Rank #1: Tarantino’s 9th
Spoiler alert! (Really.) The big movie to reckon with this summer may be as much about the mood of 2019 as about the Helter-Skelter 1960s. It’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s ninth big film, with a surprise streak of fantasy and mercy in it. He’s revising the course of events of 50 summers ago, when a revolutionary tension in the Los Angeles dream factory broke, or got broken into, by the murderous Manson family, when the beautiful and pregnant Sharon Tate and four more got slaughtered. Joan Didion in a famous essay at the time marked it the end of the Sixties, the crash of peace and love. Tarantino’s had time to re-imagine it as an actor’s story—many shades of manhood and morality in an air of everyday madness.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is many things, but let’s start with two. First, it’s a meticulous reconstruction of Los Angeles in the 1960s—sunlight angling through smog, the game faces of white guys, their lingo, their cars, and car radios, their hair, their self-pity—all at the moment of the Manson murders in Benedict Canyon: August 9, 1969. At the same time the movie’s a flight of fancy into an alternative ending for a horror story, yet another take on violence from the bloody-minded moralist Tarantino. Back in 1969, a “demented and seductive vortex of tension was building” in Hollywood, Didion wrote: “the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full.” And when the shocking news of midnight murder in the hills was confirmed, what she remembered—and wished she didn’t—was that “no one was surprised.” There’s the context of 1969 in which Quentin Tarantino has placed his own invention, a buddy flick with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt cast as a downwardly mobile actor and his stunt-man sidekick. There’s propulsive energy and fun in this movie, and a strange beauty, too.
Rank #2: Behind the “Leonine Gaze” of Frederick Douglass
Historian David Blight on his new biography of Frederick Douglass.
Frederick Douglass, scarred and tormented seeing men made slaves, set the course of his life to show how a slave became a man. In the cadences of the Bible and Shakespeare, a radical abolitionist with the gaze of a lion, Douglass bestrides the peaks and dark valleys of American history like a colossus, and a modern. More photographed than Lincoln; more traveled than any orator save possibly Mark Twain. He was face-to-face with the whole cast of the 19th Century — the only black man at the birthing of the women’s movement in Seneca Falls in 1848. He pushed back with Lincoln in the White House, and with the rebel John Brown before Harpers Ferry. He moved Emerson to say: “Here is the Anti-Slave.”
Douglass has been paired in statesmanship with Abraham Lincoln. David Blight’s stunning big new biography sets Douglass just as surely in parallel with the literary giant Herman Melville and his novel in quest of a whale, Moby-Dick. Douglass and Melville turn out to be almost exact contemporaries, consumed in their twenties and thirties with the moral crisis of slavery. The Quaker town of New Bedford, Massachusetts is where their paths crossed, whether they saw one another or not. It’s where young Frederick dropped his slave name Bailey and took “Douglass” instead. It’s where Ishmael meets the South Sea harpooner Queequeg in Moby-Dick. The whale-ship they sail, the Pequod and its crew, is Melville’s idea of this nation of nations, very like Douglass’s ideal of the “composite nation.” In David Blight’s account of Douglass, he’s a word man, like Melville, a storyteller who keeps re-writing his autobiography, re-composing his epic of American identity, of tragedy and of evil.
Rank #3: On Becoming Who You Are
A conversation with John Kaag and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen on Nietzsche, philosophy, and life.
The news about Nietzsche, as you may have heard, is that the nastiest old name in German philosophy doesn’t scare us anymore. His most famous shout, that “God is dead,” reads now like showmanship from a minister’s kid. God, in any event, had the last word at Nietzsche’s madhouse death in the year 1900. Nietzsche had lived in Bismarck’s Germany, when Hitler was unimaginable. Even then he’d been an anti-nationalist, an enemy of anti-Semitism. Nietzsche had the aphoristic wit of Oscar Wilde, but said his soul-mate among thinkers was the self-reliant American sage Ralph Waldo Emerson.
