Episode 105: Between Oligarchy and Democracy w/ Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson is a historian of American politics with a number of important books on the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the ideological evolution of the Republican Party. Richardson’s work tracks the space between rhetoric and reality, showing us how political parties pull the levers of race and class to manipulate public opinion and gain power.

Richardson’s recent focus is the way American conservatism has influenced the direction of the Republican Party over the course of the past several decades. In this conversation, she explains how “movement conservatives” since the Buckley era pushed the GOP to embrace increasingly extreme candidates and positions, setting the table for the Trump nightmare:

“Americans figured out fairly early on that [Republican economic policies] didn’t really help them. So Republican language has gotten more and more crazy. For me, the real sign was when Carly Fiorina, in the debates in 2016, said that Democrats were literally killing babies so they could sell their body parts . . .

They’ve had to ratchet this language up more and more. So when Trump came in and said and did the horrific things he did, he was really simply playing that movement conservative narrative out to its logical end. It’s exactly the path we started on in 1951 with God and Man at Yale.”

Episode 103: No Really, You Don’t Need a Weatherman w/ Michael Kazin

Michael Kazin is a historian of American labor and social movements, and co-editor of Dissent magazine. As a student at Harvard in the late 1960s, he was a leader within Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and played a part in its short-lived militant faction, the Weatherman. In this conversation, Kazin reflects on his path “from revolutionary to professor,” explaining how his early experiences in the New Left inform his analysis of the massive political shifts over the decades that followed. In explaining the recent popularity of left figures and organizations, from Bernie Sanders to the DSA, Kazin sees liberal failure as a significant part of the equation:

“When liberals are in power, it actually helps the left, because they make promises they don’t keep. The left grew in the 60s under liberal presidents, the left grew in the 30s under Franklin Roosevelt, the left grew under Woodrow Wilson before then, and the left grew under Abraham Lincoln, who was in effect a progressive though no one used that term at the time.

And so people, especially young people say ‘I thought Obama was gonna do all this great stuff— he talked about a movement, he was gonna stop climate change, he was gonna get everybody better wages, he was gonna help unions organize.’ And the financial crisis made it seem as though, maybe capitalism’s not so great after all. Maybe this globalized economy, what some people call neoliberalism, made promises it couldn’t keep.

So under Obama, we have Black Lives Matter, we have Occupy . . . and people are open to hearing the kinds of things that Sanders has been saying for 50 years.”

Episode 102: Immigration and the Carceral State w/ Carl Lindskoog

Carl Lindskoog is a historian of immigration, race, and rebellion whose forthcoming book Detain and Punish: Haitian Refugees and the Rise of the World’s Largest Immigration Detention System locates the roots of America’s current immigration policies in the history of U.S - Haiti relations over the past several decades. His latest piece reminds us that horrific practices like child detention are sadly nothing new, explaining how the U.S. government’s response to an influx of Haitian refugees in the 1990s created the template for the harsh, punitive immigration system that exists today. In this conversation, Lindskoog tells the extraordinary story of Haitian children rising up against their American captors at a detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, and discusses how the history of resistance to the U.S. immigration system is part of the wider movement to confront the brutality of the American carceral state. LISTEN HERE.

“It’s always the two sides, repression and resistance. Long before it’s Guantanamo detainees or immigrant detainees in the United States doing hunger strikes and resisting and organizing inside—which they’re doing right now and we’ve been hearing about for the past several years—in the 1970s Haitian women in a prison in West Virginia have a hunger strike . . . so this is a big part of the movement for refugee and immigrant rights that’s been going a for a long time.

"And this is where I see the Haitian story as connected to the [work of] Heather Ann Thompson and other people who are documenting prisoner resistance and resistance inside, because just as incarcerated people have always fought for their freedom, so have incarcerated people who are immigrants . . . and that needs to be part of the story too.”

Episode 100: Writing Attica's History w/ Heather Ann Thompson

Heather Ann Thompson is a historian and writer whose 2016 book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. In this conversation, she discusses how her upbringing in Detroit shaped her views on American politics and ignited her interest in tracking the history of mass incarceration. Thompson also talks about the 13-year process behind writing a book like Blood in the Water, a project that included intense research, wrenching oral histories, and a narrative that’s been intentionally distorted and covered up for decades. By putting Attica’s history in context, Thompson’s work considers the larger moral dimensions of America’s obsession with crime and punishment.

LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE.

“We have to explain not just why we get drug laws . . . what we really need to explain is:  When did we become a country where it’s okay to have 400 children in Michigan serving life sentences? When did we as a society become okay with people spending 10 years in solitary confinement?

