The New Yorker Radio Hour
Profiles, storytelling and insightful conversations, hosted by David Remnick.
No sooner had Joe Biden won the Presidential election than Republican state legislatures began introducing measures to make voting more difficult in any number of ways, most of which will suppress Democratic turnout at the polls. Stacey Abrams, of Georgia, has called the measures “Jim Crow in a suit and tie.” Congress has introduced the For the People Act, known as H.R. 1. Jelani Cobb looks at how the bill goes beyond even the 1965 Voting Rights Act in its breadth, and how it will likely fare in the Senate. And Jeannie Suk Gersen speaks with David Remnick about the Supreme Court’s views on voting rights. The Court is currently weighing an Arizona case that will help decide what really counts as discrimination in a voting restriction.
April 15, 2020, was near the apex of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, which was then its epicenter. On that day, a crew of New Yorker writers talked with people all over the city, in every circumstance and walk of life, to form a portrait of a city in crisis. A group station manager for the subway talks about keeping the transit system running for those who can’t live without it; a respiratory therapist copes with break-time conversations about death and dying; a graduating class of medical students gets up the courage to confront the worst crisis in generations; and a new mother talks about giving birth on a day marked by tragedy for so many families. The hour includes contributions from writers including William Finnegan, Helen Rosner, Jia Tolentino, Kelefa Sanneh, and Adam Gopnik, who says, “One never knows whether to applaud the human insistence on continuing with some form of normal life, or look aghast at the human insistence on continuing with some form of normal life. That’s the mystery of the pandemic.”
This episode originally aired on April 24, 2020.
The retired admiral James Stavridis teamed up with Elliot Ackerman, a journalist and former Marine, to imagine how, in the shadow of an increasingly tense relationship between the U.S. and China, a small incident in contested waters could spiral into catastrophe. The result is “2034: A Novel of the Next World War.” The book is a thriller, and also a cautionary tale about a failure of military planning: “We have plenty of intelligence,” Ackerman says. “What we often lack is imagination.” And Torrey Peters describes how her book “Detransition, Baby”—a dishy novel on a taboo subject—aims to move beyond the marginal spaces in which trans writing has flourished, into mainstream success with a major publisher.
Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan and Harry, the Duchess and Duke of Sussex, was riveting celebrity television, but it may also be a significant turning point in the history of the British royal family. Revelations about racism and about Meghan’s struggles with mental health are already reshaping public perception of the powerful institution. The interview also touched on racism and mental health, issues that are familiar to many families. “In the future, we will look to this interview as a real touchstone marking the change of who it is we see as authorities of their own experience,” says Doreen St. Félix. In conversation with St. Félix and the eminent historian Simon Schama, the author of a three-volume history of Britain, David Remnick discusses how the interview plays into culture wars in the U.K. and in American.
Despite being a U.S. colony, Puerto Rico competes in sports as its own country on the world stage. Since the 70s, Puerto Rico’s national basketball team has been a pride of the island, taking home trophy after trophy. But in the 2004 at the Athens Olympics, the team was up against the odds, with an opening game against a U.S. Dream Team stacked with players like Lebron James and Allen Iverson. This episode of La Brega, from Futuro Media and WNYC Studios, tells the story of a basketball game that Puerto Ricans will never forget, and why he thinks now, more than ever, is a crucial moment to remember it.
The documentary "Nuyorican Basquet" is here.
If you want to see the famous photo of Carlos Arroyo, click here.
To read more about sovereignty and sports, we recommend The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico, by Antonio Sotomayor.
When Mohamedou Salahi arrived at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, in August of 2002, he was hopeful. He knew why he had been detained: he had crossed paths with Al Qaeda operatives, and his cousin had once called him from Osama bin Laden’s phone. But Salahi was no terrorist—he held no extremist views—and had no information of any plots. He trusted the American system of justice and thought the authorities would realize their mistake before long.
He was wrong.
Salahi spent fifteen years at Guantánamo, where he was subjected to some of the worst excesses of America’s war on terror; Donald Rumsfeld personally signed off on the orders for his torture. And, under torture, Salahi confessed to everything—even though he had done nothing. “If they would have wanted him to confess to being on the grassy knoll for the J.F.K. assassination, I’m sure we could have got him to confess to that, too,” Mark Fallon, who led an investigation unit at Guantánamo, said.
Ben Taub reported Mohamedou Salahi’s story for The New Yorker and tried to understand what had gone wrong in the fight against Al Qaeda. Salahi met Ben in Mauritania, because, when the U.S. released him, it was under the condition that Mauritania would withhold his passport. He would like to go abroad—he needs medical treatment, and he hopes to live in a democracy. But, for an innocent victim of Guantánamo, being released isn’t the same as being free.
This episode originally aired August 2, 2019. Ben Taub’s reporting on Mohamedou Salahi won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2020.
Clubhouse is an audio-only social-media platform offering chat rooms on any subject, allowing thousands of people to gather and listen to each other. Jiayang Fan, who often reports on China, tells David Remnick that the chance to talk in private and without a text trail has opened a window of free expression for Chinese users. (Recently, some questions have been raised about whether the app is as secure as its makers claim.) Suddenly, in chat rooms with names like “There is a concentration camp in Xinjiang?,” Chinese users are able to address politically taboo subjects out loud in large groups. A Clubhouse chat-room moderator explains to Fan that for Han Chinese, who are the beneficiaries of the government’s persecution of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities, the app offers a space for reckoning and protest comparable to America’s Black Lives Matter movement. The government has clamped down on Clubhouse, but tech-savvy young people are used to finding workarounds.
At an age when many actors are slowing down or long retired, Anthony Hopkins has kept up a feverish pace, with recent roles including Pope Benedict XVI in “The Two Popes” and Odin in Marvel’s “Thor” movies. In his new film, “The Father,” Hopkins’s character, Antony, is beginning to suffer from dementia, but he doesn’t want to accept a caregiver when his daughter, played by Olivia Colman, can no longer live with him. The film brings the viewer into Antony’s experience, particularly his confusion about what’s happening around him. Hopkins tells Michael Schulman that he hasn’t dealt with dementia in his own family, thankfully, but that he wasn’t daunted by the role. “When you’re working with a superb script, it’s a road map, and you follow it,” he says. He advises younger actors, “Don’t act too much. Keep it simple.” Plus, the writer Patricia Lockwood, who’s just published her first novel, on how she created literature out of the fractured consciousness of an obsessive Twitter user.
Atul Gawande, the staff writer and public-health expert, talks with David Remnick about the progress of the vaccine rollout, the new strains of the coronavirus, and whether we will ever take our masks off. And the actor Daniel Kaluuya talks about playing a man many regard as a martyr, in the new film “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Kaluuya stars as Fred Hampton, a young leader in the Black Panther Party, who was shot in his bed by Chicago police in a predawn raid. The actor talked with Kai Wright, the host of WNYC’s “The United States of Anxiety,” about how the F.B.I. and many whites saw Hampton’s affirmation of Black people as tantamount to terrorism.
Tommy Raskin, a twenty-five-year-old law student, took his own life on New Year’s Eve, after a long battle against depression. His family laid him to rest on January 5th, and, the next day, his father went to the United States Capitol, where he serves in Congress. Representative Jamie Raskin, who represents Maryland’s Eighth District, had an enormous task ahead of him: he was mounting the defense of the Electoral College vote. When a violent mob incited by Donald Trump breached the building, Raskin’s life was in danger, along with the lives of his daughter and son-in-law, who had joined him that day for support. Just weeks later, when the House impeached Donald Trump for his role in inciting that insurrection, Raskin was the lead manager prosecuting the case. Raskin told David Remnick about the devastation of a suicide in the family, his condolence calls from President Biden and Vice-President Harris, and how he believed the entire Senate would unite to convict Donald Trump.
Facebook created the Oversight Board to adjudicate high-level claims about what can and can’t be posted, independent of the company’s leadership. This is a big deal: when Donald Trump was displeased by one of the board’s appointees, he contacted Mark Zuckerberg directly, as Kate Klonick learned in her reporting. And then Trump himself became the new board’s biggest test case. Facebook asked the board to rule on whether the former President should be reinstated, after he was banned from the platform for his role in inciting the Capitol riot. Klonick, an assistant professor of law at St. John’s University, had an unusual degree of access to Facebook to document the creation of the board. She talked with David Remnick about how independent the Oversight Board can be, how it may rule on Donald Trump, and why it’s so hard to get Jewish space lasers off Facebook.
Facebook is at the center of the hottest controversies over freedom of speech, and its opaque, unaccountable decisions have angered people across the political spectrum. Mark Zuckerberg’s answer to this mess is to outsource: Facebook recently created and endowed a permanent body it calls the Oversight Board—like a Supreme Court whose decisions will be binding for the company. And Facebook immediately referred to the board a crucial question: whether to reinstate Donald Trump on the platform, after he was banned for inciting the January 6th riot at the Capitol. In this collaboration between the New Yorker Radio Hour and Radiolab, the producer Simon Adler explores the creation of the Oversight Board with Kate Klonick, whose reporting appears in The New Yorker. What they learn calls into question whether Zuckerberg’s fundamentally American-style view of free speech can be exported around the world without resulting in sometimes dire consequences.
Amanda Petrusich describes herself as a “diehard fan” of folk music, but not when it feels precious or sentimental. That’s why she loves the Weather Station, whose songs, she thinks, “could take a punch to the face.” A solo project of the songwriter and performer Tamara Lindeman, the Weather Station’s new album, “Ignorance,” focusses on the theme of climate grief: Lindeman was responding to a devastating report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the consequences of elevated carbon levels for human societies. If that sounds heady, Lindeman tells Petrusich that it may be her heritage. “There’s this thread in Canadian music of philosophical songwriting, and that’s how I like my lyrics to be. I like them to be about ideas as well as stories. . . . Most people want songs that just tell a story; they don’t want the complicated ideas. But I do.”
The Weather Station performs “Robber” and “Tried to Tell You,” with Evan Cartwright on percussion and Karen Ng on saxophone.
Immediately after Inauguration, the Biden Administration began trying to unwind some of Donald Trump’s most notorious policies on immigration. But, over four years, Trump’s advisers made more than a thousand seemingly bureaucratic, technical rule changes that have had profound consequences. Sarah Stillman reports on the case of a mother and daughter who arrived at the southern border from Honduras. After the family ran afoul of local politicians and crime figures, the father was assassinated and an older daughter was raped in the presence of a police officer. Yet their appeal for asylum was rejected by a Trump-appointed judge, who went to unusual lengths to explain her reasoning. Replaying a recording of the hearing, Stillman walks through the series of legal barriers designed to send the women back into severe danger. “In order to qualify for asylum,” Stillman remarks, “you almost have to have been murdered to show that you could be murdered.”
(Many of the Trump Administration policies were driven by Stephen Miller, the ultra-hard-line immigration adviser; The New Yorker Radio Hour reported in 2020 on Miller’s influence.)
Kurt Vile—that’s his real name—helped found the rock band the War on Drugs. But he left that band shortly after its début to make records of his own. His albums include “Childish Prodigy,” “Smoke Ring for My Halo,” and the recently released “Speed, Sound, Lonely KV (ep.)” Vile’s music has been characterized as “slacker rock,” but he takes songwriting seriously. He’s popular enough to have been honored with Kurt Vile Day in his home town of Philadelphia, but he tells the music critic Amanda Petrusich that he still can’t get a reaction from his hero, Neil Young. He joined Petrusich in the fall of 2018, at the New Yorker Festival, for a conversation and to perform a live version of “Pretty Pimpin.”
This segment originally aired April 12, 2019.
The North Carolina pastor William Barber, who spoke at the inaugural prayer service at the start of the Biden Administration, wants politics to be guided by faith and morality. But conservatives, Barber thinks, are deeply confused about Christ’s teachings. Then Paul Elie considers Biden as only the second Catholic President. Elie thinks that Catholics demoralized by decades of the Church’s abuse scandals are welcoming Biden as a “moral authority” outside the religious hierarchy.
