The Long Game

By Jon Ward

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Tim Sorensen
 Mar 2, 2021


An investigation into the reasons why Americans can't solve big problems anymore.

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Episode Date
David French is warning evangelicals away from authoritarianism

David French, my guest today, is senior editor at The Dispatch, contributing writer at The Atlantic, co-host of the "Good Faith" podcast with Curtis Chang. He is author of several books, most recently, "Divided We Fall: America's Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation." David has a long career as a lawyer who has fought for religious liberty of all faiths, but especially conservatives. He is super conservative himself, as you will hear in this conversation when he talks about his view of abortion. But over the last several years, French has become a pariah to many on the right. French has in essence become the target for conservatives who believe that America is so hostile to their views and their way of life that it is no longer possible to try to reach agreement and compromise and accommodation through the regular means of democratic processes.

In short, David French has become a standard-bearer for conservatives who still believe in democracy, and a target for those on the right who range from skeptical that democracy can work for them anymore, to those who are outright hostile to democracy.

In this conversation we discuss what David French and Curtis Chang are doing to try to rebuild the walls of christian conservative commitments to democracy and classical liberalism, which is different from partisan or political liberalism. Curtis was on this podcast last year to talk about his work on "Christians and the Vaccine." And then in the second half of this conversation, we talk about Roe v Wade and what happens next.

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May 13, 2022
Talking "Jesus and John Wayne" with Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University — a private evangelical college. Her book, "Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation," has caused a huge stir.

The argument in Du Mez's book is that the attempt to infuse Christianity with more muscle, to make Christian men in particular more aggressive, has gone badly astray. Du Mez documents the roots of this muscular Christianity rising out of a response to industrialization and the loss of meaningful work for many men, over a century ago.

Du Mez writes in the book that "for conservative white evangelicals, the 'good news' of the Christian gospel has become inextricably linked to a staunch commitment to patriarchal authority, gender difference, and Christian nationalism, and all of these are intertwined with white racial identity."

In this episode, we discuss what Du Mez means by gender difference, and what exactly she's critiquing. It's not all gender difference but a kind of black and white thinking about what men and women can and cannot be. And we also talk about the connection between the deification of men in religious subcultures, and the connection to how abuses of power -- especially sexual abuse and harassment -- have been covered up by religious institutions.

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May 03, 2022
Andy Crouch on Taking Back Our Humanity from Technology


Very few people are happy with the way technology has come to dominate our lives, argues author Andy Crouch, and he thinks it will take a while for humans to reclaim autonomy from machines.


“I rarely meet anyone who thinks, ‘Oh, it's really working quite well,’” Crouch, the author of a new book, said in an interview. “I just don't meet anyone who thinks we're in great shape and should just keep kind of on the path we're on.”


Crouch’s book, “The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World,” identifies one of the core problems of our time as a “breakdown of recognition.”


“Our neurology is actually wired for this kind of face-to-face encounter. It's when another person really attends to me and knows what I'm feeling, and in a way thinking, that I can fully be myself,” said Crouch, a former executive editor at Christianity Today magazine who has written four other books on culture-making, the ethical and moral uses of power, and how to use technology rather than be used by it.


There are, Crouch said, “fewer and fewer settings that I'm in where I can expect that another person knows who I am, knows what it's like to be me.”


Crouch has already written a book in 2017 called “The Techwise Family,” which has plenty of practical advice. But his latest book is harder to categorize, as Crouch struggles with how to recover our humanity. His answers to this question are unconventional.


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Apr 12, 2022
Deplatforming is Not Censorship, with Rick Hasen

Richard L. Hasen is one of the nation's foremost experts on election law. He teaches law and political science at the University of California-Irvine. He is co-director of the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center. He runs the Election Law Blog. And he has written numerous previous books, including The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown, in 2012, Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court and the Distortion of American Elections in 2016, and Election Meltdown in 2020.

Hasen's new book - "Cheap Speech: How Disinformation Poisons Our Politics - and How to Cure It" - lays out a diagnosis of the problem. "The survival of American democracy depends on the success of free and fair periodic elections in which voters have access to reliable information to make ballot decisions that are consistent with their preferences and interests, and where the losers accept the results as legitimate and agree to fight another day."

The entire second half of Hasen's book is a fairly detailed examination of potential ways to ameliorate the problem. Several are legal and regulatory, and then a few have more to do with civil society. In the legal arena, Hasen says that the U.S. Supreme Court is a likely obstacle to several reforms. "  

Hasen said the court’s conservative justices have an “outmoded” view of how to apply the First Amendment’s free speech protections that relies on a “marketplace of ideas model in which citizens debate ideas publicly and the truth rises to the top.”


Hasen is skeptical that such a purely self-regulating marketplace of ideas has ever existed, but he is adamant that it does not now. “The marketplace of ideas is experiencing market failure,” he writes.

He says that the First Amendment is a vital “bulwark against government censorship,” but adds that “the greatest danger today is a public that cannot determine truth or make voting decisions that are based on accurate information, and a public susceptible to political manipulation through repeatedly amplified, data-targeted, election related content, some of it false or misleading.”

In this conversation, we talk a little bit about some of his proposed reforms, and why the Supreme Court's conservative justices are a likely obstacle to them. And we also discuss why decisions by social media platforms to remove public figures is not, in his view, censorship.

You can listen to Rick's previous appearance on "The Long Game," from July 2020, here.

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Mar 09, 2022
Gillian Laub's Family Almost Split Apart During the Trump Years

Gillian Laub has published books of stunning photographs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and about racism in the deep South. She also produced a documentary about the killing of a young black man by an older white man in rural Georgia.

For Laub's latest project, however, she got very personal. “Family Matters” is a story -- told through photos and words -- of how Laub's family nearly broke apart during the Trump presidency. But it's also a raw self-portrait.

“Those years brought out the worst in everyone and I'm part of that,” Laub said.

This is a book about something that many families have gone through over the past seven years. David Brooks put it pretty well in a recent column, but I'm going to tweak his language a little bit here. 'Think of your family: your parents and siblings and their spouses and children. Now imagine if many of those people suddenly took a political or public position you found utterly vile. Now imagine learning that those family members think that your position is utterly vile. You would suddenly realize that the people you thought you knew best and cared about most had actually been total strangers all along. You would feel disoriented, disturbed, unmoored. Your life would change."

That's a good summary of what Laub's book is about, within her own family. She begins by describing her grandparents and their story, with humanizing photos of her grandfather in a tiny pair of zebra print bathing trunks in his garden, and another of her grandmother's hand on her grandfather's rear end in those same tiny shorts. Her grandfather was the son of Jewish immigrants from Russia who fled pogroms, and he built a real estate company in the Bronx. Laub describes the ways in which growing up she was both proud of and embarrassed by her family. She teases this tension out more as she describes the way that her husband's parents recoiled at the materialism and privilege in her family.

Then one day, Laub's father sent her a photo of him at a Trump rally. Over the next several years, she and her family came to the end of themselves. But in Laub's telling, they came out on the other side.

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Feb 05, 2022
Katherine Gehl Talks about Alaska's Voting Experiment

My guest today is Katherine Gehl. She is part of the movement to protect and strengthen democracy by restructuring our election rules. Gehl is a former CEO of the food company her father started, which she sold in 2015 to focus on political reform. She founded the Institute for Political Innovation and co-wrote a book in 2020 with business consultant and author Michael Porter, “The Politics Industry,” in which they argue that political innovation is crucial to reversing the doom loop that American politics is stuck in currently.

Gehl's main focus is final five voting. Alaska is the first state to do a version of this in their fall elections this year, though it's final four and not final five. Here's what that means: There will be no party primary in this new system. All candidates of all parties will run against one another in the August 16 primary contest. The primary will not be a ranked-choice election. The top four vote-getters will proceed to the Nov. 8 general election.


Only then, in the fall election, will ranked-choice voting — also known as instant runoff voting — be implemented. Maine has used ranked choice voting statewide the last few years, and a growing number of cities and localities also are using the reform. New York City’s mayoral contest was the most well known example of this last year.


But no state has tried what Alaska will do this fall. The hope is that it will reduce the grip that each side’s most intense partisans exercise on American elections through closed party primaries followed by plurality winners in general elections.

You can read my full article on this here.

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Jan 25, 2022
The Way Christians Read the Bible Has Big Implications

2021 was a year of whiplash, of head fakes. We thought it would be a return to normal, to the way we lived before the pandemic and before our politics became completely insane. But over the second half of this past year, i think we've discovered that in many ways 2020 was the new normal. Covid is not going away. Neither is reality denial. We have to learn to live with both.

Unconventional times call for a creative response and this episode is an example of trying to think deeply about our epistemic crisis. I talk with Michael McDonald who is part of something called the Bible Project. His official title is Chief Global Focus and Strategic Relationships Officer. I’m not aware of many other institutions like this one. It’s based in Portland and for the last couple years has been attempting to re-orient the way that Christians in America and around the world read and interpret their sacred text, the Bible. 

Why does this matter? And what relevance does it have for anyone who’s not a Christian or for politics or culture? I expect that question would loom especially large for anyone who doesn’t come from the world of conservative evangelicalism. 

Here is why I think it’s important. I come from that world of evangelicalism in which the Bible functions as a sort of Rosetta Stone for all of life. It’s not simply important or sacred. It’s central. This is the case for tens of millions of Americans, maybe into the hundreds of millions. 

The Bible project is not seeking to displace or discard or degrade the importance of the Christian scriptures. But the founders of the project do have a critique of how modern Christians read and interpret the Bible, because they say the way this is done now is not actually faithful to the way Christianity historically has done it. 

In short, they are seeking to guide Christians into a high view of scripture that respects its form as a piece of literature that is situated on a particular context and is intended to steer its reader: toward wisdom, and away from a simplistic and reductionist view that seeks easy answers and lowers the need for actual faith. 

This has big implications for American public life. It is a long term project. I find it fascinating. I hope you do too. 

I hope that you have a great Christmas and a Happy New year.

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Dec 21, 2021
Robert Costa on "Peril" and whether American Democracy Can Survive

Robert Costa is a national political reporter for the Washington Post, and co-author with Bob Woodward of the new book "Peril." This book has made a lot of news. It is a compelling, authoritative first draft of history that covers the period leading up to the 2020 election, and into this year. The authors write that "the transition from President Donald J. Trump to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stands as one of the most dangerous periods in American history."

The details are chilling. And in this conversation with Costa, we discuss what he would have told himself 10 years ago about covering Trump, how the press should cover Trump now, and politics in general, how he and Woodward reveal the ways that Trump's lies about the election were debunked even by some of his closest allies, and where the GOP and the country are headed in the years ahead. Looming over the entire conversation is the question I ask him at the end: can American democracy survive?

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Nov 02, 2021
This Republican Strategist Says We're Being Bombarded With Disinformation

“I walked into the internet naively in 1995, thinking that it was all altruistic and going to create a better society,” Krohn said. But the Seattle native now is sounding the alarm about the web’s threat to a functioning country. Krohn maintains that he is still hanging on to optimism, but his warnings in the book are also dire. “Massive digital forces are corroding the fundamental pillars that support American social and political life. The damage seems illimitable. The endgame toward which we hurtle is terrifying,” he writes on the book’s second page.

The book is called "Bombarded: How to Fight Back Against the Online Assault on Democracy." While Krohn clearly rejects the conspiracy theories of anti-vaccine activists and former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, he doesn’t spend a lot of time blaming one political group more than another. Largely, Krohn keeps his focus at a more structural level. His book is thick with potential solutions, and that's a big part of why this podcast exists, to do more than point out problems, but to also talk about ways forward.

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Sep 24, 2021
The 'Vital Center' of American Politics Needs Heroes & Myths to Beat Back Religious and Secular Extremists, Philip Gorski says

I've spent pretty much all of my life fascinated by the interactions between religion and public life. I grew up in a very strict fundamentalist Christian church. I went to Christian music festivals, marched in anti-abortion protests with my parents, and watched my parents become loyal Republicans from the Reagan era on. As a journalist I've been in rooms on the upper east side of Manhattan where secular liberals hissed and booed in 2004 at the mention of religious conservatives who they feared wanted to impose a theocracy, and I've interviewed Christians who believe America is a Christian nation and should be governed by the Bible.

I've always believed that church and state should not be joined together, but I've also been skeptical of those who say religious conviction should have no role in public life or politics. And I think many people feel this way.

I came across a book that is a few years old that does a compelling job of laying out this middle ground. "American Covenant" by Philip Gorski is for those who "know that the American project has a moral and spiritual core" (3) but believe that the role of religion in public life is to be prophetic, holding those in power to account and to higher principles, rather than seeking to hold power and domination.

Gorski, a professor of sociology and religious studies at Yale University, argues that "religious nationalism is just national self-worship ... political idolatry dressed up as religious orthodoxy." But he also says that "radical secularism is little more than a misguided effort at cultural censorship, political illiberalism dressed up as liberal politics" (3). He also says that "one of the hidden weaknesses of secular progressivism today is its resistance to tradition" (xiii). He aims in the book to provide historical narratives and exemplary figures from history to buttress a "living tradition" (2) that can sustain a "vital center" in American public life "who share "a commitment to liberal democracy and a willingness to put national interests before political power when democracy itself is at risk, as it is now."

"To be part of a tradition is to know certain stories, read certain books, admire certain people, and care about certain things," (4) he writes.

Gorski writes that the civil religious tradition is what should animate the vital center. We discuss what that term means and how it is found in American history. Here is Gorski's comparison of civil religion to the other two options: religious nationalism and radical secularism.

"Religious nationalism fails because it is idolatrous and thus irreligious, because America was not founded as a 'Christian nation,' and because many modern-day Americans are not believing Christians but are good citizens nonetheless. Radical secularism fails because restricting religious expression violates liberal principles, because the United States was not founded on a 'total separation' of religion and politics, and because most Americans are still religious," (4) he writes.

"The civil religious tradition ... is neither idolatrous nor illiberal, because it recognizes both the sacred and the secular sources of the American creed, becuase it provides a poliitical vision that can be embraced by believers and nonbelievers alike, and because it is capacious enough to incorporate new generations of Americans," he says.

As we get into near the end, i think there is a pretty strong connection between this book and Jonathan Rauch's "Constitution of Knowledge." Rauch's book makes the argument for how we should agree on what is true and what is not. This book provides a historical, theological, philosophical, and moral argument for why the Constitution of Knowledge is the best hope for American democracy, and how it is truly American as well. In the process, it calls out as false many of the ideas and stories being promoted by right-wing figures today, such as Tucker Carlson, and illuminates how the...

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Aug 06, 2021
A New Podcast on Mars Hill Church Dives Deep into Evangelical Subculture

I've been taking a little bit of a break this summer from the podcast, but I've been listening to another podcast that was so interesting to me I decided to talk with its creator.

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is a new podcast that chronicles the downfall of a celebrity pastor named Mark Driscoll. I am interested in this topic because I grew up in a church that was similar to Mars Hill. Covenant Life Church, the church I grew up attending, was intense, it was insular, and it revolved around one person: the pastor C.J. Mahaney.

I've reflected for years on my experience in that church, as have many others. The church that I was born into became the hub of a national organization of churches with congregations in numerous other countries, and by one estimate, over 28,000 members. But over the last decade, Covenant Life Church and the umbrella organization he oversaw, Sovereign Grace Ministries, have fallen apart under the weight of scandal. Mahaney and SGM are now largely disgraced, and in 2019 they lost their most powerful ally, Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler, who cut ties with them.

"The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill" is about a church that started about 20 years after Covenant Life, and its creator, Mike Cosper, from Christianity Today magazine, does an outstanding job of telling the story. I tried to think hard with him about why these stories matter not just to people of faith but also to people of no faith, or people who are not evangelical Christians.

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Jul 28, 2021
Is There a Way Out of Information Chaos & Cancel Culture? Jonathan Rauch Shines a Light

We are in an information crisis. Viral disinformation predominates on the right, and cancel culture on the left, but Jonathan Rauch says in his new book "The Constitution of Knowledge" that both of them "share the goal of dominating the information space by demoralizing their human targets: confusing them, isolating them, drowning them out, deplatforming them, or overwhelming them so they give up on pushing back."

The book is not primarily about media literacy. It's not a guide with tips about how to tell fake news from real news. It's a step back or up from that. Rauch delves into the philosophical realm to think deeply about what kind of system can fill that power vacuum in a way that preserves all the things I mentioned at the beginning: personal freedom, peace and prosperity, democracy, the futures of our loved ones and of the most vulnerable.

Rauch argues that we already have this system, and in some ways need to replenish it by becoming newly aware of and grateful for it. He draws a parallel between the Constitution of Knowledge and the U.S. Constitution, in that they do something very similar: "They compel and organize social negotiation."

The Constitution of Knowledge is a set of "social rules for turning disagreement into knowledge."

"If we care about knowledge, freedom and peace, then we need to stake a strong claim: anyone can believe anything, but liberal science -- open-ended, depersonalized checking by an error-seeking social network -- is the only legitimate validator of knowledge, at least in the reality-based community," he writes.

Intro music: "A Good Ending" by Dan Koch

Post-intro music: "St. Tom's Lullaby" by The Welcome Wagon

Outro music: "My Man" by Dan Koch

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Jun 08, 2021
Dean Phillips, a rising star in Congress, thinks America is on the cusp of embracing ranked-choice voting

I didn't plan for this episode to be about ranked-choice voting, but when I raised the topic, I was surprised at the degree to which Congressman Dean Phillips, a Democrat from Minnesota, was really gung-ho about this reform.

I've done several episodes on ranked-choice voting before, but to sum it up if you're new to the idea: voters list candidates in order of preference. If no one gets above 50 percent, then the candidate with the most second- and third-place votes wins. The general idea is that it produces winners who are most preferable to the majority of voters, rather than allowing candidates to win with just 30 or 40 percent in a crowded field where other candidates split up the vote.

Phillips made a little news here, I thought. He said he wants to push Democrats in the house of representatives to use ranked-choice voting in their next leadership contest, after the 2022 mid-term elections. Current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said this is her last term as Democrat leader, and so in 2022, Dems will be looking for a new Speaker if they're in the majority or a new Minority leader if Republicans win back the majority.

Phillips also said he does not think Congress should mandate ranked-choice voting across the country. He said it's currently working as reforms should, starting in localities and cities and states, and proving its worth as it bubbles up. But he also said he does support the bill that we discussed on this show with Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, which would mandate ranked choice voting nationally. Maybe because he's still new to Congress or because he's a younger member at 52, or both, Phillips was pretty honest, saying he doesn't think the Beyer bill will pass but he supports it because it raises awareness of the topic.

Phillips was first elected to Congress in 2018 and won reelection in 2020. He is heir to the Phillips distilling fortune, and was the company’s CEO from 2000 to 2012. He then went on to fund and manage two other investments: Talenti gelato, which he sold in 2014 and is now a national brand, and a coffee and crepe eatery in Minneapolis. He has stood out in Congress for his willingness to buck leadership at times, opposing the idea of overturning an Iowa House election, and for attempts to talk about racism and police reform in a non-reductionist way. His district is suburban and well-off, and he has received high marks from Congressional accountability groups for both bipartisanship and productivity.


Minneapolis was one of the earliest adopters of ranked choice voting. The city adopted the system for its 2009 elections. There are growing numbers of cities that are now doing the same. The biggest of these is New York City, which will use ranked-choice voting in its citywide primary elections on June 22. The conservative state of Utah announced this month that after two cities used ranked choice voting in municipal...

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May 18, 2021
Curtis Chang Is Responding to Vaccine Hesitancy With Respect

Curtis is a former pastor who is now a consulting professor at Duke Divinity School and a senior fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. And he's done a great job of putting together a wealth of resources that present facts and data, answers to the questions poeple are asking, and presenting it in a way that is informative and persuasive. He's specifically aimed his project at Christians, because white evangelicals in particular are the most vaccine resistant group probably int he country. That's shown in polling. A Pew Survey in February showed that 45 percent of white evangelicals didn't plan on getting the vaccine.

But his series of videos, which also have transcripts you can read, will be helpful for anyone who has questions or concerns.

There are videos about whether the vaccine is safe, and about whether it is a form of government control. There a video addressing concerns about a link between abortions and vaccines, and another looking at whether Black Americans can trust the vaccine. And there’s one on how to spot fake news about the vaccine.

And there is even a video addressing the question, “Is the COVID vaccine the ‘Mark of the Beast’?” That’s a reference to apocalyptic evangelical beliefs about the end of the world and a passage in the final book of the Bible, Revelation, that talks about such a mark. I just sort of laughed at that one at first, but it actually kind of blew my mind, and you'll hear why in this episode.

My personal favorite of all the videos was the one in which Chang explores the three most common reactions to flawed systems. You might call this systemic compromise or institutional sin. It’s a great exercise in critical thinking about ethics. I highly recommend it, and the whole series.

Outro music: "Rise Up with Fists" by Jenny Lewis

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May 12, 2021
Michael Slaby on Trump & Facebook and the Bigger Problem of Reforming the Internet

One of the dominant themes of the last several years, and especially the last year, is the loss of shared truth, a sense in the country that it's increasingly difficult to talk to one another when we disagree. Because increasingly, it seems like people don't know what is true and what is false, and then public debate just becomes a matter of tribalism, where our identity shapes what we believe rather than a more honest attempt to sort through facts and weigh evidence.

This is a major theme of this show now. This year so far, I've interviewed one of the most insightful thinkers and writers on the topic, Peter Pomerantsev, two members of Congress who are fighting disinformation -- Democrat Tom Malinowski and Republican Adam Kinzinger -- and another activist -- David Blankenhorn -- who is trying to get Americans to sit down with others who think differently to try to understand their point of view.

This episode is an interview with a guy who really understands the Internet, and has some pretty granular suggestions about how to fix it. Michael Slaby's book, "For All the People," is a trenchant analysis of what has gone wrong over the past two decades with the internet, and a passionate call for change. He writes for the leaders of private companies, for politicians and policy-makers, and for you and me, the average person who wants to know what we can do today to reclaim more control of our lives from big tech and to help repair our country.

