Start Making Sense

Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’: Where Are the Politics? Amy Wilentz, plus Kai Wright on Midterm Victories and Tom Athanasiou on Climate

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Michelle Obama declares in her new memoir, “I am not a political person, so I’m not going to attempt to offer an analysis” of Trump’s victory.  That’s her stance in the rest of the book as well.  It seems strange for the person the New York Times called “The most outspoken first lady in modern history.”  What’s going on here?  Amy Wilentz comments.
Plus: The Democrats won the midterms by the largest popular vote margin for either party in the history of midterm elections — larger than the Watergate midterm after Nixon resigned in 1974, 44 years ago.  But there was a deeper and more significant victory hidden behind those numbers, Kai Wright argues: the political mobilization of millions of people of color in the South.
Also: Last week the White House – that is, the Trump White House – released a major scientific report on climate change, with the darkest warnings to date about the consequences of rising temperatures for the United States.  Tom Athanasiou explains.  11/28/18


How Democrats Won in the White-Hot Heart of the Republican Right: Gustavo Arellano on Orange County, plus L.A. Kauffman on Protest and Andrew Delbanco on Fugivitive Slaves

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Orange County, California, was the political starting point for Nixon, for the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, and for Reagan—as Republican as any place in America. But starting in January, not a single Republican will represent Orange County in the House. It’s solid blue. Gustavo Arellano explains how it happened – he’s a weekly columnist for the LA Times, and wrote the legendary column “Ask a Mexican.”
Also: mass demonstrations in America, from the 1963 March on Washington to the 2017 Women’s March: what protests do when they work, and why: L.A. Kauffman explains. Her new book is How to Read a Protest: The Art of Organizing and Resistance.
Plus: cities providing sanctuary for people the federal government is trying to arrest and return to the oppression they had escaped– today’s battles over Trump’s attacks on undocumented immigrants have some striking parallels with the battles over fugitive slaves in the decade before the Civil War. Andrew Delbanco comments–his new book is The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul, from the Revolution to the Civil War.  11/21/18


“Chasing an Elusive Centrism is Ridiculous”: Frank Rich on politics, plus Erwin Chemerinsky on Matt Whitaker and Laura Carlsen on the Caravan

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Frank Rich finds lessons for Democrats in the midterms: seeking “the political center,” as recommended by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, running on “clean-government themes and promises of incremental improvement to the health care system rather than transformational social change,” is “ridiculous.” Frank writes about politics for New York Magazine and is executive producer of VEEP on HBO.
Also: Trump’s appointment of a new acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker: is it legal? He hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate – or even nominated. Erwin Chemerinsky comments—he’s dean of the law school at UC Berkeley, and his new book is “We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the 21st Century.”
Plus: a report on that caravan from Central America headed across Mexico toward Tijuana, from Laura Carlsen, who has has been with the caravan. Trump has stopped talking about it, now that the midterms are over and his fear-mongering failed to win key House seats.  11/14/18

A Blue Wave for Progressives and Women—With Some Heartbreakers: John Nichols and Joan Walsh on the Midterms, plus Andy Robinson on Brazil

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Tuesday night was a good night for progressive Democrats, John Nichols argues—and Democratic control of the House will bring an epic change to Washington politics—starting with a return to Constitutional principles and an insistence that the president is subject to the rule of law.
Also: women won unprecedented victories in the midterms.  Joan Walsh analyzes the feminist insurgency that will bring almost a hundred women to the House of Representatives in January—including the first two Muslim women (Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar); the first Native American women (New Mexico’s Deb Haaland and Kansas’s Sharice Davids), Texas’s first two Latina congresswomen (Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia); plus three young black women (Massachusetts’s Ayanna Pressley, Connecticut’s Jahana Hayes, and Illinois’s Lauren Underwood).
Plus: Brazil last week elected Jair Bolsonaro.  Our man in Rio, Andy Robinson, says he is “worse than Donald Trump,” and “as close to fascism as you will get in the world today, despite a growing number of contenders.” 11/7/18

Women Voters and the Midterms: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Joan Walsh, and Cecile Richards; plus Ari Berman on vote suppression and Gary Younge on the Midwest

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Women voters—and candidates—are mobilized as never before for next week’s midterms: Joan Walsh and Cecile Richards report from across the country at a Nation event introduced by publisher and editor Katrina vanden Heuvel.  Joan is the magazine’s National Affairs Correspondent and Cecile recently stepped down as head of Planned Parenthood after leading the organization since 2006.
Also: the Democrats are focusing now on voter mobilization and turnout, while the Republicans are at work on voter suppression.  How significant will the Republican effort be in this election–and where is it likely to have the biggest impact?  Ari Berman reports—he wrote about vote suppression for the New York Times opinion pages.
Plus Gary Younge, The Nation columnist, talks about politics in the midwest, the heartland, the rust belt – he’s covering the midterms from Racine, Wisconsin, an old Democratic factory town on Lake Michigan.  After so many defeats in the state, Democrats there told him they “can’t afford the luxury of hope.”  11/1/18