Now that we are some sixty years into the digital era, the early days of modern computers are growing distant and mysterious to us. The field of game archeology seeks to uncover the origins and uses of these technological artifacts, and to determine what they tell us about the industry that created them. The New Yorker writer Simon Parkin and his producer Alex Barron try some archeology of their own on a video game from 1982 called Entombed. With the tiny amount of memory on an Atari 2600 cartridge, Entombed accomplished something new, and to this day nobody can figure out how it worked. Was it really developed during a programmer’s drunken blackout?
With Donald Trump rated the least popular President in the span of modern polling, President Biden might feel confident in claiming a mandate to advance his progressive agenda. Yet Democratic majorities in Congress are slim in the House of Representatives, and razor-thin in the Senate. That gives a small number of Democratic conservatives and moderate Republicans outsized influence over what legislation can pass. Senator Mitch McConnell, in a power-sharing arrangement with the Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, remains a force to be reckoned with. What will this balance of power mean for the new Administration? David Remnick poses this question to Jane Mayer, who has reported on McConnell’s tenure as a political operator, and to Evan Osnos, who covered Biden’s campaign and wrote a biography of the new President.
Today, Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s work on civil rights is celebrated as bringing about one of the turning points of the twentieth century in America. But, in his own time, King was a divisive figure, unloved by millions of Americans—many members of government among them. The F.B.I. surveilled him constantly. President Lyndon Johnson worked with King to shape benchmark civil-rights legislation, but, after King spoke out against the Vietnam War, he was effectively alienated by the Administration. Meanwhile, J. Edgar Hoover’s agents at the F.B.I. began active measures to destroy King’s reputation and end his public influence, threatening to expose an extramarital affair. The documentary “MLK/FBI,” directed by Sam Pollard, examines this low point in the federal government’s abuse of power. Pollard tells Jelani Cobb that Hoover must have wondered, “ ‘How dare a Black man try to change the America I grew up in?’ The America he knew and loved was on a road to change. And he was totally against it.” Even today, as a leaked document shows, some within the F.B.I. see Black activists’ calls for justice and recognition as potential dangers to be watched carefully.
Luke Mogelson and Susan B. Glasser report on the convulsions of Donald Trump’s final days in office, an unprecedented second impeachment of a President, and the threat of insurrectionary violence hovering over the entire nation. And a game designer offers insights on how the fantastical, wholly fictional narrative of QAnon has captivated so many people—to such dangerous effect.
A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 is making its way around the world; in the U.S., it has been found in at least three states: California, Colorado, and New York. Joe Osmundson, an assistant professor of biology at New York University, speaks with the New Yorker staff writer Carolyn Kormann about why this new strain is particularly concerning. It has twenty-three mutations—far more than scientists would expect an RNA virus to have—which makes it at least fifty per cent more contagious than the original virus. The response, Osmundson says, should be to double down on reducing transmission by encouraging a culture of caution. Mask wearing, he warns, might be with us for a long time. Osmundson came of age as a gay man during the AIDS crisis, and he compares our pressing need for social distancing to the cultural change that took place during that era. “It was not a joy, growing up, to worry about H.I.V. every time I had sex, and to feel like if I don’t wear a condom, I might die,” he tells Kormann. “And yet that was part of how we cared for each other. It is a way to care.” Plus, a music editor and writer picks some favorites from a very specific genre: posthumous rap albums.
On January 6th, pro-Trump fanatics stormed the Capitol, galvanized by the President’s claims that the 2020 election had been stolen. That day, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were declared the victors of their respective Senate runoff races against Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, two champions of Trump’s incendiary theories. Charles Bethea, a New Yorker staff writer based in Atlanta, joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss whether this is the end of an era or just the beginning.
Bruce Springsteen, an American music legend for more than four decades, published his autobiography, “Born to Run,” in 2016. David Remnick called it “as vivid as his songs, with that same pedal-to-the-floor quality, and just as honest about the struggles in his own life.” In October of that year, Springsteen appeared at the New Yorker Festival for an intimate conversation with the editor. (The event sold out in six seconds.) This entire episode is dedicated to that conversation. Springsteen tells Remnick how, as a young musician gigging around New Jersey, he decided to up his game: “I’m going to have to write some songs that are fireworks . . . I needed to do something that was more original.” They talked for more than an hour about Springsteen’s tortured relationship with his father, his triumphant audition for the legendary producer John Hammond, and his struggles with depression. As Springsteen explains it, his tremendously exuberant concert performances were a form of catharsis: “I had had enough of myself by that time to want to lose myself. So I went onstage every night to do exactly that.”
This episode originally aired in 2016.
Atul Gawande is a New Yorker staff writer, a practicing surgeon, and an indie-music fan, and he loves the work of the songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and whistling virtuoso Andrew Bird; Gawande has included Bird’s songs in playlists he uses in the operating room. In 2016, at the New Yorker Festival, Gawande spoke with Bird about songwriting, confronting illness, the nature of cancer, and whistling. Andrew Bird performed “Capsized,” in which he played all of the parts with the help of looping devices.
Bird’s latest record is “Hark!” a Christmas-themed album. Atul Gawande was recently appointed to the incoming Biden Administration’s COVID-19 task force.
The first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine mark what we hope will be the beginning of the end of the global pandemic. The speed of vaccine development has been truly unprecedented, but this breakthrough is taking place at a moment when the U.S. death toll has also reached a new peak—over three thousand per day. How was the response to such a clear danger mismanaged so tragically? The New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright—who has reported on Al Qaeda and the Church of Scientology—has followed the story of the pandemic unfolding in the United States since the first lockdowns in March. Wright walks David Remnick through key moments of decision-making in the Trump White House: from the response to the first reports of a virus to botched mask mandates and testing rollouts, up through the emergency-use authorization of the vaccine. The Trump Administration bears much responsibility for the bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic, but Wright also finds ample evidence of larger, systemic breakdown. “The magnitude of our failure,” he tells David Remnick, “is unparalleled.”
It’s a cliché now, but by no means an overstatement, that the past twelve months have been unimaginable. This week, we’ll hear four short reflections on the events of 2020. Dhruv Khullar describes the early days of the pandemic, when he was taking care of patients in a COVID-19 ward. Anna Wiener visits California’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which burned during the catastrophic West Coast fire season that destroyed acreage close to the area of Massachusetts. Simon Parkin waxes nostalgic—already!—for Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a video game that occupied untold hours of families at home together. And Kevin Young, The New Yorker’s poetry editor, picks two poems that stand as monuments to what we have lived through: “George Floyd,” by Terrance Hayes, and “The End of Poetry,” by Ada Limón, both of which were read by the authors.
Bryant Terry is a chef, educator, food-justice activist, and cookbook author. He joined Helen Rosner virtually to cook a dish from his recent book, “Vegetable Kingdom”: citrus and garlic-herb braised fennel. The dish calls for marinating the bulb in mojo, a citrus-juice-based Cuban condiment more typically paired with meat. Terry says that he wants to “Blackify” fennel, as part of his project to “uplift” Black culinary traditions from the global African diaspora. Plus, Ian Frazier reads a poem written for the 2020 holiday season.
In the past month, a fracture has opened up in the G.O.P. between those who grudgingly accept Joe Biden’s win and those who falsely claim that the election was rigged. In Georgia, supporters of Donald Trump have turned on Republican election officials—in some cases, with threats of violence. The Atlanta-based staff writer Charles Bethea explains why this rift is dangerous for Republicans. Georgia’s two incumbent Senate seats are up for grabs in a runoff election in January; the G.O.P. needs to retain at least one to maintain its majority and to give Mitch McConnell near-veto power over the Biden agenda. But the more that the President and his followers attack the election, the less likely Republican voters are to turn out to vote—which would create an advantage for the Democratic Senate hopefuls. Bethea spoke with Gabe Sterling, an election official in Georgia; Lin Wood, an attorney who is fuelling conspiracy theories; and voters at a Trump rally in Valdosta. Plus, protests against police violence took place around the world this year; in Nigeria, they might lead to the undoing of a notoriously lawless and brutal police unit.
As teens, in the nineteen-eighties, Eric Smokes and David Warren were arrested for the robbery and murder of a tourist near Times Square on New Years Eve; an acquaintance had accused them, receving a lighter sentence for an unrelated crime in exchange for coöperating with police. Warren refused a plea deal in which he would have had to accuse Smokes, and both received lengthy sentences. Over decades in prison, they maintained their innocence, but they faced an impossible dilemma: without parole, they might have spent the rest of their lives behind bars, and, in order to get parole, they would have to take responsibility and express remorse for a crime they insist that they didn’t commit. Now middle-aged men, and still best friends, Warren and Smokes continue to fight to vacate the charges against them. Jennifer Gonnerman looks at the impossible choices they faced in the justice system.
In November, when the Democratic Party lost seats in the House and a hoped-for victory in the Senate fizzled, centrist Democrats were quick to blame left-leaning progressives. Rhetoric about democratic socialism and defunding the police, they said, had scared away moderate voters and was costing the Party its influence. David Remnick speaks with two prominent House members on opposite sides of this debate: Abigail Spanberger, a centrist whose caustic comments about progressive rhetoric were leaked to the press; and Ayanna Pressley, one of the four progressives known as “the Squad,” who insists that “impact,” rather than compromise, is the best way to sway voters.
Steve McQueen is the director of four feature films, including the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave.” His new series, “Small Axe,” which is streaming on Amazon, consists of five portraits of the West Indian community in London from the late nineteen-sixties through the nineteen-eighties. For McQueen, the stories allowed him to reflect on painful aspects of his own upbringing in that time and place—like the way many children of immigrant families were shunted into “subnormal” schools. “I wanted to feel that I exist,” McQueen tells Richard Brody. “This is part of the narrative of the world, part of the narrative of life. And sometimes things like that never get seen or never get noticed or never get the recognition.” Plus, the staff writer Larissa MacFarquhar on what happens to families in Haredi Jewish communities when one parent leaves the faith.
Can a vaccine be distributed fairly? What will be the impact if a large number of people don’t take it—as they say they won’t? Atul Gawande, a New Yorker staff writer who was recently appointed to President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force, walks David Remnick through some of the challenges of this pivotal moment. F.D.A. approval of at least one vaccine is expected imminently, but hospitalizations are still rising rapidly around the country, and Gawande is concerned that news of an approval could lead to more irresponsible behavior. “If, once people start getting vaccinated, they start throwing the masks away and you can’t get them to do social distancing,” he said, “then you’re really relying on vaccination as the sole prong of the strategy.” More than forty per cent of people polled say that they are reluctant to take the new vaccines, but Gawande suspects that the real number of resisters may be much smaller. “Part of the reason it’s good that health-care workers would go first is [that] . . . health-care workers are everywhere. Which means we’re all going to know people who got vaccinated, and we’re going to see that they did all right.”
Phoebe Bridgers’s tour dates were cancelled—she was booked at Madison Square Garden, among other venues—so she performs songs from her recent album, “Punisher,” from home. The critic Amanda Petrusich talks about the joys of Folkways records, and the novelist Donald Antrim talks about a year in which he suffered from crippling depression and rarely left his apartment, finding that only music could be a balm for his isolation and fear.
Like everyone in the United States, John Legend has spent much of the past year in lockdown. He has been recording new music (via Zoom), performing on Instagram, and promoting his upcoming album. Though many artists have delayed releasing records until they can schedule concert dates—increasingly the most reliable revenue in the music industry—Legend didn’t want to hold back. The new album, “Bigger Love,” was written before the pandemic and the current groundswell of protest for racial justice, but his message about resilience and faith resonates. All art, Legend tells David Remnick, “is there to help us imagine a different future.”
Sanaë Lemoine’s début novel, “The Margot Affair,” is about a seventeen-year-old high-school student whose father, a high-ranking official, does not acknowledge her or her mother publicly. In telling Margot’s story, Lemoine drew upon her own complex family history: when she was twenty-one, she discovered that her father had a secret second family. In an act of literary justice, Margot decides to take action to force her father’s public acknowledgement, in a way that Lemoine herself did not. Plus, Adam Gopnik explores the predicament of an aging population. People of retirement age will outnumber children in the U.S. in about fifteen years, but they are poorly served by the field of design. Gopnik sets out to experience their difficulties firsthand.