We are back to college this hour with the late lunatic, ever the scariest iconoclast on campus, the now detoxified German philosopher with the bird’s-nest mustache, Friedrich Nietzsche. Among thinkers he was an incomparable phrase-maker, who declared the death of God, the eternal return and the Will to Power. The job in life, he thought, was to add style to one’s character, and he did it: the trick was “to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book—what everyone else does not say in a book,” and he mastered it. We feel several impulses here: One, to hear what draws college students to philosophy in the anxious atmosphere of 2019; Two, we wanted to hike through the Alps with Nietzsche alongside John Kaag, the American philosopher who took us through our own Emerson and Thoreau trails not so long ago. And Three, we were drawn by the fresh attention to Friedrich Nietzsche, who used to seem too cool for school, too funny, reckless, outrageous for polite company.
Rank #4: Africa, Maine
Migrants from the Congo and Angola, by way of Texas, stepping off buses in Portland, Maine, by the hundreds, taking shelter and sleeping on cots on a hardwood floor built for professional basketball? You’ve seen or heard the news, and you’ve felt the reflexes that come with it. On Fox News, Africans coming to Maine can sound like an invasion; on public radio, people say, it can sound like a sob story. Is this immigration politics at play: somebody in Washington taking revenge on refugees and the shelter cities that would embrace them? For sure it’s a preview of the mobile twenty-first century: a global flow of humanity driven north to green trees and high ground by heat, drought, war, and poverty.
You don’t see what you hear, as the lady told us. We went to Portland, Maine, this week to meet newcomers from Central Africa, Angolans and Congolese asking for U.S. asylum. Fox News hit the panic button two weeks ago: their line was that Maine is being overrun, inundated by African migrants. On a long day in Portland, however, we found nobody sounding scared. Around the pro basketball arena where the asylum seekers are quartered, the air is one of quiet elation.
Rank #5: Trouble in the House of Saud
A conversation with Stephen Kinzer, Sarah Leah Whitson, Steve Simon, Chas Freeman, and Shireen Al-Adeimi.
Speaking of Saudi Arabia, in the ghastly light of Jamal Kashoggi’s dismemberment: what more do we care to know, about what Saudis do? Their war to starve the poor neighbor nation of Yemen, US bombs out of US planes doing most of the damage, since Obama time in our White House.
Did you know that the Kingdom of Oil and the House of Saud bankrolled Iraq’s invasion and a decade’s war with Iran in the 1980s, when the US smiled on Saddam Hussein? Saudis paid for the war to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, when Osama bin Laden was their agent, and ours. Saudi business, meantime, is investing in the US Congress, Silicon Valley and the gig economy of Uber, in think tanks and American opinion to foment ‘confrontation’ (meaning war) with Iran.
You could think of the sadistic Khashoggi killing and its unresolved aftermath as a sort of experiment: it’s about what the House of Saud can get away with in rubbing out dissent, and what the House of Trump will allow from its dear friend. What they are trying out together looks like a version of non-transparent family rule in the Middle East and maybe elsewhere. Lurking in the near background is the intention in the extended family of Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu to spring a military attack on Iran, on a convenient provocation. Yet the picture of Iran as the meddlesome ‘rogue state’ in the region is getting overshadowed by the spotlight on Saudi history and the reckless Crown Prince. Context and consequences of the Khashoggi case are what we’re after this hour – perhaps a realignment of populists vs. princes in the Middle East, even a ‘reset’ of American thinking.
Rank #6: At Home in Japan with Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer once described himself as “a global village on two legs.” He’s the writing champion of cosmopolitan consciousness who lived awhile inside the Los Angeles airport just to feel the great stream of humanity, displaced like himself, in endless motion. But Pico Iyer, it turns out, wasn’t looking for everywhere. He was looking for a particular welcome for his transcendental self, and when he felt it, in an accidental stop in Tokyo, he changed his life. For about 30 years now, he’s made his base in rural Japan—not trying to speak Japanese because he’d rather think Japanese. The code of his marriage to a Japanese woman is that intimacy is not all you can say but all you don’t need to say.