Slaby was chief technology officer on Barack Obama's 2008 reelection campaign, and then oversaw innovation and integration of tech into the entire 2012 campaign. He now runs Harmony Labs, a company working on internet reform implementation at the local scale.

Outro music: "Think Too Much" by Hannah Jadagu

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May 05, 2021
A conservative Christian book ignites debate over reparations — and faith itself

Duke Kwon is a minister in Washington, D.C., at Grace Meridian Hill, which is part of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). Gregory Thompson pastored for 20 years — most of it in Charlottesville, Va. — in that same denomination, which is decidedly on the conservative side of American Christianity in terms of its theology. The PCA itself was formed by congregations who objected to the civil rights movement.

And yet these two men, one an Asian-American and the other a Caucasian-American, have written a book called "“Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair.”

And one of their primary points is that they don’t think the place to start is with questions like, “How much?,” “Who gets them?” and, “Who has to pay them?”

Thompson said he and Kwon wrote the book for two reasons: they want the American Christian church — including the conservative and mostly white evangelical wing in which they have pastored — to help lead and shape the debate over reparations, and they also know that the conservative church is still broadly resistant and often fiercely hostile to even considering the topic, even as the Episcopal church and other more mainline denominations are grappling with it and in some cases embracing it.

It’s a tall order within conservative, largely white evangelical Christianity. On Thursday, the first major rejoinder to their book came from a conservative evangelical pastor with a significant national following. Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina — another PCA congregation — wrote a critical review for The Gospel Coalition, a prominent evangelical website.

Thompson and Kwon represent a corner of evangelicalism that parts with liberal Christians in significant ways in how it reads and interprets the Bible and in how it understands the faith’s core teachings. Yet evangelicals like Thompson and Kwan also believe that true fidelity and orthodoxy requires a much broader understanding of what the Christian gospel means than the narrow interpretation that has dominated much of conservative evangelicalism for a long time.

And they argue that it's critical for Christians to grapple with this issue, not only as a matter of faithfulness to their professed doctrine, but also as a matter of credibility. The stakes, the argue, are high because many are watching and weighing their own faith in light of the church's response to this.

Outro music: "Bloomsday" by Samantha Crain

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Apr 24, 2021
Will Big Money Donors Get Behind the Move to Get Rid of Partisan Primaries? Nick Troiano Is Working On It

American politics is being held hostage, says a group of reformers with growing access to big-donor money who define their mission as trying to set it free.


The hostage-takers, to hear them tell it, are the small group of voters who decide party primaries. Only about 10 percent of American voters choose about eight out of ten members of Congress, says a new report out Tuesday from Unite America, a group that is pushing states to adopt nonpartisan primaries and ranked-choice voting.


This small group — this 10 percent who make up primary voters in both parties — encourages extremism and gridlock rather than bipartisan cooperation, the report argues, in a conclusion that is widely echoed by many political scientists. This is due in large part because of partisan gerrymandering, the process in which state legislatures draw distorted congressional districts to give their party an advantage. 

As a result, in many congressional districts, the primary is the only truly competitive race, with the winner coasting along to victory in the general election because the district is designed to be either heavily Republican or Democratic. 


“Most Americans tend to point the finger at the other party or at both parties when it's actually the system itself that, by its design, produces the bad outcomes that we don't like. And so if we were to be as pissed off at this broken system as we are at each other, I think we actually stand a chance at fixing it,” said Nick Troiano, the group’s executive director.


Unite America is more than an organization that puts out reports, however. It is aiming to mobilize $100 million dollars over the next two years to push for open primaries and ranked choice voting in states around the country. And they have some momentum.


Kathryn Murdoch, a billionaire philanthropist with deep financial resources as the daughter-in-law of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, donated over $6 million to the group in 2020 alone, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Murdoch is on the board of the group, and she is trying to help persuade other big donors to give to the cause as well, which includes expanding access to voting by mail and ending partisan gerrymandering.


“An underlying challenge facing this movement is, one, a lack of awareness, but two, a lack of resources. There is so much money going into deciding who gets elected, over $14 billion last election cycle, rather than in how we elect, which was only about $30 million last election cycle,” Troiano said.

In Alaska, voters not only approved ranked-choice voting in November, they also agreed to get rid of partisan primaries and move to a “final four” primary. This means that any voter can vote for any candidate from any party in the primary election. The top four vote-getters will then advance to the general election in the fall of 2022, and ranked-choice voting will determine the winner from those four. Unite America spent at least $2.8 million in the campaign to promote the initiative, which was narrowly approved by...

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Mar 30, 2021
Yuval Levin Wants the GOP to stop making it harder to vote

You would think that most people would agree that we should try to make voting secure and accessible, that we should have confidence in the results and that we should make it possible for as many people as possible to cast a ballot.

But Republicans increasingly are seeking to make it harder to vote. There has been a rush in state legislatures to crack down on mail-in voting, to restrict early voting, to make it harder to register to vote, and to make it easier for state officials to remove people from the voting rolls.

The GOP is basing much of this on the fiction that the 2020 election was rigged or that there was wide-scale cheating. That, of course, was the lie that former President Trump told over and over last year before and after the election, which ultimately led to the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Last year all of Trump's lies created a backlash among Republican experts on voting and elections, who were compelled to set the record straight.

"The truth is that after decades of looking for illegal voting, there’s no proof of widespread fraud. At most, there are isolated incidents — by both Democrats and Republicans. Elections are not rigged,” wrote Benjamin Ginsberg, who for more than 20 years was one of the GOP’s fiercest election attorneys and led attempts to root out cheating.

Yuval Levin is the director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He's the editor of National Affairs magazine. He is widely respected in serious Republican circles and talks regularly to a lot of members of Congress. And he tells me in this conversation about how he's mobilizing the division of AEI that he oversees to push the GOP to stop making it harder to vote.

"Republicans are at risk, and more than risk, of confirming the Democratic caricature that Republicans just don't want people to vote because they're afraid they would lose. That's what it sounds like. And, increasingly, that's what it is. And that's dangerous, and wrong," Yuval said. But he also said he thinks "Democrats are at risk of confirming the caricature that they think about election reform in a cynical partisan way, as a means of enabling themselves to win more elections."Yuval is the director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He's the editor of National Affairs magazine. He is widely respected in serious Republican circles and talks regularly to a lot of members of Congress. And he tells me in this conversatino about how he's mobilizing the divisino of AEI that he oversees to push the GOP to stop making it harder to vote.

"Republicans are at risk, and more than risk, of confirming the Democratic caricature that Republicans just don't want people to vote because they're afraid they would lose. That's what it sounds like. And, increasingly, that's what it is. And that's dangerous, and wrong," Yuval said. But he also said he thinks "Democrats are at risk of confirming the caricature that they think about election reform in a cynical partisan way, as a means of enabling themselves to win more elections."

Outro music: "Martin Was a Man, a Real Man" by Oliver Nelson

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Mar 11, 2021
Can Americans Still Discuss Their Differences Constructively? David Blankenhorn Is Trying To Make it Happen.

David Blankenhorn is co-founder of Braver Angels, which now has 70 chapters around the country, and has hosted more than 1,400 meetings, Blankenhorn said.

The mission of Braver Angels is to get Americans to talk to one another, and to have honest conversations about their views on politics. The practice they preach is to get their members to listen to one another, rather than try to persuade each another, because the goal is to reduce alienation and demonization more than anything.

In other words, they want to bring people together to see that the other side isn't necessarily a bunch of raging maniacs who fit the descriptions that are churned out on cable TV, online and in fundraising emails.

Blankenhorn started Braver Angels a few years ago in 2017, and this task was tough then. But now, with the rise of conspiracy theories and many Trump supporters having been blue-pilled into an alternative reality, this is even tougher. And we talk at length about this. Blankenhorn is very firm that he doesn't want his group to do a lot of fact-checking.

I don't know what I think about this. At a certain point, if people are not able to discern basic facts from complete falsehoods, I don't know what good it does to pretend they're nt completely around the bend. But I admire Blankenhorn's desire to bring people together, and I think we need a lot more groups and efforts like this.

He also discusses how his personal history -- and his rather searing and personally painful experience being a public spokesperson on both sides of the marriage equality debate -- drove him into this work.

Outro song: "Fire" by Waxahatchee

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Mar 04, 2021
Adam Kinzinger says the battle with Trumpism has to be fought in public (bc he knows political parties have lost their power)

Adam Kinzinger, 42, has been in Congress since 2010. He's an Air National Guard pilot who flew over 100 combat missions on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He never said much about Trump prior to the election, and has been a reliable conservative vote. But since the election, he's been everywhere.

He's been the most outspoken Republican elected official to publicly call out the constant lying by former President Trump about the election, and has taken it up several notches since the January 6 assault on the Capitol.

He voted to impeach Trump, and to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments. And he's even formed a political action committee and said he's going to use it to support primary challengers against other Republicans in Congress who are most loyal to Trump, such as Matt Gaetz and Greene. He reiterated to me that he's still planning on doing this and plans are moving forward.

We also talked about the ways that conservative Christian culture has fallen short in this moment, and how Kinzinger -- who is unabashed about his own Christian faith -- thinks the American church got to this point.

Outro music: "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" by Steely Dan

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Feb 24, 2021
The Congressman Who Became A Qanon Topic Himself: Rep. Tom Malinowski

Tom Malinowski, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey who was working on a resolution last year condemning the Qanon conspiracy cult, when suddenly he became a target of the cult himself, with the help of the Republican party establishment. 

Malinowski is now involved in trying to come up with legislative solutions to the problem of disinformation and like my last guest, Peter Pomerantsev, he's focused on the way that the social media companies design their platforms in such a way that bad information travels faster and farther than good. But he thinks we need more than just the requirement of transparency about allgorithms. The bill he's proposed would make social media platforms legally liable if it was shown that their algorithm amplified information which led to real world violence.

Outro music: "Harlem River Blues" by Steve Earle & the Dukes

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Feb 23, 2021
Reducing Big Tech Censorship, Preserving Free Speech, and Fighting Disinformation, with Peter Pomerantsev

Peter Pomerantsev is one of the best thinkers on online disinformation. He's the author of two books, "This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality," and "Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia." He is also senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics’ Institute of Global Affairs, and a senior fellow at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University where he co-directs the Arena Initiative.

“Fake amplification — everything from gaming algorithms and search engine optimization through to amplification through coordinated inauthentic activity — I think that probably has to end if the internet is going to be a just reflection of society and not this kind of weird funhouse mirror that distorts everything,” Pomerantsev said.

The way out, he said, is through forcing the tech companies to be transparent about how they are manipulating the spread of information, and holding them accountable to prevent public harms.

Outro music: "Jubilee Street" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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Feb 18, 2021
If Things Are Going to Hell, Let's Talk Structural Reform with Don Beyer

Gerrymandering is a major problem. But it's not the only structural cause of radicalization, extremism and polarized politics. I talked with Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, about some other reform ideas that he's working on with other members of Congress.

First, they want to introduce ranked choice voting. Second, they want to have members of Congress serve in multi-member districts, rather than only one member per district. And three, they want to expand the size of the House, from 435 members as it stands now to 500 members at first, and probably more beyond that.

We talk mostly about ranked choice voting, because that's the first reform they are pushing. Beyer said he hopes to have it voted on and passed in the House this year. And this is something I discussed with Lee Drutman a year ago when his new book came out. If you're looking to do a deep dive into these ideas, they're all explored in depth in that book, which is called "Breaking the Two Party Doom Loop."

The most basic reason to consider ranked choice voting is that it requires a candidate to win with a majority of votes. As it stands, the American system rewards candidates who win a plurality of votes, meaning many officeholders never clear 50 percent support from voters. This is most significant in party primaries, where an extremist or unqualified candidate can win with 30 percent of the vote or less if there are a high number of candidates in the race who split up the vote.

It also gives voters the ability to vote for a third party candidate without worrying that they are throwing away their vote. If the third party candidate doesn't finish in the top two, and nobody gets above 50 percent, then that person's vote goes to their second choice. This would reduce the spoiler effect of third party candidates and also put pressure on them to nominate serrious candidates if they want to be taken seriously.

Drutman told me a year ago that "things are going to hell a little bit" and that's why "people have become so engaged in democracy reform."

I think it's safe to say that things are going to hell a lot these days, and we need structural change to reduce the toxic nature of our politics. This is the kind of conversation we need more of.

Outro Song: "One Hundred Years" by John McCutcheon

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Feb 03, 2021
Russell Moore on the Capitol Insurrection and Why He's Willing to Put His Job On the Line to Speak His Mind

Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in America, with 15 million or so members in its 47,000 or so congregations.

Moore was one of the most prominent evangelical critics of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, but after Trump was elected president, Moore came under attack from Trump supporters inside the SBC who wanted him out of his job, which he took over in 2013. Moore, 49, survived the challenge, but was less outspoken about Trump after that.

After Trump incited his supporters with two months of lies about the election, encouragement about a “wild” day on January 6, and a speech on that day exhorting them to march on the Capitol, Moore made a decision to speak out against Trump once again. He wrote a 2,600 word essay and sent it out to the ERLC mailing list.

Moore dismantled the arguments that led to the insurrection, stating clearly that “it is not true — and it never was true — that this election was stolen,” and said that the riot had been “incited and fomented by the President of the United States.”

Moore said that he thought Trump should resign, or be removed by the Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence, or impeached and convicted by Congress. “If I were a Member of Congress, I would vote to impeach. And if I were a United States senator, I would vote to convict. And I would be willing, if necessary, to lose my seat to do so,” Moore wrote.

“As a matter of fact, I am willing, if necessary, to lose this seat.” That was a reference to his own job, and an acknowledgment that those who tried to get him ousted four years ago might do so again based on his criticism now.

But it’s unclear whether he is now “almost all alone,” as he wrote he felt for most of the last few years. The shock of the events is still roiling the country, as thousands of armed soldiers patrol the U.S. Capitol and other parts of the capital city.

Moore’s latest book, his fifth, is rooted in that experience of feeling isolated and afraid. It’s titled, “The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul.”

Also, to see Moore's list of his favorite 20 books over the last 20 years click here.

Outro Music: "Look Long" by the Indigo Girls

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Jan 16, 2021
Brendan Buck on the Lessons of the Trump Disaster & the Urgent Need for GOP Pols to Tell the Truth to their Voters

Brendan Buck worked for two Republican Speakers of the House: John Boehner and Paul Ryan. He's now a partner at the strategic comms shop Seven Letter. I first met him when I was writing about the rise of the Tea Party a decade ago, which feels like much longer than that. We talk about some of the ways that American politics is structured to make it hard for politicians to do what they know is right, including telling the truth to their own supporters. Brendan thinks that is one of the main reasons we are in this mess, bc the GOP in particular has lied to its own voters for many years, telling them that the government is all bad and that the Republican party is not fighting hard enough for them.

This is the first episode of 2021. Almost exactly a month ago, in mid-December, on the last episode, John Dickerson of CBS News said that the failure of Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell to rebuke President Trump's lies about the 2020 election had done "real damage" to American democracy.

At the time, one of McConnell's top advisers, Josh Holmes, mocked Dickerson.

"It’s genuinely astonishing how little the media knows about American politics today and the American electorate. They still operate as though they’re Walter Cronkite telling you “that’s the way it is” when in reality over half of America believes, with cause, nothing they say," Holmes tweeted.

In another tweet, Holmes said that "media isn't relevant."

Steven Law, another close McConnell adviser, tweeted in response that Holmes' rebuke was "the wake-up call the American media needs but will never hear as they get left further and further behind."

I'm most interested in looking forward to solving problems. But this dismissal of sober warnings about the danger of lying to the American people, and of authoritarian behavior, is a lesson going forward. What happened at the U.S. capitol last week: THAT is the wake up call.

Going forward, there are legitimate considerations among Republicans for a variety of strategies to rid itself of the influence of Trumpism. Liz Cheney represents the faction that seeks to directly confront it. Kevin McCarthy may have coddled and encouraged Trump's lies about the election, but he did take some initial steps toward telling Republican voters the truth -- long overdue -- on Wednesday.

McCarthy opposed the impeachment vote, but he called for the House to censure Trump and rejected the alternative reality that many Trump supporters live in. McCarthy forcefully and clearly said that Democratic President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 election, he rejected false conspiracy theories about Antifa activists assaulting the capitol, and he held Trump responsible for the violence.“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” McCarthy said.

It remains to be seen what happens in the U.S. Senate when they take up the impeachment issue likely near the end of next week. What I'm praying for between now and then is an uneventful and peaceful several days during which Joe Biden will be inaugurated the next president.

But whatever the strategy is going forward, we have learned a painful lesson. Leaders who engage in endless lying, show clear disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution, and express clear authoritarian leanings, must be confronted and stopped. This was the animating idea that sparked the creation of this podcast in 2017. If the Republican party had done this in 2015, America would have been spared so much pain...

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Jan 13, 2021
John Dickerson Thinks The Way We Pick Presidents is FUBAR

John Dickerson is a correspondent for 60 Minutes, a political analyst for CBS News, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, and one of the three hosts of Slate's Political Gabfest podcast, which incredibly has been going for 15 years. He was previously the host of "Face the Nation" and a co-host on "CBS This Morning."

John's most recent book "The Hardest Job In the World: The American Presidency," looks at the history of and expectations for the office, and says America’s process for picking presidents is badly broken.

“We encourage impulsive, winner-take-all displays of momentary flash to win a job that requires restraint, deliberation, and cooperation,” he wrote.


And Americans have gone too far in seeking always to send an outsider to Washington to disrupt the status quo. “Our presidential candidates go through no apprenticeship process to test whether they have governing qualities ... We’re not simply judging a book by its cover, we’re judging a bomb-defusing manual by its cover.”

And so in this episode I ask John about why he thinks we should acknowledge that presidents do sometimes have to lie or mislead, and that we need to have intelligent criteria for analyzing whether someone is lying in a way that is constructive or destructive.

We talk about how he thinks primaries should change, and how our political debates need to be completely overhauled.

And we discuss Trump's attempts to overturn the election, and Mitch McConnell's long-delayed recognition of Joe Biden's election win. The weeks of saying nothing while Trump misled millions into believing the election was stolen has done what John calls "serious damage" to democracy.

We end with a few thoughts on Advent.

Thank you for listening to this show. I hope you have rest and peace over these holidays. My family and I celebrate Christmas, and I wish those of you who do as well as Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa, andd Happy New Year.

Outro song: "Summer's End" by John Prine

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Dec 16, 2020
He Fought Liberal Bias in Media But Then Realized He Didn't Understand Journalism

Matthew Sheffield fought against liberal bias in the news media for years. He grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon family, one of 10 children. His street preacher father watched CBS News. And in the late 90's Matthew started getting into blogging, as we called it then, mostly pointing out examples of media biased. He started a site called Rather Biased, inspired by CBS News' famous broadcaster. And in 2005 he and his brother started Newsbusters.

A few weeks ago, Matthew wrote out a remarkable thread on Twitter, where he wrote that he “was part of a decades-long tradition of complaining about media elites being ‘unfair’ to conservative views.”


And Sheffield doesn’t dismiss the notion of liberal bias in the media. “There is still much to that argument,” he wrote, “but eventually I saw that I was missing context.”


After Sheffield went to work at the Washington Examiner, where he was the newspaper’s first online editor, he says he realized that “U.S. conservatives do not understand the purpose of journalism.”


“I didn't understand that journalism is supposed to portray reality,” Sheffield wrote.


The Examiner was the first place where Sheffield says he saw the kind of standards that differentiate “actual media and reporting institutions” — that may have inherent or even conscious bias — from right-wing websites for whom partisan bias is the north star, the guiding principle.


“Truth for conservative journalists is anything that harms ‘the left.’ It doesn't even have to be a fact,” he wrote. “I eventually realized that most people who run right-dominated media outlets see it as their DUTY to be unfair and to favor Republicans because doing so would some how counteract perceived liberal bias.”


“Most conservative media figures have no journalism training or desire to fact-check their own side,” he added.


After his time at the Examiner, Sheffield oversaw the polling operation at The Hill newspaper, and has also been a staff reporter for Salon.


Sheffield is writing a memoir about his upbringing and is host of a podcast called Theory of Change. He's also working on launching a new online venture which he says will be called Flux. 

Sheffield believes that much of the mainstream press doesn’t write empathetically enough about most conservative voters.


“The tens of millions of people who vote Republican are not deplorable. They are misled,” he wrote. “And the mocking and tribalistic coverage that lefty media often engage in only makes things worse.”

Outro music: "Californian Soil" by London Grammar

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Dec 04, 2020
Eli Lake Has Hammered the FBI for its Handling of the Russia Investigation. He Weighs In on Trump's Refusal to Concede

One of the most common defenses of President Trump's attempts to overturn the election results is that he was undermined for much of his presidency by the media and the so-called "deep state," primarily through the Russia investigation.

In essence, it's revenge, and if millions of Americans are deceived into thinking that the election was stolen and that American democracy is destroyed -- despite any evidence at all of this -- then that's collateral damage to getting even.

The latest example of this came from Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax. “For two years, the liberal media pushed this Russian hoax theory, and there didn’t seem to be any substantiation at the end of the day and it was a pretty compelling, gripping story — controversial personalities, things happened, sparks were flying,” he told the New York Times' Ben Smith.

Obviously, it's wrong to put vengeance or ego or whatever is motivating the president ahead of and above the welfare of the nation and our future. But even on the merits, what are the facts? Was the Russia investigation a "hoax," as Trump says? What exactly happened with Russian interference in the 2016 election?

Is there any legitimacy in comparing the Russia probe to Trump's refusal to concede?

To untangle all this I spoke with Eli Lake, who is a nationally syndicated reporter who writes for Bloomberg View on national security matters. In the world of legitimate journalism, to distinguish it from the hacks and bad faith actors in partisan media and punditry, Eli has been among the most critical of former FBI Director Jim Comey and his handling of the Russia probe. He has also been very critical of the FBI's handling of former National Security Director James Flynn. Most recently, Eli wrote a column about Trump's pardon of Flynn, titled, "Trump Was Right to Pardon Michael Flynn"

"It’s tempting, in light of Trump’s failure to accept the results of this year’s presidential election, to wave away the evidence that Flynn was railroaded by the FBI and the Justice Department," Lake wrote. But, he concludes, "Every American deserves the same protections under the law — even those who work for Donald Trump."

