Your friends and other experts will tell you the songs and sounds that are new and hot. What the music makers are happier telling you is: what’s old, what abides, what is true, what connects ...
Your friends and other experts will tell you the songs and sounds that are new and hot. What the music makers are happier telling you is: what’s old, what abides, what is true, what connects and how they got it. Bill Banfield is one of those African-American composers / performers / teachers who when he speaks of The Music, suggests one ageless tradition being made new every day by geniuses and inspired journeymen in hip-hop and concert music. His is a realm where Son House’s Delta Blues, Duke Ellington’s orchestral majesty, Bessie Smith’s “Downhearted Blues” are never out of style, not often out of mind.
You can tell a lot about Bill Banfield’s Imagine Orchestra just by listening. It’s big-band enough to evoke the 1930s and ‘40s, but this is 2018, so the pianist in Bill Banfield’s Imagine orchestra (last time I heard it) was a young Cuban woman, the solo star (also a woman) was a jazz violinist. Berklee College of Music students sit next to old pro’s in this band. You hear hip-hop floating through it, and a lot of jazz knowledge popping out of it. This is composed music that makes room for improvisation and virtuosity. The Imagine Orchestra draws on vernacular sounds of church and street. You will hear touches of the avant-garde and of Africa. Long after jazz joints disappeared, you can feel again a community of musicians reaching out and enveloping its audience.
Banfield is a child of Detroit in the Motown era. His best friends in Cass Tech High School seemed to know they would all be professional musicians. A guitarist to begin, he is a composer of symphonic music that’s been played all over the US. He’s an historian of the bandleader Sun Ra and his Arkestra. He’s got a novel forthcoming about a musical dreamer growing up, as he did, in 1970s Detroit. The book is called Cedric’s Truth: a novel by a musician. And not least, Bill Banfield holds the chair of Africana Studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Noam Chomsky for 50 years has been America’s Socrates, our public pest with questions that sting … not the city-square of Athens but a vast global village in pain and now, it seems, in danger. ...
Noam Chomsky for 50 years has been America’s Socrates, our public pest with questions that sting … not the city-square of Athens but a vast global village in pain and now, it seems, in danger.
The world in trouble today still beats a path to Noam Chomsky’s door, if only because he’s been forthright for so long about a whirlwind coming. Not that the world quite knows what do with Noam Chomsky’s warnings of disaster in the making. Remember the famous faltering of the patrician TV host William F. Buckley Jr., meeting Chomsky’s icy anger about the war in Vietnam, in 1969.
It’s a strange thing about Noam Chomsky: the New York Times calls him ‘arguably’ the most important public thinker alive, though the paper seldom quotes him, or argues with him, and giant pop media stars on network television almost never do. And yet the man is universally famous and revered in his 89th year: he’s the scientist who taught us to think of human language as something embedded in our biology, not a social acquisition; he’s the humanist who railed against the Vietnam war and other projections of American power, on moral grounds first, ahead of practical considerations. He remains a rock-star on college campuses, here and abroad; yet he’s still an alien in the places where policy gets made. On his home ground at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is a notably accessible old professor who answers his email and receives visitors like us with a twinkle.
Last week, we visited Chomsky with an open ended mission in mind: We were looking for a non-standard account of our recent history from a man known for telling the truth. We’d written him that we wanted to hear not what he thinks, but how. He’d written back that hard work and an open mind have a lot to do with it, also, in his words, a “Socratic-style willingness to ask whether conventional doctrines are justified.”
In the opening moments of our conversation, recorded and captured in the video below, Chomsky lays out a succinct demonstration of his method that might be applied to our present-day political crisis:
“I think the fate of the species depends on it because, remember, it’s not just inequality, stagnation. It’s terminal disaster. We have constructed a perfect storm. That should be the screaming headlines every day. Since the Second World War, we have created two means of destruction. Since the neoliberal era, we have dismantled the way of handling them. That’s our pincers. That’s what we face, and if that problem isn’t solved we’re done with.”
Over the years Noam Chomsky has defended his heavyweight debating title against all comers: YouTube has him in the ring with Michel Foucault on the nature of human nature; with Alan Dershowitz on Israel; with John Silber on Central America. But looking beyond his intellectual pugilism, Chomsky’s life might be defined as much by his allies as his enemies.