Talking to Pico Iyer.
Pico Iyer is a man of the open road in the age of jetliners. He’s a polymath, a traveler, and an essayist, with as good a claim as any to a universal eye on global culture and consciousness. But there’s a swerve in his new book, Autumn Light. The complexity is still there in his background—Hindu Brahmin parents; a sterling education at Eton, Oxford and Harvard; and his nearly 30-year-marriage to a Japanese wife. But the “movable sensibility,” the diversity in his spirit, is settling down. Autumn Light, in stylized non-fiction, is about adopting Japan as his spiritual home. Japan is his way of deciphering the season of decline. In his 20s, he imagined autumn as the time that teaches us how to die; but that’s winter, as he can see now in his 60s. Autumn is the harder task of learning how to watch everyone you care for die.
Rank #7: Is the Green New Deal For Real?
A conversation about the “Green New Deal” with Bill McKibben, Naomi Oreskes, and Daniel Schrag.
The mission, as it turned out, was to transform the American economy and save the country, no less, over twelve years. Franklin Roosevelt called it his New Deal, starting in 1933. New-breed Democrats in Congress today are talking about a Green New Deal, starting now, deep into the crisis of a changing climate that goes way beyond the weather. FDR had a working class revolt driving him forward, and later he had a Nazi threat and a world war to focus every fiber of mind and muscle on a reinvention. Which may be what the climate is demanding. Here’s one test: at mention of an all-new renewable energy system, is your first thought Costs? Savings? Or Survival? Getting real about the Green New Deal, this week on Open Source.
Naomi Oreskes, Bill McKibben, and Daniel Schrag
Three words and one picture sum up the new scene in Washington—and the relief, for starters, from a two-year fixation on President You-Know-Who. The picture is of the so-called Sunrise Movement siege of Nancy Pelosi’s office from last November, and of the rapturous, insurgent Congressperson from the Bronx, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sweeping up the moment and putting its three little words—Green New Deal—at the top of the evolving agenda in D.C. It’s as slippery a promise as universal health care, but here’s our first crack at what it could mean: a resurrection of spirit, perhaps, at the bold Rooseveltian scale, after 75 years? A reset in relations with work, among workers, which Roosevelt’s New Deal was? We’ll see. Does it mean a war for clean, renewable energy, against the embedded power of fossil-fuels? Unavoidably. A “system upgrade” for the power grid and the whole economy? About time, you say! But can it be done?
Rank #8: Under Surveillance: Capitalism in the Digital Age
Yes, Virginia, the world did change direction in the late summer of 2001, and it’s been changing us ever since. 9/11 had everything to do it, but it was also the panicky season of the dot.com bust, when little Google, in fear of death, morphed from search service to data mining from its users. Our government, post 9/11, was ready to compromise privacy and underwrite a new science of surveillance—the object was to know everything about everybody. And here we are, not two decades later: Google is a trillion-dollar company, in an industry that knows more than we know about ourselves, and sells it. Omni-analyst Shoshana Zuboff argues we are being re-purposed for a new age of mankind.
Shoshana Zuboff is a business school professor and scholar with a Theory of Pretty Much Everything about our American condition in 2019. Unlike most theories of everything, this one is simple enough to remember. It’s also complex and researched enough to feel critically intelligent, not to say: plausible. The theory, in two words, is Surveillance Capitalism, the big business of social-network companies (think: Google, Facebook, Apple) who sift the signals from your phones and laptops to know, moment to moment, your heart’s desire and then sell it to you. Add a fashionable ideology of markets, a culture of consumer comfort, and the force of wealth—and the rest is details. Our disquieting modern condition is not in your mind. It’s in our lopsided landscape, as our guest Shoshana Zuboff maps it in stunning big book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.