Eli has debated the Flynn portion of the Russia inquiry elsewhere. He and Ben Wittes did a lengthy back and forth on this a few months ago, and I recommend you listen to it. I mention that only to say that there is a way to interpret the context of the Flynn case differently than Eli does. But I think he has made a compelling case that Flynn was, as he put it, railroaded.

And that's the thing. If I have one take away on the Russia story, it's that it is highly complicated, and it's not easy to reach clear conclusions. It's the opposite of the election, which is an easy call in black and white. There was no cheating that impacted the result, Trump is lying about that, his legal team has produced no evidence of fraud, and he is attacking democracy in what looks like will be a clumsy, failed, but nonetheless autocratic attempt, to use a term from Russian-American writer Masha Gessen, who has called Trump's actions an attempted coup.

In January of this year, Lake published a nearly 8,000-word article summarizing the sprawling and complicated history of the Russia probe, which he characterized as “a cautionary tale...

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Nov 30, 2020
We Have Entered the "Post-Truth" Era, With Pennsylvania's Lt. Gov. John Fetterman & Gisele Fetterman

John Fetterman is the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, and the former mayor of Braddock, PA, which is just outside Pittsburgh. He and his wife Gisele and he have long been involved in community work, helping those who are in need, and that ethic characterized their time in Braddock, where they still live.

Fetterman stands out, and always has. He's 6'8", bald, goateed, tatooed, and usually wears Carhart jackets and shirts -- the kind of clothing more often seen on those who work in construction and the like. Go google his wikipedia page. His official portrait shows him in a gray open-collar shirt with pockets on both sides -- he looks more like a skateboarder than a politician.

As mayor of Braddock, Fetterman drew attention for his focus on revitalizing the dying town of Braddock, which had been hollowed out by the death of the steel industry, much like vast parts of that region. Now, Fetterman has become a regular fixture on MSNBC by virtue of his clever and forceful criticisms of President Trump's attempts to overturn the election. Much like Trump, a good bit of Fetterman's persona is playing out on Twitter.

We talked here about the way that the Republican party in Pennsylvania made sure that it would take days to count mail ballots, giving Trump cover to make baseless claims about cheating. Fetterman called that "orchestrated." But he also surprised me by sort of defending Republican leaders in the legislature. Instead, he pointed the finger at the president and at his supporters.

The most telling moment, to me, was Fetterman's comment that we are entering a post-truth era in our politics. Trump is making incredibly serious charges without any facts to back him up. Fetterman is very frank that this is just the beginning of a period where people can say or believe anything, regardless of what the facts are.

That's the most serious problem now as we leave the Trump presidency behind. And in fact, we start our conversation in a back and forth over why it's been reported, falsely, that Fetterman calls himself a Democratic socialist. This is also on his Wikipedia page. And it's an example of why it's important to check these things, and verify them.

Outro music: The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Theme

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Nov 24, 2020
How to Tell Real Conspiracies from Conspiracy Theories, With the BBC's Marianna Spring

The purpose of this episode is to help us think about how do we talk to people who are either confused by conspiracy theories or committed to them. How do we interact with family members who are in one of these categories.

In just the last week I’ve had confronted these circumstances in my own life. I don't think I did very well. One of my biggest mistakes was trying to argue over text and email rather than in person or over the phone.

And I talk here with Marianna Spring, who in March was assigned by the BBC in the UK to start reporting full time on the issue of disinformation and conspiracy theories.

We discuss how to know the difference between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory, what the distinguishing hallmarks are of a conspiracy theory, and how to talk to people in these two groups: those confused by conspiracy theories and those committed to them.

There are real conspiracies that have been uncovered in the past, like the Watergate scandal, or the CIA’s domestic spying program during the in the late 60’s and early 70’s, or the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, or the use of extraodinary rendition and torture of military detainees by the U.S. government after 9/11, or the tobacco industry’s deceit of the public about the health effects of smoking.


All came to light through investigative journalism, the courage of whistle-blowers working with the press, or state-sponsored inquiries. Tools like Freedom of Information requests have been crucial as well. 

None of these things were uncovered by people who believe in the kind of conspiracy theories that are defined by the following characteristics:

  • Negative evidence - the absence of evidence is the first tell-tale sign. It is the first chess move of a conspiracy theory, because it serves to prompt the obvious retort from a skeptic: “Where is the evidence?” This response is then used to paint the skeptic as close-minded and potentially even part of the plot to suppress the truth.
  • “Errant data” - conspiracy theories will often rely on obscure and complex analyses, many times of the statistical or analytical variety, that offer a veneer of sophistication but which are usually hot air. 
  • A highly effective master plan. A conspiracy theory asserts that there are no accidents. Everything is intended. Of course, that’s not how reality works. 
  • There is a shadowy, often nameless villain or group of bad guys pulling the strings.
  • Circular reasoning, or contradictory claims, are often part of a conspiracy theory
  • Knowability skepticism - if you hear someone saying that we can’t actually know for sure what happened, that’s a hallmark of conspiracy theories. 
  • And finally, conspiracy theories are self-reinforcing or self-insulating. Reality itself -- the existence of a plausible explanation, even if there’s evidence for it -- is part of the plot, because that’s “what they want you to believe.”


About that Giuliani press conference. Andrew McCarthy at National Review explained this the day before the Giuliani press conference in a column published Wednesday:

"Realistically speaking, the legal battle over the 2020 election is over. As I explained over the weekend, from President Trump’s perspective, that battle is beset by a fatal mismatch between (a) what his campaign is in a...

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Nov 23, 2020
The GOP Needs Fewer Tax Cuts and More Labor Unions, Argues Oren Cass

 “Applying conservative principles doesn't mean just keep flipping through the 1980 playbook until you find the right tax cut,” said Oren Cass, executive director of American Compass. 

Cass, 37, is an up and coming conservative thinker who got his start in politics on Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Cass was an associate at Bain and Company, where Romney had worked before starting Bain Capital. Cass held a senior policy adviser position in 2012, when Romney became the GOP nominee.


Since then, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, has credited Cass with inspiring some of his proposals on reducing poverty. Cass was a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, before starting American Compass. His 2018 book, “The Once and Future Worker,” has received praise from conservatives and from some on the left as well.

Cass says that many on the right have been "lazy" in relying on tax cuts as a one-size-fits-all solution, and that Republicans should do more to align themselves with organized labor.

"I think there are huge problems with the way labor unions operate in America but the idea of labor unions, the idea that we should want workers to be able to organize, to have collective representation, to bargain on an equal footing with their employers, conservatives should love that," he said.

Outro music: "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life," by Monty Python.


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Nov 17, 2020
Tim Alberta On the Future of the Republican Party

Tim Alberta is chief political author at Politico and author of the 2019 New York Times Bestseller, "American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump."

We talk about what comes next for the Republican party in the wake of an election where it showed promising trends for the future, but in which the party's leader and the sitting president told lie after lie about the integrity of the election, dragging some of the leading figures in the party with him.

Tim's recent piece, "The Election that Broke the Republican Party," is here.

The interview with Democrat David Shor in Politico about challenges facing the Democratic party is here.

Outro music: "House of a Thousand Guitars" by Bruce Springsteen

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Nov 16, 2020
Mindy Belz on What American Christians Can Learn from Middle Eastern Christians & Emily Belz on Qanon in the Church

Mindy Belz has been with World Magazine since its founding in 1986. It’s a publication aimed at evangelical Christians, started by her brother in law, Joel Belz. Emily Belz, Mindy’s daughter, is also at World now, and has worked at the New York Daily News and The Indianapolis Star.

Mindy has spent 20 years covering the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria. This is a story that truly did get overlooked: before the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, there were about 1 million Christians in Iraq, living out a version of the faith with incredibly ancient roots. Many Christians in that region still speak Aramaic, the tongue that Christ himself spoke. 

But 17 years later, the Christian community in Iraq has been decimated by violence and intimidation. Only about 100,000 Christians remain there. The faith there has almost become extinct in terms of sheer population size. Mindy and I discuss a little bit how much decisions made, or not made, by the Bush administration, are responsible for that. 

Mindy’s book on this topic, “They Say We are Infidels: On the Run from from ISIS With Persecuted Christians in the Middle East,” came out in 2015. I recommend it. The suffering of this community there, and in Syria, is tough to comprehend. 

I first thought of interviewing Mindy when I saw her tweet something last May. It was in response to protests against COVID restrictions. "For 6 yrs I've reported on Christians chased from their homes & churches by ISIS, seen their testimony, steadiness, care for one another. How utterly disheartening to watch the American church come apart in a 10-wk shutdown. They shall be known by their demand for their rights,” she wrote. 

So, I read her book, we talked about that issue, and then we discussed why her experience in the Middle East led her to make the comment. And we get into the contrasts she sees between Christians who have truly endured suffering and persecution, and those in America who claim to be persecuted because of restrictions on church gatherings, and in the article I wrote for Yahoo News, I get more into that, and there’s some very relevant commentary from David French, who says that religious liberty is up for debate in this. But he has some interesting criticisms of people who have charged out and disregarded public health guidance, like the gatherings organized by Sean Feucht, and contrasts it with churches who have gone out of their way to comply with public health guidance and have sued, and won, only when that was their last option, like Capitol Hill Baptist in DC. 

Mindy’s bigger critique of American Christians is two fold: they have no idea what real religious persecution looks like is one part of it. But she also notes the narrowness of demanding rights to do whatever one wants while disregarding the impact of not wearing masks and distancing on those who are most vulnerable — which is not just the older but also people who are poor and on the margins, those without health insurance who are going to avoid going to the doctor or ER if they get sick until it’s too late. And she contrasts this with a vision of the common good that characterizes Middle East Christians. 

Now, part of the reason people dismiss masks and distancing is because they are following Trump’s lead, but also because they are listening to those who dismiss scientific consensus. And this gets to the matter of critical thinking, and that’s where Emily comes in. Emily wrote

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Oct 25, 2020
Charlie Camosy Talks Abortion Politics

Charlie Camosy is a professor of theology and social ethics at Fordham University, and has written several books on the issue of abortion and the politics of abortion. What I appreciate about Charlie is that his main theme, or one of them, is that there is nowhere near as much disagreement among a broad majority of Americans on what to do about abortion politically as we think. 

Charlie was on the board of Democrats for Life until February, when he left the group, and the party, saying it has become too inhospitable to those who oppose abortion, or those who just want to reduce it. We talk about that decision, and also about why he is deeply opposed to joining the Republican Party or supporting Donald Trump. 

We talk about how Europe is a model for how America should approach abortion, and what it might look like for the pro-life cause — if that’s what it should be called — could build a coalition that’s not captive to any one political party. 

Camosy's books include "Resisting Throwaway Culture," "Beyond the Abortion Wars," and "For Love of Animals."

Outro Song: "Can I Believe You," by Fleet Foxes

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Oct 21, 2020
Kim Wyman, the Republican who oversees all-mail elections in Washington, on the security and integrity of the election

Kim Wyman is the Secretary of State in Washington state, which is one of five states that conducts its elections entirely by mail and has been doing so since 2011. 

I talked with Wyman about two main things: the robust controls that they have in Washington for verifying that ballots are legitimate and not fraudulent, and what she says about concerns that millions of ballots go missing every election.

A bit of a spoiler on that latter point: Wyman said most ballots that are called “missing” are not actually missing, but rather simply ballots that are mailed out and then not voted by the person who received it. But we also get into why some people get ballots for dead relatives, or from people who moved away, and what safeguards are in place to prevent those from being voted anyway. 

Just as every other Republican expert on voting has said, Wyman agreed that President Trump’s claims of a rigged election are preposterous. 

One note of correction. I mention at one point that Michael Adams, who was on this podcast in late August, has been an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. Since we taped this, Adams, who is currently the Secretary of State in Kentucky, emailed me to say that he is not currently advising Pence. I have tried to get an answer from Adams on when that relationship ended, since public records from the Federal Election Commission show he was paid as recently as late June, but I have not received an answer on that. 

Outro song: "Gimme Some Truth" by John Lennon

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Oct 09, 2020
Republican Super Lawyer Ben Ginsberg Says When It Comes to Election Fraud, There's No Iceberg

“I've been looking at polling places for 38 years as part of my duties and passion for [the] Republican party doing well in elections. We’ve been looking for fraud and I know what evidence is available, and there's not anything like enough evidence to make the bold assertion that our elections are rigged and fraudulent. And it is a perilous thing for a president of the United States to be saying that," Ben Ginsberg says.

Ginsberg oversaw George W. Bush’s recount effort in the 2000 presidential election , and he advised 4 of the last 6 presidential nominees on election law, including Trump. He was THE go to guy when it came to Republicans in Election Law for the last 20 years or more.

Ginsberg retired from law practice earlier on August 31, and a week later the historically tight-lipped legal eagle began to speak out in warning the country about the almost daily disinformation about voting coming from President Trump. He published an op-ed in The Washington Post on September 8, and another just this week. He has appeared on numerous TV news shows.

His main message is two-fold. One, election fraud is rare and there is no proof of anything close to what Trump constantly claims is reality. And second, the president’s words are dangerous and harmful to the country.

We talk here about Trump’s recent rhetoric about poll watchers, and about the notion that a handful of isolated incidents mentioned recently by the president are evidence of a rigged election.

Here's what he said about the examples Trump is harping on: "There are 10,500 jurisdictions in the country who have some responsibility over the casting and counting of ballots. That's the way our system is. But with that many moving parts, there will be an uneven quality of people and procedures in each of those jurisdictions and mistakes will happen. Mistakes happen every cycle, they should be rooted out, they should be corrected, but that should not be confused with widespread fraud that yields inaccurate elections … I'm afraid that people who say it's the tip of the iceberg, in fact, are looking at ice cubes that got dropped in the water and melt on contact,” he said. “And they're confusing the tip of the iceberg for a melting ice cube.”

Outro music: "Pancho and Lefty" by Townes Van Zandt

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Oct 02, 2020
Judy Wu Dominick thinks if you have wealth and aren't friends with others who don't, you're spiritually poor

Judy Wu Dominick comes to the issue of race from a decidedly Christian perspective. As she explains in the first portion of our conversation, she came to this work of writing about race and faith and justice essentially as a second career. She studied medicine and worked in that field for many years. Her work is something she has built over time and it’s highly sophisticated and full of wisdom. I first became aware of her writing in 2017 when she wrote a piece in Christianity Today on importance of pursuing nuance, and how Christians in particular have an imperative to do so. 

But I think the most powerful part of this conversation is when Judy talks about the way that those of us who have material wealthy are often spiritually poor if we are not in relationship with those who are in material poverty. Her story of her own efforts to live out her faith in this respect is, to me, incredibly moving. 

Here 2017 piece on nuance is here. The full link is here:

Her recent piece, "Making Just Disciples in an Unjust World" is here. The full link is here:

Her piece, "Why the Affluent Need the Poor" is here. The full link is here:

Outro music: "Shot in the Arm" by Wilco

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Sep 18, 2020
Eddie Glaude on his timely book about James Baldwin, Racism, and the Betrayal of the Civil Rights Movement

Eddie Glaude is the chair of Princeton University’s African American Studies program and is a regular fixture on the set of “Morning Joe.” Eddie has written several books over the years, such as "Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul," and "In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America.”

Eddie’s latest book is “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own."

Glaude wrote this book before George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day this year. But the book — a passionate, grief-stricken account of a Black historian’s attempt to make sense of our times and to find a way forward — could not be more timely.

“Part of the reason why I wrote the book is that I was grappling with my own despair and disillusionment” after the election of Donald Trump, said Glaude. “How I came out of the other side of that despair was a kind of insistence on bearing witness, on telling the truth about who we are, laying bare the consequences of our monstrous actions over time and over our history."

To begin again, he writes, is to “reexamine the fundamental values and commitments that shape our self-understanding, and ... look back to those beginnings not to reaffirm our greatness or to double down on myths that secure our innocence, but to see where we went wrong and how we might imagine or recreate ourselves in light of who we initially set out to be.”

“Baldwin called the nation, in his after times, to confront the lie of its own self-understanding and to get about the work of building a country truly based on democratic principles,” Glaude writes.

You might not agree with everything Eddie says, but I think if you read this book, it’s almost impossible not to be enriched and challenged in a very productive way. 

Outro music: "Bloody Waters" from the Black Panther Soundtrack

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Sep 11, 2020
Stacey Abrams and filmmakers Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes on their new documentary "All In: The Fight for Democracy"

Stacey Abrams is president of Fair Fight Action and was House Minority Leader in the Georgia legislature from 2011 to 2017. In 2018, she ran for governor of Georgia, losing a closely contested race to Republican Brian Kemp and alleging afterward that Kemp, who oversaw the election from his post as Georgia's top elections official, had suppressed the vote to win.

Abrams has worked on voting rights issues for many years now, and was considered as a potential running mate by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

"All In: The Fight for Democracy" is a documentary about the history of voting in America and about Abrams 2018 candidacy for governor. The film was co-produced and co-directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes. Cortes comes from the world of music and film production, and Garbus has directed such well-known films as Ghosts of Abu Ghraib; Bobby Fischer Against the World; What Happened, Miss Simone?; and recently she made her debut in directing a feature film, with Lost Girls.

The movie premieres in select theaters on September 9, and will stream on Amazon Prime starting September 18. You can watch this conversation by clicking here.

Outro music: "Do I Move You" by Nina Simone

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Sep 08, 2020
Michael Steele on How Biden Should Respond to Trump and to Kenosha

Michael Steele is the former lieutenant governor of Maryland who went on to become chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011. He’s a regular mainstay on MSNBC these days, and is a possible candidate for governor in the future in Maryland. 

I met Mike in 2006 when I covered the Maryland legislature, and we’ve stayed in touch since. We were ostensibly going to talk about the Republican convention, but we ended up spending most of our time talking about Joe Biden’s response to President Trump’s attacks on him, and to the protests and unrest in Kenosha Wisconsin in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. 

Our conversation took place on Thursday, and shortly after we finished speaking, Biden put out a lengthy statement responding to attacks on him by Vice President Pence during a speech on Wednesday night. Pence and Trump and the Republicans are using support of Democrats for racial justice to accuse them of condoning violence. And even though Biden has condemned violence repeatedly and did so again Thursday, there has been a hesitation among Democrats in general to call out violence. 

"Democratic leaders, from the nearly invisible mayor of Kenosha up to those on the presidential ticket, are reluctant to tarnish a just cause, amplify Republican attacks, or draw the wrath of their own progressive base,” George Packer wrote in a piece for the Atlantic titled, “This is how Biden loses.” Packer said that Biden needs to go to Wisconsin in person and meet with the Blake family. 

“On the burned-out streets, without a script, from the heart, Biden should speak to the city and the country. He should speak for justice and for safety, for reform and against riots, for the crying need to bring the country together. If he says these things half as well as Julia Jackson did, we might not have to live with four more years of Trump,” Packer wrote, referring to the eloquent please for justice and peace from Blake’s mother. 

Outro music: "Company in My Back" by Wilco

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Aug 29, 2020
Frank LaRose, Ohio's Top Elections Official, GOP official, Warns That a Single Law is Going to Delay Election Results in other Midwest Swing States

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said that in his state mail-in ballots will be among the first ballots counted on the night of the election. This is because Ohio law allows election clerks to process mail-in ballots as they arrive in the weeks and days before the election, so they’re ready to be counted and tabulated the moment polls close. 


“We can start processing those right away, meaning cut the envelope, open, verify the information on it, put it through the scanner, but not hit tabulate. That can't happen until 7:30 on election night,” LaRose said. But LaRose noted that other Rust Belt swing states don’t have laws on the books that allow mail-in ballots to be processed in advance. “Now our friends up the road in Michigan, they can't start processing ballots until Election Day,” he said. 


It’s not just Michigan, however. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania also can’t process the ballots in advance, meaning a delay in results is all but certain in these crucial battleground states. 


Although he decisively lost the popular vote in 2016, President Trump’s narrow victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were enough for him to win in the Electoral College. In Michigan, for example, Trump won by roughly 10,000 votes, or about 0.2 percent of all votes cast. 


“If you think about a big county like Wayne County – where Detroit is – I mean, they're going to have pallets and pallets of ballots waiting to get processed, that they really can't touch until election day. And that's unfortunate,” LaRose said. He added that it “could be days” before all mail ballots are counted.


Election experts have warned for months of a nightmare scenario where — because of these restrictive mail ballot rules in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — Trump may have a lead in votes on Election Night if most Republican voters cast ballots in person while most Democratic voters cast ballots by mail. 


If that happens — and polling suggests it might — Trump could claim victory before mail ballots have been fully counted, and then accuse elections officials of stealing the election if mail ballots give Biden a lead.


Trump has already claimed over and over this year, without evidence, that there will be cheating and fraud in the election, especially through mail-in voting. In response, some Democrats have also insinuated that the election results may not be trustworthy: During her speech to the Democratic National Convention last week, Hillary Clinton warned that Trump may try to “sneak or steal his way” to reelection. 


But even if neither candidate claims victory on the night of the election, a lengthy delay in reporting results could lead to all sorts of unforeseen problems in a country already on edge. Right- and left-wing activists have been battling in some cities for months amid high unemployment and a coronavirus outbreak that’s left some 180,000 Americans dead so far. 


The irony is that while LaRose, a Republican, criticized the system in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the legislatures in all three states are totally controlled by his party. Republicans control the House and Senate in each of those states, as they do in Ohio as well.


And the Secretaries of State in Michigan and Pennsylvania — both Democrats — are both trying to get their respective legislatures to give their clerks the ability to process ballots before Election Day, to avoid or at least minimize delays in reporting the full vote total.


So far, the Republican...

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Aug 28, 2020
Top Republican Elections Official Who Has Advised Vice President Pence Says Trump Voting Fraud Claims are "Not Feasible"

Michael G. Adams is Kentucky's Secretary of State, the top elections official in that state. He is a Harvard Law graduate who was a senior lawyer at the Justice Department in the George W. Bush administration. He built a private practice over the last 15 years advising major Republican clients on how to navigate the thicket of election laws, and working to help Republicans win elections across the country. He was hired by the Republican Governor’s Association in 2007 as their general counsel, and over the next decade advised “candidates, PACs, issue groups, donors and political consultants, in connection with federal, state and local elections,” according to his law firm website.