This month, Georgia flipped: its voters picked a Democrat for President for the first time since Bill Clinton’s first-term election. To a significant degree, Charles Bethea says, this was owing to political organizing among Black voters; after all, Donald Trump still received approximately seventy per cent of the white vote. Bethea tells David Remnick about the political evolution of the state, and he speaks with two Democratic organizers: Nsé Ufot, the C.E.O. of the New Georgia Project, and Royce Reeves, Sr., a city commissioner in Cordele, Georgia.
Between the two of them, Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Martin have nearly a century of experience in the delicate art of telling jokes. In a conversation with Susan Morrison during the 2020 New Yorker Festival, they discussed their long careers, learning how to adjust to new cultural forces, and the process of aging. Plus, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax perform a piece of music that they have both been playing for more than forty years: Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major. “This is such open, hopeful music,” Ax said. Yet Beethoven signed one manuscript of the music, “amid tears and sorrow.” “I thought this was a good piece for this moment,” Ma told The New Yorker’s music critic Alex Ross. “Because people are suffering, and we do think that music can give comfort.”
The President’s fantastical allegations about “illegal ballots” are being indulged by quite a number of prominent Republicans in Washington, who have declined to acknowledge Joe Biden as President-elect. If Republicans in some key state legislatures go further and appoint electors who disregard their states’ popular votes, the electoral chaos would be disastrous. To understand how the politicians may proceed, David Remnick spoke with Jane Mayer, who has written extensively about today’s GO.P. and the forces that drive it.
In the nineteen-thirties, authoritarian regimes were on the rise around the world—as they are again today—and democratic governments that came into existence after the First World War were toppling. “American democracy, too, staggered,” Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker, “weakened by corruption, monopoly, apathy, inequality, political violence, hucksterism, racial injustice, unemployment, even starvation.” Lepore talks with David Remnick about how Americans rallied to save democracy, and how we might apply those lessons in a new era with similar problems.
This segment originally aired on January 31, 2020.
No matter the vote count, legal challenges and resistance in Washington continue to make this election historically fraught. David Remnick speaks about the state of the race with some of The New Yorker’s political thinkers: Evan Osnos on Biden’s candidacy, Jeannie Suk Gersen on how the Supreme Court may respond, Susan Glasser on Mitch McConnell’s hold on power, and Amy Davidson Sorkin on Washington and the nation.
The Presidency of Donald Trump has been unlike any other in America’s history. While many of his core promises remain unfulfilled, he managed to reshape our politics in just four years. On the cusp of the 2020 election, David Remnick assesses the Trump Administration’s impact on immigration policy, the climate, white identity politics, and the judiciary. He’s joined by Jeannie Suk Gersen, Jonathan Blitzer, Bill McKibben, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, and Andrew Marantz.
It feels like a lifetime since the coronavirus pandemic transformed Americans’ daily lives, seven months ago, and fatigue is setting in even as the disease ravages new regions. The staff writer Jennifer Gonnerman talked with one of the people who has a unique perspective on those terrifying first weeks when the world seemed to be ending. Terence Layne is a bus operator for New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a chief shop steward for the Transport Workers Union. The city’s transit workers were among the hardest hit of all essential workers, and over a hundred and twenty M.T.A. employees have died from the virus. Yet Layne kept showing up for his shift, day after day, even as the city streets went quiet.
Jennifer Gonnerman wrote about Terence Layne in the August 31, 2020, issue of the magazine.
Nicholas Lemann’s “The Republican Identity Crisis After Trump” explores what will happen to the movement Donald Trump created among Republicans. In his 2016 campaign, he ran as a populist insurgent against Wall Street, “élites,” and the Republican Party itself—mobilizing voters against their traditional leadership. But, in office, he has governed largely according to the Party’s priorities. If Trump loses next month’s election, what will become of the movement he created? Lemann spoke with David Remnick about three possible scenarios for Republicans. Plus, the New Yorker music critic Carrie Battan describes how the sound of Korean pop is becoming part of the American mainstream.
Elvis Costello’s thirty-first studio album, “Hey Clockface,” will be released this month. Recorded largely before the pandemic, it features an unusual combination of winds, cello, piano, and drums. David Remnick talks with Costello about the influence of his father’s career in jazz and about what it’s like to look back on his own early years. They also discuss “Fifty Songs for Fifty Days,” a new project leading up to the Presidential election—though Costello disputes that the songs are political. “I don’t have a manifesto and I don’t have a slogan,” he says. “I try to avoid the simplistic slogan nature of songs. I try to look for the angle that somebody else isn’t covering.” But he notes that “the things that we are so rightly enraged about, [that] we see as unjust . . . it’s all happened before. . . . I didn’t think I’d be talking with my thirteen-year-old son about a lynching. Those are the things I was hearing reported on the news at their age.”
Costello spoke from outside his home in Vancouver, B.C., where a foghorn is audible in the background.
At the 2020 New Yorker Festival, earlier this month, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Elizabeth Warren joined Andrew Marantz to talk about the Presidential race, and how Joe Biden should lead if he wins the election. Plus, Dexter Filkins on the fierce electoral battle taking place in Florida, the largest of the swing states. With a large elderly-voter population and many distinct Latino communities, the state is demographically unique. Filkins spoke with the former sSenator Bill Nelson and others, including The New Yorker’s Stephania Taladrid, who has been reporting on the Latino vote in different states.
During the Presidential debate in September, Donald Trump was asked to denounce the white supremacists who were battling anti-racism protesters in Portland; instead, he blamed leftists for the violence and told the Proud Boys to “stand by.” The Pacific Northwest has a long history of white-supremacist violence, going back to the days of the Oregon Territory. Today, white nationalists have chosen to make liberal Portland a battleground. As clashes between anti-racism protesters and extremists intensify, one man remembers the basic injustices that brought him to the streets in the first place.
At the moment that Donald Trump was leaving Walter Reed Hospital, not yet recovered from a case of COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci sat down with Michael Specter to discuss the coronavirus and its impact on America. For the President—and all of us counting on a vaccine to miraculously deliver us back to normalcy—Fauci offers a reality check. “Let’s say we have a vaccine and it’s seventy per cent effective. But only sixty per cent of the people [are likely to] get vaccinated. The vaccine will greatly help us, but it’s not going to eliminate mask-wearing, avoiding crowds, and things like that.” Plus, Vinson Cunningham talks with Radha Blank about her loosely autobiographical new film, which won her best director at Sundance.
Marilynne Robinson’s new novel, “Jack,” is the fourth to be set among the world and people of a fictional town called Gilead, Iowa. The novelist grew up in Idaho, and, when she moved to the flatter country of Iowa, she “noticed that the landscape had a very high number of little colleges scattered over it,” she tells David Remnick, that were sometimes the oldest buildings in a town. “I wanted to know who had built these things, that this was how you would settle an empty landscape. And that was when I came across the abolitionist movement. Those were the people who did this.” From that history and culture, Robinson imagined Gilead and the old preacher named John Ames who narrates the first book in her series. “Jack” concerns the son of Ames’s closest friend, who was disgraced and left Gilead. The book finds Jack, who is white, in St. Louis and in a predicament: he is in love with a Black woman, at a time when an interracial relationship was a scandal and, in some places, a crime. Plus, the début novelist Douglas Stuart. After two decades of working in the fashion industry and dreaming about writing, Stuart recently published an acclaimed first novel, “Shuggie Bain.” He showed us around his old stomping grounds in New York’s garment district.
Joe Biden leads the Presidential race in Pennsylvania by around ten per cent, according to most polls, but Eliza Griswold says you wouldn’t know it on the ground. Republicans in the state have organized a huge registration drive in recent years, and, while Griswold was driving to Biden’s working-class birthplace of Scranton, she saw Trump signs blanketing the lawns and roads. Peter Slevin, reporting from Wisconsin, tells David Remnick that Democrats there organized early, to avoid the mistake that Hillary Clinton made in 2016 of taking the state for granted. Even so, Biden’s campaign has declined to do risky in-person events, but the Trump campaign, until recently, has proceeded as if coronavirus had never happened. Plus, Andrew Marantz talks with a Tennessee pastor who’s struggling with the intersection of politics and faith.
“Woke,” a new comedy on Hulu, is inspired by the life of its creator, Keith Knight. The show, which blends reality and animated fantasy, follows Keef, a Black cartoonist who is on the cusp of mainstream success when an ugly incident with the police changes his life. Suddenly, Keef is learning about racism from a chatty trash can and other talking cartoon objects, and he experiences a belated political awakening. Knight describes his work to his fellow-cartoonist Emily Flake as “accessible yet subversive.” “Making people laugh and then punching them in the face with a serious issue is the way to work,” he says. Plus, at home with a newborn, the staff writer Jia Tolentino recommends a book, a record, and a reality show that have been entertaining her lately.
Jaime Harrison may seem like a long shot to become a South Carolina senator: he is a Black Democrat who grew up on food stamps in public housing, and he has never held elected public office. But a Quinnipiac poll ties him with Lindsay Graham—each has the support of forty-eight per cent of likely voters. Harrison is not exactly a progressive upstart candidate: he’s spent much of his career as a lobbyist, and has worked in the office of House Majority Whip James Clyburn. “I’ve seen the power of how good public servants can really address the issues of what people deal with,” Harrison tells David Remnick. “The worst thing you can do as a public servant is to betray the trust of the people that you represent.” For Harrison, Graham’s decision to support a fast-track nomination to the Supreme Court proves that “his word is worthless.” Plus, Carlos Lozada, a Washington Post books editor, immersed himself in a new genre: books that purport to explain Donald Trump and his era.
Miranda July’s third feature film is “Kajillionaire,” a heist movie centered on a dysfunctional family, and her first with a Hollywood star like Evan Rachel Wood. Like most of her work, it can be classified as a comedy, but just barely. “There’s some kind of icky, heartbreaking, subterranean feelings about family that I would not willingly have gone towards if it weren’t for the silly heist stuff,” July tells Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker’s fiction editor. July acknowledges that billing her work as comedy allows her the budget to do things that straight drama might not get: “I knew I wanted to make a bigger movie. It changes the medium, it changes the kinds of things you can think up.” Tresiman, who has edited July’s short stories and other writings for the magazine, talks with her about the thread of discomfort and embarrassment that runs through her work in every medium. Plus, David Remnick toasts the centennial of Roger Angell, who has contributed to The New Yorker since the Second World War with writings on baseball and every other topic under the sun.
This Presidential race is a battle for the soul and the future of the country—on this much, both parties agree—and yet the pitfalls in the election process itself are vast. David Remnick runs through some of the risks to your vote with a group of staff writers: Sue Halpern on the possibility of hacking by malign actors; Steve Coll on the contention around mail-in voting and the false suspicions being raised by the President; Jeffrey Toobin on the prospect of an avalanche of legal challenges that could delay the outcome and create a cascade of uncertainty; and Jelani Cobb on the danger of violence in the election’s aftermath.
The German composer Richard Wagner had an enormous influence not only on modern music but on artists of all stripes, and on political culture as well. His use of folkloric material to create modern epics won him the admiration of thinkers like W. E. B. Du Bois, and made him popular in Hollywood since the birth of film. Alex Ross, whose new book is called “Wagnerism,” tells David Remnick that Du Bois “might have seen ‘Black Panther’ as a kind of Wagnerian project.” And yet Wagner’s music was used to heroically represent the Ku Klux Klan in “The Birth of a Nation.” In fact, the composer’s strident anti-Semitism fed into the rise of Nazism in Germany. The many aspects of Wagner’s influence were often contradictory. “So much baggage arrives with him,” Ross says, but “we aren’t necessarily imprisoned by what the man himself thought.” The composer himself “starts to disappear” as his influence diffuses through society. “He becomes a mirror for what other people are thinking and feeling. And we have that right, we have that power with art. If there’s something about it we reject, we can—without forgetting or overlooking that darker aspect—remake it in our own image.”
Across the South and well beyond, cities and states have been removing their Confederate monuments, recognizing their power as symbols of America’s foundational racism. In the town of Easton, Maryland, in front of the picturesque courthouse, there’s a statue known as the Talbot Boys. It depicts a young soldier holding a Confederate battle flag, and it honors the men who crossed over to fight for secession. It’s the last such monument in Maryland, outside of a battlefield or a graveyard. Casey Cep grew up nearby, and she’s watched as the town has awakened to the significance of the statue. Five years ago, when a resolution to remove it came before the county council, the vote was 5–0 opposing removal. But, during a summer of reckoning with police violence and structural racism, the statue came up for a vote again. Is time finally catching up with the Talbot Boys?
