Start Making Sense

Melania Trump: Hero of the People? Amy Wilentz, plus Katha Pollitt on the Politics of Motherhood and Lee Saunders on Unions after Janus

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Amy Wilentz takes up the vital question, is Melania Trump a hero of the resistance—or an accomplice of evil? Is she edging “ever closer to open contempt for him,” as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni argues, and finding “increasingly clever ways to show it”? Or is she sticking with her role as wife to a racist tyrant with a clear history of infidelity, and lots of cash?
Also: how mothers and pregnant women are discriminated against and punished – here at home, and around the world. Katha Pollitt talks about how that has happened—and why.
And as Labor Day approaches, we talk labor unions and politics with Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME. His union was the target of that decision by the Supreme Court in June, when it ruled, 5-4, that government workers who choose NOT to join unions may NOT be required to help pay for collective bargaining. Saunders explains what unions are doing to fight back – in the November election, and in the long run. 8/29/18

Centrism Is Not the Answer! Gary Younge; plus Todd Gitlin on 1968 and Farah Griffin on Aretha

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Centrism lost for the Democrats in 2016, and it will lose again in 2018, Gary Younge argues: the party needs not just to oppose Trump, but also to put forward an alternative vision that can earn the support of working-class Americans. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has shown how to do it, running on a program of tuition-free higher education, Medicare for all, and a federal jobs guarantee.
Plus: Trump’s 1968 – and ours. In August 1968, 50 years ago this week, young antiwar demonstrators fought the police outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, while the whole world was watching. It was the culmination of an overwhelming year for the anti-war movement. But where was young Donald Trump? Todd Gitlin explains–he’s an activist, a sociologist, and author of “The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage.”
Also: Aretha Franklin, who died last week, was a musical genius who seems unique; but she came out of a specific place and time: Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s. Farah Griffin, Professor of Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, comments—and explains the central role Aretha played in Angela Davis’s fight for freedom after facing capital charges in California in 1970. Also: Aretha and Obama—at the beginning of his presidency, at his inauguration, and at the Kennedy Center concert at the end.

A Golden Age for News Media under Trump? John Nichols; plus Harold Meyerson on Kavanaugh and Nomi Prins on Trump and Economic Entropy

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The Age of Trump, despite the opportunities it brings to investigative journalism, is hardly a “golden age”, John Nichols argues: cutbacks and layoffs have crippled the nation’s news media—not just in covering the White House, but state and local government as well.  The New York Daily News provides a vivid example of the crisis.
Also: The Democrats need to retake control of the Senate if they are to have a chance of preventing Trump from transforming the Supreme Court into a right-wing bulwark.  Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect analyzes the political battles in key states—and the factors that may weaken Brett Kavanaugh in his confirmation hearings.
Plus: Trump has done something genuinely new as president: he specializes in creating uncertainty.  Nomi Prins explains the economic consequences for us, and for our future. 8-8-18

Is Trumpism Fascism? Katha Pollitt; plus Mike Lux on Political Strategy and Harold Meyerson on Jonathan Gold

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Katha Pollitt is not happy with leftists calling Trump a “fascist” – maybe there’s a better term for his attacks on democracy, which have a lot in common with authoritarian leaders in Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Hungary, Poland, and other places.  The foundation for all of them: austerity, pushed by the big banks and right-wing parties, which creates the economic anxiety that fuels racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Plus: left politics can win all over the country, not just in New York City and Chicago and LA – that’s what Mike Lux says, he’s a longtime strategist for the progressive movement and Democratic candidates.
Also: Jonathan Gold, who died on July 21, was the first food writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for criticism.  He wrote, not about high-end restaurants, but about mom-and-pop places in immigrant neighborhoods of Los Angeles.  Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect talks about the significance of Gold’s writing about immigrants and their food in the Age of Trump.  8/2/18

After Trump’s Worst Week: Joan Walsh; Plus David Cole on Brett Kavanaugh and Michael Kazin on Jimmy Carter

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A week ago, Trump returned from his disastrous press conference with Putin in Helsinki to face a firestorm of criticism. Joan Walsh reviews the political landscape this week, when a significant minority of Republicans disagree with Trump on Putin—but nevertheless “approve” of his presidency. On the Democratic side, the tumultuous week has further energized candidates and voters for the fall elections.
Also: Some questions for Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, from David Cole. The legal director of the ACLU and legal affairs correspondent for The Nation says some questions—about current cases—are inappropriate for Democrats to ask in the upcoming confirmation hearings; but there are other questions—on Kavanaugh’s legal philosophy, and on his past statements and decisions—that he should be required to answer.
Plus: Jimmy Carter is widely regarded as a failed president, despite the fact that he promoted human rights around the world, granted amnesty to Vietnam War–era draft resisters, and was a dedicated opponent of racism who enforced the Voting Rights Act. Only one woman sat on a federal court when Carter entered the White House, but by the time he left, he had appointed 40 more—including Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Historian Michael Kazin analyzes what went wrong with Carter’s presidency.  7/26/18