In 2017 Pence’s PAC, Great America Committee, hired him for legal and strategic advice on compliance with election law. The last payment to Adams’ law firm, Chalmers & Adams, was on June 24

Fraud in elections, Adams said, "does happen, but it doesn't happen on a widespread basis when it does happen. It typically happens in a small town.”


“But you're not going to see widespread fraud in a presidential or a Senate or a governor's race. It's just not feasible. And it hasn't been [feasible] in seventy or eighty years," Adams told me.

We talk in depth about why that's the case: how ballots are kept secure, and how mail ballots are tracked by elections officials. Republican voters are also very supportive of drop boxes, Adams said.

We also talked about the need for younger Americans to start signing up as poll workers as an act of duty and patriotism. "We need to run an election in Kentucky and disproportionately, [elections officials are] in their seventies and eighties,” he said. “And my generation, Gen X, hasn't stepped up to replace our aging or workers. That's not a problem just for today. That's a problem going forward for this decade."

Outro music: "Drown" by Lecrae

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Aug 23, 2020
Howard Dean on the Democratic Convention: "All We Have to Do Is Be Ourselves"

As Democrats get set to start the first virtual party convention in history, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean talks about what he thinks the party needs to accomplish this week.

Dean was governor of Vermont from 1991 to 2003, and nearly won the Democratic nomination for president in 2004. He was DNC Chair from 2005 to 2009.

Outro song: "Heaven Help Us All" - written by Ron Miller, performed by Joan Baez

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Aug 17, 2020
The Pure Pleasure of Speaking with Bill Buford, author of "Dirt", about food, writing, and adventure

Bill Buford is an author, chef, and adventurer. I've read his two latest books in the last year.

Dirt, released in 2006, was the first half of an epic narrative that’s taken up the last two decades or so of Bill’s life. It starts with him asking to be let into the kitchen of a high-end restaurant in New York, Mario Batali’s Babbo, on the bottom rung, to learn the ropes. He goes to Italy to learn to cook pasta, and then back to Italy to learn to be a proper butcher. Dirt was a bestseller. 

Heat, released just this past May, picks up where Dirt left off. But to my mind, there are layers upon layers in this latest book that Bill’s earlier book didn’t touch. He stretches himself, in terms of reporting, in terms of pure daring to try things that many would be too scared to try in France, a country of intimidating culinary intensity, and in terms of writing. And we talk about the challenges he faced in structuring this book. It’s really fascinating stuff.

I also read, years ago, Bill's first book: “Among the Thugs," about football hooligans in Europe. That too was a thrill to read.

Bill was fiction editor at The New Yorker starting in the mid-1990's, and before that he relaunched a literary magazine named Granta in 1979. We talk about the commitment to great writing, no matter the topic. It was a true joy to have the conversation.

Outro music: "Couch" by NSTASIA and D*L*P

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Aug 06, 2020
Nicholas Carr on "The Shallows" 10 Years Later

One of the foundational books of my adult life is “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman. It helped me see the ways in which the modern world was driven by entertainment more than information, as we transitioned from an word-based society to an image-based society with the advent of television.

The modern equivalent to Postman’s book, in my opinion, is Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows.” Written in the late 2000’s, before the smart phone was ubiquitous, Carr interprets the impact of the computer and the internet the same way Postman did television.

A new 10th anniversary edition of The Shallows was released this year, with a new afterword, in which Carr argues that he believe his book is more relevant now than it was when it came out.

“One of the greatest dangers we face as we automate the work of our minds, as we cede control over the flow of our thoughts and memories to a powerful electronic system,” Carr writes, is “a slow erosion of our humanness and our humanity.”

Video of the panel in 2015 with myself, Nick, Nicco Mele and Brad Jenkins is here, and my notes on that panel are here.

Outro music: "Feel You" by My Morning Jacket

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Jul 29, 2020
Meet the Guy Who's Hauling All 4 Big Tech CEO's (Virtually) Up to the Hill Next Week, Rep. David Cicilline

Next Monday, the CEO’s of four of the most dominant and important technology companies in the world will testify to Congress: 

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Apple’s Tim Cook will all appear before the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on anti-trust, commercial and administrative law. 

My guest today is the congressman who is going to chair and run that hearing, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island. A Democrat, Cicilline has been in Congress for the last decade, and before that was mayor of Providence for eight years. He was the first openly gay major of a U.S. State capital. 

For the last year Cicilline has been holding hearings on the issue of regulating big tech, and this hearing Monday will be the last hearing his subcomittee holds before they release a report with recommendations for Congress and for regulatory agencies in the executive branch. 

Cicilline told me he hopes to have this report out by late August, and when I asked if the regulations they’re going to recommend could be implemented next year — if Joe Biden were to win the presidency — he said he would expect them to.

"There's no reason to not expect a new administration to take this up in their first year," he said. "I think it's pretty clear we don't have real competition, partly because of the size of these platforms, and partly because of the fact that they have essentially been unregulated."

Outro music: "Under Control" by The Internet

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Jul 23, 2020
The Election Nightmare Scenario that Keeps Rick Hasen Up At Night

Rick Hasen is professor of law and political science at UC-Irvine and author of “Election Meltdown.”

Rick is two things that make him worth your time. First, he knows more about elections than almost anyone I know of. He updates his “Election Law blog” daily with the latest developments, and he has written two books on elections and election law. The most recent one, “Election Meltdown” came out earlier this year just before COVID-19 hit, and we talk about the main themes of that book.

But second, Rick is probably the most fair-minded expert on this topic that I’ve come across yet. I’ve done a fair amount of reporting and reading over the past few years on the issues of voting, voting rights, voter suppression, and allegations of fraud. And these are issues that elicit strong reactions from people, and as a result, both Democrats and Republicans get locked into diametrically opposed narratives on these issues. 

Hasen is very scrupulous and devoted to nuance on this stuff. It’s an incredibly hard quality to find. We cover a lot of ground and if you're curious about this topic, there's a ton of information here.

Outro: "Garden Song" by Phoebe Bridgers

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Jul 14, 2020
Tom Ridge: For His Own Good, Trump Should Stop Knocking Mail-In Voting

Tom Ridge is the former governor of Pennsylvania, from 1995 to 2001, and went on to become the first ever head of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. 

In March, Ridge and a former Democratic Governor, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, formed a group called Vote Safe, which is pushing to expand access to voting by mail. Every state has different rules for its elections, and Ridge believes that’s a better system than a nationalized one, but the point is that you need to know your state’s specific rules. Some of the best websites I’ve seen to do that are and I’ll provide links in the show notes to their key pages. I'll link to some of their key pages below.

Ridge did not vote for Trump in 2016 and spoke out publicly against him during the election. But Ridge’s appeal to Trump’s self-interest is part of the 74-year old Vietnam veteran’s effort to promote mail-in voting.


“You’ve got Republican incumbents and challengers who are going to be using [mail-in voting] in order to hopefully either be reelected or gain advantage as a challenger. And so there's a disconnect between the president and I think the balance of the party,” Ridge said.

Ridge said that many Republican-leaning voters in a state like Arizona -- where 80% of ballots are already cast by mail -- will likely want to vote this way. “You really can't expect them necessarily to wait in line three or four hours. Or they may say to themselves, ‘Because of my health concerns, I'm not going to the polls. I want to vote absentee,’” Ridge said.


“Mr. President, you have all the machinery. Take advantage of it,” Ridge said.

Here are the pages on each state's rules:


Please donate to the DC Dream Center here. The Dream Center is giving out free hot meals and grocery items 7 days a week to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Outro music: "Standing in the Doorway" by Bob Dylan

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Jun 17, 2020
Sen. Tim Scott on the killing of George Floyd and whether violence is a legitimate form of political action

Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, is the only black Republican in the U.S. Senate. When he was elected in 2012, he was only the 7th African-American senator in the nation’s history.

Scott has been quite vocal on many sides of the George Floyd killing. He’s called on Minneapolis to charge all four officers, he’s called the killing of Floyd a murder, and he’s spoken out publicly about systemic racism in the past and on the floor of the U.S. Senate. He’s also been outspoken in his condemnation of violence, even as he has criticized President Trump for his actions during this crisis. Scott said Trump’s tweets about “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and other inflammatory things posted on Twitter by the president were “not constructive” and he has spoken directly to the president about this. Scott has also criticized the president’s use of federal officers to attack peaceful protesters so he could stage a photo op at a church across Lafayette Park from the White House.

We discuss a number of things about Floyd's killing, including the argument that violence is an appropriate response. .“Many people are asking if violence is a valid means of producing social change. The hard and historical answer is yes,” wrote Kellie Carter Jackson, an assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College, in The Atlantic. “Violence compels a response. Violence disrupts the status quo and the possibility of returning to business as usual. So often the watershed moments of historical record are stamped by violence—it is the engine that propels society along from funerals to fury and from moments to movements."

Scott disagrees.

“Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis: pick one,” Scott said. “I think they would all say that without any question of the country, the arc of the universe, it bent because of the nonviolent resistance. … Whether it was sit-ins at Woolworth counters, Rock Hill, South Carolina. We've seen silent nonviolent protests, Rosa Parks, lead to community transformation when everything else seemed to not work.”


Scott also said that Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a pioneer of the civil rights movement who was beaten nearly to death in 1965 by Alabama police after crossing Edmund Pettis Bridge at the head of a protest march, warned him about the dangers of violence.

“He was so crystal clear that aggression and bitterness are the enemies of your soul. It will rot you out faster than anything else. And for those who believe that violence is a way, it seems very much like a hatred. The person who suffers the most is the person that holds onto it,” Scott said.


Please donate to the DC Dream Center here. The Dream Center is giving out free hot meals and grocery items 7 days a week to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Outro music: "Have a Little Faith" by Mavis Staples


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Jun 04, 2020
NIH Director Francis Collins is overseeing the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and is concerned about anti-vaccine activists

Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health, which is the primary U.S. government agency responsible for biomedical and public health research. It’s a giant agency, with 20,000 employees, including 6,000 research scientists, and a $39 billion budget. And this job makes him a crucial figure at this particular moment. He is leading the hunt in America for a vaccine solution to the COVID-19 crisis, leading a consortium of several government agencies and 18 pharmaceutical companies. 


“I am worried," he says, "that if we get a vaccine for COVID-19 by the end of the year, current polls would say maybe 20 percent of Americans say that they wouldn't take it. And why would they not take it? Just because they don't trust that vaccines are going to be safe, and that all sort of builds upon the stories coming from anti-vaxxers in the past."

"This is a terrible tragedy. Hundred thousands of people are dying across the world. We could stop that. And 20 percent of Americans say, ‘I wouldn't want that vaccine because it might not be what I think it should be because maybe they're lying to me about whether it's safe.’ How did we get there?”


But Collins also acknowledged that establishment organizations and leaders need to engage more meaningfully with the concerns of anti-vaccine activists.


“There's virtually no human intervention, including drinking water, that is without risk for certain people in certain doses. So let's be clear. When I say vaccines are generally safe, that doesn't mean that there's not a rare instance where a vaccine does lead to a negative outcome, some sort of side effect or a secondary illness of some sort. What we ask, I think though, scientifically is how do you balance the benefits and the risks? And I think we ask every consumer to do that same calculation,” he said.


“I'm afraid we have not done a great job in terms of explaining how one makes a thoughtful, rational decision, that you have to really get quantitative about it. If somebody says, ‘Well, there's a risk there.’ Of course there is. How big is the risk? What does that mean for the individual? And how do you factor that into what's the benefit? Then you could have a reasonable conversation,” he said. 

We also discuss why Christians seem to be so vulnerable to conspiracy theories.


Please donate to the DC Dream Center, which has been giving away hundreds of free hot meals every day in one of the most needy parts of Washington DC since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Donate here.



Outro music: "The Times They are a Changing" by Bob Dylan, performed by Francis Collins, Joe Perry and Rudy Tanzi


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May 29, 2020
Religion reporter Terry Mattingly on White Evangelicals and the Qanon political cult

Terry Mattingly, founder of and a nationally syndicated religious columnist, talks about the ways in which conspiracy theories like Qanon are merging with conservative white evangelical subculture.

The Atlantic piece on Qanon is here, and Terry's responses are here, here and here.

Outro music: "Working On a Dream" by Bruce Springsteen

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May 27, 2020
Tim Miller on the need to take conspiracy theories and disinformation seriously

Tim Miller worked in Republican politics for many years but over the last few years he's become more of a writer. One of his latest pieces at The Bulwark is titled, "Taking #Obamagate Seriously: President Trump's Bonkers Theory Explained."

Tim is a veteran political communicator with a good feel for how information flow moves in the modern media environment, and he believes that you can't let half-truths and lies spread unchallenged.

He's spent a lot of time trying to unpack and explain some of the more popular conspiracy theories on the right.

We talk about the speciousness of President Trump's insinuations that President Obama did something wrong, but also about the apparent mishandling of the FBI's 2017 interview of then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Some background reading on Flynn:

Outro music: "Flux Capacitor” by Jay Electronica

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May 26, 2020
The Man At the Center of the Red Hot Battle Over Voting Rights: Marc Elias

Marc Elias is leading 32 current lawsuits in 16 states to try to push for more expansive voting rights, and since the coronavirus, his workload has gone way up.

We go deep on the debate over vote-by-mail, and ballot collection, aka ballot harvesting.

Elias is chair of the Political Law practice at Perkins Coie. He was the top lawyer on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and has years of experience in election recounts, which led him to focus on voting rights and redistricting over the last few years.

"What I realized is that there was a large number at the end of every election of ballots that wind up going uncounted. So I wound up getting involved in voting rights litigation mostly through the prism of how do we look at the pool of people whose ballots get rejected and get wrongly rejected," he said. "At the end of 2016 I realized that though there are a lot of reasons you can point to that Secretary Clinton lost those close elections, some of them had to do with how the rules of elections were held. One thing I always point out to people is, no matter what election rules you use, there are going to be winners and losers … There are going to be some populations that are more advantaged than disadvantaged, so I wanted to spend time for 2020 trying to make the rules fairer for everybody."


The DC Dream Center is a wonderful youth facility in southeast DC that is serving 200 free hot meals a day right now to anyone who is in need. They’re the only location east of the river in Wards 7 & 8 doing so for all ages. Please consider making a donation to them. You can donate HERE.


Outro music: "Ladies" by Fiona Apple

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May 20, 2020
DL Mayfield on her new book, "The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety & Power"

“When I was young, it was so simple. I thought God was good. I thought God rewarded those who obey the rules. I thought my good news was accessible to everyone if only they had the ears to listen. I thought my country was a place where hard work was rewarded on a level playing field, no matter where you came from …"

D.L. Mayfield's penetrating book, "The Myth of the American Dream," examines the obsession with safety, ease, affluence and power among American Christians, and how the American church may have prized things that are in conflict with the imperatives at the core of the faith. 

Mayfield's first book was "Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith."

Outro music: "All in it Together" by Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy

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May 05, 2020
Jonathan Karl on his "Trump Show" book, media as the opposition, and the "fakest thing" of the Trump era

Jonathan Karl is chief Washington and White House correspondent for ABC News. His new book is “Front Row at the Trump Show.” 

Jonathan writes in his book that Trump’s attack on “fake news” are “fake” is that Trump actually loves the press, because it is both a vehicle and a villain for him. It gives him a stage on which to act, to play out the Trump show. And as he plays out this soap opera, Jonathan's point is that he wants the press to go too far in its criticism, to move from holding power accountable to seeking to get him. He wants the press to overstep. 

And in Karl’s view, often they have.

Karl uses his long-running relationship with Trump to illustrate how fake the president’s behavior and attacks on the press often are. Karl has known Trump since the mid-90’s, almost 30 years. He first interviewed him in 1994, when Jonathan was a print reporter at the New York Post.

“Donald Trump is aggrieved,” Jonathan writes. "And arguably he has reasons to be aggrieved. But his response is to wage a war on truth that I fear may do as much or more lasting damage to America than any of the mistakes made by the presidents who went before him.”

Outro music: "I Aint Gonna Go to Hell For Anybody” by Bob Dylan

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Apr 29, 2020
The Only Things Worth Discussing: Testing, Tracing & Therapeutics, with Adam White from AEI

Adam White is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a law professor at George Mason University.

He wrote about how we are focusing too much on the president's role in responding to the coronavirus pandemic and that led into a discussion of how the only thing the president -- and the national press -- should really be talking about is doing the things that will help the country reemerge from its bunker: ramping up testing and tracing and therapeutics.

The degree to which we ramp up these three things will determine how much damage is done when we reopen the country.

You can read Adam's piece at The Bulwark here, and another piece at the Atlantic here.


The DC Dream Center is a wonderful youth facility in southeast DC that is serving 200 free hot meals a day right now to anyone who is in need. They’re the only location east of the river in Wards 7 & 8 doing so for all ages. Please consider making a donation to them. You can donate HERE.

DC 127 is a group that works to keep families together where the kids are at risk of falling into the foster care system. They provide support networks around these families and help the parents get their feet under them. They are also currently collecting and donating groceries to these families and others in need. You can donate to them HERE.


Outro music: "24.19" by Childish Gambino

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Apr 17, 2020
Sen. Ben Cardin on Why Democrats Are Holding Up Money for the Small Business Emergency Fund

Republicans are hammering Democrats for not automatically approving another $250 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, a fund set up to help small businesses avoid going out of business. The fund received $350 billion a few weeks ago, but has already run out of money.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, helped craft the program with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Cardin explains why he and other Democrats are holding up the next round of funding. He said businesses from poor and underserved communities have not been able to access the fund, and he wants to change that before many of them go out of business.


The DC Dream Center is a wonderful youth facility in southeast DC that is serving 100 free hot meals a day right now to anyone who is in need. They’re the only location east of the river in Wards 7 & 8 doing so for all ages. Please consider making a donation to them. You can donate HERE.

DC 127 is a group that works to keep families together where the kids are at risk of falling into the foster care system. They provide support networks around these families and help the parents get their feet under them. They are also currently collecting and donating groceries to these families and others in need. You can donate to them HERE.


Outro music: "Shelter from the Storm" by Bob Dylan

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Apr 17, 2020
Congressman Patrick McHenry Says Every Small Business Who Needs an Emergency Loan Should Get One

Congress authorized $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program in its coronavirus rescue package that was passed two weeks ago. Any company with 500 employees or fewer can get a loan of up to $10 million and that loan will be forgiven as long as 75% of the money goes toward keeping employees on payroll. The loans are financed by the U.S. government, but are conducted through private sector banks. 

But over the first several days since enrollment in the PPP opened, there have been a lot of problems with people saying they cannot enroll. There were technical issues because of the crush of people trying to apply. But the banks also put up obstacles. One of the most common problems people reported was banks saying they couldn’t apply unless they already had a business account or a credit card with them, or both. 

So I spoke with Rep. Patrick McHenry, the top Republican on the House Financial Services committee, who has been working with the Treasury department to try to fine tune the rollout of the program. McHenry is from North Carolina, a bank-heavy state. He was 

Republican leadership for several years in the House and moved over to a top committee spot when they became the House minority in 2018. 

There were two things McHenry said that are noteworthy. First, he said he thinks that there shouldn’t be a cap on how much the U.S. government can lend out to small businesses, an idea floated on Wednesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. It was noteworthy that McHenry agreed with Warren on this. The point would be to ease the anxiety of people who have had trouble getting access so far and worry they will be shut out all together. Already this week Congress is moving to add another $250 billion to the program, bringing it to a $600 billion total, but McHenry thinks that is not enough. 

And second, I asked McHenry to address the concerns of a number of people who told me they were not sure how to access the program. McHenry said that banks have a legal obligation to verify that loan applicants are not seeking loans with fraudulent credentials, and so he said if you have a business account with a bank, to go through them. If you don’t go through a bank where you have any account. And if you have neither or are having trouble with that approach, create an account with the bank you want to use so that they can verify your financial information. 

He said that the rollout has been uneven but that the next week will be improved, as will the week after that. 


I told you last week that the DC Dream Center was giving out 100 free hot meals a day in the Anacostia area of DC. That number is now up to 200 meals. I dropped by the Center over the weekend and dropped off a few items. They usually host a ton of programs at their facility just off Pennsylania Avenue on the other side of the Anacostia River, but they’ve shifted their work to feeding people who need it during this crisis. You can donate to their work HERE.

And Pathways to Housing is helping people who are homeless to transition into housing to help them stabilize their lives and work toward getting employed if possible. The donation link for them is HERE.


Outro Music: "That's the Way that the World Goes Round" by John Prine

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Apr 09, 2020
It's His Job To Critique the President. How Do You Do That During a National Emergency?

The question of who’s to blame for the mess we’re in with coronavirus is not a fun one. It’s clear that the U.S. response has been pretty terrible on a number of fronts: the testing component has been a disaster, as has the lack of preparation regarding medical equipment, from personal protecting gear to ventilators. And then there’s the president, who’s public statements have mostly been erratic. 

As Tom Edsall wrote in the New York Times, Trump "has lurched from complete denial (“One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear”) to “I am not responsible” to “We’re doing a great job” to “It’s going to disappear” to “It will go away” to awarding himself a 10 out of 10 to calling the unavailable tests “PERFECT” to claiming “We have it very well under control” to setting Easter, April 12, as the date to reopen the country “a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline” to boasting of high ratings as death projections soared. On Tuesday, Trump seemed to have come to his senses, at least for now: “This is going to be a very painful, very, very painful two weeks.”

But the question of how to critique the president is delicate. The instinct for everyone to row in the same direction at this moment of crisis is strong and understandable. At times of emergency, Americans often rally to the president. And that’s reflected in the fact that Trump’s approval rating has risen recently. 

However, compared to leaders of other countries, the bump in Trump’s approval rating is pretty small: 5 points compared to increases of 18 to 29 points for the leaders of Germany, Canada, Australia and Britain. 