Rank #9: The New Normal
A conversation with Stephen Walt and Fintan O’Toole on the state of the world at the beginning of 2019.
At the start of a new year, count the new normals in a changed world: new normals marking the points where the unheard-of, the unimaginable, comes to be the standard, and the pendulum won’t swing back. The trillion-dollar corporation sounds like a new normal, after Apple and Amazon broke the barrier last year. California’s record wildfires are a new normal, the governor said: eight thousand fires last year on almost two million acres. International migration, meantime, reached a quarter-billion people now, and it’s rising. In politics worldwide, the new normal is angry nationalism, facing a new-normal breakdown among the ‘grown-up’ class of rich nations: Brexit Britain, Trump’s America, France, Italy and now Brazil, losing their dignity, and their grip. Find the pattern here: extreme weather, extreme wealth, extreme politics.
We take stock at the new year: it’s 2019, but where’s our country, what’s our mood? Who would you trust to tell you about the real world out there when all we talk about is Donald Trump? We trust Steve Walt, because he holds himself to an independent “realist” standard in foreign affairs: what’s urgent, what’s possible, what’s ours to do, and he keeps score, as a lot of pundits don’t, by results, not intentions. We start small, just on the wreckage known as Syria. It was a classic instance of Trump-being-Trump at the end of the year, the I-alone president declared: we’re outa there, and Afghanistan, too, one of these days. The Beltway and legacy media rose up in shock and fury. General Mattis resigned. Trump bent to the storm. But Steve Walt wrote that getting out was the right idea all along, and so said others we read and respect, like Jeff Sachs and Steve Kinzer, and then Elizabeth Warren, running for president. What should this teach people?
Rank #10: The Bauhaus in Your House
A conversation on art, architecture, and design with Tamar Avishai, Peter Chermayeff, Ann Beha, and Sebastian Smee.
Bauhaus was the art school in Germany that created the look of the twentieth century. We just live in it: loving its white-box affordability, or hating its stripped, blank, glass-and-steel uniformity, the world around. It’s the IKEA look in the twenty-first century, the look of Chicago skyscrapers and now Chinese housing towers, the look of American kitchens and probably the typeface on your emails, all derived from the building school in Germany between the world wars. It was the first omni-art school that taught painting and architecture, made new-look tapestries and chairs. It was the less-is-more school that made ornament very nearly a crime. It stood, and stands, for a few big ideas still hotly contested.
Walter Gropius at Harvard
Bauhaus, meaning ‘building house,’ was the name of the most influential art school in the history of the man-made environment. It was born just a hundred years ago in Weimar, Germany’s old-time cultural capital, seat of the shaky Weimar Republic after World War I. Bauhaus, the school, lasted only fourteen years, till Hitler’s Nazis suffocated it in 1933. Yet Bauhaus, the model of design, some would say, has ruled the world for a century now.
To kick off the show, we take a trip to the Gropius House in Lincoln:
We also talked to Boston architect Ann Beha about her work updating Gropius’s US Embassy in Athens, Greece:
We didn’t have time for all the great Bauhaus content we collected during the show, but while you’re here, listen to an OS extra: designer, architect, imagineer Peter Chermayeff explain how he designed the map for the Boston T.
Rank #11: Lenny at 100
A tribute to Leonard Bernstein with Nigel Simeone, Jamie Bernstein, and Augusta Read Thomas.
Leonard Bernstein, the multi-musician, did it all in his lifetime. At his 100th anniversary this year, the only question people still ask about the man is an odd one: did he do enough? Did he leave the message he came to deliver? And did we get it? In all his careers, he was in the top rank: the world’s celebrity Beethoven conductor who rediscovered Mahler and Shostakovich. He composed a light Candide and a serious Mass. He was a crackling pianist, a songwriter in the Gershwin league. Master of Broadway and Hollywood, too, for On the Waterfront. And, no doubt, television’s greatest presenter of classical music for kids of all ages. But our takeaway Lenny for all time? West Side Story.