One of Chomsky’s longest running partnerships is with his assistant, Bev Stohl, who serves as the gatekeeper in and out of Chomsky world at MIT. She’s a sprightly writer and wit who’s learned over most of two decades that a lot of laughter helps in living with genius. We caught up with Bev and her office pup Roxy this week.
Our hour only is only the beginning of the Noam story though. For more, read our friend George Scialabba‘s many excellent essays on Chomsky—a man he ranks among his triumvirate intellectual heroes (along with Christopher Lasch and Richard Rorty). Here’s a good place to start for beginners.
Also, be sure to check out the Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance‘s musical tribute “Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution” which puts the linguist in a class of musical as well as political and literary dissidents—Dr. John, James Brown, and Willie Nelson as well as Jean-Paul Sartre, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Che Guevara.
Also, read a full transcript of the show on Medium.
Extra Credit Assignment from Prof. Barsky
“For brief introductions to the incredibly complex world that Chomsky describes, it might be worth watching a few videos. There is an incredibly important one that was done years ago on the BBC that offers a one hour summary of the basic philosophical tenants that underwrites his thought, and the interviewer is a very brilliant English philosopher. I have had occasion to talk about this interview with Noam and he agreed, and bemoaned that such programs are no longer easily found.
The other incredibly important source to understand the generation preceding Noam, is the remarkable film by Joseph Dorman called Arguing the World. References made in this film to a tiny Jewish Zionist organization that existed from 1928 to 1943, started at Harvard, that set forth some crucial ideas that were to both reflect and guide the work of Chomsky’s teacher, Zellig Harris (I talk about this at length in my book about Harris). The group is called Avukah , and I have been working on a film and book about it for many years. Joseph’s film is a model for what I’m trying to do, and many of the people mentioned herein have direct or indirect influence on Noam’s thinking.”
James Baldwin was the prophetic voice of an era that isn’t over. Fifty years ago, he was a young, bug-eyed man from Harlem who wrote, in essays and novels, his own version of the civil-rights movement. Now his words ...
James Baldwin was the prophetic voice of an era that isn’t over. Fifty years ago, he was a young, bug-eyed man from Harlem who wrote, in essays and novels, his own version of the civil-rights movement. Now his words have become the rallying cries for a new rising generation—in film, in music, and in the press.
Raoul Peck, the Haitian-born director of the Oscar-nominated Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, sees Baldwin as a mirror on American life:
He went really deep into what the society is, you know, and he was the only one who was able to formulate it in a way that a scholar of course would understand it but also the man in the streets would understand it in a way where he could be very critical to the white liberal but without pushing them away. But he found a way to put every one of us, whether black or white, in front of the reality. He put a mirror in front of us in a way that you can’t look away.
Teju Cole views the Baldwin of today as a master aphorist: a pithy prophet well-suited to the twitter age and “the go-to quote factory of those who are woke”. On a deeper level, Cole finds kinship in Baldwin’s transnational sense of self. Cole guides us through his own pilgrimage to Leukerbad, Switzerland—the remote town where Baldwin composed his seminal essay “Stranger in the Village”:
The essay I ended up writing about this journey to Leukerbad became also a kind of exercise in Baldwinian form … I deeply love the essay that he wrote about being there, and in my essay, which I call “Black Body,” I wanted to think about what it meant to inhabit somebody else’s space. I was inhabiting his space and, in a sense in the essay, I was inhabiting his prose style. … it was conscious to allow that to happen, to allow the visceral effect of being there as he was there, walking the streets as he walked the streets, to let all of that come through and still have it be analytical.
Cornel West reminds us of Baldwin’s unpopularity, and his nagging truth-telling habit that alienated him, in later years, from the white liberal media professional who first popularized his work, as well as from the radical black nationalists. But for Brother West, this outsider truth-teller “was really a kind of Democratic saint, if you define a saint as a sinner who looks at the world through the lens of the heart.”
“He was heartbroken.” Cornel says, “America broke his heart, day in and day out.”
And Ed Pavlic, author of Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listener, hears in Baldwin’s words echoes of the black musicians Baldwin dearly loved – Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson et al. Above all else though, Pavlic reminds us of Baldwin’s deep love for Ray Charles, highlighting the concert Baldwin and Charles organized together at Carnegie Hall as part of the 1973 Newport Folk Festival.
Illustrations by Susan Coyne. This program was originally broadcast February 2017.
