthur Genius award, chaired the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, led Dartmouth University, and been named one of the 50 most powerful people in the world by Forbes Magazine.It's a pretty solid resume. But solid resumes don't make for great conversations, and this was, to my delight, a truly great conversation. Kim talks in detail about the alienation he felt growing up Asian in America in the 1970s, his activism in college as he worked to find his own identity, the surprising lessons he learned when he returned to South Korea to reconnect with his roots, his genuinely world-changing partnership with Paul Farmer, how he's from being a doctor treating the world's poorest patients directly to the manager of a 15,000-person organization, and much more.
Theda Skocpol on how political scientists think differently about politics
Political science is a misunderstood discipline. It's often laughed off by people who think it's ridiculous that something as human and contingent and unpredictable as politics can be called a science. Chemistry is a science. Politics is a hobby. Politics isn't chemistry. But it is something that can be studied rigorously, and understood using models, evidence and testable theories. In this episode, Theda Skocpol, a political scientist at Harvard (and a former chair of the American Political Science Association!) explains how political scientists learn about politics, what makes their work different both from pundits and from each other, and how it's helped her understand this insane election. She also talks through some of her research on what really drives the tea party and the ways in which the Koch Brothers are setting up an organization that's almost become a shadow political party of its own. Don't miss it.
Bill Gates on stopping climate change, building robots, and the best books he's read
Bill Gates is one of those people for whom "needs no introduction" is actually true. The polymathic Microsoft founder now leads the world's largest and most important private foundation, and he's predicting that we're on the cusp of the energy breakthrough that's going to save the world. He also talks about the controversial idea that technological innovation is slowing down, assesses how close we are to true artificial intelligence, and explains why you really want to save being sick for 20 years from now.
How lobbying works, with super-lobbyist Tony Podesta
When the New York Times profiled Tony Podesta, the headline was simply: "Tony Podesta, superlobbyist." Podesta is head of the Podesta group, and considered by many to be the most powerful, or at least one of the most powerful, lobbyists in Washington. Companies turn to him in their greatest time of need — he represented BP after the oil spill, and Bank of America after the financial crisis. Lobbying is not exactly the most popular profession. And yet, DC is full of lobbyists — they're a genuinely important part of how decisions get made, of how information is spread, of what policies end up happening. Podesta explains what it's like to be a lobbyist, what he actually does during the day, and in a world where his profession is a bit of a dirty word, why it feels to him like a good thing to do. It's an illuminating conversation about a profession that's widely loathed, incredibly important, and frequently misunderstood.
Rachel Maddow on skinhead rallies, AIDS activism, and why she doesn't read op-eds
Rachel Maddow is, of course, the host of MSNBC's top-rated, Emmy-award winning primetime news show and the bestselling author of "Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power." But Maddow took a winding path to cable news — a path that included scheming to disrupt skinhead rallies, radical AIDS activism at the height of the plague, a gig as a sidekick on drivetime morning radio, and a stint at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar (where she, um, may have temporarily borrowed some very rare books).In this conversation, Ezra and Rachel talk about that path — and they also cover her favorite graphic novels, the best time to neuter a dog, and why part of Rachel's process of preparing for her show is to avoid reading op-ed columns.