We’ve begun to see political ads criticizing the president’s response, and that struck me as a rather delicate maneuver. So I spoke with Guy Cecil, who runs Priorities USA, one of the most influential Democratic super PAC’s in the country. They spent $190 million in the 2016 presidential election and over the past week spent $7.5 million to run ads critical of the president’s response to the pandemic in five key states that will likely decide the 2020 election: Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and...

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Apr 06, 2020
Sen. Ron Wyden on His Push For A Vote-By-Mail Presidential Election

I talked with Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who has been leading the push with Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to send at least $2 billion to states to help them get ready for a fall election conducted during a second wave of infections. He called the $400 million in last week’s rescue package a good start but said he’s going to be pushing for much more in the next bill that Congress passes to deal with the outbreak.

The president’s own science advisers have warned that even if we stabilize coronavirus cases after hitting a peak in the next month, we could see a new wave of infections in the fall. That might require us to think about elections differently. Namely, we might find that many Americans want or need to cast their vote by mail. 

Please consider supporting these two groups helping people during this pandemic.

Covenant House is a national organization that helps young people, ages 18-24, who are "experiencing homelessness, disconnection, and exploitation.” You can donate here.

Pathways to Housing helps get people out of homelessness. During this crisis, they are continuing to place people in housing, as well as providing services to those still on the streets, from food, to counseling, to collecting supplies to help those in need stay as safe as possible. You can donate here.

Outro music: "Blue Pill Blues" by Early James

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Apr 03, 2020
Yuval Levin on How to Come Back from the Coronavirus Pandemic

I talk with Yuval Levin about his article in the Atlantic about how to come back from the pandemic shutdown we are currently in.

He writes: “Along with making the hard pause bearable, we also need to enable a soft return toward normalcy, starting soon. That return will be slow and gradual; it will look different in different places, and it will mean living with the virus, not putting it behind us. The scenario President Trump has fantasized about, that “it’s going to disappear; one day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear,” is not going to happen. At the same time, however, the pause we are in cannot last, even for the medium term.”

Here are links to donate to the two organizations I mentioned.

The DC Dream Center is a wonderful youth facility in southeast DC that is serving 100 free hot meals a day right now to anyone who is in need. They’re the only location east of the river in Wards 7 & 8 doing so for all ages. Please consider making a donation to them. You can donate HERE.

DC 127 is a group that works to keep families together where the kids are at risk of falling into the foster care system. They provide support networks around these families and help the parents get their feet under them. They are also currently collecting and donating groceries to these families and others in need. You can donate to them HERE.

Outro music: "Stop Pretending" by Deep Sea Diver

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Apr 01, 2020
AFSCME President Lee Saunders on a contested convention and how adversity rejevenuated his union

Lee Saunders is the head of one of the country’s largest unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

He talks about why union membership has steadily gone down for decades, how an adverse ruling at the Supreme Court rejuvenated his union, and what it takes to lead a large organization effectively.

He also talks about the Democratic National Committee process to change the primary rules, and how the Democrats should not change the rules again to help Bernie Sanders avoid a contested convention if he has the most delegates but less than a majority.

The outro song is a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 after marching with the Memphis sanitation workers, who were on strike and attempting to join AFSCME Local 1733.

Outro music: "They Killed Him" by Bob Dylan (words by Kris Kristofferson)

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Mar 02, 2020
Addisu Demissie - who ran Cory Booker's campaign - on the Democratic primary

Addisu Demissie ran Cory Booker’s presidential campaign and has an expert resume in Democratic campaigns. Right now he's an undecided voter in California. We talked about what's going to happen in the California primary on March 3, how the South Carolina result will impact Super Tuesday, and what happens to Bernie going forward.

We also talked about Addisu's thoughts about why Booker's campaign couldn't get the kind of momens that Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren had last year, which vaulted them into frontrunner status in a super-crowded field.

We began by discussing the chaotic state of the Democratic primary, and the similarities between Bernie Sanders’ path to the nomination and Donald Trump’s in the 2016 Republican primary. Just as Trump did, Sanders is winning the most delegates with only 30 percent or so of the vote, because the rest of the field is split among several other candidates. In the past, parties had the ability to limit the number of candidates running so there would be a consensus candidate who represented the majority of the party. But parties don’t have that power anymore, leading to what we discussed as a “collective action problem.” Everybody knows what needs to happen — the majority of the Democratic Party needs to unite around one candidate — but nobody is able to make it happen. 

It’s a function of our fractured, atomized politics, and of course if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you know that it’s at the very center of why this podcast even exists. I’ve been looking at this problem for a few years now. 

Addisu and I talked about why younger black voters support Bernie, and older ones generally don’t. I also wrote a piece about this today with my colleague Brittany Shepherd -- which you can read by clicking here. It’s interesting to think of young black voters as a lifeline for Bernie that didn’t exist so much in 2016, helping him win with around 30% in these primaries, and as a bridge to their older friends and relatives if Bernie is the nominee and needs robust turnout from the African-American community. 

And we talked about Bernie’s chances of beating Trump. I liked Addisu’s take on this, which is basically that trying to forecast it right now is probably a fool’s errand.

Outro music: "Dust Kids" by Andy Shauf

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Feb 28, 2020
Bakari Sellers On the South Carolina Primary and Joe Biden's Last Stand

Joe Biden’s last stand will be in South Carolina, where he is still expected to retain support from a large number of African-American voters despite his poor showings so far in Iowa and New Hampshire. Black voters make up about 60% of the Democratic primary vote in South Carolina. If Biden can perform well in Nevada, and then win South Carolina — both of those things being tall orders — that may give him a chance of a surge on Super Tuesday on March 3, when 14 states will hold primaries just four days after the South Carolina primary.

I spent some time in the Palmetto state this week. I saw Joe Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, speak at events in Charleston. And I recorded this episode in the state capitol, Columbia, where I interviewed Bakari Sellers inside the capitol building in an auditorium. The episode ended when a tour group came in to watch a movie.

Sellers is a South Carolina Democrat who’s been active in state politics here for a while. He is 35 now, which might seem young. But he was elected to the state legislature at only 22 years old. He ran for lieutenant governor in 2014, and lost. But he will run for office again, and soon. 

Sellers is a frequent political commentator on CNN now, and we talked about the state of the race nationally, and about the South Carolina electorate specifically. He made some interesting predictions about President Trump’s chances of winning reelection, of former President Barack Obama’s potential role in trying to unite the Democratic Party if the primary becomes too fractious, and explained why African-American voters are expected to stay loyal to Biden. 

Outro music: "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" by Wilco

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Feb 19, 2020
Carl Hulse on What We Learned From the Impeachment Trial & How to Cover Congress and not Lose Your Mind

Carl Hulse is chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times and has been writing about Congress for the Times for three decades. He knows the US Capitol better than almost anyone. He’s also the author of "Confirmation Bias: Inside Washington's War Over the Supreme Court, from Scalia's Death to Justice Kavanaugh."

Carl interviewed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, and of course we talked about that. But we also discussed what it was like to cover impeachment from start to finish, and what it’s like to work on Capitol Hill without losing touch with the outside world. We discussed Twitter, and I told Carl how having a tweet go viral can be weirdly like being inside a pentecostal church service.

We also talked about why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went from buttoned down last September to tearing up a text of the president’s speech at the State of the Union, and what that means. And I asked Carl to reflect on what kind of president Bernie Sanders would be. 

Outro music: "Crowded Table" by The Highwomen

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Feb 08, 2020
What If You Had More Than Just Two Choices For President? Lee Drutman's Argument for Ranked Choice Voting and More than Two Parties

Lee Drutman is author of “Breaking the Two Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multi-party Democracy in America.” He says introducing ranked choice voting would make it more likely that other political parties would emerge beyond just the two we have now.

Drutman's book argued for abolishing party primaries as well, and for using ranked choice voting to elect members of Congress as well.

Drutman is a senior fellow in the Political Reform program at New America.

Outro music: "Awaiting Resurrection" by Drive-By Truckers

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Jan 31, 2020
Yuval Levin On His Indispensable New Book "A Time To Build"

Yuval Levin is director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and Editor in Chief of National Affairs magazine. This is our third conversation on this podcast, and comes as Levin is releasing his third book, "A Time to Build."

"We lack the grammar and vocabulary to talk about what is breaking down, and so cannot even begin to do something about it. We look for diagnoses in the realms made visible to us by our assorted sciences of society, but the troubles we find there are not sufficient to justify our despondent mood. Something has gone wrong somewhere else, in some invisible realm, and we have been straining to perceive and describe what it might be," Levin writes in his new book.

The theme and cause of institutions is something we have been discussing since mid-2017 on this show. You can listen to that first conversation here, and to our second from 2018 here.

One of his most valuable insights is the concept of platforms and molds. This is the point that for too many of us, institutions have become merely vehicles for us to use to promote ourselves, rather than objects worthy of devotion. 

Now if institutions hold only marginal value, then perhaps we shouldn’t be discussing the possibility of devoting ourselves to them, and in some cases sublimating our own egos and brands to larger institutional goals. 

But the entire point of this podcast has been, in fact, to explore the notion that institutions are in fact indispensable, and to better understand why that is. Levin has played a crucial and deeply influential role in this exploration, for which I'm grateful.

Outro music: "Song in My Head" by Madison Cunningham

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Jan 21, 2020
Justice John Roberts Is Not Going to Decide Impeachment Trial Witnesses - Jeffrey Rosen

Jeffrey Rosen is the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, a contributing writer for The Atlantic Magazine, a law professor at George Washington University, and the author of Conversations With RBG: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law.

I spoke with Rosen about what we can expect from Chief Justice John Roberts as he presides over the Senate impeachment trial, and also about his writing on the dangerous direction that American democracy is headed in, and how to possibly turn things around.

Rosen's 2018 Atlantic Piece: "Madison vs the Mob"

Rosen's 2019 Atlantic Piece: "How to Revive Madison's Constitution"

Outro music: "It Might Be Time" by Tame Impala

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Jan 14, 2020
Bob Inglis Wanted to "Destroy" Bill Clinton during the 98 Impeachment. Years Later He Tracked Him Down to Apologize.

Bob Inglis was leading the charge 20 years ago to impeach President Bill Clinton. Inglis was an up and coming Republican congressman from South Carolina, and a self-described bomb-thrower.

A few years ago, Inglis asked to meet Clinton at his offices in Harlem. He walked into that meeting and asked Clinton's forgiveness.

This is a conversation about how that transformation came about, and about what Inglis is up to now. He's been a lonely voice on the political right seeking to raise awareness about climate change, but he said that conservatives are slowly coming around on the issue, and that whenever President Trump exits the stage, he will "take climate disputation with him.”

Outro music: "Crowded Table" by The Highwomen

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Dec 06, 2019
Susan Glasser Has Covered Impeachment and Russia Before, But Not At the Same Time

Susan Glasser is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where she writes a weekly column on “Trump’s Washington,” and she is a global affairs analyst for CNN. She founded Politico Magazine and was editor of Politico during the 2016 election. She was editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine, and previous to that a senior editor at the Washington Post, following years of reporting in Russia, Washington, and Iraq and Afghanistan. 

We talk in depth about her impressions of the impeachment hearings, which she watched every second of.

Glasser is the author of “Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of the Revolution,” which she co-wrote with her husband, Peter Baker, who is the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times.

Glasser wrote in her most recent column about the two worlds of the impeachment hearings, and how that played out specifically with regard to Republican defenses of President Trump, in part by trying to blame Ukraine — not Russia — for election interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Outro music: "The Drawing of the Line” by Josienne Clarke

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Nov 27, 2019
Jack Goldsmith On Growing Up Around Mobsters, RFK's Abuses of Power, & Trump's Impeachment

Jack Goldsmith is the author of "In Hoffa’s Shadow: A Stepfather, a Disappearance in Detroit, and My Search for the Truth.” It's the story of his step-father, Chuckie O'Brien, and the man he spent much of his life working for, Jimmy Hoffa.

Goldsmith weaves his own personal story into a dramatic and compelling tale of how Robert F. Kennedy abused government power to go after Hoffa, and set bad precedents for government surveillance and targeting of individuals. These themes intersected with Goldsmith's own career when he found himself at the center of a massive fight inside the White House in 2004 over whether there was legal justification for torture and secret spying on American soil.

Goldsmith is a law professor at Harvard University and co-founder of the Lawfare website. He was director of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel from 2003 to 2004. He wrote a book about his time there, called "The Terror Presidency."

Outro song: "King of You" by Wilco

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Oct 18, 2019
"Kanye West Should Not Be President" - Chris Hayes On the Role of Parties In A Democracy

Chris Hayes is the host of “All In With Chris Hayes,” a nightly hour-long show on MSNBC that airs at 8 p.m. He wrote “Twilight of the Elites” in 2011, and a second book “A Colony in a Nation” in 2017.

"The most important social project we must undertake in the wake of the fail decade," he wrote in "Twilight of the Elites," "is reconstructing our institutions so that we once against feel comfortable trusting them."

I asked Chris about whether political parties should have more say over who they nominate in their primaries. He said he has thought about that question a lot, and has wondered how he would handle it on his own show if someone like Kanye West actually ran for president as a Democrat. He indicated he would feel the obligation to speak out against such a nominee, but also implied that he knew it would be difficult to do so given the public’s attitudes about what they think of as democratic and undemocratic. 

Hayes has his own podcast, which is called “Why Is This Happening?” We talked here a little about why he does a podcast given his already heavy work load and large platform.

Outro Song: "In Care of 8675309" by Lambchop

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Oct 15, 2019
Stacey Abrams: "I Talk About Power Because You're Not Supposed To"

Stacey Abrams is a 45-year old politician who ran for governor of Georgia last year and lost, but in the process became a nationally known Democratic star. She’s at the top of the list of potential running mates for the 2020 Democratic presidential field. And she’s only seen her her profile rise since last fall by contending that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, defeated her through underhanded tactics.

Abrams is the most prominent public critic of voter suppression. We talk in this episode about the reasons why many Americans don't think voter suppression is a problem, whether their minds can be changed, and what Abrams is doing to fight it. Abrams also weighs in on the story of the Quitman 10+2, the subject of my in depth investigation earlier this year.

Abrams also tells me that she still wants to be president of the United States, even if she has chosen not to run in 2020. And we talk about why she is comfortable talking in blunt terms about gaining and keeping power, a topic that most people approach delicately or not at all.

We end by Abrams talking about how she became a fan of country music, and why a song called "Pray to Jesus" by Brandy Clark is one of her favorites.

"[Clark] really speaks to the existential challenge that faces, you know, the working class and the poor, which is that there seem to only be two ways to achieve progress. Either, you know, prayers answered or you win the lottery. And I want to believe that there's more. And that's why I'm committed to trying to make sure voting works, because we should make sure there are three chances. Pray to Jesus, win the lotto or vote for people who lead us forward," Abrams said.

Outro song: "Pray to Jesus" by Brandy Clark.

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Oct 09, 2019
Mako Fujimura on Culture Care Instead of Culture War, Painting, & Restoring a Vision of the Common Good

Mako Fujimura is an artist and a philosopher. He’s been blowing my mind for 15 years, first with his painting and then with his writing. 

"Culture is not a territory to be won; it is instead a resource we are called to steward,” he has said. 

That statement is a rebuke to the last forty years of American life. Mako is a Christian, and so he is in particular rebuking American Christianity. He gives us a radically different paradigm through which to view the world. 

He is a renowned painter. His works have been shown all over the world, at "the Dillon Gallery in New York, Sato Museum in Tokyo, The Tokyo National University of Fine Arts Museum, Bentley Gallery in Arizona, Gallery Exit and Oxford House at Taikoo Place in Hong Kong, Vienna’s Belvedere Museum, Shusaku Endo Museum in Nagasaki.”

"He is one of the first artists to paint live on stage at New York City’s legendary Carnegie Hall as part of an ongoing collaboration with composer and percussionist, Susie Ibarra.”

Mako paints using an ancient Japanese technique called Nihonga, which relies on the use of pulverized minerals and is makes use of papers made from Japanese mulberry and hemp fibers. He has likened his use of these pulverized minerals to the way that suffering can be redeemed in our own lives. 

"These materials themselves have to be pulverized and pounded to become beautiful,” he said.

We talk about his experience on 9/11/01, when he lived three blocks from the World Trade Center and didn’t know for some time that morning whether his children, who were in school two blocks from the towers, had survived. 

This is from an August 2019 commencement address: "After 9/11, I had to train my imagination by painting over and over images of fire. I needed to transform haunting memories and images of destructive fire into the fire of sanctification. When I saw the spire fall at Notre Dame last month, yes, I was right back where I started — but I was able, also, to turn my mind and my heart back to my studio near Ground Zero, and again go into my daily practice toward sanctification. These fires do not have to end in destruction. Fire can purify our memory and desire. (“Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain.” T.S Eliot, The Wasteland) A renewed neuron network can form, if we imagine through the darkness."


Mako has written three books: “Culture Care,” “Silence and Beauty,” and “Refractions.” His work on “Silence and Beauty” brought him into collaboration with renowned director Martin Scorsese, who directed the film 

“Silence,” a story based on the Japanese novel by the same name written by Shusaki Endo, which plays a big part in Mako’s book. 

Here are links to a few other writings & speeches.

The Aroma of the New” - Makoto Fujimura commencement address at Belhaven University, 2011

Would You Give Your Life for Beauty?” - Makoto Fujimura commencement address at Messiah College, 2013

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Sep 20, 2019
Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh Are The Establishment, says Brian Rosenwald

Brian Rosenwald is author of "Talk Radio’s America: How an industry took over a political party that took over the United States.” Rosenwald is co-editor of “Made by History” a daily “Washington Post” history section, and a historical consultant for the Slate podcast “Whistelstop.” And he is scholar in Residence at the Partnership for Effective Public Administration and Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania.

In his book, Rosenwald traces the rise of talk radio at a time when AM radio was dying, and demonstrates that commercial and financial success was the driver behind it. And he documents the deep impact of talk radio on Republican politics. This phenomenon invited disillusioned and alienated conservatives into politics, he argues, but at a high cost. Talk radio, he argues, has destroyed the Republican Party and poisoned democracy in the U.S. 

We spend a good portion of the interview talking about how talk radio and cable news hosts have been and are the equivalent of party leaders on both the left and right, but without any of the accountability that party leaders of the past faced. 

Outro music: "Give the People What They Want," by The O'Jays

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Sep 10, 2019
The Battle to Create Shared Facts - Laura Berlind from The Sycamore Institute

Laura Berlind founded and helps run a think tank that is focused on one state and one state only: Tennessee. She’s the executive director of the Sycamore Institute, which on the surface is something pedestrian: a place that does research. 

But underneath the surface, Sycamore is trying to do something revolutionary in our time. We live in a moment when politics and political debate is often captive to a winner-take-all, facts be damned mentality, where ideology and partisanship are in the driver’s seat, and quite frankly power is the highest goal rather than service. 

Sycamore is a group of people trying to carve out a space in Tennessee politics, which is very conservative, for honest and open fact-based inquiry into what state lawmakers should do about the state’s big problems, much of it around health care. They want people from all sides to be able to agree about what the facts of a matter are, what the most likely outcomes of a certain policy might be, and just as importantly, what they don’t know for sure. 

In an age of alternative facts and polarization, this group is focused on establishing shared facts and a way forward for people in their state. 

Outro Music: "Sooner or Later" by MuteMath

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Aug 30, 2019
He Left Christianity Behind In a War Zone. This Is the Story of Bryan Mealer's Path Back to Faith.

Bryan Mealer is the author of four books: All Things Must Fight to Live — an account of his time in the Congo — Muck City — about a south Florida town with a legendary high school football team but a troubled past — The Kings of Big Spring — about his family’s history of surviving through oil booms and busts and leaning on Pentecostalism, and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, an account of a young boy in Malawi who helps his drought-beleaguered town — that book was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a movie directed by and starring powerhouse star Chiwetel Ejiofor, who also directed 12 years a slave and has starred in numerous major films over the past two decades, starting with Amistad.

Bryan grew up in the Pentecostal church in west Texas, left his faith entirely while a war correspondent in the Congo, and then has been writing over the past year or two about rediscovering Christianity in a very different form than the fundamentalism he was raised him.

We talk about the ways that his time in the Congo shaped him and changed him, and about how his work on a book about his family’s roots in Texas and Georgia, and in the Pentecostal church, primed him to turn back to faith.

Bryan wrote about his faith journey for The New Republic last fall, and wrote another piece about it for The Guardian over the winter.

He described Rachel Held Evans this way: "To have her embrace the Bible as a tool for justice, and forgiveness and grace instead of this divine hammer against people we don’t like was just, it was like my salvation."

But Bryan also ended his TNR piece this way: "No matter how angry people like me get at white evangelicals or how many calls to arms we put forth, on its own, it will get us nowhere in the end. To defeat hatred and creeping fascism and begin the healing of this nation, we—all Americans—need a new social gospel, and not just one that makes liberals feel comfortable. It is a gospel forged from the rubble, and it must include everyone. It will be messy and painful, and we must push forward even when our friends ask us, 'What’s the point?' When they ask us, 'How can you speak to those people?' Our big tent must shine like a light unto the world, and it must be a home to all—Republicans and Democrats, Jews and Romans, even to the demons that fly out from the debris."

Bryan describes his experience covering a migrant caravan from Honduras last fall, and how he and his conservative father discussed their differences over immigration policy in light of that. The piece he wrote on the migrant caravan is incredible. Read it here.

Outro music: “U (Man Like)” by Bon Iver

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Aug 23, 2019
Voter Suppression or Ballot Fraud -- My 5-Month Investigation Into a Case in Georgia

This is a story about a group of 12 African-Americans who were arrested and charged with 120 felonies after they shifted control of a local school board in rural Georgia from a majority white board to majority black. This story happened months after Brian Kemp became Secretary of State in 2010, and Kemp kept the case open for six years, even after two mistrials and an acquittal.

I have finished a five-month project looking into a fight over these voter fraud allegations that turned out to be what now looks to many like a case of voter suppression and intimidation. It's out today, and here I discuss it with Ariel Hart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who did crucial reporting on this story a few years ago.