N. K. Jemisin has faced down a racist backlash to her success in the science-fiction community. But white supremacy in the genre is nothing new, she tells Raffi Khatchadourian. Her recent novel “The City We Became” explicitly addresses the legacy of the genre pioneer H. P. Lovecraft, whose racism was virulent even by the standards of the early twentieth century. It’s not possible, Jemisin says, to separate Lovecraft’s ideology from his greatness as a fantasy writer: his view of nonwhite peoples as monstrous informed the way he wrote about monsters. Rather than try to ignore or cancel Lovecraft, Jemisin felt compelled to engage with him. Plus, the historian and staff writer Jill Lepore describes the desperate measures taken to protect children from polio during a pandemic no less frightening than our own, and how the disease was then forgotten.
This segment contains adult language.
In the new film “Coastal Elites,” Bette Midler plays a New Yorker of a certain type: a retired teacher who lives on the Upper West Side, reads the New York Times with Talmudic attention, and is driven more than half mad by Donald Trump. So much so that one day she picks a fight in a coffee shop with a guy wearing a red MAGA hat, and her monologue takes place when she’s in police custody. The role isn’t too much of a stretch: she tells David Remnick about a long-ago dinner at the Trumps’ apartment that she recalls as a nightmare, and, just days after this interview, Midler tweeted some ill-advised comments about Melania Trump’s accent that she had to apologize for. Paul Rudnick wrote “Coastal Elites” as a series of monologues to be performed at the Public Theatre, but seeing no avenue to perform it during the pandemic, he reconceived of it as a film for HBO, starring big names like Kaitlyn Dever, Dan Levy, Sarah Paulson, and Issa Rae. And while he’s sad about the state of live theatre, Rudnick has no regrets about taking the show to television: “You actually got closer than you would if it had been staged live in the theatre,” he says. “You have the best possible seat in the house for a Bette Midler performance.”
“Reaganland” is the new volume in Rick Perlstein’s long chronicle of the American conservative movement; the four books, which he began publishing in 2001, run some 3,000 pages in total. While the author is left of center politically, the series has been praised by William F. Buckley, Jr., and George Will, among others. Andrew Marantz finds that Perlstein uniquely captures the mood of the country and how intangible, emotional factors in the electorate influence political shifts. Perlstein tells Marantz that Trump is neither an aberration from traditional conservative politics nor a continuation but a throwback to an earlier, unruly time in the Republican Party, when its ideologically more disparate umbrella contained open racists, anti-Semities, and conspiracy theorists not so unlike QAnon. The Party became ever more disciplined as the Goldwater era moved into what Perlstein calls Reaganland. “Disciplining what got said, behind closed doors and in public,” he says, “was an enormous part of the political work of [Reagan’s] Administration.”
It has been six months since Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man, was shot by three white men while he was out for a Sunday jog near his childhood home. The video of the killing, taken by one of the men who participated in it, could be said to have kindled the blaze that ignited after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
There was no mystery to be solved in Arbery’s killing. It happened in broad daylight, and the men who did it were on the scene when police arrived. But the killers walked free, and no one was arrested for seventy-four days—until after the video was made public and caused a scandal. What, exactly, were prosecutors thinking? Caroline Lester spoke with Arbery’s mother, a local reporter, lawyers, and a district attorney to understand what happened in those seventy-four days. His case, she finds, highlights a fundamental problem for criminal-justice reform: we may change the laws that govern policing, but those laws have to be vigorously enforced. And district attorneys may have little incentive to do so.
Joe Biden has been playing it safe during the coronavirus pandemic, but Evan Osnos got the chance to sit down with the nominee in person. It was too hot to sit outside, but the campaign staff didn’t want an outsider in Biden’s home, so the interview took place in a small house on the property that Biden’s late mother stayed in. In a wide-ranging conversation, Biden compares his position—should he win—to that of Franklin Roosevelt: taking office during a disaster, he argues, he would have an opportunity to effect a hugely ambitious agenda, but driven by pragmatism rather than ideology. (He was not comparing himself to Roosevelt, he hastened to add.) While the country is ever more partisan, Biden describes his centrism and his propensity for off-the-cuff remarks as an advantage. “The good news is the bad news,” he told Osnos. “Everybody knows me, and you guys know me, the good and bad. . . . It’s kind of hard to pin a label on someone that’s inconsistent with who they are. To make me out to be a revolutionary, it’s awful hard to do. Conversely, it’s awful hard to make me out to be a right-wing, very conservative Democrat.”
HBO’s “Watchmen” was nominated for twenty-six Emmy Awards—more than any other show this year—including two for the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who are also the members of the industrial-rock band Nine Inch Nails). The music negotiates the show’s superhero plot with its real and traumatic historical context: the Greenwood Massacre, in which mobs attacked the Black community of Tulsa in 1921 and killed as many as three hundred people. It “brings this very difficult history together with the sheer bad-ass fun of fantasy,” Vinson Cunningham says. “That tension shows up on every level of the show, and definitely in its wide-ranging score.” The music in “Watchmen” is “sometimes creepy, sometimes mournful, and sometimes outrageous—it’s not just a mood-setter; it’s like its own character.” Cunningham spoke with Reznor and Ross about how they achieved this effect, musically. “I knew we were not going to let the show down,” Ross said, “because it was clear that this one matters.”
The actor Sarah Paulson has appeared in “12 Years a Slave,” “The People v. O. J. Simpson,” and eight seasons of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story.” Now she’s starring in a new Murphy production—the series “Ratched,” which premieres on Netflix next month. It’s a macabre, over-the-top fantasy describing the origin story of Nurse Ratched, the heartless, possibly not-quite-human villain of Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Personified by Louise Fletcher in the 1975 film, Nurse Ratched is considered one of the great modern antiheroes. “I do think any character you play, particularly the ones that, on the surface, seem difficult, angry, monstrous—a lot of people don’t like to investigate that kind of stuff,” Paulson told the staff writer Michael Schulman at the 2019 New Yorker Festival. “But, to me, I think, it’s sort of our job.”
Since 2016, Andrew Marantz has been reporting on how the extremist right has harnessed the Internet and social media to gain a startling prominence in American politics. One day, he was contacted by a woman named Samantha, who was in the leadership of the white-nationalist group Identity Evropa. (She asked to be identified only by her first name.) “When I joined, I really thought that it was just going to be a pro-white community, where we could talk to each other about being who we are, and gain confidence, and build a community,” Samantha told him. “I went in because I was insecure, and it made me feel good about myself.” Samantha says she wasn’t a racist, but soon after joining the group she found herself rubbing shoulders with the neo-Nazi organizer Richard Spencer, at a party that culminated in a furious chant of “Sieg heil.” Marantz and the “Radio Hour” producer Rhiannon Corby dove into Samantha’s story to understand how and why a “normal” person abandoned her values, her friends, and her family for an ideology of racial segregation and eugenics—and then came back again. They found her to be a cautionary tale for a time when facts and truth are under daily attack. “I thought I knew it all,” she told them. “I think it's extremely naïve and foolish to think that you are impervious to it. No one is impervious to this.”
Samantha’s story appears in Andrew Marantz’s book, “Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation.”
This episode originally aired on November 22, 2019.
In this moment of historical reckoning, many Americans are being introduced to concepts like intersectionality, white fragility, and anti-racism. But Isabel Wilkerson would like to incorporate a little-discussed concept into our national conversation: caste. Wilkerson is a writer and historian who spent the past decade working on a book that examines the history of race in this county. During the Jim Crow era, “every aspect of life was so tightly controlled and scripted and restricted,” she told David Remnick. “I realized that race was an insufficient term.” Plus, we’ll meet some of the volunteers and the former inmates who make up the Rikers Debate Project.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been given a broad mandate to round up undocumented immigrants. The agency is infamously unwelcoming to journalists, but two filmmakers managed to get unprecedented access to its employees and detention facilities. Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz discuss how they got this closeup look at the agency as it developed ever-harsher policies designed to deter immigrants. Schwarz tells Jonathan Blitzer, who covers immigration for the magazine, that “if [ICE] can make life difficult enough, if [it] can send these messages . . . that this is the hell you’re going to get, then [they’ll] make these people leave.”
The documentary, “Immigration Nation,” is available on Netflix.
In this moment of historical reckoning, many Americans are being introduced to concepts like intersectionality, white fragility, and anti-racism. Isabel Wilkerson, the author of the best-selling book “The Warmth of Other Suns,” is introducing a little-discussed concept into our national conversation: caste. As she researched the Jim Crow system in the South, she realized that “every aspect of life was so tightly controlled and scripted and restricted that race was an insufficient term to capture the depth and organized repression that people were living under.” She explains to David Remnick that “the only word that was sufficient was ‘caste.’ ” The United States, Wilkerson argues, is a rigid social hierarchy that depends on a psychological as well as a legal system of enforcement. Her new book is “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” which has already been hailed as a modern classic. She says that “we need a new framework for understanding the divisions and how we got to where we are.”
The Mueller Report documented enough crimes and scandals in Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and in his Administration to sink the career of any President before him. But Trump called the whole thing a win. What’s more, he is now running for reëlection—something no impeached President has ever done before. How did that happen? And why? David Remnick discusses these questions with The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin, whose new book, “True Crimes and Misdemeanors,” is an account of the investigation and impeachment of Donald Trump.
Before she became the mayor of Chicago, last year, Lori Lightfoot spent nearly a decade working on police reform. Now Lightfoot is facing civil unrest over police brutality and criticism by the President for the homicide and shooting rates in her city. David Remnick spoke with Mayor Lightfoot about the state of the city, policing, and President Trump’s recent decision to send two hundred federal agents to help “drive down violent crime.” Plus, The New Yorker’s William Finnegan reports on what the repeal of an arcane law reveals about the conflict among police, protesters, and politicians.
In the United States, most of us take it for granted that every person born on American soil is granted citizenship; it’s been the law since 1868, with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. But birthright citizenship is more the exception than the rule globally. Not one country in Europe automatically gives citizenship to children born there. Ngofeen Mputubwele, a producer for the New Yorker Radio Hour, has been reporting on a group of Black Italians—children of African immigrants—who are working to change the citizenship laws of Italy, which they consider a system of racist exclusion. They are artists, intellectuals, and activists who use film, literature, music, and fashion to fight for the right to belong to the country in which they were born; Mputubwele compares their movement to “the start of the Harlem Renaissance.” Bellamy Ogak, a Black Italian, tells him that she was moved by the sight of white Italians carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs at protests following the killing of George Floyd but was angered that they seemed to overlook racism at home: “Why do Black American lives matter more than Black Italian lives?” she asks.
The decision about whether to reopen schools may determine children’s futures, the survival of teachers, and the economy’s ability to rebound. Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, reviews what we do and don’t know about the dangers of in-person classes. How likely are children to transmit the coronavirus? Will teachers spread it to one another? Oster talks about the data with Joshua Rothman and opens up a knottier question about this upcoming school year: How do we measure the trade-off between the lives that will inevitably be lost if schools open against the long-term negative effects of learning loss if schools stay closed? What will a school do when, inevitably, somebody dies? “We’re going to have to accept that there isn’t actually a right choice,” she says.
This summer, the Public Theatre, in New York, is putting on Shakespeare’s history play “Richard II.” Because most theatre was cancelled, even outdoors, due to the pandemic, the Public partnered with WNYC to bring the show to the radio. The production stars André Holland as the weak, indecisive king who faces a rebellion by his cousin, Bolingbroke. Richard is not a “bad dude,” Holland says, but a man doing the best he can in a situation he cannot manage. The theatre critic Vinson Cunningham spoke with Holland about performing Shakespeare as a Black actor and his concerns about taking on the role of King Richard: What would a Black man playing the failed leader convey to an audience? Holland also explains why he thinks that Black actors are particularly suited to inhabiting the language of Shakespeare.