We Have a Problem With White Men: They Support Trump—Kai Wright, plus Jill Lepore on Trump and History and Michael Kazin on Hubert Humphrey

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62 per cent of white men voted for Trump, 31 per cent for Clinton.  Kai Wright has our analysis–he’s host of WNYC’s podcast The United States of Anxiety, and he’s also a columnist for The Nation.  It’s easy to get confused by the crosscurrents of misogyny and racism and xenophobia, he argues; they are not  discrete issues, but rather “the interlocking tools of white men’s minority rule.”
Also: Trump’s place in American history: Jill Lepore of the Harvard history department and the New Yorker talks about her new book These Truths which starts in 1492 with Christopher Columbus, and ends in 2016 with Donald Trump.
And we’ll recall the 1968 presidential election, when Richard Nixon won, and many of our current problems began.  The man who almost defeated Nixon was Hubert Humphrey, the onetime Minnesota senator who had become LBJ’s vice president.  Anti-war activists hated Hubert Humphrey in 1968–Michael Kazin explains.  10/25/18

Can Progressive Momentum Transform The Democratic Party? Jeff Cohen, plus Sasha Abramsky on Arizona and Joan Walsh on Georgia

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What lessons have the Democrats learned from the disaster of 2016?  Jeff Cohen talks about the progressives’ fight to win the party away from dependence on corporate contributions —and instead to mobilize the grassroots.  Jeff is one of the co-authors of “Democratic Autopsy—One Year Later” at
Also: Arizona is a red state, ground zero for Trump’s anti-immigrant politics, but it’s changing.  Sasha Abramsky has returned from Tucson, with a report on how and why the Democrats seem likely to flip a key House seat there.
Plus: A historic challenges to the Republicans is underway in Georgia, where Stacy Abrams is campaigning to become the state’s first black governor, and first female governor.  The polls have her tied with her opponent, a far-right figure endorsed by Trump.  Joan Walsh just got back from Georgia with a report.  10/18/18

Women’s Anger—and Kavanaugh’s Rage Rebecca Traister, plus David Cay Johnston on Trump’s tax crimes & John Nichols on impeaching Kavanaugh

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Rebecca Traister sees in the Kavanaugh hearings a typical case where women’s anger was marginalized or made to sound hysterical or infantile or threatening—but men’s anger was taken to be valid and righteous. But that is changing, she argues: women’s anger increasingly is “in the beating heart of many political and social movements.” Her new book is Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.
Also: David Cay Johnston talks about the “Mountain of Tax Cheating” by Donald Trump, as exposed in the massive New York Times report on where Trump’s money came from, and the violations of tax laws in his past. David is a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who has written for The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times and is now editor of
Plus: What the Democrats can do about newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when they win the House in November and take control of the House Judiciary Committee in January: John Nichols talks about investigations that could lead to the filing of articles of impeachment. 10/10/18

Yes We Have an Activist Community Fighting Kavanaugh: Joan Walsh, plus D.D. Guttenplan on a new radical majority & Michelle Chen on the Fight for $15

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Joan Walsh explains why we lack confidence in the re-opened FBI background check into Kavanaugh’s past, and talks about the activists who are fighting the nomination, and the senators who need to be told “do not vote for this man.”
Plus: D.D. Guttenplan talks about some alternatives to those old white Republican men who shouted and pouted at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week–his new book is “The Next Republic: the Rise of a New Radical Majority.”
And while the eyes of the nation search for news on the FBI investigation of Brett Kavanaugh, the hard work of fighting for social change goes on–for example in St. Paul, where a campaign for a $15 minimum wage is being fought right now.  Michelle Chen reports.

The Case Against Kavanaugh: Katha Pollitt; plus Harold Meyerson on the Financial Crisis and Mouin Rabbani on Oslo

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Katha Pollitt considers the arguments made by Brett Kavanaugh’s defenders in response to the charges that he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old when he was 17, and the evidence supporting Christine Blasey Ford, his accuser.
Also: On the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis, Harold Meyerson argues that the recovery was a disaster all over again—and that we are still suffering from its political consequences.  Harold is Executive Editor of The American Prospect.
Plus: 25 years ago, President Bill Clinton presided over a handshake on the White House grounds between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, agreeing to the Oslo Accords, which, we were told, laid the foundation for peace between Israel and a Palestinian state. Mouin Rabbani comments—he’s a fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies and a contributor to the London Review of Books and The Nation.  9/19/18