Welcome back to Nixonland: After four decades, the Oval Office is once again the seat of empire, occupied by a paranoid pilot hellbent on an unremittingly personal fight, and no holds are barred. Between US Presidents ...
Welcome back to Nixonland: After four decades, the Oval Office is once again the seat of empire, occupied by a paranoid pilot hellbent on an unremittingly personal fight, and no holds are barred.
Between US Presidents 37 and 45, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, the links of language and temperament are getting uncannily close—their political predicaments, too. Even beyond the Saturday Night Massacre parallels and the rising calls for impeachment, there are other points of comparisons.
Both Trump and Nixon, for instance, refer to their stalwart base using the same title: the silent majority. Both presidents also share a certain adversarial view of the political press. Trump has called the media his opposition. Nixon made them his enemies. For the benefit of Henry Kissinger and others on his staff, Nixon—inadvertently taping himself—turned his sentiments into a sort of prose poem:
The press is the enemy
The press is the enemy
The press is the enemy
The establishment is the enemy
The professors are the enemy
The professors are the enemy
Write that on a blackboard 100 times
And never forget it….
To understand how and why the ambient fears of the Nixon presidential years are now resurfacing in the Trump White House, we talk to the man who might be the missing link: Patrick J. Buchanan. Buchanan is one man who’s not just looking at a movie he’s seen before. He was, after all, a major player in the prequel: writing some of Richard Nixon’s most famous fighting lines. You could say he anticipated the movie playing now in his own right-wing populist “America First” presidential campaigns in the 90s and then 2000—first as a Republican, then as an independent.
John Aloysius Farrell, the esteemed biographer of Tip O’Neill in the Congress, and Clarence Darrow in the courtroom, joins us. He’s spiced up the Nixon legend in a big one-volume life full of fresh letters and tapes and lines we’d almost forgotten—to David Frost, famously, when he spelled out the ultimate executive privilege: “When the president does it,” Nixon said, “that means that it is not illegal.” Beverly Gage—historian at Yale working on a new biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the founding G-man of the FBI—discusses another set of parallels: from Nixon-Hoover to Trump-Comey. She tells a broader story about the culture of an institution that has always chafed against the presidential leash. Glenn Greenwald—co-founder of The Intercept and one of the main journalists who broke the Snowden story—draws out the parallels between Daniel Ellsberg‘s Pentagon Papers and today’s Wikileakers, including Snowden and recently released Chelsea Manning. We’re asking Glenn, of the latest flurry of Trump scandals: “Do you ever feel like we’re in a game of distraction—to keep our eyes off the ball?”
While he may not have admitted to being a crook, President Richard Nixon would have certainly admitted to being a cinephile. During his abbreviated time in office, he viewed an astonishing 528 films. In this short essay film, Boston Globe film critic Mary Feeney explores Richard Nixon’s devoted relationship to the movies.
On the threshold of trouble in Asia, have a look around the Western Pacific and especially back at US history there. It’s several thresholds actually, and different risks of trouble: Rewriting trade and banking rules is one thing, compared to policing empty islands in the South China Sea, a far cry from the clear and present chance of nuclear missiles flying out of a desperate regime in North Korea that has no good relations with anybody.
When anxiety about Asia rises, it can be our memory that gets knocked out first. Barack Obama as president four years ago announced a ‘pivot to Asia,’ barely noting that we’d been there before, in Vietnam, in his lifetime. But even principals in the Vietnam War had a way of forgetting not just the facts but what they’d said about them.
Illustrations by Susan Coyne
The Swedish-born American historian Fredrik Logevall reminds us of past escapades in Southeast Asia. His Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, traces forty years of folly—from the 1919 peace conference in Versailles up to the first American casualties in Saigon, 1959—that served as the French prequel to our own devastating war.
Graham Allison, veteran foreign policy analyst at Harvard’s Kennedy School, warns us about the dangers of new power players caught in an old game. The so-called “Thucydides Trap,” Allison explains, is a predictable pattern of conflict that crops up when rising and declining powers meet on the staircase of international hierarchy. Whether it’s Athens and Sparta in Thucydides’s day, or the U.S. and China today, the conflicts in these scenarios seem almost inevitable.
Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman diagnosesthe origins of Western anxieties about China. Rachman locates our present fears somewhere in the Obama years — when the president announced his original “pivot to Asia.” It may have marked a desperate flight from the intractable troubles in the Middle East. It promised confrontation with China rather than any real process of reconciliation and compromise. In Rachman’s story, there’s also a play of instinct as much as policy in our foreign affairs.
100 days of Donald Trump in the White House, 100 days of Democrats in the wilderness, 100 dumbfounded days of dismay at the New York Times, 100 days for a lot of white America to ...
100 days of Donald Trump in the White House, 100 days of Democrats in the wilderness, 100 dumbfounded days of dismay at the New York Times, 100 days for a lot of white America to see their government with a certain black American disbelief. But it can seem that the people pretty much know what to do when the political order is coming apart: and not ‘run in circles, scream and shout,’ but meet a dazed immigrant at the airport, march for science, run for something, drop the Ivanka line from your shoe store, just declare a divided country ‘indivisible’ and go about acting as if a People’s Party might be possible, if not necessary, to speak some strong common sense about who we are and where we’re hurting.
For some trenchant liberals, the goal might just be to reform the Democratic Party and open up a bigger tent; to retain the same old message of hope, and saber rattle against the meddling Kremlin and other forms of foreign interference. But for many Americans, something more may be needed.
What if the greatest accomplishment of President Trump’s first 100 days happens to be our dawning awareness that a new kind of politics is needed — one that unites in a chorus the many voices of protest. To help us imagine just such a scenario, we’ve assembled an all-star panel of activist guests.
Marshall Ganz, a player-coach in the big leagues of organizing since he dropped out of Harvard in the 1960s offers us a primer on what it takes to mobilize effective social movements. He tells us that: “Protests are not enough. Protests need to change into power.”
Clint Smith—teacher, New Yorker contributor, and slam poetry champ—gives us his an angle on Black Lives Matter and the broader movements reshaping our demonstration-driven politics.
Listen to an excerpt of Smith’s poetry here:
And Lisa Randall, the mostcited theoretical physicist in the wide world of science,fill us in on her view of the stakes in a changing universe. According to Randall, scientists are “by nature not marchers” but she finds public demonstrations in support of science to be essential when held in regions of our country where science is under attack.
Robert Lowell was the last of his kind: a New England aristocrat of Olympian thunder and civic weight, dead-set from boyhood on artistic greatness, “the pure air of the mountain peak,” he said. All the ...
Robert Lowell was the last of his kind: a New England aristocrat of Olympian thunder and civic weight, dead-set from boyhood on artistic greatness, “the pure air of the mountain peak,” he said. All the while he was beset by certifiable madness: crippling peaks of mania and depression. He knew the humiliation of the straight jacket and the padded cell: 20 hospital stays in 20 years, he counted at one point. And through it all the man of grizzly-bear force and delicate nerves, of Puritan constraint and manic recklessness, kept writing. The turn underway in Robert Lowell’s reputation is not the wheel of fashion at work; it’s a creative insight that lets all of us see Lowell’s art and suffering in the context of his character. In dread and terror, remorse and courage, this is Lowell’s hour on Open Source.
Kay Redfield Jamison is the muse of this hour – doctor, writer, psychoanalyst and teacher, who lives with the same manic-depressive illness that afflicted Lowell. In her recent book, Setting the River on Fire, she’s written a biography of Lowell’s “simmering brain,” what the poet called his “triple conflict of madness, death and life.” She stopped by our home studio to discuss Lowell’s life, both the personal history of his illness and its treatments.
Kay Redfield Jamison (Illustration by Susan Coyne)
Dan Chiasson is a poetry critic for the New Yorker and professor of English at Wellesley College, walks us through the modern day reconsideration of Lowell: not just as poet of tremendous privilege but also of suffering. Stephen Burt, similarly, asks that we remember Lowell as “our great American poet of self-reproach, of violently mixed feelings, of disowning power, which he knew that he had sonically, rhetorically and also of course socially.”
But of course, Lowell’s legacy was not made by him alone. One of the key figures buoying his spirits and his work was his friend and fellow poet, Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop’s reputation in recent years has soared, while Lowell’s has, for many, been lowered. Megan Marshall—who wrote the new Bishop biography, A Miracle for Breakfast —helps us understand the divergent paths of these two closely matched poetic competitors.
Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil, 1962 (Illustration by Susan Coyne)
We also include a reading of one of Bishop’s poems by the great Irish author Colm Tóibín, recorded earlier this year. (You can also listen to the full podcast with Tóibín here).