In any argument about who was The Most American Musician of the shape-shifting 20th Century—Gershwin, Ellington, Copland, Miles, Sinatra, John Cage, maybe Elvis—there’s no getting away from Leonard Bernstein, a giant figure, at the very center of it all. Early-mid 1950s, Charlie Parker has died young. Miles and Coltrane are about to record Kind of Blue. Duke Ellington is making the best-selling album of his lifetime at the Newport Jazz Festival. Leonard Bernstein, not yet 40, has composed ballets, show songs and two symphonies; he’s conducting Beethoven at Carnegie Hall and opera with Maria Callas in Milan, and in 1955 he is sweating through the birthing of something strange for Broadway: a Romeo and Juliet story out of Shakespeare, about gangs in New York. Dancers enact the warfare, to Jazz harmonies, Cuban rhythms. The show, of course, is West Side Story. Just as the tryout performances begin, Bernstein jumps to another of his many tracks and signs on to be conductor of the New York Philharmonic, which had been Mahler’s orchestra, and Toscanini’s. These are the multiple Lenny Bernsteins remembered on his 100th anniversary this year. We are focusing this hour on one chapter of the life, West Side Story.
Rank #12: Who Killed the American Century?
Richard Holbrooke makes a case study in American power. He had a diplomatic career, starting in Vietnam, of heroic ambition and hyperactive persistence. He had a peace-making triumph that ended the Balkan wars, then a humbling failure on an impossible mission to Afghanistan. This was a large life that reflected his large country abroad after World War 2: we were over-confident, over-reaching, idealistic maybe, self-serving for sure. A new heavyweight biography implicates all of us: George Packer calls Holbrooke “Our Man,” who marked the early end of the American Century. For man and nation the question may come down to this: how much wreckage and death can be forgiven for good intentions?
Richard Holbrooke was the US diplomat who nominated himself for a Nobel Peace Prize for settling the Balkan wars of the 1990s, and didn’t get it. Man and mindset, Holbrooke is still a cautionary figure, a sort of living argument in the annals of American power. He bestrode the world for almost 50 years as if he was the American century. A big new biography takes the other view, especially of the mindset: that the relentless projection of American power, the projection of Holbrooke himself, mark in hindsight the end of our glory days. In a conversation in my living room this episode, we’re getting a taste of the argument with George Packer, who’s written the history of Richard Holbrooke in the form almost of a novel. The title is Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. The decorated historian Fredrik Logevall is sitting in and speaking up on the making of war and peace and the writing of biography.
Rank #13: Tech Tyranny
You know you’re embedded in the Digital Age when you’re typing your anxieties into the Woebot app to get free, anonymous CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). It’s Digital Age anxiety we’re all cringing at in the movie Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s heart-breaking comedy about a nervous, shy 13-year-old, beset by FOMO, clutching her iPhone under her pillow through the night. You’re waking up in the Digital Age when you realize that Lyft and Uber taxi rates don’t work half as well for the drivers as for the passenger class. You’re getting sick of the Digital Age when you don’t go to the dating apps; they come to you and lead the dance. You might be stuck in the Digital Age when you notice you haven’t been out of the house all week.
A still from “Eighth Grade”
Digital distemper has been the trend through 2018. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg looked like presidential timber early last year, at age 33, “connecting the world, giving everyone a voice,” and dropping in on every state in the Union. Today he looks like a piñata in our Congress—in Britain’s parliament, too. But it’s not all about poor Zuck, or even Facebook’s cutthroat business practices, or the major mischief of Russian trolls, hacking our politics on line. Maybe it’s the inhuman speed of the tech, the sudden size of five digital monsters: F.A.N.G.A., Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google, Amazon. Maybe, it’s the infiltration of language, psychology work, family, everything—the intrusiveness of it all. People say they don’t use apps now as much as apps use them. Turn off a new car engine, and the screen says: “Goodbye!” Hello?
