Seth Cotlar is a professor of history at Willamette University and the author of Tom Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic. He joins us to talk about Paine’s particular vision of a more radical democracy and how those ideas find life in today’s left. Cotlar is also hard at work on a new volume about the concept of nostalgia, obviously a favorite topic on the pod, and helps us sort out the complicated political and social functions (and the significant “traps”) of imagining the past.
Chad Vigorous is the host of a sharp and funny podcast called The Discourse, and one of left Twitter’s most acerbic political commentators. In this conversation, he shares his insights on the nightmarish landscape of American culture and politics in the 21st century, explaining how fascism and white nationalism are finding their footing within the socioeconomic despair and ideological void created by neoliberalism.
Bill Black is a historian and writer whose work has appeared in Vox, the Atlantic, Washington Post, and a number of other publications. He joins us to talk about his path in history, a few of his more provocative pieces of research, (including an incredible narrative about the origins of the racist “watermelon” trope), and his exciting new project Contingent Magazine, which seeks to publish and promote work from the growing pool of young historians who don’t have tenure-track positions at universities. Like The Nostalgia Trap, Contingent is attempting to address the adjunctification of college faculty by creating spaces for young scholars outside of the increasingly austere academy.
Kevin Gannon is a professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. You may also know him as one of the history experts featured in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th, and a very active figure in the #twitterstorian universe. In addition to his research on the history of race and justice in the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, he’s done a lot of thinking about how to reshape the way we teach and share American history. In this conversation we discuss the future of the discipline, from inclusive classroom strategies to the phenomenal growth of #twitterstorians, tracking how technology is transforming our idea of who and what a historian can be.
Robin Kelley is a professor of history at UCLA and the author of a number of important books on a wide range of subjects, from communism in the American South (1990’s Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression), to the political visions of radical black intellectuals and artists (2002’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination), to the history of jazz (2009’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original). He joins us to discuss his intellectual path from doctrinaire Marxism to “Marxist surrealist feminist,” and why he thinks aesthetics and culture are such vital spaces for the left to reclaim its imaginative vision.
Daniel Bessner joins us for a free-ranging chat about Bernie Sanders: the good, the bad, and the ugly. For better or worse, we all know that Bernie’s the man to beat on the left. He’s ignited the political passions of millions of people, especially young people, and is the only presidential candidate who actually challenges the entrenched power of capitalism in the American political system. But he also sucks on issues like race and foreign policy, and no one knows if he can really win a national election. In this episode we talk through Bernie’s record, our thoughts on his chances, and the significance of his campaign for the future of progressive politics.
Heather Berg is a writer and researcher who maps the intersections of socialism, feminism, and radical culture. Her upcoming book Porn Work locates porn workers as “experts on labor in late capitalism,” and in this conversation we explore how sex work in general and porn work in particular offers a critical site of anti-capitalist resistance.
Justin Rogers-Cooper joins us for the third installment of our Amazon HQ trilogy, in which we explore Amazon’s shocking decision to abandon its planned headquarters in Long Island City, New York. From grassroots activism and sinister politicians to Amazon’s deep connections to ICE and the surveillance state, this discussion frames the larger implications of a stunning victory for people over corporate tyranny.
The online culture of memes, shitposting, and irony found on Twitter and other places is deeply entwined with the rise of millennial socialism and the larger landscape of 21st century politics. On this episode we explore the twisted path of the extremely online, as guest @CapitlsmDislikr shows us a world of grad school dead ends, crushing student loan debt, thankless adjunct teaching, satanic institutional bureaucracies and, of course, relentless irony posting on Twitter. Looking back on a ghastly past and even ghastlier future, our conversation sees millennials inhabiting a kind of endless present, with capitalism trapping an entire generation in a state of suspended animation.
Justin and David were mere children in the 1990s, the hellish decade that spawned much of the political and cultural landscape we currently inhabit. In this episode we talk about pop-culture: from Friends to Seinfeld, Good Will Hunting to The Big Lebowski, Kurt Cobain to Tupac, we attempt to draw a historical line from the 60s to the 90s to the Trump era. What do some of our favorite (and not so favorite) cultural figures and products look like in the rearview?
LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE: Patreon Episode 133
Timothy J. Lombardo is a historian who teaches at the University of South Alabama, and whose recent book Blue Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics covers critical territory for those seeking to understand the Trump era. Using Rizzo’s political career as a jumping off point for a wider discussion of race, class, and identity, Lombardo’s work complicates some deeply-held myths about the “white working class.” In this conversation, he talks about the politics and culture that surrounded him growing up in 1980s and 1990s Philadelphia, and how he developed an interest in describing the contours of conservative politics in the post-industrial Northeast.
Justin Rogers-Cooper is here to explain how the robber barons of the 19th century stack up against the current crop of capitalist megalomaniacs in Silicon Valley and beyond. In the process, we talk about Marx’s labor theory of value, the shift from control of resources to control of debt, the colonization of the human soul as the final frontier of profitability, and the specific function of monopoly within the larger liberal project.
Before the Nostalgia Trap, David hosted a show called Topical Fever, which took on specific subjects from the worlds of politics, history and media. Sounds familiar, right? To mark the 20th anniversary since the premiere of The Sopranos, we’re sharing this Topical Fever episode from the vaults, featuring a conversation with professor of English Jeremey Cagle on the show’s relationship to another epic piece of American art: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Maximillian Alvarez returns to the Trap to talk about his terrific new podcast Working People, a show that features deep conversations about life, labor, politics, and everything in between, from the perspective of working class people. He joins us to describe his latest series about General Motors and the social costs of the long decline of industrial manufacturing. Along the way, we chat about the alienation of social media, the prison of the gig economy, the continuing prescience of David Foster Wallace, and lots more.
Justin Rogers-Cooper stops by to talk about Amazon’s impending invasion of Long Island City, Queens, where he works as a professor of English at LaGuardia Community College. Our conversation explores the psychotic evil of Jeff Bezos, the corrupt city leaders who are laying out a $3 billion red carpet for him, the larger structures of capitalism and consumerism driving Amazon’s power, and what all of this means for the future of New York City and the planet.
Jason Wilson is a writer for The Guardian whose work often covers the far right of American political culture. From Milo to the Proud Boys, Alex Jones to Glenn Beck, Wilson details the internal drama, street fights, and larger context of right-wing movements in the 21st century. In this episode, we catch up with his latest reporting on “deplatforming” and explore the role social media plays in spreading extreme ideas.
Conner Habib is the host of Against Everyone w/ Conner Habib, a podcast about subjects that often fall outside the range of typical “left” discussions—things like radical philosophy, the occult, psychoanalysis, sexuality, porn, and much more. In this conversation, he explains how the concept of desire permeates our politics, present in everything from sex work and surveillance to academia and the military-industrial complex, and why healing the planet and healing ourselves are inextricably connected projects.
Brooke Newman is a professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of A Dark Inheritance: Blood, Race, and Sex in Colonial Jamaica, a book that traces the evolution of racial definitions and sexual practices in one of 18th century Britain’s most valuable colonies. In this conversation, Newman discusses how notions of race and nation interacted with sex, gender, and class in often surprising ways during a brutal imperial occupation, and explains how Jamaica’s particular history reveals the deep, pathological contradictions at the heart of the Atlantic slave system.
Justin Rogers-Cooper joins us to talk about the structural connections between California wildfires and a recent spate of mass shootings, understanding them as part of how corporations from energy to guns socialize losses while privatizing profits. We also deconstruct the Tucker Carlson media outrage in the context of capitalism’s increasing encroachment into supposed “sacred spaces” like the American home. FOR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY
Daegan Miller is a writer whose recent book, This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent, presents an intellectual history of how different Americans have resisted capitalism’s ravaging of the natural environment. From black antislavery radicals in the Adirondack wilderness of upstate New York to utopian anarchists in California’s sequoias, Miller’s narrative reveals a throughline of alternate visions running underneath the nation’s history. In this conversation, Miller tells how his personal connection to the land influenced his work as an environmental historian, explains how the disappointments of the academic labor market are connected to the wider alienation of 21st century American life, and offers his own eco-socialist vision of a kinder, gentler future.
Books mentioned in the episode:
The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler
City of Quartz by Mike Davis