We’re Not Very Good At This

America’s divisions are all the more clear after another frenzied news cycle. This week, we ask a historian and a data scientist whether we humans are capable of governing ourselves. Plus, the post-midterm prognosis on climate change, and how our media have often complicated our country’s founding spirit of self-reflection.
  1. Brooke [@OTMBrooke] looks at the Shepard tone of anti-democratic news developments over the past week. Listen.

  2. Kate Aronoff [@KateAronoff], contributing writer at the Intercept, on how climate change fared in this week's midterms. Listen.

  3. Mary Christina Wood, University of Oregon law professor, on the public trust doctrine. Listen.

  4. Jill Lepore, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, on the enduring argument over the role of government in American life. Listen.

  5. Joshua M. Epstein, director of NYU's Agent-Based Modeling Lab, on the computerized models that can teach us about how we behave in groups. Listen.

 

Why We’re So Polarized

Last week on our show, Bob spoke with Lilliana Mason, a University of Maryland political psychologist and author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, about the reasons behind the tribalism and enmity that characterize our politics. The conversation covered a lot of ground, and much of it — including the political decisions that have shaped the two major parties over the past 50 years, as well as the distinct ways that Republicans and Democrats deploy partisan rage — didn’t make it into our tightly packed show. But, it’s too interesting and important to leave on the cutting room floor, so we’re sharing it as this week’s midterm edition podcast extra. Enjoy!

Gab is Back in the Headlines and Off the Web

The social media website Gab has faced sanction and scorn in the days since one of its active users killed 11 members of Pittsburgh's Jewish community. Gab had, for the past few years, made itself out as a "free speech" harbor, safe from the intellectual strictures of the mainstream web. That is to say, it attracted — and very rarely rejected — hordes of neo-nazis, anti-PC provocateurs and right-wing trolls.  When Brooke interviewed Gab's then-COO Utsav Sanduja last fall, the company was in the midst of an anti-trust lawsuit against Google, claiming the the tech titan had wielded its monopoly power to silence a competitor. Brooke spoke with Sanduja about that lawsuit — and about his website's frequently deplorable content. 

Knock, Knock

With the midterms approaching, Democrats and Republicans are fighting to control the national conversation. This week, On the Media looks at how to assess the predictions about a blue or red wave this November. Republican messaging — especially from the White House — has emphasized the dangers presented by the so-called caravan. How did that caravan begin? And, what is the history behind the documents that regulate international travel? Plus, how transgender rights activists in Massachusetts are deploying a counter-intuitive door-to-door tactic.
  1. Clare Malone [@ClareMalone], senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight, on the electoral reporting tropes that dominate midterm coverage. Listen.

  2. Sarah Kinosian [@skinosian], freelance reporter, on the origins of the current Central American caravan. Listen.

  3. John Torpey [@JohnCTorpey], historian at the CUNY Graduate Center, on the history of passports. Listen.

  4. David Broockman [@dbroockman], political scientist at the Stanford Graduate Continue reading "Knock, Knock"

West Virginia’s “Genius” Watchdog

Nearly two years since the 2016 Presidential Election, much of the press are still covering so-called "Trump country" using a series of simplistic narratives, blaming these states for Trump and portraying them as irrevocably scarred by the decline of the coal industry. That doesn't mean there aren't real problems surrounding the fossil fuel industry. Ken Ward Jr. is a reporter at West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail, where since 1991 he’s been covering the coal, chemical and natural gas industries, and their impact on communities that were promised a better future. Bob speaks with Ken about the reporting that earned him a 2018 “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, and how West Virginia's coal country is moving forward.

Bloodlines

In using a genetic test to try to prove her Native ancestry, Senator Elizabeth Warren inadvertently stepped into a quagmire. This week, we examine the tensions around DNA and identity. Plus, after Jamal Khashoggi’s death, revisiting the trope of the so-called reformist Saudi royal. And, a look at what we can learn — and how we've tried to learn it — from twins, triplets and other multiple births.
  1. Abdullah Al-Arian, [@anhistorian] professor of Middle East History at Georgetown University, on the decades-long trope in American op-ed pages about reformist Saudi royals. Listen.
  2. Kim TallBear, [@KimTallBear] professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta and author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, on the way "blood" has been used to undermine tribal sovereignty. Listen.

  3. Alondra Nelson, [@alondra] president of the Social Science Research Continue reading "Bloodlines"

Reimagining History

Last week, the MacArthur Foundation awarded genius grants to 25 creatives in art, literature, science and music. John Keene, a writer of poetry, fiction and cultural criticism, was one of them. He was recognized for his innovative use of language and form, and the way his work “exposes the social structures that confine, enslave, or destroy” people of color and queer people. Keene spoke to Brooke back in 2015 about his story collection, Counternarratives, which centers the voices of the marginalized in both imagined and reimagined historical moments.