In the past few years, there has been a growing bipartisan demand to reduce the extraordinarily high rate of incarceration in the United States, on both moral and fiscal grounds. But some of the key reforms, according to some prison abolitionists, are actually expanding the “carceral web”—the means by which people are subjected to control by the corrections system. “Reform operates according to a logic of replacement,” the journalist Maya Schenwar tells Sarah Stillman. Drug courts and electronic monitoring are widely popular reforms that, Schenwar argues, only funnel people back into physical prisons, and may cause addicts further harm. Stillman spoke with Schenwar and Victoria Law, the authors of “Prison by Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms.” Plus, Rodney Evans discusses his documentary film “Vision Portraits,” which has been streaming on PBS. It examines the creative processes of a writer, a dancer, and a photographer who are—like the filmmaker—visually impaired.
My generation was taught that the civil-rights movement ended in the sixties, and that the Civil Rights Act put things as they should be,” Chance the Rapper tells David Remnick. “That belief was reinforced with the election of Barack Obama”—who loomed especially large to a boy from the South Side of Chicago. One of the biggest stars in hip-hop, Chance is also one of the most politically committed, and his art has always been closely tied to his commitment to lift up his community. Quite early in his career, he founded a nonprofit, SocialWorks, that invests in education in Chicago, and he has advocated for progressive candidates in city politics. But as politically aware as he is, Chance says that the protests following the death of George Floyd have given him a new consciousness of the struggle for racial justice. “This movement has shown us that we are very far from an equitable or an equal society. And that we will be the generation that fixes it.”
The protagonist of “I May Destroy You,” a young woman named Arabella, has her drink spiked at a party and discovers afterward that she has been assaulted. She spends the rest of the show untangling what happened to her. And yet the HBO series is not a crime drama but a nuanced and sometimes comedic exploration of the emotional toll of surviving assault. The series—written and directed by, and starring, Michaela Coel—is based on Coel’s own experience. Coel tells Doreen St. Félix that she was assaulted while working on the second season of her celebrated BBC show “Chewing Gum.” She took notes about what happened, and some of that material made it into the new show, while other aspects are fictional. Of Arabella, who often wears a pink wig, Coel says, “You don't know where she begins and where I end.”
Joe Biden all but locked up the Democratic Presidential nomination just as the coronavirius crisis began triggering national lockdowns. Now he faces an economic disaster and a public-health emergency that prevent traditional campaigning, which may help Biden if swing voters blame the incumbent for the state of the nation. But Biden faces his own heavy baggage: admissions of inappropriate touching of women, an accusation of assault, and a blemished record on racial justice. Amy Davidson Sorkin, Eric Lach, Katy Waldman, and Jelani Cobb reflect on the Biden campaign and on the candidate’s past leadership. Cobb, who discusses Biden’s history with police reform and the 1994 Crime Bill, says that one thing is almost certain: whatever gaffes that the gaffe-prone candidate may utter, the Trump Administration will create a bigger headline five minutes later. Plus, David Remnick interviews the South Carolina congressman James Clyburn, who is the most senior African-American in Congress. Clyburn helped Joe Biden win the critical South Carolina primary, and he defends Biden’s controversial record on issues of racial justice.
The thirty-year-old British singer/songwriter Laura Marling has produced seven albums of dense but delicate folk music, starting when she was only eighteen. After several years touring on the road, she tells John Seabrook, she found herself in Los Angeles. Speaking at The New Yorker Festival in October, 2017, she explained how, growing up, her father played her a lot of Joni Mitchell, and the influence stuck. In Los Angeles, she felt that many of the musicians she had long idolized were still “there in the hills, looking down on the city.”
Marling performed her songs “Daisy,” and “Wild Once,” accompanying herself on guitar.
This story originally aired January 26, 2018.
The 2019 New Yorker Festival was the twentieth edition of the annual event, and it was particularly star-studded. This program features interviews with Kenan Thompson, the longest-running cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” and Hasan Minhaj, the “Daily Show” veteran whose Netflix show “Patriot Act” won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
Starting this spring, many states began releasing some inmates from prisons and jails to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But a huge number of incarcerated people are mentally ill or addicted to drugs, or sometimes both. When those people are released, they may lose their only consistent access to treatment. Marianne McCune, a reporter for WNYC, spent weeks following a psychiatrist and a social worker as they tried to locate and then help some recently released patients at a time of uncertainty and chaos.
This is a collaboration between The New Yorker Radio Hour and WNYC’s “The United States of Anxiety.”
In the summer of 1967, a young black boy in Brooklyn was shot in the back by a police officer. The writer Hilton Als recalls the two days of “discord and sadness” that followed, and reflects on the connection between those demonstrations and this summer’s uprising following the killing of George Floyd. Plus, an activist group sees an opportunity to reclaim the mantle of gay pride after New York cancels its official parade.
Phoebe Bridgers’s tour dates were cancelled—she was booked at Madison Square Garden, among other venues—so she performs songs from her recent album, “Punisher,” from home. The critic Amanda Petrusich talks about the joys of Folkways records, and the novelist Donald Antrim talks about a year in which he suffered from crippling depression and rarely left his apartment, finding that only music could be a balm for his isolation and fear.
Like everyone in the United States, John Legend has spent much of the past three months in lockdown. He has been recording new music (via Zoom), performing on Instagram, and promoting his upcoming album. Though many artists have delayed releasing records until they can schedule concert dates—increasingly the most reliable revenue in the music industry—Legend didn’t want to hold back. The new album, “Bigger Love,” was written before the pandemic and the current groundswell of protest for racial justice, but his message about resilience and faith resonates. All art, Legend tells David Remnick, “is there to help us imagine a different future.”
This month, the Supreme Court is expected to decide a case with enormous repercussions: the Trump Administration’s cancellation of DACA, a policy that protects young immigrants commonly known as Dreamers. In November, Jonathan Blitzer spoke with two attorneys who argued the case, just before they went before the Court. Ted Olson, a noted litigator, is generally a champion of conservative issues, but he is fighting the Trump Administration here. Luis Cortes is a thirty-one-year-old from Seattle arguing his first Supreme Court case. He is himself an undocumented immigrant protected by DACA; if he loses, his own legal residency would be immediately threatened. Plus, the writer Bryan Washington, a native of Houston, remembers the social life of gay bars before the pandemic.
George Floyd’s killing has prompted a national outcry and a wide reassessment of the ways in which racist systems are intrinsic to America. The anti-racism trainer Suzanne Plihcik argues that racism occurs even in the absence of people who seem like racists: “We are set up for it to happen,” she tells Dorothy Wickenden, and changing those systems will require sustained white action. Plus, the political reporter Eric Lach follows a congressional Democratic primary race to learn how the coronavirus pandemic has changed modern campaigning.
The film critic Richard Brody regards Josephine Decker as one of the best directors of her generation, and picked her 2018 film “Madeline’s Madeline” as his favorite of the year. Decker, he says, reinvents “the very stuff of movies—image, sound, performance—with each film.” Decker’s new film is “Shirley,” starring Elisabeth Moss as the unique horror author Shirley Jackson. In it, Decker dives deeper into the themes that have also shaped her previous works: the creative drives and the relationships of women. Decker tells Brody that, though the film may be a step toward mainstream, she remains guided by “poetic logic.”
“To look around the United States today is enough to make prophets and angels weep,” James Baldwin wrote, in 1978. This week, the staff writer Jelani Cobb speaks with a Minneapolis activist who’s been calling to defund the city’s police department, and with a former police chief who agrees that an institution rooted in racial repression cannot easily be reformed. Plus, Masha Gessen warns that the protests and the coronavirus pandemic may create a sense of chaos that a would-be autocrat can exploit.
Mark Cuban identifies as a capitalist, but the billionaire investor, “Shark Tank” star, and Dallas Mavericks owner has been advocating for changes that point to a different kind of politics. Cuban tells Sheelah Kolhatkar that the economic crisis now requires massive government investment to stabilize the economy from the bottom up; he’s pushing a federal jobs program that would warm the heart of Bernie Sanders. “We are literally going from America 1.0,” he said, “to trying to figure out what America 2.0 is going to look like.” Plus, Katy Waldman picks three novels that provide comic relief; and Susan Orlean gets a life lesson in origami.
Since January, Peter Hessler has reported from China under quarantine. Now, as restrictions lift, he tells David Remnick about his return to normal life; recently, he even went to a dance club. But, although China’s stringent containment measures were effective enough to allow a rapid reopening, one scientist told Hessler, “There is no long-term plan. There’s no country that has a long term plan.” Back in Washington, Evan Osnos explains how blaming China for its sluggish response—and insisting that it cost lives worldwide—has become a touchstone of the Presidential race in America. The candidates have found a rare moment of agreement that it is time to get tough on China, and that their opponent is weak.
When schools were closed owing to the coronavirus outbreak, the English teacher Petria May did the most natural thing she could think of: she assigned her tenth-grade class to read Albert Camus’s novel “The Plague,” which describes a quarantine during an outbreak of disease. Plus, a short story by Peter Cameron. In “Memorial Day,” a teen-age boy is forced to spend a beautiful Memorial Day with the two people he really can’t deal with: his mother and his new stepfather, Lonnie, who’s so young he’s sometimes mistaken for the narrator’s brother. The boy is talkative in school, and he writes letters to pen pals in prison, but at home he hasn’t spoken a word in months. Noah Galvin reads the story, which was originally published in The New Yorker in 1983.
Abie Roehrig, a twenty-year-old undergraduate, has put his name on a list of volunteers for a human-challenge trial to test the efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine. A human-challenge trial for a vaccine would be nearly unprecedented: it would entail giving subjects a candidate vaccine against the virus, and then infecting them deliberately to test its efficacy more quickly than a traditional, safer vaccine trial. Larissa MacFarquhar talks about this highly controversial proposal with the epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, who supports such trials for COVID-19, and the virologist Angela Rasmussen, who feels that the scientific benefits are too limited to justify the enormous risks. Plus, Jelani Cobb speaks with the legal scholar Ira P. Robbins about the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, and why prosecutors declined for months to arrest the white man who killed him. In the Arbery case, Robbins sees a fatal confusion of citizen’s-arrest laws, stand-your-ground doctrine, and racial profiling.
The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino has been following the artist Mike Hadreas, who records as Perfume Genius, since his first album; he has just released his fifth, “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.” He sings about his life and his sexuality in a style that evokes Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison—simultaneously vulnerable and swaggering. “That’s the music I’ve listened to my whole life . . . but felt like there was always not completely room for me in the music,” he tells Tolentino. Plus, Anthony Lane, having completed an extensive review of plague-theme cinema, shares three picks with David Remnick: a German silent picture nearly a century old, a gritty piece of realism from the golden age of Hollywood, and a more recent film that everybody’s been watching these last three months.
Jill Lepore discusses the “stay at home” campaigns that ran on radio stations during the polio years, devised to keep children indoors; she is especially fond of a program that featured a young Hubert Humphrey reading comics. Lepore finds solace in revisiting the desperate measures of that era. “One of the reasons I study history,” she says, “is I like to see how things began, so I can imagine how bad things end.” She describes the momentous day, in 1955, when Dr. Jonas Salk and his colleagues announced the success of the polio vaccine trials. “That’s the great blessing of a vaccination program,” Lepore says. “We forget how bad the disease was.” Plus, David Remnick speaks with three mayors who have to negotiate the task of reopening their cities safely.
For more than fifteen years, the fiction writer Edwidge Danticat has called Miami’s Little Haiti home. The neighborhood is full of Haitian émigrés like herself, many of whom support families back home. Though the virus has barely touched Haiti, the economic devastation it has wreaked on the U.S. will have dire consequences on the island. Over the years, Danticat has watched as Haiti’s struggles—political, economic, and environmental—have affected her friends and neighbors in Florida. “People would often say, ‘Whenever Haiti sneezes, Miami catches a cold,’ ” says Danticat. “But the reverse is also true.” Plus, two Western writers—Thomas McGuane and Callan Wink, separated by more than forty years in age—go fishing on Montana’s Yellowstone River, and share a pointed critique of “Western writing.”
