This Week's Show •

Two Guys Walk Into a Summit in Singapore

From “fire and fury” to a “terrific relationship” in less than a year sound like a happy turn in the Trump-Kim dance around nukes and North Korea. Better news coming is implied in the Singapore ...

From “fire and fury” to a “terrific relationship” in less than a year sound like a happy turn in the Trump-Kim dance around nukes and North Korea. Better news coming is implied in the Singapore summit: an end of the North-South Korean War after 70 years,  on what could be a nuke-free peninsula. A win for de-proliferation, an end of US war-games in South Korea, developing games for the North instead, all in a deal that great neighbor China like a lot.
Question: why do so many in our opinion class not like it at all: a dictator’s victory, goes the liberal line, a bust for the US. Is that because Trump did it? Or is there a deeper dread out there that as China rises, the American century in the Pacific is coming to an end.

If there were a simple sports score—who won, who lost?—between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, we wouldn’t believe the scorekeepers anyway. Imagine: If it were Barack Obama going face-to-face with Kim Jong-un for a de-nuclearized Korea, would Rachel Maddow not be swooning? The Fox guys would surely be saying: Barack got “snookered.”  But then, if Donald Trump had negotiated the no-nukes-for-Iran nuclear deal, wouldn’t Sean Hannity still be crowing at the sheer mastery of it. When politics gets so personal and so poisonous, the staging so obvious, the words so mechanical and indefinite. It’s Year 72 of the Nuclear Age, in Asia where the first furious mushroom clouds announced a surreal new era. Where are we really?

Our guides this hour are historians of different sorts: the diplomat Chas Freeman lived it, as translator between Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao in the breakthrough talks in 1972.  Jeanne Guilleman—in her Pulitzer-nominated history Hidden Atrocities—has written the germ-warfare horror story from the 1930s which East Asia doesn’t forget. The novelist James Carroll is reimagining our American bomb dilemma since the forties. And Richard Rhodes won all the big prizes for his 3-volume nuclear history.

This Week's Show •

Trump Goes Rogue In Iran

Dropping out of the Iran nuclear deal has the feel of dropping into the John Bolton phase of the Trump era.  Trump in Full. Trump Extra. The theme is No More Mr. Nice Guy, or ...

Dropping out of the Iran nuclear deal has the feel of dropping into the John Bolton phase of the Trump era.  Trump in Full. Trump Extra. The theme is No More Mr. Nice Guy, or America First, Last and virtually Alone. Multilateral Europe is appalled by Unilateral Trump – he pretends to consult, then ignores the old allies, first on Climate change, then trade barriers, and now Iran.  “We have to stop being wimps,” they are saying out loud. But here comes John Bolton with his broad-brush mustache and the truculent air of Steve Bannon. Except that Bolton is a neo-conservative, a gung-ho regime changer, as Bannon never was. Under Bolton rules, military intervention is in again, with our nukes at the ready.

What we are coming to sense about President Trump is that if he does bring the world down on his head, his last thought will be that there’s a Nobel Peace Prize in the ruins, for him.  Ripple effects and bad reviews run far and wide from Mr. Trump’s unplugging of the world’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Proxy warfare between Israeli and Iranian forces stepped up immediately in Syria. European powers snubbed on the Iran deal sound ready to end a sacred alliance with the US.  Donald Trump is being ridiculed for breaking one nuclear agreement while chasing another one with North Korea. But the president himself thinks his battering of Kim Jong Un is forcing progress, as in the release of prisoners this week.  So Trump crowds are starting to chant ‘Nobel, Nobel.’ And the president affirms them humbly: “The prize I want,” he says, “is victory for the world.”

Steve Walt has the opening round on the wonder and the profound worry at a dicey moment in Trump time.  He is a foreign policy analyst at Harvard, who’s made a trademark of tough-mindedness. We’ll also be looking at the wounded Iran nuclear deal through the Persian end of the telescope.  And trying to “follow the money” through the Trump campaign contributions to see if that’s what drives the President’s course.

Ervand Abrahamian is a prominent historian and teacher of the Iranian perspective on the world around it.  There are at least two views that we probably need to distinguish this week — of the revolutionary Islamic Republic, the mullocracy that’s been in power for nearly 40 years; and the view of ordinary people, many of whom hate their government and would love to resist it.

 

 Eli Clifton published a remarkable piece of research and reporting on-line this week. He made the Trump bailout from the Iran nuclear deal almost simple: it was the handiwork essentially of three multi-billionaires who’d contributed massively to Donald Trump’s campaign and knew what they wanted in return.