Rank #14: All in Favor…
A conversation about Astra Taylor’s new documentary What Is Democracy? with Astra Taylor, David Runciman, and Kali Akuno.
We used to know what we liked about that word ‘democracy,’ and we were ready to fight for it. Democracy meant “the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time,” as E. B. White put it during World War II. In Civil Rights time, Malcolm X rubbed in the rhyme with hypocrisy: a real democracy would never short-change so many people of justice, freedom, the dignity of equality. In our time it’s money that seems to have bound and gagged democracy. And it’s social media that has wired a sort of zombie democracy into world-wide waves of anger, and the values of circus entertainment.
Astra Taylor and Silvia Federici in “What Is Democracy?”
What can we say about our democracy when a Princeton study finds that the political preferences of the average American have “only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact” on public policy? The filmmaker Astra Taylor took the cue to write one more “death of democracy” book and to make a movie about her own global search for democracy over the ages.
Rank #15: Why We’re Addicted to Facebook
Could it possibly be that Stanford’s great humanist Robert Pogue Harrison invented René Girard out of sheer longing for an omni-theorist of our interlocking social and spiritual trials?
Harrison presented Girard in a striking piece in the New York Review of Books, “The Prophet of Envy,” last December as “the last of that race of Titans” in the “human sciences” of the 19th and 20th centuries — as far-reaching as Marx or Freud, and shockingly alert to the distresses in Trump time. “The explosion of social media, the resurgence of populism, and the increasing virulence of reciprocal violence all suggest that the contemporary world is becoming more and more recognizably ‘Girardian’ in its behavior,” Harrison wrote.
I recognized Girard (1923–2015) as a total stranger, but Harrison makes his late Stanford colleague vivid and vital: a thoroughly French mind and eye (think de Toqueville) who found his great assignment in America; a thinker challengingly avant-garde and also Christian; a legendary teacher himself who is remembered by Peter Thiel, no less, as a formative influence in realms of innovation and investment.
I’ve read a lot of Girard by now and Cynthia Haven’s friendly biography, and I can’t think of a figure more obscure who feels more relevant, and vice versa. My conversation with Pogue Harrison — at root a Dante scholar, by now a prolific podcaster in the wide realm of ideas — turns eventually to the biological sciences today at the advent of CRISPR gene-editing technology. We are experimenting here with a coast-to-coast podcast conversation on almost anything.
You can find Harrison’s podcast, Entitled Opinions, here.
Rank #16: Intelligent Redesign?
A conversation with George Church and Antonio Regalado about gene editing and the future of biotech.
Ready or not, we are at the gateway into CRISPR world and CRISPR think: CRISPR the acronym for biology’s longest leap. It’s the gene-editing tool that can tweak the inherited DNA code of your being, and mine. We heard this winter about the Chinese doctor who applied CRISPR science to the embryos of twins–to make them HIV proof, he said. After that, the CRISPR story is mostly riddles: is it about curing disease, or adapting the human species for a back-up planet? Is it about genius in science, or hubris? Is it ripe for investment? Safe for mankind? Is the race over CRISPR between Boston and Berkeley, California? Or between the US and China?
We have tip-toed into the cave of CRISPR this hour, to listen closely on and between the lines to Dr. George Church at the Harvard Medical School. He’s the nearest thing to a voice of CRISPR, the revolutionary science of our time. For courage and professional company, I have Antonio Regalado at my side. He is the relentless beat reporter and bio-science editor at MIT’s Tech Review, and he went with me recently to George Church’s lab. Quick history: CRISPR is Step 3 in a revolution most of us slept through in the science of reproduction: first, 1953, the circular-staircase of a double-helix let us visualize the genetic molecule, DNA; then 2003, fifty years later, the whole map came clear: of DNA’s web in every human cell; now comes the trick of reading, writing and editing that DNA, like a book. No matter that no one’s quite seen or heard the language of it, though Dr. Church is getting closer than anyone else we know.