Michigan is the tenth-largest state by population, but it has the third-largest number of COVID-19 deaths. Governor Gretchen Whitmer enacted some of the country’s most stringent stay-at-home orders, even forbidding landscaping and fishing. Furious and sometimes armed protesters became national news. Meanwhile, Whitmer’s outspoken criticism of the Trump Administration’s efforts on behalf of the states made her a frequent target of the President. “I didn’t ask to be thrown into the national spotlight,” Whitmer tells Susan B. Glasser. “I’m just trying to do my job, and I’m never going to apologize for that. Because lives are at stake here.” Whitmer’s national visibility has brought rumors that she is on the short list for Joe Biden’s Vice-Presidential pick. Whitmer is a sexual-assault survivor herself, and she explains why she stands by Biden despite the accusation made by his former aide Tara Reade.
Susan B. Glasser also speaks with David Remnick about the tensions that have emerged between the federal government and the states. While mostly targeting Democratic governors, Trump has also criticized some in his own party.
Three months ago, Kai Wright, the host of WNYC’s the United States of Anxiety, joined David Remnick for a special episode about the effects of mass incarceration and the movement to end it. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic puts inmates in acute and disproportionate danger, that effort may be gaining new traction. Wright and Remnick reconvene to examine the COVID-19 crisis in prison and its political effects. David Remnick also speaks with Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey, who has signed an executive order to release certain at-risk inmates from states prisons—the sort of measure that would once have been deeply unpopular and risky. “I haven’t really spent any time on the politics,” Governor Murphy says. “In all the steps we’ve taken, we’re trying to make the call as best we can, based on the facts, based on the data, based on the science.” And Kai Wright interviews Udi Ofer, the head of the A.C.L.U.’s Justice Division, who notes that “the communities that the C.D.C. has told us are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are exactly the communities that are housed in our nation’s jails and prisons,” including a disproportionately older population among inmates. Given the lack of social distancing and, in many cases, substandard hygienic conditions, Ofer says that reducing the inmate population “literally is a life-and-death situation.”
As of the end of April, thirty million people have filed for unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet many believe that this is only the first stage or initial shock of the financial system’s abrupt halt. “It’s more like a heart attack than the Great Depression,” John Cassidy explains. He speaks with David Remnick about the ways that this crisis could play out, and when and how the economy could bounce back. Plus, we meet Chika, a rapper who was hailed by P. Diddy as “best of the new school.” And Mike Birbiglia imagines his ideal death.
As black people die from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates, the disease is highlighting health disparities we’ve long known about. Kai Wright, the host of WNYC’s “The United States of Anxiety,” speaks with Arline Geronimus, a public-health researcher, about what happens to black people’s bodies—on a cellular level—while living in a racist society. Plus, we hear from one essential worker in New York who’s doing his best to weather the pandemic.
Experts predicted that Wednesday, April 15th would be a peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, its epicenter. On that day, a crew of New Yorker writers talked with people all over the city, in every circumstance and walk of life, to form a portrait of a city in crisis. A group-station manager for the subway talks about keeping the transit system running for those who can’t live without it; a respiratory therapist copes with break-time conversations about death and dying; a graduating class of medical students get up the courage to confront the worst crisis in generations; and a new mother talks about giving birth on a day marked by tragedy for so many families. The hour includes contributions from writers including William Finnegan, Helen Rosner, Jia Tolentino, Kelefa Sanneh, and Adam Gopnik, who says, “One never knows whether to applaud the human insistence on continuing with some form of normal life, or look aghast at the human insistence on continuing with some form of normal life. That's the mystery of the pandemic.”
Before she published “Silent Spring,” one of the most influential books of the last century, Rachel Carson was a young aspiring poet and then a graduate student in marine biology. Although she couldn’t swim and disliked boats, Carson fell in love with the ocean. Her early books—including “The Sea Around Us,” “The Edge of the Sea” and “Under the Sea Wind”—were like no other nature writing of their time, Jill Lepore says: Carson made you feel you were right there with her, gazing into the depths of a tide pool or lying in a cave lined with sea sponges. Lepore notes that Carson was wondering about a warming trend in the ocean as early as the 1940s, and was planning to explore it after the publication of “Silent Spring.” If she had not died early, of cancer, could Carson have brought climate change to national attention well before it was too late?
Excerpts from Carson’s work were read by Charlayne Woodard, and used with permission of Carson’s estate.
This segment was originally broadcast on September 14, 2018.
Bill McKibben and Elizabeth Kolbert join David Remnick to talk about the twin crises of our time: the coronavirus pandemic and the climate emergency. During the COVID-19 national emergency, the Trump Administration has loosened auto-emissions standards, and has proposed easing the controls on mercury released by power plants, among other actions. With protesters no longer able to gather, construction on the controversial Keystone Pipeline has resumed. Still, McKibben and Kolbert believe that the pandemic could remind the public to take scientific fact seriously, and possibly might change our values for the better. Plus: Carolyn Kormann speaks with a disease ecologist who hunts for coronaviruses and other deadly pathogens in the bat caves where they originate.
The contributor Yiyun Li is a fiction writer who also teaches creative writing at Princeton University. “The campus is empty,” she tells Joshua Rothman. “The city is quiet. It has a different feeling. And it’s a good time to read ‘War and Peace.’ ” When the coronavirus outbreak began, Li reached for Tolstoy’s epic of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars; there is no better book, she feels, for a time of fear and uncertainty.
So as many of us were retreating to our homes in March, Yiyun Li launched a project called Tolstoy Together, an online book club in which thousands of people, on every continent except Antarctica, are participating. In the morning, Li posts thoughts about the day’s reading (twelve to fifteen pages), and participants reply, on Twitter and Instagram, with their own comments. “War and Peace,” Li believes, is capacious enough to be endlessly relevant. “The novel started with Annette having a cough. And she said she was sick, she couldn't go out to parties, so she invited people to her house for a party and everybody came. And so that was ironic. I have read the novels so many times. This is the only time I thought, ‘Oh, you know, a cough really means something. These people really should be careful about life.’ ” Plus, with the coronavirus pandemic delaying the start of the M.L.B. season, David Remnick revisits a conversation with baseball’s greatest observer: the Hall of Fame inductee Roger Angell.
David Remnick on the hope and catharsis that he finds in New York City’s daily mass cheer, which celebrates all those who are keeping the city alive at their peril. Plus, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor on the inequality of COVID-19. On the surface, it may seem to be a great leveller—princes and Prime Ministers, musicians and Hollywood A-listers, NBA players, and other prominent people have made headlines for contracting the virus—but the pandemic exacerbates the inequality of the American health-care system. Minorities, and particularly African-Americans, account for a greatly disproportionate number of deaths in places around the country. Taylor explains that the disparity is caused not only by underlying medical conditions that are more prevalent among the poor; even the basic preventative measures urged on Americans by the C.D.C., such as social distancing and sheltering in place, are less accessible in black communities.
This week, Jair Bolsonaro, the President of Brazil, ignored the advice of his own health minister, and went for a walk in the capitol, declaring “We’ll all die one day.” Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist elected to the Presidency in 2018, is known for flouting conventional wisdom. He is especially cavalier about the environment. Several weeks ago, he introduced a bill to allow commercial mining on protected indigenous lands in the Amazon. Jon Lee Anderson, a New Yorker staff writer, recently returned from Brazil, where he was reporting on the effects of these exploitative practices on one indigenous group in particular, the Kayapo. He says that Bolsonaro’s mining bill, like so many of his more radical policies, will have effects that are almost impossible to predict. “The indigenous people are the last defense for some of the world’s last wilderness areas. Its habitats, its ecosystems, the animals that live within it, the medicinal plants that we have yet to even know exist—the indigenous people turn out to be the final custodians,” Anderson says. “And, in some tragic cases, they are also the handmaidens to their own destruction. And it’s always been that way, and that’s what people like Bolsonaro understand.”
Audio used from the video of the late Chief Mro’o’s was produced by Glenn Shepard, an anthropologist at the Goeldi Museum, in Brazil. Additional music by Filipe Duarte.
Despite the warnings of politicians and health-care professionals, many have failed to treat the coronavirus pandemic as a serious threat: the spring breakers on beaches, the crowds in city parks. Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning expert on human behavior, speaks with Maria Konnikova about why the threat posed by COVID-19 defies intuitive comprehension. “There should be clear guidelines and clear instructions. We all ought to know whether we should open our Amazon packages outside the door or bring them in,” Kahneman said. “It’s not a decision individuals should consider making on the basis of what they know, because they don’t know enough to make it.” Plus: the story of a nine-hour virtual party that attracted hundreds of thousands of attendees—including Rihanna, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Drake.
An old Alcoholics Anonymous slogan goes, “Seven days without an A.A. meeting makes one weak.” But COVID-19 has made in-person meetings impossible in many situations, removing the foundation on which many alcoholics build their sobriety. Reagan Reed, the executive director of the New York Intergroup Association of Alcoholics Anonymous and a member of A.A., has watched as nearly a thousand regular meetings across the state have been cancelled. Earlier this month, she made the difficult decision to close the organization’s central office. The Radio Hour’s Rhiannon Corby spoke with Reed about the challenges of staying sober in a tumultuous time, and how A.A. continues to help people in recovery. Plus: social distancing remains the best way to contain the coronavirus, but many are starting to feel the emotional toll of constant isolation. David Remnick called Jia Tolentino, a staff writer at The New Yorker, in search of a few things to help lift our spirits.
Across the country, doctors and nurses are being forced to care for an increasing number of COVID patients with dwindling supplies and no clear end to the outbreak in sight. Two emergency-room doctors, Jessica van Voorhees, in New York City, and Sana Jaffri, in Washington State, describe the scope of the crisis as seen from their hospitals. “It would be typical in a twelve-hour shift to intubate one patient who is critically ill, maybe two,” Dr. Voorhees says. “The last shift I worked, I intubated ten patients in twelve hours.” Plus: it’s been just over a month since Donald Trump gave his first public statement about the coronavirus—saying, in essence, that the virus did not pose a substantial threat to the United States. Why did he so dramatically underplay the risks of COVID-19? “With Trump, sometimes the answer is pretty transparent,” Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker’s Washington correspondent, told David Remnick, “and, in this case, I think the answer is pretty transparent. He didn’t want anything to interrupt his reëlection campaign plan, which entirely hinged on the strength of the U.S. economy.”
As the coronavirus pandemic brings the country to a standstill, David Remnick and New Yorker writers examine the scope of the damage—emotional, physical, and economic. Remnick speaks with a medical ethicist about the painful decisions that medical workers must make when ventilators and hospital beds run out; John Cassidy assesses how the economic damage will compare to the Great Depression; and an E.R. doctor describes her fear for her safety in treating the onslaught of COVID-19 without adequate supplies.
All her life, Astrid Holleeder knew that her older brother Willem was involved in crime; in their tough Amsterdam neighborhood, and as children of an abusive father, it wasn’t a shocking development. But she was stunned when, in 1983, Willem and his best friend, Cornelius van Hout, were revealed to be the masterminds behind the audacious kidnapping of the beer magnate Alfred Heineken. Although he served some time for the crime, it was only the beginning of the successful career of Holleeder. He became a celebrity criminal; he had a newspaper column, appeared on talk shows, and took selfies with admirers in Amsterdam. He got rich off of his investments in the sex trade and other businesses, but kept them well hidden. But when van Hout was assassinated and other of Holleeder’s associates started turning up dead, Astrid suspected that her brother had committed the murders. She decided to wear a wire and gather the evidence to put him away. If that didn't work, she told the New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, she would have to kill Willem herself. Willem is on trial now for multiple murders, and Astrid is testifying against him. Living in hiding, travelling in disguise, she tells Keefe the story of her complicity and its consequences. Keefe’s story about Astrid Holleeder, “Crime Family,” appeared in the magazine in 2018.
This segment originally aired on August 3, 2018.