 

This Week's Show •

American Wreckage

Thomas Paine, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Saint Augustine, and Thomas Hobbes all agreed: A house divided against itself cannot stand. In this election season, the massive fault lines of gender, race, and class—snaking deep underneath the ...

Thomas Paine, Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, Saint Augustine, and Thomas Hobbes all agreed: A house divided against itself cannot stand. In this election season, the massive fault lines of gender, race, and class—snaking deep underneath the foundation of American democracy—have been revealed for all to see.

In many ways, Campaign 2016 has been one long series of seismic quakes, laying wreckage to any semblance of a shared national identity. And the Big One, Trump has teased/threatened, is possibly still to come — a contested election that spills out into the streets.

matta-clark

Gordon Matta Clark, Splitting (1974)

We’re joined by journalists Sarah Smarsh and Matt Taibbi. Smarsh’s recent article in the Guardian takes the media to task for their monolithic presentation of the white working-class, particularly in her own state of Kansas. Taibbi, Rolling Stone contributor and fierce Wall Street critic, envisions for us a scenario in which the specter of Trump continues to exert enormous influence long into foreseeable future of U.S. politics. He takes the long view ahead: how Trump might end up being the best thing to happen to Clinton (and her friends in finance and the pentagon) — acting as an instrument to suppress dissenting voices of any stripe. As Taibbi writes:

Trump ran as an outsider antidote to a corrupt two-party system, and instead will leave that system more entrenched than ever. If he goes on to lose, he will be our Bonaparte, the monster who will continue to terrify us even in exile, reinforcing the authority of kings. If you thought lesser-evilism was bad before, wait until the answer to every question you might have about your political leaders becomes, “Would you rather have Trump in office?”

More than Hitler or Mussolini, Bonaparte may be the most apt comparison for Trump. Even if he loses, he will continue to be an imminent danger (conveniently, for some in the Establishment) to democracy.

napoleon

Illustration by Susan Coyne.

Podcast • October 13, 2016

The Locker-Room Election

Donald Trump’s gross behavior towards women has been self-evident for years. Even The Donald himself, seen in this Howard Stern video from 2006, agrees that Donald Trump can be called a sexual predator. So how do ...

Donald Trump’s gross behavior towards women has been self-evident for years. Even The Donald himself, seen in this Howard Stern video from 2006, agrees that Donald Trump can be called a sexual predator. So how do we explain the shocked (shocked!) reaction to the non-revelation of the Billy Bush bus tape?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQTK2oTi66s

Perhaps an answer can be gleaned from an entirely separate incident. It’s October 1971 and William Friedkin’s The French Connection is playing to a packed, all African-American audience in a movie theater in Harlem. Up on the screen, Gene Hackman’s character, Popeye Doyle, turns to his partner and mutters, “Never trust a [N word].” The audience erupts — in cheers.

Why? Because finally, African-Americans were hearing the language they had always known was being said by NYC cops in real-life behind closed doors.

Jill Soloway, the creative force behind Transparent, writing in Time magazine this week describes a similar reaction to watching the bus video: “I was thrilled because it was finally out in public. What men say behind closed doors. Currently renamed as locker-room talk.”

One big takeaway: Language matters.

This week on Open Source we’re unpacking the gender politics operating behind the scenes in the Locker-Room Election.Eileen Myles wants to take Trump’s defensive words at face value: let’s talk about what “locker room banter” actually is, another hidden domain for patriarchy.

And Felix Biederman, creator of the centrist pundit parody Carl Diggler and co-host of the brilliantly vulgar Chapo Trap House podcast, helps us turn the corner into a conversation about language and the fine line between what different generations find forgivable and unforgivable in speech.

Plus, Labor of Love author Moira Weigel, political philosopher Rafia Zakaria, and Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan join us live in studio to flesh out what we’re really talking about when we talk about Trump’s words.

Podcast • September 29, 2016

‘Secular Rapture’: Trump and the American Dispossessed

Working-class whites are now the reigning champs of pessimism in America.  No other group of working-class Americans — Black, Hispanic, or Asian — holds a more despairing, more dire outlook on the future of our country. ...

Working-class whites are now the reigning champs of pessimism in America.  No other group of working-class Americans — Black, Hispanic, or Asian — holds a more despairing, more dire outlook on the future of our country. According to our guest J.D. Vance, only 44% of all working-class whites now believe that their children will be better off economically than themselves.

It’s not hard to understand why: rural, de-industrialized parts of our country are hurting badly. Surging suicide rates, spiraling drug epidemics, rampant joblessness, the same kind of community breakdown often associated with poor, urban African American neighborhoods.

Donald Trump knows this. And while he may not be mobilizing “white working-class voters” as much as the punditry likes to think, much of his speech is directed at whites who are feeling disenfranchised, culturally alienated, and left behind as the coastal elite reap all the advantages of a rigged political system.