My article on the Quitman 10+2, with the video project as well, is here.

Ariel Hart’s articles on this story are below:

The Vice article from 2014 is here

The Fox News interview with prosecutor Joe Mulholland can be seen here

My article on allegations against Kemp from last December is here

Background on Mary Turner can be found here

Outro music: "Holy Ghost" by Mavis Staples

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Aug 06, 2019
David Brooks on Not Feeling Like a Convert, His New Book, and Marianne Williamson

“Our society has become a conspiracy against joy," writes New York Times columnist and author David Brooks.

The thesis of his new book, "The Second Mountain," is that a meaningful life is lived not out of the ego-driven pursuits of the first mountain but out of the soul-driven pursuits of the second.

I found it to be a rich feast on topics like vocation and calling. I found it to be sharply provocative on the topic of marriage — both encouraging me to be a better spouse and at times indicting my failures. 

On the issue of community, Brooks spoke to the core questions of this podcast: how do we find a way through our fractured, distrustful, enraged, superficial time to come together with others to build and heal and overcome in our communities and our nation. 

And his section on faith and spirituality was my favorite. Reading this book was like food for my soul. 

We talk here about things Brooks wrote in the past that he now thinks he was mistaken about, his views on marriage the second time around — he remarried in 2017 and that’s a big part of this book — his nebulous place in the world of faith and how that’s kind of where he wants to be, and we talk a little politics.

Brooks describes himself in the introduction to his book as “radicalized” toward the belief that sweeping and dramatic change is necessary to change the course of America and the West. But he believes these changes should be moral and cultural, and even though he might agree with some of the things that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are proposing — though not their most aggressive proposals —he talks about they are looking in the wrong place for a game-changing message. And he mentions that only Marianne Williamson, and to a lesser degree Cory Booker, are seeing to make a deeper critique of Trump in a way that will connect in a powerful way. 

Outro music: "Side with the Seeds" by Wilco

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Aug 02, 2019
The Democrats Are Losing Faith Voters Because of Their Abortion Stance, with Amy Sullivan

In 2008, Amy Sullivan wrote a book called "The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap." A decade later, Amy says the biggest thing blocking that gap from being closed is the Democratic party's handling of the abortion issue.

Amy is a journalist, author, host of the "Impolite Company" podcast, and a friend. We talked about a lot in this episode, and I learned things I didn't know about her upbringing and her interesting religious background. We talk about the many problems in American evangelicalism: botched handlings of sexual abuse cases, chauvinism, purity culture, and narrow-minded thinking.

But we end up talking a lot at the end about Democrats and abortion. That topic has been in the news a lot lately, from the draconian laws that have been passed in numerous states, to the departure of Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen.

Here's Wen's New York Times op-ed. And here's Michael Wear, who worked in the Obama White House, on the issue also in the NYT.

Outro music: “Walk Across the Water” by The Black Keys

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Jul 29, 2019
Steve Kornacki on "Wishful Thinking" Around Impeaching Trump & His Book "The Red & the Blue"

This week the House of Representatives held its third vote in three years on a procedural motion that would have led to impeaching President Trump if they had passed. None of these votes have been all that serious, but last week’s did get more support than in previous years. 95 Democrats voterd for impeachment, up from 58 Democrats in favor in 2017, and 66 last year. 

The temperature is clearly rising among Democrats, and Trump is stoking outrage and division with his attacks on elected representatives of the House who are women of color, telling them to "go back” to "the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

My guest this week is Steve Kornacki, a national political correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC, who is in my opinion one of the smartest people on TV. We talk about Steve’s book, “The Red and the Blue: The 1990’s and the Birth of Political Tribalism.” 

Kornacki dove into the history of the 90’s for this book and based on that research he calls it “wishful thinking” to say, as some have, that the impeachment of Bill Clinton helped the GOP win back the White House in 2000, and so Democrats shouldn’t be afraid of political consequences if they impeach President Trump.

George W. Bush won the presidency in spite of impeachment, not because of it, Kornacki says. Kornacki notes that there are higher levels of support now for impeachment than there were in 1998, and ultimately says that to try to predict the future through the past on this matter is probably a fool’s errand. 

I also enjoyed Steve’s perspective on the daily and even weekly news cycle, and his exhortation to keep our eye on the big picture. "I spent all this time watching the old newscasts or reading old newspaper articles or magazine or whatever, you find so many of these moments that dominated news coverage politically, for weeks, for days, weeks, months, and are completely forgotten now and completely irrelevant. They never even led anywhere. But you would find all these deep think pieces and debates about what does this mean for the future of the country, and then absolutely nothing. So I try to remind myself that it's very possible with whatever the eruption of the day is now that it's one of those,” he said. 

Outro Music: "Drift While You’re Sleeping" by Trey Anastasio

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Jul 19, 2019
Fox News' Carl Cameron Is Now Working For a Liberal Website?

I talk with Carl Cameron, who was one of the first people hired at Fox News in 1995 and worked at the right-wing cable news channel for 22 years, about what he's doing now working for Front Page Live, a liberal news site. We talk about what it was like to work at Fox News, and how covering campaigns from the road gave Carl the independence from Roger Ailes and others that he wanted. Carl is unsparing in his criticism of President Trump, and weighs in on whether Kamala Harris has a clear core rationale for her candidacy.

I mention during the intro that I don't quite buy the argument that the right wing is ahead of the left in its use of the Internet. But I wasn't thinking at the time that I talked to Carl about the ways that reporters like Charlie Warzel -- who was on this podcast last fall -- have detailed the rise of the online right, both on Twitter and through various websites, which still in many ways revolve around the Drudge Report.

Charlie described the online right this way in 2017: "There’s really no substantive debate. It’s about narratives and it’s about the media. It is about the different medium that all these messages go through and about setting agendas in terms of conversations that you have. It’s more about playing with the media to get influence."

Cameron's site, Front Page Live, is run by Joe Romm, who has a long resume in the world of progressive online publishing, including his role as founder of the "Climate Progress" page at Think Progress. Romm wrote a book last year called "How to Go Viral and Reach Millions," in which he writes on page 23: "An election is not some abstract logical exercise in determining the 'truth' of who is most qualified or who has the best policies. Most voters, especially those who aren't hard-core partisans, do not have the time or interest to assess which policies are superior for various complex social problems, such as health care or poverty or terrorism or the opioid epidemic."

Romm advocates, instead, for progressive politicians to have "a message that triggers the right emotions ... by telling a simple, compelling story."

So that gives us a bit more context as to what Front Page Live is aiming to do.

Outro Music: "To Be" by FoxWarren

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Jul 13, 2019
The Case for Regulating Facebook & Google - Sally Hubbard

It was a distant echo, but now it’s becoming a drumbeat. The big tech companies — Google, Facebook, Amazon — are increasingly the subject of talk about government regulation. And one month ago, Congress held its first hearing about what antitrust enforcement might look like regarding the tech giants. 

One of the people who testified that day was Sally Hubbard, of the Open Markets Institute, which bills itself as an organization dedicated to fighting “the stranglehold that corporate monopolies have on our country.”

I wanted to talk more with Sally about the topic. There’s a lot of ground that we try to cover, but in essence, I tried in this conversation to sketch out what the case for more aggressive anti-trust enforcement is, what the case for stricture regulation is, and what the intended outcomes would be of these proposals. 

Here’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s Medium post on breaking up big tech. 

Hubbard wrote in January about the antitrust argument against Facebook and Google. There is a more in-depth argument for this here.

Here’s Hubbard’s written testimony to Congress.

Here’s the congressional testimony from David Pitofsky of NewCorp.

Matt Stoller of Open Markets wrote recently about Facebooks proposal to create its own currency. 

Here’s the New York Times piece on Google sharing location data with law enforcement. 

The New Yorker just published a piece on YouTube

From the right, a counterargument against breaking up Facebook. 

And finally, a piece on “surveillance capitalism” and how Silicon Valley lobbyists are trying to water down the move toward regulation.

Outro Music: "Lyla" by Big Red Machine

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Jul 10, 2019
Live from the Miami Debate: How Bad Was It For Biden?

Mo Elleithee, former Democratic National Campaign spokesman and current Director of the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown, joins me in the spin room in Miami to talk about the Democratic debate.

And Brittany Shepherd of Yahoo News sits in with me to talk about her observations of the debate and how she approaches the use of social media to supplement traditional news coverage.

Outro music: "I Get No Joy" by Jade Bird

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Jun 28, 2019
Bonus Episode: Tom Wolf reacts to today's Supreme Court gerrymandering decision

The Supreme Court today issued a decision on partisan gerrymandering, the practice of politicians drawing maps that give themselves an advantage over other parties by manipulating an increasingly sophisticated understanding of who votes how and where you live to guarantee the most seats in Congress and state legislatures. 

You can read the ruling here.

Chief Justice John Roberts and the court’s other four conservatives — Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — found that the court does not have standing to intervene even in the most extreme examples of gerrymandering. 

"Partisan gerrymandering claims rest on an instinct that groups with a certain level of political support should enjoy a commensurate level of political power and influence. Such claims invariably sound in a desire for proportional representation, but the Constitution doesnot require proportional representation, and federal courts are neither equipped nor authorized to apportion political power as a matter of fairness,” Robert wrote. "It is not even clear what fairness looks like in this context."

Roberts did admit that “the districting plans at issue here are highly partisan, by any measure. The question is whether the courts below appropriately exercised judicial power when they found them unconstitutional as well.” The Roberts majority did not find that the lower court’s decisions were constitutional. 

Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent representing herself and the three other liberal members of the nation’s highest court. It was a very strongly worded dissent, in which she called the majority’s decision an “abdication” that is “tragically wrong."

“The partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people,” Kagan wrote. “Is this how American democracy is supposed to work,” she asks rhetorically.  

Tom Wolf from the Brennan Center for Justice talked three weeks ago about what he expected from the court, and today he comes back on the show to give his thoughts about the court's ruling.

Outro music: "There Goes My Miracle" by Bruce Springsteen

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Jun 27, 2019
Disarming Fear & Defensiveness around the Race conversation, with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

“Transformation requires people changing. And I don't think most people change when they're defensive,” Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove told me.

Wilson-Hartgrove is a leader in progressive Christianity, but as a young man he was a conservative Republican in rural North Carolina. And he talks in this episode about how the debate over systemic racism is uncomfortable and intimidating for many white people, and how to reduce those tensions.

Jonathan was an organizer of the “Moral Mondays” protests in North Carolina in 2013, and is a leader in the Poor People’s Campaign movement that’s co-chaired by Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis. Jonathan has co-authored a book with Barber called “The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear.” He’s written several other books on his own, including his most recent, “Reconstructing the Gospel.” 

He talks about the Poor People's Campaign candidate forum with nine presidential candidates and how Rev. Barber has tried to maintain some separation between their movement and the Democratic party. We discuss the concept of keeping a "prophetic distance" in order to be able to speak truth to power, and whether progressive Christians are capable of that on issues like abortion.

Outro music: “Life’s Railway to Heaven” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 

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Jun 24, 2019
Peter Wehner On Trump, Impeachment, and the limits of faith to overcome political ideology

Peter Wehner's new book "The Death of Politics" is a plea to everyday Americans not to give up on politics.

"So many things that we love and treasure and care for can be swept away if you get your politics wrong. On the flip side, if you get your politics right, it can allow for the conditions of human flourishing and human dignity to be protected and prevailed," said Wehner in this interview.

Wehner served several years as a senior White House adviser to former President George W. Bush. He has deep roots in the world of conservative policy-making and ideas, having also worked as a White House aide to two other Republican presidents: Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Wehner began writing a regular column for the New York Times in 2015, which gave him a prominent perch from which to espouse a conservative critique of Trump. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

In this interview, Wehner talks about his own spiritual journey, and how he has been disappointed to see the ways in which religious faith is often "twisted into a pretzel" to fit into people's preexisting political ideologies and identities.

Wehner says he wrote the book as an "alarm bell in the night" to warn about the impact of Trumpism. But he said Trump's threat to American democracy is not chiefly one of authoritarianism. Rather, he says, it's that we all become like him in our own conduct.

On impeachment, Wehner is conflicted. After reading the Mueller report, he believes Trump obstructed justice, but thinks impeachment would make him a "martyr" to many voters.

Outro music: "Days of Decision" by Morrissey

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Jun 11, 2019
The Supreme Court Is About to Issue a Massive Ruling on Gerrymandering: Here's What You Need to Know

A Supreme Court ruling is expected any day on one of the biggest drivers of our broken, polarized politics: gerrymandering.

Thomas Wolf is counsel with the Democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice, out of New York University. Wolf talks us through the basics of gerrymandering and what the potential outcomes from the court might be. And he explains how a series of rulings by federal courts in the last decade have laid the groundwork for the Supreme Court to issue a ruling of substance this month. 

Gerrymandering is a big contributor to our polarized politics. The more that dominant state parties — in conservative and liberal states — can maneuver their districts in their favor, the less meaningful the general election becomes. And that is a big reason why so many members of Congress don’t show any inclination to work with the other side, to find meaningful solutions to big problems, because they are only concerned with pleasing the most extreme members of their own party. They are worried about being primaried, losing their seat to another member of their own party who runs even more to the extreme than they already are, to win over the primary voters, who tend to be much more in the purist camp than they are of the mind that most voters are, who simply want the government to function and solve problems for all people. 

It’s a complicated issue, but it has big impact. Congressional districts will be redrawn after the 2020 census, and so from 2022 onward, the maps shaped by the court’s decision this month will impact the entire universe of policy issues to be hashed out by lawmakers across the country, from tax policy to climate change to gun safety.

Outro music: "Absolute Zero" by Bruce Hornsby

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Jun 07, 2019
Paul Kane on Pelosi's Impeachment Challenge and Congress' "Lost Decade"

As Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess, Democrats face a choice: stay united on taking their time to consider whether to impeach President Trump, or begin a massive political fight internally and in the country by rushing ahead with such a move now.

Paul Kane is the senior congressional correspondent for The Washington Post, and has covered Congress for 19 years. Pelosi has been trying to hold her party back from pursuing impeachment because there is not enough public support for it, Paul explains, but Mueller’s statement has made her job much more difficult. This week will be a crucial test of whether Pelosi can keep House Democrats united.

Paul also explains that earmarks might not be dead after all, despite the Senate’s vote last week to ban them "permanently." He said the last 10 years in Congress have been a “lost decade,” and that part of the reason is the loss of an ability by lawmakers to show their constituents that they are delivering for them. 

You can read Paul's most recent journalism here.

Outro music: "Father Mountain" by Calexico & Iron & Wine

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Jun 04, 2019
Let's Get Rid of the Speaker of the House, Says Former Aide to John Boehner

Michael Steel, spent years as a top aide to Republican leadership on Capitol Hill, namely House Speaker John Boehner, has worked on a number of presidential campaigns, and is now a managing partner at Hamilton Place Partners, a public affairs firm in Washington DC. 

We talked about how the current uproar among House Democrats pushing for impeachment proceedings to begin mirrors some of the challenges that Boehner faced with a restive Republican conference when the GOP was in the majority from 2010 to 2015, when Boehner resigned and handed the reins to Paul Ryan. 

We discussed what’s causing the dysfunction in Congress that is now the new normal over the past decade. His most provocative idea? Basically to get rid of the Speaker of the House by making it a ceremonial position, turning over real control of House leadership to the Majority Leader position. To understand why he thinks that would make such a big difference, you’ll have to listen to the rest of the episode, or you can read my write up of this interview, which is linked to here.

Outro music: “All of Our Yesterdays” by Mac DeMarco 

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May 29, 2019
Snapchat's Peter Hamby Knows the Youth Vote & Sees Trouble Ahead for Bernie Sanders

Peter Hamby is host of “Good Luck America,” a weekly political show on Snapchat that he said is watched by 2 million young people (the majority of Snapchat users are between 13 and 24 years old). And he writes a regular political column for Vanity Fair’s “The Hive,” which reaches a more establishment audience. 

We talk about what he’s learned from three years of speaking with, and to, younger Millennials, Gen Y and Gen Z. How do they think, and who and what do they pay attention to? And then we talk about Peter’s column in Vanity Fair from a few months ago where he talked about the ways in which the generation gap in America is going to play a role in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.  

Outro music: "Grown Nothing" by Stephen Malkmus

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May 10, 2019
Is Beto O'Rourke Already Played Out? Reid Epstein of The New York Times Joins to Discuss

Reid Epstein has covered Beto O'Rourke extensively, as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal the last few years, and now a newly minted member of the New York Times 2020 coverage team. Epstein talks about what it was that made O'Rourke a phenom to begin with, and how the playbook that got him thus far may be more difficult to execute in a crowded Democratic primary.

Outro music: "Sisyphus" by Andrew Bird

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May 03, 2019
Jonah Goldberg On His New Media Venture: 'We Don't Want To Be An Anti-Trump Thing'

Jonah Goldberg is a longtime conservative pundit and author who is in the process of leaving his positions at National Review and the American Enterprise Institute to start a new conservative media enterprise, along with Stephen Hayes, who until last year was editor-in-chief at the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.  

Jonah has been thinking quite a bit about some of the themes of this podcast, and its specifics around political parties. He had good insights about the ways that many modern media outlets — on the left and right — now actually are political parties, or at least are functioning as part of a what are modern parties. And Jonah said he and Steve Hayes were setting out to create something that does not fall into that trap. 

We talked about whether their as-yet-unnamed venture will have anti-Trumpism as part of its core DNA, since both Jonah and Steve have been among the most vocal and persistent critics of Trump on the right. Jonah said it would not be anti-Trump in nature, but rather “post Trump.” In a style that won’t surprise those who have followed Jonah’s work over the year, however, he couldn’t resist making the comment that the rise of Trump is fundamentally “a story about old people."

We talked about how he and Steve are envisioning this new venture will work, what reader or market demand it will satisfy, and how they are intent on avoiding a click-based business model. And he talked about how as they have talked to investors, they have shifted away from a traditional model where a central website is the focus, to a different model where the central website is a hub and the landing page for the brand, but the activity and focus of the work is centered around newsletters, podcasts, and events.  

Outro Music: "Sow Good Seeds" by Mavis Staples

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Apr 26, 2019
Nicco Mele: We Are Living In Two Worlds At Once

Last episode, we talked with Joe Trippi, who played a key political role in the 2004 Howard Dean campaign, which was the first Internet-driven campaign. This week, we have Nicco Mele, who was part of the team helping to run Dean’s cutting edge digital operation. 

Nicco has had an eclectic and distinguished career for someone who is only 42. He has been deputy publisher of the Los Angeles Times, and is now the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. 

But in 2012, Mele wrote a book called “The End of Big: How the Digital Revolution Makes David the New Goliath.” It’s an innocuous sounding title, and at the time, I think Mele’s warnings about the dangers of the Internet were lost in what was generally still an optimistic time. But early in that book, he wrote that the Internet was opening the door to “chaos, destabilization, fascism and other ills.”

“Radical connectivity is altering the exercise of power faster than we can understand it,” he wrote. 

Now, he says, many of the dark prophecies from his book have come truer than he had anticipated, and there is a long way to go to repair the damage. “In many ways since I wrote the book things have come more apart,” Mele said. We are stuck, currently, with a reality where there are “two worlds” existing side by side as it relates to power and influence, he said. 

There is the old institutional world, where hierarchy, experience, expertise and tradition are core values. And there is the new connected world that is tearing down the old, where power and influence are far more diffuse and broadly shared. The two need to be connected and fused, he said. 

Mele said there remains a deep need for new institutions to be built that embody the values of the modern online world, but resurface some older values as well. For example, the idea of an “establishment” existing at all is often decried as inherently undesirable, and institutions are then vilified as tools of a corrupt elite. But, Mele said, that is a bad bargain for everyone. He called for a “new establishment.”

As I thought about Mele’s comments, it put the candidacy of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in a new light. I have been skeptical that someone as young as 37 can have the experience needed to run the executive branch. But the paradigm that Mele and I explore here is food for thought to push back against that skepticism. Mele in fact talked at some length about this to Vanity Fair’s Peter Hamby in a piece that ran in December, which I recommend.  

Outro Music: "Avant Gardener" by Courtney Barnett

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Apr 15, 2019
Joe Trippi: Dems Could "Blow It" in 2020, But Here's Why They Won't

Joe Trippi is one of the most experienced consultants in Democratic politics. He's worked on campaigns in six of the last 10 presidential elections. He helped guide Howard Dean's historic 2004 candidacy. He's been a longtime adviser to Jerry Brown, one of the most consequential Democrats of the last half-century. And he helped Democrats win a Senate seat in Alabama in 2017 for the first time in two decades.

Trippi says that in 2020, Democratic voters are going to be pragmatic and not purist, precisely because they want to beat Trump so badly. And he talks at length about the ways in which there are “laws of gravity” to a primary that will reduce the field dramatically after the first contest in Iowa. 

Nonetheless, he admitted, “we could blow this.” 

Outro music: "Good Guy" by Julia Jacklin

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Apr 05, 2019
Joe Kennedy III On Mental Health, Packing the Courts, & The Green New Deal

The Kennedy family is one of the most legendary in American political history. It has long been involved in efforts to combat mental illness through public policy since President John F. Kennedy, spurred by the botched lobotomy on his older sister Rosemary, made it a focus of his presidency.


Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-MA, became a vocal proponent on the issue after disclosing his own battles with bipolar disorder and with drug addiction, and remains an advocate on the issue now that he is out of Congress.


And now, Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, D-MA — the grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy — has made mental illness a focus of his legislative efforts now that Democrats are in the majority for the first time in his six-year congressional career.

Kennedy’s push for mental health legislation is an example of his approach to seeking solutions while in the House majority that take advantage of their ability to control the agenda in half the Congress, but are more than just public relations proposals that cater to the Democratic base which have no chance of actually passing into law anytime soon.

We discussed his approach to being a member of Congress, and how that contrasts with the more performative style of much in American politics, whether it be President Trump himself, or the new celebrity stars of Congress such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, or the image-driven, substance-free phenomenon surrounding Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

He referred to the Green New Deal as an “aspirational” piece of legislation, in contrast to legislation that actually can pass into law now. "I do think that as you turn those values into policy, this is about building coalitions,” he said. “That's the way that this discourse is supposed to work and yeah, I would love to see more of that rather than a, ‘Just because I can, I will.’"