Since its outbreak last year, the coronavirus COVID-19 has thrown the world into disarray. Travel to the U.S. from Europe has been suspended for thirty days; financial markets have plunged; Saudi Arabia cancelled the Hajj—the list of impacts is already infinite. In China, where the virus started, eight hundred million people are under some kind of restriction. One of them is Peter Hessler, who is currently based in Chengdu, and who has been quarantined with his family since January. New cases of the virus have been falling recently, which the Communist Party touts as a sign of its success, but Hessler has concerns about the costs of mass quarantine. “When you’re building a society, it’s not just about numbers or the death rate. Mental health is a big issue, and being free from fear is a big part of that,” he says. “And the public-health people will tell you that it’s better to have an overreaction than an underreaction, but I think there may be a point where that’s not true.” Plus: the staff writer Lawrence Wright recently wrote a novel—yet to be published—about a pandemic that sounds a lot like COVID-19. “The End of October” is a work of fiction and firmly in the thriller genre, but what he imagined in it turns out to be eerily close to what we are experiencing now. “I read the paper and I feel like I’m reading another chapter of my own book,” he tells David Remnick.
William Gibson has often been described as prescient in his ability to imagine the future. His special power, according to the staff writer Joshua Rothman, is actually his attunement to the present. In “Agency,” Gibson’s new novel, people in the future refer to our time as “the jackpot”—an alignment of climate effects and other events that produce a global catastrophe. The apocalyptic mind-set has already suffused our culture, Gibson believes. “How often do you hear the phrase ‘the twenty-second century’? [You] don’t hear it,” he points out. “Currently we don’t have a future in that sense.” Plus: Briana Younger interviews Thundercat, a bassist, producer, and songwriter who was a key collaborator of Kendrick Lamar on the album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and who makes quirky, slightly absurdist music of his own.
Just over a week ago, Bernie Sanders seemed to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Then came some prominent withdrawals from the race, and, on Super Tuesday, the resurgence of Joe Biden’s campaign. (Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii remains in the race, but has no chance of winning the nomination.) But the narrowing of the field only highlights the gulf between the Party’s moderate center and its energized Left. David Remnick talks with Amy Davidson Sorkin, a political columnist for The New Yorker, about the possibility of a contested Convention. Then Remnick interviews Michael Kazin, an historian and the co-editor of Dissent magazine. Kazin points out that Sanders is struggling against a headwind: even voters sympathetic to democratic socialism may vote for a pragmatist if they think Biden is more likely to beat the incumbent President in November. But Sanders seems unlikely to moderate his message. “There is a problem,” Kazin tells David Remnick. “A divided party—a party that’s divided at the Convention—never has won in American politics.”
Eleanor Randolph finished her biography of Michael Bloomberg in June, 2019, just as the former mayor decided not to run for President. “He didn’t want to go on an apology tour,” Randolph tells David Remnick. Bloomberg knew he would be called to answer for his vigorous pursuit of unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policing, for accusations against him of sexual misconduct, and for his history as a Republican. Ultimately, Bloomberg not only entered the race but has spent more than four hundred million dollars on political ads to defeat another New York billionaire, the incumbent. Randolph and Andrea Bernstein, a reporter for WNYC who covered Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor, sit down with David Remnick to discuss the candidate’s time in Gracie Mansion, his philosophy of governing, and his philanthropy. Whereas Trump’s political contributions have been unabashedly transactional, Bloomberg’s generous philanthropy also has an expected return. “All the money that he gave to philanthropies and charities were a way of doing good in the world, sure, but they were also a way of making him more powerful as mayor,” Bernstein says. “Everything with Bloomberg, there’s a countervailing thing. Something benefits somebody: it also might benefit him, it also might benefit billionaires from Russia.”
After a Manhattan jury found Harvey Weinstein guilty of two of the sex crimes he was charged with, Ronan Farrow sat down with the actress Rose McGowan, one of the women to speak out against the movie producer, whom she has said raped her in 1997, at a film festival. McGowan tweeted about the assault in 2016, not naming Weinstein but leaving no doubt as to whom she was accusing. “Could you have imagined at that point,” Farrow asks her, that “we’d be sitting here talking about Harvey Weinstein getting convicted?” McGowan takes a long pause. “No. But I did think there could be a massive cultural shift. That I knew.” McGowan later went on the record for Farrow’s reporting on the Weinstein case, which received a Pulitzer Prize and helped to launch the #MeToo movement. “It’s been an odyssey for both of us,” she said. Plus, using E.E.G. sensors and heart-rate monitors, a company investigates how political candidates engage our attention and emotions.
The complexity of world events can’t be modelled by a flow chart or even the most sophisticated algorithms. Instead, military officers, diplomats, and policy analysts sometimes turn to an old but sophisticated set of tools: war games. Simon Parkin observed officials playing one in order to predict and contain a potential geopolitical conflict. And Michael Schulman speaks with Pam Grier, the pioneering star of blaxploitation films like “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown,” about her singular career in Hollywood.
Donald Trump began his Presidential bid, in 2015, with an infamous speech, at Trump Tower, in which he said of Mexican immigrants, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” But it was not until a former aide to Jeff Sessions joined Trump’s campaign that the nativist rhetoric coalesced into a policy platform—including the separation of children from their families at the border. Jonathan Blitzer, who writes about immigration for The New Yorker, has been reporting on Stephen Miller’s sway in the Trump Administration and his remarkable success in advancing an extremist agenda. “There has never been an American President who built his campaign around the issue of immigration and later won on that campaign on immigration. Trump was the first and only President really ever to do it,” Blitzer tells David Remnick. Despite this influence, Miller remains largely behind the scenes. Blitzer explains why: “He knows that the kiss of death in this Administration is to be identified as the brains behind the man. He can’t let on that he’s the one who effectively is manipulating Trump on these issues.”
Bernie Sanders’s win in New Hampshire has established him as the Democratic Presidential front-runner. Centrist Democrats regard him not as a challenge but more like an existential threat: they assume that only a moderate—and certainly not a democratic socialist—can sway critical swing voters and win in November. Are they right? David Remnick speaks with Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Attorney General who served as co-chair of the Democratic National Committee after that organization infamously tried to spike Sanders’s candidacy in 2016. Ellison says that the clarity of Sanders’s mission and his appeal to economic problems can win over struggling voters in both parties. Then Nathaniel Rakich, a pollster for FiveThirtyEight, presents what the data indicates about Sanders’s chances. Plus, a civics project goes off the rails when high-school students run a simulation of the 2020 primaries.
In the near future, the Internet is sentient and her name is Aunt Nettie. Gish Jen’s novel “The Resisters” imagines a dystopian world with two classes: the “netted” (people who work) and the “surplus” (people who merely consume). The book follows Gwen, a terrific baseball pitcher from a surplus family that’s politically active. When her pitching attracts the attention of Aunt Nettie, she must choose between realizing her talents or staying with her family and being a resister. Baseball, for Jen, epitomizes the magic of chance and natural talent. “I wanted to write about our times,” she tells Katy Waldman. “But, to write in a realistic mode about our times and everything that’s happening, we would have nothing but shock and anger.”
“The Resisters” was published on February 4th.
Louis C.K. is touring comedy clubs for the first time since accusations of sexual misconduct seemed to end his career, in 2017. Several women charged that C.K. had exposed himself and masturbated in front of them. (Louis says that he believed he had their consent.) The New Yorker staff writer Hilton Als saw C.K.’s show at Yuk Yuk’s comedy club, in Niagara Falls, hoping to see him address the issues through his comedy. “I really wanted him to describe himself,” Als tells David Remnick. “To be Louis that I loved, the person who would have described what those situations were like . . . what his compulsion was, where did it start? Why was it important for him to masturbate and not be alone? Was it a performance? Did he want [the women] to like him?” Instead, with an audience of bros in a small club, Louis dismissed what he called “the thing” as quickly as possible. Plus, a small group of one-per-centers argues that the wealth gap has grown too large, and that it will hurt economic growth. The solution? They want to raise their own taxes.
The last time a Democrat won the White House, he had enormous support from black voters; lower support from black voters was one of many reasons Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Marcus Ferrell, a political organizer from Atlanta, tells Radio Hour about the importance of turning out “unlikely voters” in order to win an election, which, for him, means black men. Jelani Cobb, a New Yorker staff writer and historian, points out that the four Democratic front-runners, all of whom are white, may struggle to get the turnout they need. Cobb tells David Remnick that Joe Biden’s strong lead may begin to fall after his weak showing among largely white voters in Iowa; Pete Buttigieg has very low support among South Carolina voters, and even faces opposition from black constituents in his home town, South Bend. But Bernie Sanders, Cobb says, seems to have made inroads with at least younger black voters since 2016. Plus, a New Yorker staffer picks three favorites.
The Washington correspondent Susan Glasser has been covering the scene in the Capitol as Republicans rush to contain the damage of the John Bolton manuscript leak. Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, told Glasser that “if a Republican makes the argument that removing the President this close to an election isn’t the right response, [that] we should trust the American electorate to make the decision, then you have to support [calling for] more witness and more documents” in order for the electorate to make an informed decision. Glasser also spoke with Zoe Lofgren who is one of the House impeachment managers prosecuting the case against the President. Lofgren is an expert on the subject: she was on the House Judiciary Committee in 1998 during the Clinton impeachment, and, in 1974, as a law student, she helped to draft charges against Richard Nixon. Nixon, she points out, was far more forthcoming than Trump with Congress, directing his staff to appear for questions without a subpoena. If the Senate votes to acquit, endorsing a campaign of stonewalling by the executive branch, Lofgren says, “It will forever change the relationship between the branches of government.” Plus, the historian and staff writer Jill Lepore talks with David Remnick about how Americans rallied to save democracy in the nineteen-thirties, and how we might apply those lessons to a time when our own democracy has weakened.
N. K. Jemisin is one of the most celebrated authors in science fiction’s history; the novels of her “Broken Earth” trilogy won the Hugo Award for three consecutive years, a unique achievement. Yet her work has also engendered an ugly backlash from a faction of readers who feel that the recognition of women and authors of color within the industry has been undeserving. Racism in science fiction and fantasy goes back to the origins of the genre, Jemisin explains to Raffi Khatchadourian. Her new novel, “The City We Became,” explicitly addresses the legacy of H. P. Lovecraft, an early and influential writer who helped to invent the genre. Lovecraft was also a virulent, impassioned racist, even by the standards of the early twentieth century. It’s not possible, Jemisin says, to separate Lovecraft’s ideology from his greatness as a fantasy writer: his view of non-white peoples as monstrous informed the way he wrote about monsters. Rather than try to ignore or cancel Lovecraft, Jemisin says, she felt compelled to engage with him.
Mass incarceration is now widely regarded as a prejudiced and deeply harmful set of policies. Bipartisan support exists for some degree of criminal-justice reform, and, in some circles, the idea of prison abolition is also gaining traction. Kai Wright, the host of the WNYC podcast “The United States of Anxiety,” spoke about the movement with Paul Butler, a law professor and former federal prosecutor who saw firsthand the damage that prosecution causes; and sujatha baliga, a MacArthur Foundation fellow who leads the Restorative Justice Project at the nonprofit Impact Justice and a survivor of sexual violence. “Prison abolition doesn’t mean that everybody who’s locked up gets to come home tomorrow,” Butler explains. Instead, activists envision a gradual process of “decarceration,” and the creation of alternative forms of justice and harm reduction. “Abolition, to my mind, isn’t just about ending the prisons,” baliga adds. “It’s about ending binary processes which pit us as ‘us, them,’ ‘right, wrong’; somebody has to be lying, somebody’s telling the truth. That is not the way that we get to healing.”
It’s time for the most anticipated of all awards shows: the Brodys, in which The New Yorker’s Richard Brody shares the best films of the year, according to Richard Brody. And the political commentator Ezra Klein explains why he thinks politics have gotten as polarized as they are: we care too much about party identity and not enough about policy.
The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world; although the country makes up about five per cent of the global population, it holds nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. David Remnick is joined by WNYC’s Kai Wright, the host of the podcast “The United States of Anxiety,” to talk about mass incarceration and the beginning of a movement against it. Remnick also talks with Michelle Alexander, whose book “The New Jim Crow,” from 2010, which was a best-seller for nearly five years, identified how mass-incarceration policies have been a disaster for communities of color. The poet and public defender Reginald Dwayne Betts, who was formerly incarcerated, reads from his book “Felon.” And we follow a man who returns home from prison to find a changed world.
Taber Gable contributed original music for this episode.