And finally, we should also remember Lowell as a poet of place, particularly his place in the heart of Boston. Lowell’s greatest testament to his own complex relationship with his hometown comes in the poem, “For the Union Dead.” That poem, arguably Lowell’s masterwork, was inspired by the Boston monument to the Abolitionist Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of black soldiers who fought fight and mostly died in the Civil War. Now, 40 years after Lowell’s death, we asked the Somali-born, Boston pubic school teacher, Abdi Ali—who teaches “For the Union Dead” to his students—to recite the poem for us in front of Shaw’s monument (and just across from the State House).
Chris Lydon, Abdi Ali, and producer Becca DeGregorio in front of the Shaw monument
If you want to check out some of Lowell’s work before listening to the show, here’s a partial list of recommended poems:
With Barack out of the White House, Obamacare now looks something like a 7-year-old orphan: the unwanted child of yesterday’s Washington; a needy patchwork mega law with holes in its coverage. Strange part is that Obamacare ...
With Barack out of the White House, Obamacare now looks something like a 7-year-old orphan: the unwanted child of yesterday’s Washington; a needy patchwork mega law with holes in its coverage. Strange part is that Obamacare is still on its feet, doing pretty much what it was told to do: extending breaks to some poor people, to 20-somethings, 20 million formerly uninsured. Stranger still is that the reform legislation that Democrats are having to defend left so much of a broken system in place: hospitals, doctors and drugs at twice the world price, way underperforming Europe, Japan, Singapore, Colombia in healthy results. We know there’s been genius in American medicine, but it seems to have been lost while we were arguing over it and taken over by money and big business.
ElisabethRosenthal, author of the recent tell all on our national disease—An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back—is our main guide for the hour. She gives us a tour of the rickety foundations of today’s health care system, its responsible architects, and the fixable future.
via Adam Gaffney / The Lancet
Adam Gaffney, writer and pulmonary doc, thinks we need to put up a more radicalized fight – a single payer plan—to deal to with the serious inequality in health care today. While we can recognize the gains made by the ACA, we shouldn’t settle for the system we have.
Jonathan Bush, CEO of the cloud-based service company Athenahealth, is our disruptive “data geek” and technoutopian in Watertown, MA. He’s also the nephew of one President Bush, the first cousin of another, and the poster child of the rising force of markets in medicine. He gives us what might be a considered a more optimistic view of the future.
Along the way, we’ll have drop-ins from one of the major economic minds behind both Romneycare and Obamacare (Jonathan Gruber) as well as one of the ACA’s more wonk-ish critics on the left (Matt Bruenig). We’ll also get a short course on the influence of capitalism in medicine—via Prof. Nancy Tomes, recipient of the 2017 Bancroft Prize — as told through a historical tour of your favorite local drugstore:
[Video by Zach Goldhammer, lead illustration by Susan Coyne]
Is American history a cyclical thing; a series of concentric circles endlessly repeating? Are its contours defined by temporary revivals of old hopes and old fears, inevitably renewed and repeated every 80 years or so? Or ...
Is American history a cyclical thing; a series of concentric circles endlessly repeating? Are its contours defined by temporary revivals of old hopes and old fears, inevitably renewed and repeated every 80 years or so? Or is it something else, something closer to a straight line evolution; a curve that we sometimes bend towards justice and later let slope down into recession and depression. This hour, we’re testing these two competing models of history against each other, and trying to find where the Trump generation fits into these larger historical frames.
The generational model of history, in which each 80 year cycle is divided into four generational “turnings,” was popularized by William Strauss and Neil Howe. These two hobby historians are best known for their bestselling pop history books Generations: The History of America’s Future and The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. They also gave us a new, broad label for a diverse and widely-varied set of people. “Millennial” was and is their term for today’s rising generation. Finally, they may have also given our political leaders a new ideology with a dark twist: Steve Bannon, who’s played navigator on the Trump ship, credits Strauss and Howe as his masterminds. Some believe he’s steering us into the skid; embracing the “fourth turning” crisis that Strauss and Howe predicted and that Obama somehow missed.
To help us breakdown our current turn, we brought in a mix of generational theory enthusiasts, skeptics, and critics.