Arlie Hochschild has spent the last five years researching and writing her new book, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. Around Louisiana bayou country, she traces “deep stories” of whites who feel they’ve been screwed over. For them, Trumpand his rebuke of corruption, civility, multiculturalism, and (especially) feminismlooks a lot like “secular rapture,” she says.

This hour, three scenes from a divided country. From the oil patches of Louisiana to the Rustbelt of southwestern Michigan to the steel town of Ohio, we’re asking where it all comes from. Hochschild and Vance are joined by one other close watcher of rural America. Novelist Bonnie Jo Campbell, in the style of grotesque noir, tells us about the pressures of a changing world and primal existential need to feel necessary and important.

 

May 26, 2016

Democracy In The Dumps

In 1989, the political theorist Francis Fukuyama pronounced that liberal democracy, on the American model, as the inevitable finish line of political evolution around the world: What we may be witnessing is not just the ...

In 1989, the political theorist Francis Fukuyama pronounced that liberal democracy, on the American model, as the inevitable finish line of political evolution around the world:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

And millions of people agreed: that our own relatively free, fair, stable, and accountable model was the political wonder of the world. (Or we told ourselves more cynically that it was the worst system of all, “except all those other forms that have been tried.”)

Would it surprise you to find out that—through the years of Bush, Obama, and now Trump—Americans have begun to lose confidence in democracy?

According to new research by political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa, one in six Americans would approve of the military takeover of government. More than 40 percent of the wealthiest Americans would opt for a strong, competent leader who was not accountable to voters. And only 30% of Americans born after 1980 consider it “essential” that they live in a democracy.

Even Fukuyama—one of our guests this week—has had to reevaluate his optimism about the Western model’s world-conquering prospects:

What I understand now much more clearly is that it’s much harder to get there than I had anticipated in terms of [building ] the necessary institutions. The other thing that I didn’t fully appreciate was how easy it was to backslide.

You can hear that backsliding—the disenchantment, the decay of trust—in the voices of Trump voters from Scott Carrier‘s wonderful podcast, Home of the Brave: people like Jimmy Lee, a skilled construction worker who can’t find work for more than $8.50 an hour. He’s voting for Trump as an entrepreneur who’ll “shake up the White House.”

With Jimmy Lee in mind, we’re staging an intervention in a roaring debate—political thinkers with very different readings of what Donald Trump says about people power in America.

Commentator Andrew Sullivan came out of retirement this month to declare, in New York magazine, that we’re witnessing too much democracy—a chaotic uprising of people power, almost a French revolution at the ballot box—and that tyranny could be near at hand. For example, as

the unstable chaos of Russian democracy yielded to Vladimir Putin, and the most recent burst of Egyptian democracy set the conditions for General el-Sisi’s coup, so our paralyzed, emotional hyperdemocracy leads the stumbling, frustrated, angry voter toward the chimerical panacea of Trump.

In Dissent, Jedediah Purdy argued that Sullivan has the case exactly upside-down. Trump is a symptom of too little democracy; his voters, starved for power and economic prospects, are enraged and beset by a feckless government controlled by wealthy interests and unresponsive elites:

Far from living in a carnival of equality, they get pushed out of jobs because they are not productive enough, denied health care because they are not wealthy enough, denied good schools because they cannot afford to live in the best neighborhoods.

Sullivan and Purdy will provide their separate diagnoses on our air—and Orlando Patterson and Gordon Wood are on hand to hold this moment up to history.

January 28, 2016

Plot-Twist Politics

In 2016, the presidential election became electric. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have separately disrupted the fixed matchup of another Clinton and another Bush, and flat-footed, for now, the mainstream consensus about everything from who ...

In 2016, the presidential election became electric.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have separately disrupted the fixed matchup of another Clinton and another Bush, and flat-footed, for now, the mainstream consensus about everything from who can be elected and what they can’t say, to what Americans want from both their leaders and their political process.

The Iowa caucus is days away, and what was laughable in the springtime now looks entirely plausible. Meaning upsets, betrayals, collapses and mis-coronations — all of which works well as pure drama.

Frank-Rich

Frank Rich is the perfect person to watch this shaggy-dog primary as a theater piece. At The New York Times, Rich began as a theater critic, then grew into the paper’s leading columnist who saw a mix of policy and performance, news and entertainment.

Today he practices both, with a column at New York Magazine and as executive producer of Veep, HBO’s fictional sendup of the very real pettiness, over-packaging and obscurity of our politics.

There’s more than a few irresistible storylines so far in this reality show of a primary process (and it’s still early).