And that was where I felt that the memory of Attica was so critically important. Somehow, we had been given this opportunity to do right by the folks that were serving time, and that is exactly what the men in Attica had hoped would happen. And yet, the exact opposite happens and we come out of Attica seeing prisoners like animals.

How does that happen?”  

Episode 99: The Long Seventies w/ Bruce Schulman

Bruce Schulman's 2001 book The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics is a fascinating take on a critical era, and helps put the Trump era into an understandable historical context. In this conversation, Schulman discusses how popular culture came to be such a central element of his methodology, helping him chart a course through the political and social history of late 20th century America. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 98: The Ruins of History w/ Megan Kate Nelson

Megan Kate Nelson's interdisciplinary approach to environmental history puts towering events like the Civil War into wholly new contexts. Her book Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War investigates the human, biological, and infrastructural devastation of the era, and asks critical questions about American memory. In this conversation she explains the development of her methodology and the direction of the historical discipline. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 96: The Longue Durée of Modernity w/ Daniel McClure

Daniel McClure is a historian and writer interested in long term historical processes (like capitalism, imperialism, and the nation-state), connecting those big ideas to American popular culture and media in the postwar era. He explains how a theoretical approach to the study of history, while often met with skepticism in the academy, provides such an effective lens for understanding the current moment. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 94: The Greenwich Village Folk Explosion w/ Stephen Petrus

Stephen Petrus is a historian of 20th century America and author of Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival. In this conversation, he tells me about discovering the world of beat poetry, folk music, and a rising "counterculture" in his younger years, and how becoming an academic historian led him to explore the complex social, political, and economic trends that created such a potent cultural moment in 1950s and 1960s New York City. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 93: Jason Wilson

Jason Wilson's coverage of last summer's "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which culminated in the murder of Heather Heyer, helped frame the rising presence of "alt-right" and white supremacist actors on the American political stage. In this conversation, Wilson tells me about his youth in Australia, years studying media theory in grad school, and how he became alternately fascinated and horrified with America's radical right-wing. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 92: Allen Ruff

Allen Ruff is the host of A Public Affair on WORT-FM community radio in Madison, Wisconsin, a show that features interviews with a wide range of figures from the left side of the American political and cultural scene (including yours truly). In this conversation, he talks about his experiences in the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s, his subsequent career as an academic historian, and his trajectory on the radical left. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 91: Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank might be best known as the author of What's the Matter with Kansas?, a 2004 book that sought to explain why so many Americans in "flyover country" vote for the Republican Party. But his analysis goes much deeper than just Kansas. In this conversation, he discusses his development as a political analyst and historian, and offers his perspective on what's happened to the left and right in recent decades. His latest book, Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? traces how Democrats became the party of Wall Street, and Republicans hone their image as the party of "ordinary working people." LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 90: AM/FM - The Political Economy of Mass Shootings

In this episode, Justin Rogers-Cooper joins me to unpack the mass shooting phenomenon in the wider context of American history. Why do Americans kill each other? Who benefits from mass killings? And how is social violence connected to the structures of capitalism? LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 89: Erin Bartram

Erin Bartram's blog piece, "The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind," explores an uncomfortable topic among graduate students and recent Ph.D.'s: giving up on the academic job market. In this conversation, Bartram discusses the origin of the piece (and how it ended up in the Chronicle of Higher Education), the ideological and material gap between full-time professors and part-time adjuncts, and how her path as an academic was shaped by the wider politics of neoliberalism in the university. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 88: Jeremy C. Young

Jeremy C. Young is a professor of history at Dixie State University, and the author of Age of Charisma:  Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870-1940. In this conversation, Jeremy tells me about his own political evolution, and how contemporary American political figures like John McCain and Howard Dean led him to investigate how the idea of "personal magnetism" came to have such a particular power over the American public. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 87: Eero Laine

Eero Laine is a professor of Theatre at the University at Buffalo whose work often focuses on the world of professional wrestling. He joins me to talk about how he came to study wrestling as both a performance and social/psychological phenomenon, and explains why the particular political economy of the WWE provides such a critical lens for understanding American history and culture. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE

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Episode 86: AM/FM - Punk in the 90s

David Fouser was definitely way more into punk, as both an ethos and music genre, than I recall ever being. But now that he's all grown up, like many of us, his politics and musical tastes have evolved. In this conversation, we trade memories of the 1990s Southern California punk and ska scene, and reflect on punk's wider political and social significance. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE 

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Episode 85: Daniel Bessner

Daniel Bessner is a professor and writer whose work explores 20th century American cultural and intellectual history. In this conversation, we talk about his book Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual, his current research into the archives of the RAND Corporation, and his ideas about how intellectuals and academics might fit into a wider left project. LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE 

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