David Kaiser is a prolific academic with Ph.D in history from Harvard. He’s also one of the few historians who takes the Strauss-Howe thesis seriously. He’s made a fighting case for why others should too on his History Unfolding blog. While Kaiser doesn’t share Trump’s politics, he was interviewed by Steve Bannon several years ago as a Strauss & Howe expert in his film, Generation Zero.
John Stauffer, professor of English and African-American studies at Harvard, sees cycles of history swirling in his field of 19th century history, from Frederick Douglass to Abraham Lincoln. Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, similarly, finds connections between the generational model and the cyclical view of history advanced by the preeminent 20th century liberal historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
Arianne Chernok argues that these cycles interfere with our sense of history’s broader continuities. In particular, they overlook the persistence of activist movements fighting for more sustained forms of change throughout these historical periods.
Finally, Shaun Scott, author of the forthcoming book Millennials and the Moments that Made Us: A Cultural History of the US from 1984-present, breaks down some of the many myths that have been told about today’s generation.
"Conspiracy thinking is our response to the unimaginable."
For many Americans, Russia once more is the name of the riddle: a mystery wrapped in an enigma that may or may not be deciphered in an FBI investigation. The faithful detectives in Washington and in much of the media want to believe that this is the story of how our President got his job, and how he could lose it. But for us, the exact relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump is less interesting than the broader narrative of how these two respective nations developed in tandem; and why they are now, once again, butting heads.
The dynamic today, we believe, is framed by trauma: their loss in ‘89 of both empire and ideology; our 9/11 loss of imperial immunity. This national insecurity unfolds in the form of a new chess game—not quite a Cold War—being played out by strong men and bullies, plutocrats and oligarchs, small-time hired hackers and big-time Big Data collectors. The result is not only the spread of so-called fake news (a new name for the old propaganda) but also a broader eclipse of truth.
Masha Gessen in conversation with Nicco Mele at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center (Illustration by Susan Coyne)
We began this week by attending a talk given by Masha Gessen at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. The Russian-American journalist and trenchant Putin critic warned that while their Vladmir might offer some behavioral insight into our Donald, we shouldn’t try to explain the election of the former solely through the influence of the latter. While both men may try to dominate and distort our sense of what is real, we shouldn’t indulge in conspiracy theories. If we want to understand the seemingly unimaginable transformation of politics in both countries, we need to understand their citizens: America in the context of Americans; Russia in the context of Russians.
Taking up Gessen’s challenge, we’re trying to understand life in the Slavic slice of the political scene, with help from some of the smartest Russophiles (and -phobes) we know.
Richard Lourie has given voice to Russian dissent and dissidents—in a Boston accent, no less—for many years. The Mattapan-born Russian translator helped bring the words and works of nuclear physicist / heroic activist Andrei Sakharov into English. More recently, he’s taken on the Russian president’s fatalistic politics in the forthcoming book, Putin: His Downfall and Russia’s Coming Crash. On our program, Lourrie helps us understand how Russia’s leadership created a disaster during a time of great national promise and potential.
Robin Hessman—director of the 2010 Peabody Award-winning film, My Perestroika—sees a more complicated situation. Her film documents the lives of Russians who grew up in the Soviet Union and came of age in the 90s, in a radically altered country. Through her work and her friendships abroad, Hessman found many competing visions of what Russia might have looked like, and of what the country’s citizens actually wanted during perestroika time. But in each narrative she tells, one senses an underlying theme of traumatic loss. Her subjects experienced, for better or worse, left behind a world they understood, and were thrust into a nation transformed. The messiness of this adaption may be one of the underlying causes of our own vague, mystified and Westernized understanding of Russian life and politics today.
On the other end of the spectrum, historian Timothy Snyder and political theorist / podcast host Yascha Mounk offer stern warnings about what we should fear in the Russian model. The country’s problems and neuroses, for them, manifest not only in the form of internal national entropy, but in active aggression against Western liberal democracy (not just in the U.S.). Both men are now offering their own models of resistance and urge us to be alert to the warning signs of creeping totalitarianism.
Yascha Mounk and Timothy Snyder
David Filipov, the Washington Post’s Moscow bureau chief, rounds out the hour with an on-the-ground report from the recent wave of massive, anti-corruption protests. These street-level resistance movements, which look rather similar to the Women’s March and anti-immigration-ban demonstrations in the U.S., may provide the most acute point of comparison between the Russian and American experience today.