He said that the calls by some Democrats – including some prominent presidential hopefuls – to increase the size of the Supreme Court are an example of a zero-sum approach to politics that he doesn’t believe in.

But he also talked about the frustration of dealing with a Trump White House and a Republican Senate led by McConnell that doesn’t respect established process — as in the case of McConnell’s refusal to give Merrick Garland a vote for the Supreme Court in 2016 — or the legitimacy of the Democratic party’s voters and interests. 

Outro Music: "I Was There" by The War On Drugs

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Apr 01, 2019
Sen. Tim Scott Used Trump's Charlottesville Response To Help Low-Income Communities

When President Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides” after white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Sen. Tim Scott spoke up. He called the president’s comments “indefensible” and said Trump had “compromised” his moral authority.

That prompted a call from the White House, asking Scott -- a black Republican who in 2012 became only the seventh African-American to serve in the U.S. Senate -- to meet with Trump to talk about the issue. There, Scott said, he talked the president through issues of racial discrimination and explained why he found the response to Charlottesville so offensive.

"What can I do to be helpful?" Trump asked Scott, according to the senator.

Scott was ready with an answer. He had been working on an idea called “Opportunity Zones,” designed to attract significant investment and capital to low-income areas through tax breaks as long as the money stayed for 7 to 10 years, and on the condition that it go toward creating something new that would bring vitality to those areas, such as new housing or retail. 

The question now is whether this program, which was signed into law as part of the 2017 tax cut bill, will work as intended. Scott and I talk about that, and more, including his views on whether he agrees with the Democrats’ move to reinstate preclearance as part of the Voting Rights Act, in this episode of the Long Game.

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Mar 15, 2019
Democrats Need a Unifying Candidate in 2020, Jennifer Palmieri Says

Jennifer Palmieri has been one of the party’s most influential operatives for the last decade. Most recently, she was communications director and a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, and came to that job after serving as White House communications director under President Obama for two years.

As Jennifer told me during our conversation, Clinton’s loss to Trump was like “the universe exploded.” As part of the soul-searching process in the wake of that loss, Palmieri has been spending more time in the South since the 2016 election, to visit with and meet people who see the world differently, and to reconnect with old friends who are politically conservative.

Palmieri explores her own sense of loss and disorientation after the election. But she also tells the story of how her grief was compounded by the loss of her older sister a few months after the election from early onset Alzheimer’s at age 58.

Palmieri connects her own pain to the pain of other Americans whose lived had been upended in recent years, namely Trump voters, and says the 2020 election will be a test of whether Americans can come to live at peace with those who see the world in radically different ways.

Outro: “Exception to the Rule” by Phoebe Bridgers & Conor Oberst (Better Oblivion Community Center)

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Mar 01, 2019
Trent Lott On Congress, Trump's Qualifications & Chances, & Growing Up in the Deep South

Trent Lott was elected to the House of Representatives in 1972, and to the Senate in 1989, and operated inside the House and Senate at a time when bipartisan cooperation was more common. By the time he became Senate Majority Leader in 1996, however, Republicans were becoming more confrontational.

I talked with Lott about growing up in the Deep South during Jim Crow, and about the controversy surrounding Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam over his wearing of blackface during medical school. Lott lost his job as the Republican leader in the Senate because of comments praising Sen. Strom Thurmond and lamenting that country would have been better off if Thurmond, a segregationist for much of his career, had become president.

Looking toward 2020, Lott predicted that as of now, President Trump is in a strong position to win reelection. Only former Vice President Joe Biden, Lott said, would pose a threat.

Outro music: "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke

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Feb 19, 2019
Patrick McHenry Has Some Advice For the New Rock Stars of Congress

"When I got elected, I was the classic young man in a hurry. Classic," said Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Virginia Republican and one of the Republican Party's top leaders in Congress. "I can see it vividly. My first three years I did everything wrong you can do wrong as a member of Congress that is neither unethical nor illegal ... I was going to be a warrior, without regard for fighting what. Basically I’m going to fight Democrats."

McHenry was elected to Congress at age 28, but he is now 43, and ascended into a top leadership position four years ago. When the GOP was in the majority, he was chief deputy whip, the Republican in charge of knowing whether former House Speaker Paul Ryan had enough votes to pass key pieces of legislation.

McHenry is a fan of the paradigm that Yuval Levin has laid out on this podcast before, the idea that while we often treat institutions as platforms for self-promotion, we will accomplish more and be more fulfilled if we approach institutions as molds, organizations with a mission larger than ourselves that we can join, serve, and be formed by in the process. In this episode, McHenry talks about the lessons he learned that transformed his approach to being a member of Congress. It took him four years to undo the damage he had done in his first three, he says, and it’s a lesson he tries to convey to new members now as they enter the House of Representatives.

You can read the 2005 profile of McHenry that I talk about in the intro here.

Outro music: "Fools" by James Supercave

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Feb 07, 2019
My book CAMELOT'S END is out Today! And a Joe Biden interview excerpt

An update on where I've been for three weeks, and on the release of my new book today. And then I share a few clips from my 2015 interview with Joe Biden for the book. When I went back through the interview recently, I realized he was just as nervous about Elizabeth Warren then as he might be now if he runs for president.

I wrote about the Biden & Warren tensions here.

BOOK STUFFf: here's the link to the Amazon page for CAMELOT'S END.

Here's the link to my interview on Fresh Air last week.

Info on my author appearances is at But I'll be at Politics and Prose tomorrow, then Carter Library Thursday the 24th, in NYC on the 28th, and at East City Books on Jan. 30.

There are 3 different excerpts you can read:

Vanity Fair -

Yahoo excerpt -

Politico excerpt -

"I got my hands on a copy the other day, and @jonward11's new book on the '80 Dem primary fight is just a terrific read -- deep research matched with captivating storytelling" - @SteveKornacki

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Jan 22, 2019
Al Mohler & The Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Albert Mohler is president of Southern Theological Seminary in Louisville, the flagship training ground for the Southern Baptist Convention, which is one of the largest evangelical denominations in America, with roughly 42,000 congregations across the country and 15 million members, though Sunday attendance is estimated to be far less than that number.  

Mohler and Southern released a 67-page report titled, "Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.” The report was the result of a year-long study by six-member committee into the seminary’s history, going back to its founding in 1859. Among the report’s findings: Southern's four founding faculty members all owned human beings — 50 in all — and abused them as slaves. 

Mohler wrote a three-page introduction to the report, and said this: "We have been guilty of a sinful absence of historical curiosity. We knew, and we could not fail to know, that slavery and deep racism were in the story. We comforted ourselves that we could know this, but since these events were so far behind us, we could move on without awkward and embarrassing investigations and conversations.”

“The founding faculty of this school—all four of them—were deeply involved in slavery and deeply complicit in the defense of slavery. Many of their successors on this faculty, throughout the period of Reconstruction and well into the twentieth century, advocated segregation, the inferiority of African-Americans, and openly embraced the ideology of the Lost Cause of southern slavery.” 

What prompted this study? What does he make of criticism that the study should not just have stopped in 1964, but should have commented on matters of racial justice in our current moment? And has all this introspection caused Mohler to question his views on other topics, such as the ordination of women?

You can read Southern's report here.

Mohler's statement from May 2018 on the "Humiliation of the Southern Baptist Convention" is here.

Mohler's account of how he changed his mind about the ordination of women to positions of leadership is here.

And there is a lengthy profile of Mohler in Christianity Today from 2010 that is here, though it requires a subscription to read.

Outro music: "Difficulties - Let Them Eat Vowels" - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

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Jan 04, 2019
Panera Founder Ron Shaich Is Preaching Against Short-Term Thinking In Business & Politics

Ron Shaich, the founder of Panera Bread, the ultra-successful fast-casual chain, resigned from his CEO job in 2017 and is now talking more about what he sees as one of the unique plagues in American business, as well as politics: short-term thinking. 

We talk in this conversation about how Shaich, a college student with no interest in business, got interested in his line of work, and how his lessons learned in business apply to business. We also touch on whether Shaich himself, who spoke recently at a political event in New Hampshire -- a key presidential primary state -- has any interest in running for office himself. We talk about his time working on political campaigns in the 1980 cycle for a Democratic consultant, which I found fascinating.  

Of President Trump, Shaich is critical, but he told me he has "profound respect for those that are voting for Trump [and] for what they're trying to communicate.” But, he says he thinks Trump is doing a “poor job of delivering” for the people who voted for him. 

"He's the antithesis of everything I believe a business person to be,” Shaich said. "Trump is not a solution. Trump, as I said, is a human hand grenade that was meant to drain the swamp. The problem is, is the solution draining the swamp, or fixing the environment we call Washington so it better serves us?”

Shaich believes the core problems in business and politics is that "we've lost the patience to take the long view, and we have found ourselves in this place where our structures don't support it.”

Outro Music: "Mvmt I, "Rejoice! Rejoice!" by the Oh Hellos

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Dec 28, 2018
Senator Michael Bennet Considers A Run for President and How to Rebuild the Senate

Michael Bennet is a 54-year old Democrat from Colorado who was elected to his second full term in the U.S. Senate in 2016. He's deeply disturbed by the demise of the Senate, but he told me he doesn't think the Senate can be fixed from the inside. He said running for president may be one way to try to reverse the decline of American political institutions. "There is not a substitute toward trying to ... build pluralistic constituencies that will support the kind of change that we need to make ... You need to engage people in their living rooms to do that and maybe people running for president can engage people to do that. I think you can do it when you're in the Senate as well ... You need to be willing not to believe that you always have a monopoly on wisdom."

The New Yorker profile of Bennet from 2007 is here.

A 2010 profile of Bennet in the Denver Post is here.

And here's a 2009 Rocky Mountain News profile.

Outro music: "Sucker MC's" by Run DMC

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Dec 19, 2018
Andrew Sullivan on Christianity's Collapse, the Wisconsin GOP & Identity Politics

Andrew Sullivan was editor of The New Republic from 1991 to 1996, and has been a pioneer in more than one sense. He was one of the first writers to start blogging, launching The Daily Dish in 2000 and becoming one of the most widely read and influential bloggers in the country. And of course, Sullivan wrote the first major article in an American magazine — in 1989 in the New Republic — advocating for gay marriage, and was one of the most important figures to make the case — controversial at the time among both mainstream culture and in the gay community — for marriage equality. But he has also angered some in the gay community by arguing against hate crime laws, defending the right of religious conservatives to express their belief that homosexuality is a sin, and by saying things like, "the gay rights movement needs to just pack up and go home. I think we're done,” as he did in this conversation. 

Sullivan wrote for New York Magazine last month about the loss of faith in our politics system, a problem that continues to grow. And we talk about that and touch on what’s going on right now in Wisconsin, where the Republican Party is retrofitting the results of the fall elections by passing laws to take power away from Democrats set to take the governor’s and attorney general’s positions in January. 

But Sullivan also feels that free speech, and his ability to provoke and debate and speak his mind, is under attack from identity politics. 

We start out talking about Sullivan's most recent New York column, where he talked about the ways that the collapse of Christianity in America has created a religious right that is folded into a cult of personality around President Trump, and a social justice left that seeks to imbue politics with the same sort of higher meaning that religion has traditionally provided. "Both cults really do minimize the importance of the individual in favor of either the oppressed group or the leader," he wrote.

Outro music: "Cherub Rock," by The Smashing Pumpkins

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Dec 07, 2018
The Lawsuit Alleging Voter Suppression in Georgia

Last Tuesday, a group started by Stacey Abrams filed a 66-page lawsuit in federal court that listed all the ways in which the Democratic candidate for governor and her allies say Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is now governor-elect, intentionally created “an obstacle course” for voters of color. 

For this episode, I spoke with Lauren Groh-Wargo, who was Abrams’ campaign manager during the election and is now the CEO of Fair Fight Georgia, the group that brought the lawsuit.  

Here's a link the lawsuit.

You can watch Abrams' interview with Jake Tapper here.

Outro music: "Don't Forget" by Jeff Tweedy

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Dec 03, 2018
I Guess We’re Doing Season 2 Now. Here’s What’s Up Next

There’s plenty more to do about political parties, and I’ll dip into that topic from time to time. But it’s a good time to move into other topics as well. I’ve done a little of that already. Going forward, however, the podcast will shift a bit from a primary focus on political parties to a focus on short-termism vs long-term thinking. And I’ll be looking at a number of different institutions: Congress, business, the media, the vote, the courts, and others. 

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Nov 30, 2018
The Path to the 2018 Midterm Elections

On Tuesday voters will go to the polls to choose candidates for Congress, for statewide office, and in local elections. Here's a look back at the biggest moments that shaped the last 22 months since Donald Trump was elected President.

January 21, 2017 - The Women's March

February 17, 2017 - "The Enemy of the People"

March 4, 2017 - Trump accuses Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower

April 7, 2017 - Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court // April 15, 2017 - Riots in Berkeley

May 9, 2017 - Trump fires Comey

June 14, 2017 - A shooting at the Congressional baseball practice

July 28, 2017 - McCain votes against Obamacare repeal

August 11-12, 2017 - Charlottesville

September 5, 2017 - Trump ends DACA

October 1, 2017 - The Las Vegas Massacre

November 7, 2017 - Trump visits South Korea & Democrats sweep Virginia elections

December 12, 2017 - Roy Moore loses in Alabama // December 22, 2017 - Trump signs tax cut

January 5, 2018 - Fire and Fury 

February 14, 2018 - Parkland 

March 13, 2018 - Conor Lamb wins

April 9, 2018 - FBI raids Michael Cohen's office

May 7, 2018 - Sessions announces family separation policy

June 26, 2018 - Ocasio-Cortez wins in New York

July 16, 2018 - The Helsinki Summit

August 21, 2018 - Manafort & Cohen guilty

September 27, 2018 - The Kavanaugh Hearing

October 26, 2018 - Pipe bombs and caravans

Outro Music - "You're Not Alone" by Mavis Staples

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Nov 05, 2018
The Gravitron

We often refer to American politics now as a circus. But it's a carnival ride that best illustrates the gravitational forces that created the mess we've made of our politics. Everything now is centrifugal — pushing us away from one another and away from the center — with almost zero countervailing force.

In this episode I talk about:

  • Our loss of imagination for how to overcome challenges through working with others, and how our ideas about influence are too narrow.
  • How this lack of creativity is fueling the dysfunctional politics we see playing out.
  • The twin hammer blows that have weakened political parties in America, which used to balance our healthy push toward individualism.
  • Reforms to party primaries were intended to democratize our elections, but have made them less democratic. The current system holds the majority of Americans in the "exhausted middle" hostage to the minority of Americans on the extremes of left and right.
  • A push for greater voting rights could be combined with changes to our primaries.

The sound clip of an amusement ride with voice at the beginning is from a wonderfully strange short film I found called "The Centrifuge Brain Project | A Short Film by Till Nowak."

The song used in the interludes, and at the end, is "Red Hook (Live at the Jazz Standard New York, 2017)" by Jakob Bro, Thomas Morgan & Joey Baron from the 2018 album, Bay of Rainbows.

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Oct 26, 2018
CBS News' Major Garrett on his new book, "Mr. Trump's Wild Ride"

If you want to read a book about Trump and discuss it with someone who sees the president differently than you, this is the book to buy. “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride: The Thrills, Chills, Screams, and Occasional Blackouts of An Extraordinary Presidency,” by CBS News’ Major Garrett. He’s the chief White House correspondent and host of “The Takeout” podcast. 

"I don’t try to tell people to .. set aside their emotional reaction, pro or con, to this administration. What I do try to provide is a resource that tells you the most important things from my perspective, that happened, why they happened, and of those things, what are likely to be with the country for many years to come, whatever the duration of the Trump presidency is.”

It’s a book that is often critical of Trump but in a way that might be heard by Trump supporters. And it’s a book that confronts Trump critics with the reality that the president has had some accomplishments, as much as they often don’t want to admit it. Garrett often finds that Trump’s accomplishments are far less than what the president has said, or will have negative impacts that his supporters are not aware of. But he doesn’t shy away from thinking about the Trump presidency as consequential. 

1:00 — Why Major wanted to represent the voices and perspective of Trump voters in his analysis 

5:10 — Why he wrote some passages from the point of view of Trump supporters or advisers, and other passages with a more critical voice. 

6:54 — Why Major wanted most of his sources to be named in the book. There is one anonymous quote in the book. 

9:07 — How covering the Trump presidency has been like experiencing a form of trauma. 

13:07 — Major on how there are certain things we must “appreciate” about this administration in that they are facts. That doesn’t mean one must like them, but they should be recognized. 

18:11 — What did Trump voters hear when Trump talked about “the wall”?

21:18 — Why Major thinks it’s a mistake to liberally use the “racist” label. 

26:30 — How American politics is more about image than fact, and has been for some time, and what electing our first “fully-formed celebrity” says about America. 

28:54 — Major talks about hearing that Bob Woodward’s book would be released one week before his, and what he thinks his book does that Woodward’s does not. 

31:56 — Major talks about his chapter on Trump’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and his interview with Jared Kushner about his relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and how all of this has impacted the U.S. government’s response to the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

44:37 — Major on his chapter about regulation, and how Trump’s own budget office has found that regulations provide order for markets and often bring positive economic impact that outweighs the economic cost of the regulation by between 3 to 8 times as much. 

47:45 — How the GOP tax bill is likely a temporary sugar high for the economy that is contributing to unsustainable debt levels. 

52:57 — How dysfunction in Congress has hurt the U.S. military 

55:23 — Trump has not shown a leadership instinct to bring Americans together and lead them toward a common goal 

Lightning round 

58:30 — Major on the Mueller probe

59:06 — What happens if Democrats take the House in the midterm elections on Nov. 6?

1:00 — Major on Trump’s physical constitution, what makes him tick, and how he loves to use his “crazy” against opponents

1:01 — Major on whether Jeff Flake will run for president in 2020 as a challenger from the...

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Oct 19, 2018
Brian Kemp Says There Are 'Outside Agitators' in Georgia Election

The race for governor in Georgia is intense. You could script a full Netlix mini-series around the two main characters and the history between them. But when Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate, denounced critics this week who say he's suppressing the black vote, he resurrected an old term that carries a lot of baggage from the deep South's dark segregationist and Jim Crow era.

Outside agitators. That's what Kemp called his detractors.

Here, I explore the history of that term, and of the events that brought this election to this point.

You can read my article on the topic at this link:

Outro music: "Atliens," by Outkast

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Oct 12, 2018
BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel on the Information Wars & Media Gatekeeping

"You can risk going too far. You can risk saying everyone has a right and should see every single piece of everything, no matter how incredulous, how ridiculous, how over the top, how upsetting … So we’re going to take you into 4Chan and show you all the most racist terrible memes and all that stuff. There’s an idea now … that there are ways we can responsibly do a little more of that gatekeeping.” 

That's BuzzFeed's Charlie Warzel talking about some of his lessons learned in his years of doing journalism coverage of conspiracy theories, attention hacking, bots, and attempts by bad actors to manipulate the public. We talk "data voids" and "grief tourism," among other things. Here's a guide to the discussion:

6:30 — Why Charlie lives in Montana — “I really think we’re going to see a lot more journalists doing this.”

11 —Charlie’s entry into journalism as an intern on “Meet the Press”

15:35 - “The first time I ever thought critically about Facebook …"

19 - “Is it a universal good that we’re all connected this much? … I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it in that way.” 

21:27 - Why Danah Boyd refused to use Alex Jones’ name in her ONA talk.

23 - What is a "data void" and how do bad actors exploit them?

"You’re getting information that might not have any context and might lead you down a rabbit hole.”

29:22 - How the term “incel” has been one way that online radicals have manipulated media organizations and journalists.

31:35 - "It is a really tricky concept for a lot of journalists to think that they own the story."

33:15 - “It was this idea that we can’t be gatekeepers. We need to be guides.” 

"You can risk going too far. You can risk saying everyone has a right and should see every single piece of everything, no matter how incredulous, how ridiculous, how over the top, how upsetting … So we’re going to take you into 4Chan and show you all the most racist terrible memes and all that stuff. There’s an idea now … that there are ways we can responsibly do a little more of that gatekeeping.” 

38 - How some people spread conspiracy theories to undermine the media and mock the media’s “grief tourism” 

42 - Why it’s a problem for the media that most people don’t know journalists, because local media has collapsed. 

46:30 - How BuzzFeed has tried to balance being a guide and a gatekeeper, and how publishing the Steele dossier fit into that. 

50:30 - Two principles for a news organization deciding whether to publish something or not

51:30 - Charlie’s questions about covering all of Trump’s tweets as breaking news 

55 - Charlie’s star turn in the Netflix/BuzzFeed documentary series on tech addiction 

Outro Music: “Long Time Ago” by The Jayhawks 

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Oct 05, 2018
10 Years Since the 08 Crash, Are We Ready For The Next Big Crisis?

10 years ago, the American economy was on the edge of Freefall. A divided government overcame partisan differences to work together, in an election year. We talked to former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and many others, to get their take on whether our political system now is ready for the next crisis.

Click here to read the piece by Andrew Romano and I on why we may not be prepared to respond to the next big crisis, and why.

Outro music: "...There" by Andy Mineo

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Sep 27, 2018
John McCain

Sen. John McCain passed away one month ago at the age of 81. He was an American hero. In 2013, I interviewed him in his Senate office to talk about his place in history. I wrote a profile for The Huffington Post, which you can read here. But now I'm releasing the audio of the interview for the first time.

Here is a link to McCain's speech on July 25, 2017, in which he told his fellow senators this:

"Our system doesn't depend on our nobility. It accounts for our imperfections, and gives an order to our individual strivings that has helped make ours the most powerful and prosperous society on earth. It is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than 'winning.' Even when we must give a little to get a little. Even when our efforts manage just three yards and a cloud of dust, while critics on both sides denounce us for timidity, for our failure to 'triumph.' "I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.