Rank #17: Barriers and borders and frontiers (oh my!)
A conversation with Greg Grandin, Valeria Luiselli, and John Lanchester.
A reckless wall-building era runs round the 21st century globe. Reckless next to the New England farmer in Robert Frost’s famous poem. He’s mending his wall in a spring like this one, well aware of “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.” “Before I built a wall,” he says, “I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence.” Not so along our Southwest border that President Trump wants to fortify. Not so in the intimate geography of Israel-Palestine. Not so in the England of John Lanchester’s nightmare novel, called The Wall, post Brexit. The coastal rim of the sceptered isle is barricaded to the sky to keep nameless Others from vaulting in.
Irresistible force meets immovable object this hour: the argument is that the push outward to the frontier that defined American history and character—self-reliant wagon families heading west, the American knighthood of quiet cowboys, our “empire of freedom,” as Jefferson put it – is crashing on President Trump’s in-blocking Wall along our 2-thousand-mile border with Mexico. At the checkpoints the collision is ugly. In the cruelty to children and families, it’s grotesque. In American politics it’s explosive. But what if it cuts deepest into the ways we Americans see ourselves? On both sides of that un-built Trump border wall this hour we’re getting a miserable migration story with the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli. And we’ll get to the novel that John Lanchester drew out of a bad dream about a sky-high wall encircling what’s left of England. But the American historian Greg Grandin strikes the keynote, from his new book about us, titled The End of The Myth. It’s a modern revision of the idea that the frontier made us who we are.
Rank #18: Collusion Delusion
In the annals of public conversation, we seem to have reached toxic meltdown in the close of the mighty Mueller investigation. We’re past the “liar, liar, pants on fire” stage of a race to the bottom. Donald Trump is leading, and winning the race, as usual, but not alone. The collusion that jumps out of the Russia-gate scandal is in the news business. It’s the tight harness that binds Sean Hannity to Donald Trump, and equally: Rachel Maddow and the baying hounds at MSNBC to the Democratic leadership that guessed wrong, yet again, about how to be rid of this President. It isn’t journalism that’s driving this, not people politics either: it’s more like a low-class culture war, a ratings war, no rulebook, no restraint. A race you wouldn’t want any of these players to win.
Russiagate, the political crime story, got to be too juicy for its own good: the fate of a presidency riding on it. Too momentous, too dark and too darkly sourced, too far from the open evidence. Now, suddenly when Robert Mueller has closed his two-year investigation, with no finding of “collusion” and no further indictments, the tellers of the tale can look more damaged than the target of all the sleuthing, Donald Trump. So we look back this hour at the story-telling – which is still being told.
Rank #19: The Tower and the Square
A conversation about Brexit, yellow vests, and the state of the European Union with Arthur Goldhammer, Vanessa Bee, Julian Bourg, and Alan Rusbridger.
A nasty winter of discontent is in the air, blowing around old towers of power: Paris, London and of course Washington. Like everything else in the Digital Age, fear, anger and disruption travel together through an invisible network—from left-out villages to posh precincts in shiny rich capitals of France, Britain, the US. It’s the ruling class of nations that are the new parade grounds of instability—not just governments hanging on by a thread. It’s unions and right-left political parties getting pushed aside; established media unable to catch the wave or explain what’s driving it. Is it pinched pocket books? Climate anxiety? China rising? Some lost sense of well-being?
In Paris, London, Washington—the old seats of empire—established power seems to hang by a thread. Theresa May puts an end date on her fumbling prime-ministership in Brexit time. Emmanuel Macron holds on as president of France but no longer as designated savior of capital banking. President Trump stands all but indicted for sins public and private. Each national crisis has its distinctive style, and history, and still the shudder in Western democracy is collective. Most fascinating perhaps is that this revolt of late 2018 still has no name, no leader, no movement goals. Short of a nervous breakdown, it feels like a popular tantrum that refuses to stop, a sense that “the system” we’ve known, that we stand for, is off track.