Trump and Putin: Katrina vanden Heuvel; plus John Nichols on Kavanaugh and Adam Winkler on Corporate ‘Rights’

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Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki on Monday might have brought progress on nuclear arms control and conflict reduction in Syria; but when Trump argued that the US and Russia were “both . . . responsible” for Russian interference in the 2016 election, he squandered the opportunity—outlined in the “Common Ground” open letter published in The Nation, and signed by two dozen prominent figures including Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky, John Dean, Governor Bill Richardson, Walter Mosley, Michael Moore, and Valerie Plame.
Plus: John Nichols examines the record of Trump’ Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and assesses the progress of the effort to block his confirmation by the Senate.
Also: UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler explores the long and terrible history of how corporations were given rights by the Supreme Court–all the same rights that people have.  Adam’s book is ‘We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights.’  7/19/18

Is Trump Crazy? Would Pence Be Worse? Amy Wilentz on Trump, Jane Mayer on Pence, and E.J. Dionne on America After Trump

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Amy Wilentz comments on the mental and emotional status of the president, as analyzed by 27 psychiatrists in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, a book edited by Bandy X. Lee. The book was number four on the New York Times bestseller list.
Also: Would Pence be worse? Jane Mayer of The New Yorker reports—she interviewed more than 60 people in search of answers, including Pence’s mother. Several say he’s wanted to be president at least since high school.
Plus: America After Trump: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post argues that Trump has mobilized progressive political forces that can transform America—and he reminds us that Trump never had a majority of voters, and is the most unpopular presidents in our history. E.J. is co-author of One Nation After Trump: A Guide to the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported.  (These segments previously aired on the Start Making Sense podcast.)  7-11-18

How We Can Block Trump’s Supreme Court Pick: John Nichols, plus Tom Frank on Trump’s supporters, and David Graeber on Bullshit Jobs

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The most important political task of the year is blocking Trump’s supreme court pick.  It can be done, John Nichols argues—with the right political strategy: organizing in the states with the swing votes: Maine and Alaska.  It’s not New York and LA, but rather Portland and Anchorage where the fight will be won.
Also: Just eight years ago Democrats held not only the presidency but both houses of Congress.  How did they lose so much in such a short time?  Thomas Frank explains the disaster, and how, for millions of people, the recession of 2008 has never ended.  His new book is ‘Rendezvous with Oblivion: Reports from a Sinking Society.’
Plus: “Does your job make a meaningful contribution to the world?”  David Graeber posted that question on the internet – and a million people clicked on it.  A lot of them posted answers. Now his book about those answers is out – it’s called ‘Bullshit Jobs,‘ and it casts dramatic light on our economy and politics.

Cruelty and Confusion in Trump’s Treatment of Migrant Children: Zoë Carpenter; plus Eyal Press on Drone Warriors and Amy Wilentz on Haiti

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More than 2,000 migrant children are still separated from their parents by the Border Patrol.  Zoë Carpenter reports on the confusion and uncertainty around Trump’s ever-changing and ever-cruel “policy”—and on her recent visit inside a Border Patrol “processing facility” in McAllen, Texas, where migrants are taken after being apprehended, and where children were being held separately from their parents.
Also: Drones have become the centerpiece of America’s war on terror.  We are told that drones have turned warfare into a costless and bloodless exercise for Americans, something resembling a video game for the people at the computer screens.  Eyal Press reports that the costs of our drone war include not only the casualties on the ground, including civilians, but also the drone warriors themselves—who suffer, not from PTSD, but from something else—“moral injury.””
Plus: Haiti: for Trump, it’s a “shithole country”; for us, it’s the country with the first and only successful slave revolution of the modern era—1791-1804—for which the French exacted a heavy price from the Haitians.  Amy Wilentz has just returned from Haiti with a report—on earthquake reconstruction (not much), street demonstrations for a higher minimum wage (now $4.50/day)—and World Cup fever (high).

Catastrophic Climate Change is Not an “Environmental” Issue: Bill McKibben; plus Andrew Bacevich on Endless War and Robert Edelman on the World Cup

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It’s the most crucial security question that humans have ever faced: catastrophic climate change. Bill McKibben says it’s too late to halt global warming, but we still have a chance to curb it, “short of civilizational destruction.”
Also: Donald Trump, the Trump supporters, and wars without end: Andrew Bacevich notes that Trump alone among presidents since 9-11 has said our 17 years of war have resulted in “nothing except death and destruction” – a statement that’s “more true than false.”
Plus: the World Cup is a political event not only in Russia but many other countries as well, where issues of nationalism, immigration, and race have surfaced in many different ways. Sports historian Robert Edelman explains.