"What greater cause could we hope to serve than helping keep America the strong, aspiring, inspirational beacon of liberty and defender of the dignity of all human beings and their right to freedom and equal justice? That is the cause that binds us and is so much more powerful and worthy than the small differences that divide us." 

Closing song: "Mama's Room," by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, from the soundtrack to "Hell or High Water"

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Sep 21, 2018
The Man Behind the GOP Data Machine

"In the pitiful early hours of Election Night [it] was the only credible resource Trump advisors had." That's CBS News' Major Garrett's description of the Republican National Committee's data and analytics apparatus, which was loaned out to the Trump campaign in the latter half of 2016. Newt Gingrich says Trump, who had no serious campaign of his own, would not have won without it. The work of building the RNC's data and ground game began four years earlier, and was overseen by Mike Shields, the chief of staff from 2013 to 2014. But Shields says that as he did that job, he realized he was doing more than trying to help the GOP beat the Democrats. He was trying to save the RNC from total irrelevance.

My conversations with Shields in 2013 and 2014 were some of the first steps in my journey of beginning to think about political parties in a new light. We talk about what a party is, what a party committee should do, and how President Trump has stopped talking about a "red wave" because he finally listened to operatives who told him he was going to depress Republican turnout.

I interviewed Shields in October 2013 and wrote about it here.

I wrote about the RNC's efforts in April of 2014 at this link.

Here's my piece on election night in 2016 on how the RNC's data operation helped Trump.

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Sep 14, 2018
Mitch Daniels On Why Tribalism Opens the Door to Tyrants

It’s intriguing to wonder what might have happened to the Republican Party if Mitch Daniels had run for president in 2012. He was finishing up his second term as governor of Indiana, and was widely respected for the job he’d done. He was articulate, thoughtful, and had a wide breadth of political experience, having served as White House budget director under George W. Bush, and as a high-level political operative for years prior to that.

Mitt Romney won the nomination that year, but struggled as a campaigner against President Obama. Would Daniels have done any better? It’s quite likely. And if he had won the presidency, the Republican Party would have been led by a politician who downplayed social issues, rejected grievance politics, and focused like a laser on fiscal responsibility (even if that meant increasing revenue through tax increases). 

Daniels ultimately chose not to run, largely because he and his wife did not want to revisit painful periods in their marriage under the scrutiny of the nation. By all appearances, Daniels put his family ahead of his own presidential ambitions in that moment. And for five and a half years now, he has been president of Purdue University. 

I asked Daniels to come on the podcast after reading his commencement speech to this year’s graduating class at Purdue, where he exhorted the students to push back against growing tribalism in this country. "Life in a tribe is easy, in all the wrong ways. You don’t have to think. Whatever the tribe thinks is right, whatever the other side thinks is wrong. There’s no real responsibility; just follow what the tribe, and whoever speaks for it, says to do,” Daniels told the students. 

And he said that “tribes always gravitate toward tyrants.” I asked him to explain that comment, and we talked about his belief that healthy institutions protect the most vulnerable from injustice, and the nation from violence. We also talked about whether he regretted his decision not to run for president. 

Tech pioneer and analyst Jaron Lanier recently echoed some similar themes on Ezra Klein's podcast: "The way you become a autocrat or a dictator is you get everybody into pack mode, and you get them all afraid that they’ll all end up at the disadvantaged slot, that they’ll be the one who’s humiliated, the one who the pack turns on. And then everybody has to get in line," Lanier said.

Here is the Al Hunt article in Bloomberg News where Daniels was quoted as saying he felt politically "homeless."

Outro music: "Golden Kettle" by Mipso

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Jul 13, 2018
Yuval Levin on What You Can Do To Help Solve Our Broad Social Crisis

“A key part of our task,” Yuval writes, “is simply to see what we lack.”

"And when you step back and listen, an awful lot of what’s distinct about this moment in America seems like a response to a certain kind of suffering: a response to being left behind, disrespected, robbed of place and dignity and hope ... The absence we feel looks like isolation and mistrust and alienation, and so it looks like a shortage of belonging and confidence and legitimacy ... When we look for solutions, we tend not to look to institutions but to individuals, to movements, to ideals, or to maverick outsiders.”

"The transformation of our understanding of the role of institutions does not simply explain all this. It is not the cause of our broad social crisis, and it doesn’t offer the answer to the challenges that crisis has posed for us. But it is the cause we tend to be most blind to, and is it is worth seeing and articulating. And it also does point toward an answer to one of the deepest quandaries that now confront us.”

"And by failing to see the formative purpose of institutions, we undermine that purpose, and so we advance an idea of institutions as not molds but platforms, and contribute to a set of social transformations that tend to separate people in the very attempt to unite them, to undermine our aptitude for freedom in the very act of liberating us, to eat away our capacity for patient toleration, our decorum, our forbearance, our restraint; to cause us to mistake expression for reflection, affirmation for respect, reaction for responsibility, and empty celebrity for an earned reputation."

Yuval Levin is editor in chief of National Affairs, a right-leaning quarterly journal. He is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. And he is the author of four books. 

In April, he delivered three lectures at Princeton University as part of its Charles E. Test, M.D., Distinguished Lectures Series. Yuval titled his talks, "Why Institutions Matter: Three Lectures on Breakdown and Renewal."

The videos of the lectures can be viewed by clicking on this link.

You can listen to my first interview with Yuval for the Long Game podcast, on July 19, 2017, by clicking here, or on iTunes here.

Outro music: "Cudi Montage" by KIDS SEE GHOSTS, Kanye West & Kid Cudi

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Jun 29, 2018
Adam Wren On Finding His Way In A New Journalism Landscape

I talk with Adam Wren about what it's like to be a journalist entrepreneur, covering national politics from the Midwest while also starting a state news-focused newsletter. And Adam shares his observations of Vice President Mike Pence, and how the Indiana Republican establishment is now shaping the future of America. And we talk about our mutual experiences writing profiles of Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, a Democrat who's up for reelection this fall.

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Jun 25, 2018
Terry Sullivan on the GOP & Marco Rubio's 2016 Loss

Republican political operative Terry Sullivan discusses the move away from issue-based campaigns, toward contests based around personality and image, whether Sen. Jesse Helms was a racist, and how bad advice to Marco Rubio led to the moment that became the downfall of his presidential candidacy.

For examples of people losing touch with their senses, read the mentions below these tweets:

My tweet on Michelle Wolf is here.

Jake Tapper's tweet about "Camelot's End" is here.

On Jesse Helms:

David Broder's 2001 piece on Jesse Helms, headlined "Jesse Helms, White Racist," is here.

Broder's piece on Byrd when the former Senator died in 2010 is here.

You can watch video of Chris Christie's kneecapping of Marco Rubio here.

Here is the transcript.

I talked to Christie the day of the New Hampshire primary about why he never went after Trump the way he did Rubio, and wrote about it here.

Outro music: "Palmetto Rose" by Jason Isbell

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Jun 18, 2018
Lee Drutman on Ranked Choice Voting & Multi-Member Congressional Districts

I’m beginning to think that ranked-choice voting might be a way for voters to exercise quality control in a party primary in a way that party bosses used to. The way it works, if no one gets 50 percent then the candidate with the least support gets eliminated, and the votes they got go to the candidates who their supporters ranked second. In 2016, Donald Trump won most GOP primaries with 30 to 35 percent, meaning that 2/3 of Republican primary voters wanted another candidate. How many of those voters do you think would have ranked Trump second? And there is a fight over ranked choice voting happening right now. It is being used for the first time in a statewide election tomorrow, June 12, in Maine, in primary contests for Congress and governor. Lee Drutman, of the New America Foundation, joins me to talk about it. 

Here's a good New York Times piece on how ranked choice voting works.

And here's a good NPR report on what's happening in Maine.

Lee's piece on multi-member congressional districts is here.

David Brooks praised Lee's idea in this piece.

Here's a link to the Jennifer Lawrence ad supporting ranked choice voting.

Outro music: “Future Suite” by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks 

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Jun 11, 2018
Amy Walter On the California Primaries

Voters in five states will go to the polls today to vote in primary elections, but in California, Democrats are facing an unexpected challenge. They need 23 seats to retake control of the House of Representatives this fall, and there are as many as 6 or 7 seats in California alone that are prime targets for flipping from Republican to Democrat. But because of California’s unique rules for primaries — crafted with the intent to increase participation and fairness — the very intensity of enthusiasm among Democrats in the Trump era might be their undoing. Amy Walter, National Editor at the Cook Political Report and host of WNYC radio’s The Takeaway Fridays, talks about how this reform -- like so many others -- has had unintended consequences.

Here's Amy's piece on the California primary, "The Party *Doesn't* Decide," in the Cook Political Report.

Here's Amy's colleague, David Wasserman, with a more detailed piece on the districts in which Democrats are in danger of being shut out.

Here's the piece by Jonathan Rauch that Amy references during the show: "How American Politics Went Insane"

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Jun 05, 2018
AB Stoddard Has Watched Congress Collapse

AB Stoddard, associate editor and columnist at Real Clear Politics, has been a working journalist for two and a half decades. She started covering Congress in 1994, and so she has seen the institution go through most of the big changes that have turned it into such a dysfunctional place. We talked about her work with the group No Labels to get rid of the Hastert Rule in the House, about her father's role in bringing "Roots" to television, and about how she's balanced motherhood with her career.

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Jun 01, 2018
DNC's Ken Martin Says 'Resistance' Has to Mature

"At some point, they need to channel that energy into really tangible electoral activity if they're going to actually get power back from Trump and the Republicans, and to do that, the best place for that is two political parties and working in concert with our candidates up and down the ballot ... I believe that political parties matter, that they still matter. They're very important, and I would say, in a weird way, probably even more important now, as you start to think about the outlets for all of this energy out there," said Martin, the chair of the Minnesota Dems (the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party) and Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee. We talk super delegates, caucuses, and how the Democratic party grew weaker under Obama.

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May 25, 2018
Ambassador Tim Roemer on $$$$ in Politics

Tim Roemer is a former Indiana congressman and was President Obama's first ambassador to India. He now represents a group that believes American democracy is broken and is trying to bring Republicans and Democrats together to fix it. Issue One is working on Capitol Hill with lawmakers to push a handful of reforms. One would require the largest digital platforms such as Google and Facebook to disclose and publicize any entity that pays more than $500 to promote its content online, with an aim toward shining a light on any attempts by foreign entities to influence American politics. We talked about what it means to him when we say that money in politics is a problem, and what the solution is.

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May 21, 2018
Reed Galen Likes Sore Losers

“The angrier the electorate, the less capable we are of finding common ground on policies, or even of treating our opponents like human beings," a political scientist wrote recently. Reed Galen is trying to start a new political party that is built on the belief that American politics has to restore the dignity of every person as one of its foundational principles. Reed is the chief strategist for the Serve America Movement, an organization started in 2016, which is building organizing infrastructure in a handful of states this year with the goal of being ready to spring into action if a legitimate independent candidate for president runs in 2020. We talked about the group's origins and its plans for 2018 and 2020.

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May 14, 2018
Joel Searby Wants to Take Down the Two-Party System

Joel Searby, a former adviser to Evan McMullin's presidential campaign, is now trying to persuade a group of senators -- whom he would not name -- to form a caucus that would elect a bipartisan slate of leaders in the Senate next January. We talked about this effort, as well as his reflection on the McMullin campaign and why it’s still deeply in debt, and on the introduction of ranked choice voting in Maine.

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May 08, 2018
The Missouri Governor's Scandal

Embattled Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is a textbook case, like President Trump, of the danger of political parties losing control over their primaries. When Greitens ran for governor in 2016, he promised in a TV ad to “take dead aim at politics as usual” and then shot a machine gun at a target that exploded and sent flames high into the air. The only thing exploding now, however, is his political career and the Missouri Republican Party with it. Read more of Jon Ward's article on this story at Yahoo News here.

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May 01, 2018
Matt Bai Thinks I'm Crazy (or at least wrong)

Matt is one of the best journalists in America. He's a weekly columnist at Yahoo News and author of two books, "The Argument," and "All the Truth is Out." His second book has been turned into a major motion picture, starring Hugh Jackman, and titled The Frontrunner, in theaters this year. Matt's column this week was a response to the piece I wrote that grew out of this podcast. My piece was published Tuesday, and called, “Power to the party: Why political reforms can be bad for democracy.” Matt’s response to this was called, "We need stronger candidates, not stronger parties.” Matt writes that he’s long been a skeptic of political parties, and that just because Donald Trump has been a destructive outsider, that doesn’t mean non-politicians who run for office have to be negative forces. "I still believe that an unconventional campaign — a candidate respectful of governing expertise, but determined to rethink how we use it — can be the thing that restores our faith in public life,” he writes.  

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Apr 20, 2018
Summary Episode - Everything We've Covered So Far

If you're a new listener and wonder what this show is all about, this episode will get you caught up. I go back through why this podcast exists, and what each guest has talked about. There are clips of the most important portions of each show, and the most robust explanation to date of why this podcast exists.

Show Notes:

My dispatches from the Republican National Convention:

Mike Lee predicts backlash after RNC smothers delegate rebellion

In Cleveland, a dazed GOP marches toward a Trump nomination

Chaos on the Convention Floor

The Cleveland convention is ratifying the GOP’s loss of party power

Here is the first episode of The Long Game, which uses the convention as its jumping off point. 

Audio of David Axelrod full interview with Chris Wallace, from January 12, 2017, is here, and transcript is here

Here is the link to the July 14, 2016 episode of Slate’s Political Gabfest, with David Plotz, Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson. 

Here are the links to the individual episodes of Long Game interviews, which are highlighted in this episode:

Video of the event at the American Enterprise Institute, with EJ Dionne, Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, is here.


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Apr 13, 2018
Steven Levitsky, author of "How Democracies Die"

Steven Levitsky is professor of government at Harvard University. He has spent most of his life studying Latin American politics and history, with a focus on political parties, authoritarianism and democratization, and weak and informal institutions. In 2018, he and fellow Harvard professor Daniel Ziblatt, an expert on democracy in Europe, wrote a book called "How Democracies Die." Here, Steven and I discuss what he means when he calls political parties the "gatekeepers of democracy," and why the Democrats reduction of superdelegates in their presidential primary may have unintended negative consequences. 

“How Democracies Die," by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Steven Levitsky's personal page at Harvard is here

Reviews of the book by Jennifer Szalai in the New York Times and by Yuval Levin in The Weekly Standard

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Apr 03, 2018
What I'm Reading #2 - Dan Koch - "How to Think" by Alan Jacobs

Dan Koch, host of the Depolarize podcast, joins me to talk about his thoughts while reading "How to Think," by Baylor literature professor Alan Jacobs.

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Mar 30, 2018
Seth Masket

Seth Masket is the chair of the political science department at the University of Denver. He has dared to say what few will: that for party primaries and maybe all of American politics to be more productive and functional, it might need to be a little less democratic. He and fellow academic Julia Azari wrote a New York Times op-ed in December titled: “Is the Democratic Party Becoming Too Democratic?”

Seth is the author of two books. His most recent is called “The Inevitable Party: Why Attempts to Kill the Party System Fail and how they Weaken Democracy.”

The text of my introduction to the show, along with all the links below, is posted on my Medium page devoted to this podcast. Seth’s bio is here.  Here are Seth’s two books:

How to Improve the Primary Process? Make It Less Democratic,” by Seth Masket, Pacific Standard Magazine, August 11, 2017

"Is the Democratic Party Becoming Too Democratic?” by Julia Azari and Seth Masket, The New York Times, December 11, 2017

Here’s How a Responsible GOP Might Behave,” by Seth Masket, Pacific Standard Magazine, February 28, 2017

Seth referenced this paper: The Losing Parties Out-Party National Committees, 1956-1993, by Philip A. Klinkner

We talked about the big idea in this book, and how the 2016 election did not adhere to this theory: “The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform,” by Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel

"Weak parties and strong partisanship are a bad combination," by Julia Azari, Vox, November 3, 2016

I wrote this at the 2016 Republican convention: "The Cleveland convention is ratifying the GOP’s loss of party power."

My piece on The Centrist Project from April 2017 is here.

Seth wrote about The Centrist Project in June 2017. That piece is here.

My more recent piece on Unite America, the new name of what used to be The Centrist Project, is here.


Mar 05, 2018
What I'm Reading #1 - "12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson

I'm introducing a new feature to The Long Form podcast, where I'll post short interviews with friends and public figures about the book that they are in the middle of. I don't want polished hot takes about a book someone has finished and fully digested. I want mid-process description of what sparks are flying around people's heads midstream through the book. And I love to know the backstory of how and why people start books. What intrigued them? What attracted them? And what are they getting out of it right now? 

I'm starting out with a look at one of the books I'm reading, "12 Rules for Life" by Jordan Peterson. He's a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who has developed a cult following particularly among young men. I think after listening to this you'll have a better understanding of why. 

Show Notes:

Anthony Bradley tweet thread on why young men are into Peterson. 

"The Voice Evangelical Men Wish They Had," by Anthony Bradley in Fathom Magazine. 

"The Jordan Peterson Moment," by David Brooks in The New York Times

Peterson interview with Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News

James K.A. Smith tweet about Peterson's "manhood-under-attack" "myth"

Vice segment on Peterson: "Jordan Peterson Is Canada's Most Infamous Intellectual"

Extended clip of Jay Kang interview with Peterson. 

Video of Peterson's complain about the Vice interview. 

"What’s So Dangerous About Jordan Peterson?" by Tom Bartlett in The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Feb 23, 2018
Norm Ornstein
He thinks machine politics is a distraction. Norm Ornstein has a different take from Jonathan Rauch and Elaine Kamarck on why our politics is broken. Ornstein believes increasing voter participation and reducing the role of money in politics are better goals, and that the Republican Party is far more of a culprit in creating dysfunction than are the Democrats. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a book late last year with Thomas Mann and EJ Dionne called "One Nation After Trump."

Show Notes:

Opening and closing song: "Mass Appeal" by Gangstarr. 

Norm's book from 2012, co-written with Thomas Mann and EJ Dionne, updated in 2016: "It's Even Worse Than It Looks Was: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism."

Norm's book from 2006, co-written with Thomas Mann: "The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."

The paper by Jonathan Rauch and Ben Wittes from May 2017: "More professionalism, less populism: How voting makes us stupid, and what to do about it."

Rauch & Wittes were responding in part to this paper from June 2015, by Mann and Dionne: "The futility of nostalgia and the romanticism of the new political realists."

And here's Elaine Kamarck's paper from April 2017: "Re-inserting peer review in the American presidential nomination process."

The exchange between Ornstein and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, at the beginning can be viewed here, and you can read about it here.

My profile from December on Warren Throckmorton, the evangelical professor who turned against 'reparative therapy' for gays.

My profile from September on Jemar Tisby, an African-American Christian living in the Deep South whose outlook on racial reconciliation darkened after the election of Donald Trump.

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Jan 12, 2018
Elaine Kamarck

"When politicians can't get anything done, it breeds distrust. It breeds anger ... The weakening of parties ... most people think it's a good thing," Elaine Kamarck says. But, she warns that "the weakening of parties has meant the weakening of government. People don't like that, but very few people see the connection between political parties and government." Kamarck, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and a Democratic National Committee member and superdelegate, talks about her proposal to have a party gathering prior to the presidential primary to vote on potential candidates. But she says she doesn't care if superdelegates go away. She also says she doesn't fault Reince Priebus for not doing more as RNC Chairman to block Donald Trump from the nomination.



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Oct 20, 2017
Jonathan Rauch

Jonathan Rauch's 2016 Atlantic cover story, "How American Politics Went Insane," argued that we've reformed our politics into dysfunction. We talk about how telling people to vote or participate in the process is not, on its own, going to solve our problems. We need people to either get involved in political parties or delegate authority to them. The irony, he says, is that "an unmediated, direct democracy, is less democratic and less representative than mediated democracy.” 

Episode 1 explained how I got interested in the topic of institutions by asking myself why the Republican Party was powerless to stop Donald Trump. Episode 2 explored the question, “What are institutions and why are they important?” Episode 3 looked at ways in which institutions can be harmful. This 4th episode is the first of a few that will look closely at the specific institution of political parties. 

Opening Clip: From The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Opening Music: "Power" by Kanye West 

Books/Articles by Jonathan Rauch

Other books or articles mentioned:

Closing Music: "Rita" by Madeline Kenney

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Sep 19, 2017
Jemar Tisby
Jemar Tisby is one of the more compelling figures I am aware of when it comes to race and Christianity in America. He is the president of the Reformed African American Network, and is obtaining a PhD in the history of race and religion at the University of Mississippi. Jemar is on a "journey to figure out how … social justice and historic Christian faith connect: how faith catalyzes justice." And while he believes his faith identity transcends skin color, he rejects the idea that white and black Christians -- in particular -- should avoid or bypass the hard conversations that need to take place about racial justice and white supremacy in America today. I wanted to get his take on institutions early on in this podcast to help us think critically about the topic. We may need to regain an appreciation for the good institutions can do, but we need to remain clear-eyed about the injustice that can also be perpetrated through them as well.

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Aug 14, 2017
Yuval Levin

Yuval Levin, one of the most plugged in, influential conservative intellectuals in the country, joins me to talk about how modern Americans often think of institutions as platforms for self-promotion rather than molds that form us "into human beings who are capable of being free men and women, who will choose to do the right thing, generally speaking, and so can be left free to choose, and don’t have to be coerced into being responsible.”

President Trump, Levin says, is a vivid example of someone who views institutions this way, and as a result, has hindered his ability to be successful. Trump has behaved not as a president would, but as a "performance artist," Levin says. 

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Jul 20, 2017
The Origin Story

In this inaugural, introductory episode, I tell the story of standing on the floor of the Republican convention in Cleveland as the GOP squashed an anti-Trump rebellion. It caused me to start thinking about the role of institutions like political parties. I explain why this podcast exists, how I'm going to structure it, and how I got interested in the topic. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently said that the biggest threat to the country is not ISIS or Russia or terrorism, but "the lack of political unity in America." The disunity we are now experiencing is increasing the massive distrust of institutions that in many ways is what brought us to this point. The question is, where do we go from here? We can't go back in time, but what lessons does our history hold for us?

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Jun 21, 2017