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.

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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.

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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?

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.

 

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).