Next week’s debate, in Des Moines, was likely going to focus on health care and other domestic issues, but the agenda will probably be dominated by the Trump Administration’s killing of Iran’s General Qassem Suleimani and America’s history of war in the Middle East. The New Yorker’s Eric Lach, who is in Iowa, describes how the candidates are honing their positions. Plus, the contributor Anna Wiener reflects on the changing face of Silicon Valley; and the Moscow correspondent Joshua Yaffa describes how to succeed in Putin’s Russia.
David Remnick has appeared as the guest of Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” a number of times over the years, talking about Russia, Muhammad Ali, and other subjects. Hosting “Fresh Air” for nearly forty-five years, Gross is a defining voice of NPR, and is perhaps the most celebrated interviewer of our time. In October, 2019, the tables turned, and Gross joined Remnick as his guest for a live interview at The New Yorker Festival. They spoke about how she first found her way to the microphone, the role of feminism in establishing NPR, the limits of her expertise, and what she has had to give up to prepare for serious conversations day after day.
Qassem Suleimani was Iran’s most powerful military and intelligence leader, and his killing, in a U.S. air strike in Baghdad on Thursday night, will likely be taken as an act of war by Tehran. Dexter Filkins, who wrote the definitive profile of Suleimani, in 2013, spoke with David Remnick about the commander’s central role within the Iranian regime. Reprisals against the U.S., he says, might be carried out anywhere in the world, either by Iran’s Quds Force or by affiliates such as Hezbollah. The Trump Administration experiences tension between a desire for regime change and the President’s desire to avoid foreign wars; Filkins notes that embattled Presidents, like Bill Clinton during his impeachment, often have itchy trigger fingers.
In December of 2015, a video appeared on the Internet that stunned surfers worldwide. Titled “Kelly’s Wave,” it showed Kelly Slater—arguably the best pro surfer in history—unveiling a secret project he had been working on for more than a decade. With the help of engineers and designers, Slater had perfected the first artificial wave, created by machine in a pool, that could rival the best waves found in the ocean. “One could spend years and years surfing in the ocean,” the staff writer William Finnegan, himself a lifelong surfer, notes, “and never get a wave as good as what some people are getting here today. Ever.”
Finnegan went to visit the Kelly Slater Wave Company’s Surf Ranch—a facility in California’s Central Valley, far from the Coast—to observe a competition and test the wave for himself. (He wrote about the experience in The New Yorker.) Up until now, surfing was defined by its lack of predictability: chasing waves around the world and dealing with disappointment when they do not appear has been integral to the life of a surfer. But, with a mechanically produced, infinitely repeatable, world-class wave, surfing can become like any other sport. The professional World Surf League, which has bought a controlling interest in Slater’s company, sees a bright future.
But Finnegan wonders what it means to take surfing out of nature. Will kids master riding artificial waves without even learning to swim in the ocean? Finnegan spoke with Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore (the Australian seven-time world champion), and Matt Warshaw (the closest thing surfing has to an official historian). Warshaw, like Finnegan, is skeptical about the advent of mechanical waves. Yet he admits that, when he had the chance to ride it, he didn’t ever want to stop. “It reminded me of 1986,” Warshaw recalls. “The drugs have run out, you already hate yourself—how do we get more?”
This story originally aired December 14, 2018.
Patricia Marx is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and has contributed pieces for thirty years. Still, it might not be too late to try out a new career. “There are some jobs and endeavors that look impossibly hard,” she notes. “But conducting [an orchestra]—I just thought, How hard, really, can it be?”
Prepared with a little coaching from the real-life conductor Bernard Labadie, and armed with an eight-dollar baton from Amazon, Patty Marx takes a stab at conducting the prestigious Orchestra of St. Luke’s through Hayden’s Symphony No. 45. Marx doesn’t want to do a passable job of conducting the piece; she wants to give it her own unique stamp. With that goal in mind, she devises a set of sui-generis conducting techniques derived from daily activities like hailing a cab, or yoga. “I want to be one of the greats,” Marx says. Plus, the New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh sings the praises of his favorite Christian rockers.
In the classic play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” a romantic with an exceptionally large and ugly nose pines after an unattainable woman. “As a person who looks like me, whenever I would watch a version of ‘Cyrano,’ I would just think, ‘That’s an actor in a fake nose,’ ” says Peter Dinklage. Dinklage, who has dwarfism, plays the character in a New Group adaptation by his wife, Erica Schmidt, with music by the National. But Dinklage avoids wearing a prosthetic, and he tells Michael Schulman that the nose isn’t really the point. The play is about “everyone’s capacity to not feel worthy of love.” To “Game of Thrones” fans who were devastated by the show’s ending, Dinklage has only tough love to offer. “They didn’t want it to end so a lot of people got angry. This happens.” He is not distraught about Daenerys, who turned out to be quite a brutal ruler. “Monsters are created. We vote them into office. . . . Maybe [fans] should have waited for the series finale before you get that tattoo, or name your golden retriever Daenerys. I can’t help you.” Plus, every year, countless poor spellers accidentally address their Santa letters to Satan. Satan—played by Kathleen Turner—always replies.
North Carolina is a relatively purple state, where voting between the two major parties tends to be close. That might suggest a place of common ground and compromise, but it’s quite the opposite. “A couple of years before the rest of the country got nasty, we started to get nasty,” a North Carolina political scientist tells Charles Bethea. Not long ago, a veto-override vote devolved into a screaming match on the floor, to which the police were called. Bethea, a longtime political reporter based in Atlanta, went to Raleigh to examine how hyper-partisanship plays out on a state capitol, where everyone knows each other, and the political calculations seem to revolve more on who did what to whom, and when, than on who wants to do what now.
Helen Rosner is known for her high degree of resourcefulness in the kitchen: she once broke the Internet with an article about the ingenious use of a hair dryer to help roast a chicken. So the staff of Radio Hour threw down a challenge: we asked Helen to make a meal out of whatever food she could find in The New Yorker’s communal fridge, with whatever cooking equipment she could scare up around the office. The result (spoiler alert): a marinated-vegetable salad with sardines, a whole-grain risotto topped with charred broccoli and chimichurri, a bread pudding with whiskey sauce and ice cream, and a rather unique cocktail—a Bloody Mary made with John McPhee’s vodka and a rim of crushed caterpillar.
Lena Waithe is the screenwriter and creator of the Showtime series “The Chi,” about the South Side of Chicago, but she tells Jelani Cobb, “Getting your own TV show is like getting beaten to death by your own dream.” Her first script for a feature film is “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas. It’s about a man and woman who are on a not-great first date, during which they unintentionally kill a police officer at a traffic stop that escalates. “I just wanted to write something about us. But unfortunately, if I’m writing about us, how can I ignore the fact that we’re being hunted?” The film arrives in the aftermath two notorious police killings of black people in their homes—Botham Jean in Dallas and Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth—only the latest in a long line of similar murders. “I do not want that kind of publicity for my film,” Waithe says. “I am like every other black person. . . . Every time these stories hit our phones, a piece of us dies, because we know that we could be next.”
Greta Gerwig tells David Remnick that her adaptation of the novel “Little Women” didn’t need much updating for 2019: the world hasn’t changed as much as we might think, she says. Isaac Chotiner talks with Jack Goldsmith, the conservative legal scholar whose new book is a surprising and personal account of a man who was regarded as a suspect in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. And the creator of HBO’s “Watchmen” tells Emily Nussbaum about the uncomfortable process of learning to write about race.
Three weeks ago, members of a Chilean feminist collective called Las Tesis put on blindfolds and party dresses and took to the streets. The festive atmosphere put their purpose in stark relief: the song they sang was “Un Violador En Tu Camino” (“A Rapist in Your Path”). It’s a sharp indictment of the Chilean police, against whom a hundred charges of sexual violence have been lodged since the beginning of the anti-government protests in October. The lyrics also target the patriarchy in general. The song might have remained a local phenomenon, but someone put it on Twitter, and, in the span of a few days, it became the anthem of women protesting sexism and violence throughout Latin America. A few days later, the protest was replicated in Paris and Berlin, and, shortly thereafter, in Istanbul, where it was shut down by police. The New Yorker’s Camila Osorio was recently in Chile and recounts the exciting story of the creation of a global movement.
It’s been a busy week, and it’s only Tuesday. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee unveiled two articles of impeachment against the President, which are nearly certain to be adopted by the House of Representatives. The same day, Congressional Democrats threw their support behind Trump’s renegotiation of NAFTA.
Isaac Chotiner, who writes the Q. & A. column, calls the New Yorker’s Washington correspondent Susan Glasser to talk about the reaction in the capital to the fast-moving impeachment process and about the House leadership’s decision to focus on a small number of charges—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress—when so many were potentially on the table. “There’s nothing in there about a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause,” Glasser says. “And there’s nothing at all about the Mueller report, which found ten alleged acts of obstruction of justice on the part of the President with no other remedy except for Congressional action.” But it is no coincidence that the House Democrats are proceeding impeachment and endorsing one of the President’s signature trade policies on the same day. According to Glasser, it may reflect a political calculation by Speaker Pelosi, aimed at helping Democrats running in districts where Trump won by large margins in 2016.
Joshua Yaffa recently profiled a Russian media mogul named Konstantin Ernst. Ernst is the C.E.O. of Russia’s largest state-controlled media network, Channel One, and his personal evolution from idealistic independent journalist to cynical mogul is a cautionary tale for the free press of any nation. Channel One effectively dominates Russia’s news cycle and subtly controls what its viewers believe. Ernst, Yaffa explains, has dispensed with the straight propaganda that was broadcast in Soviet times, in favor of a much slicker approach that’s more like a disinformation campaign. Rather than denying any specific facts or allegations against the regime, its news shows air conspiracy theories, contradictory interpretations of facts, and doctored footage to sow confusion. So, even though Russians have independent media outlets and access to the Internet, Channel One perpetuates a feeling that that the truth can never be known, one interpretation is as good as another, and there is no objective basis to critique what Russia gets from its leaders.
Jamie Lee Curtis comes from Hollywood royalty as the daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. She credits her mother’s role in “Psycho” for helping her land her first feature role, as the lead in “Halloween,” in 1978. “I’m never going to pretend I got that all on my own,” she tells The New Yorker’s Rachel Syme. But Curtis says she never intended to act, and never saw herself as a star: “I was not pretty,” she explains; “I was ‘cute.’ ” Eventually, the pressure she felt to conform in order to keep working led to a surgical procedure, which led to an opiate addiction. Curtis talks with Syme about recovery, second chances, and more than forty years of films between “Halloween” and Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out.” Plus, the chef at one of Los Angeles’s best restaurants on how to build a woman-friendly kitchen.
The current impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump are only the fourth in American history, and William Cohen has been near the center of power for three of them. First, he was a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, when his vote in favor of articles of impeachment helped end the Presidency of Richard Nixon. Twenty years later, as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, he had to navigate American military policy around the Lewinsky scandal. Cohen is now a Washington power-broker, and he tells The New Yorker’s Michael Luo the story of both sagas and their relation to today’s news. During Watergate, Cohen received death threats for what was perceived as his betrayal of Nixon, and he says that his chances for a Republican leadership position were “finished.” But Cohen implores his G.O.P. successors in Congress to put Constitution above party; otherwise, “this is not going to be a democracy that will be recognizable a few years from now.”
Senator Kamala Harris had a lot going for her campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination: national name recognition, strong fund-raising, an association with Barack Obama, and a way of commanding the spotlight both on television and on Twitter. She promised to be the prosecutor who would bring Donald Trump to justice and a candidate who could take him on in the race, a combination that thrilled her supporters. But, on Tuesday, two months before voting begins in Iowa, she ended her campaign. What happened, and what does it reveal about the Presidential race? Eric Lach calls three New Yorker colleagues to debrief: Dana Goodyear, who reflects on her Profile of Harris from the promising early days of her campaign; Jelani Cobb, who talks about Harris’s standing with black voters; and Ben Wallace-Wells, who notes that the gap between the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic Party may have grown too large for any candidate to straddle. Finally, Lach calls a heartbroken campaign volunteer, who estimates that she made thirteen thousand calls on Harris’s behalf.
In November, Iran announced new fuel rationing and price hikes, just at a time when U.S. sanctions are crippling the economy and especially the middle class. Protests broke out immediately, and the government responded by shutting down access to the Internet, arresting protesters, and using lethal force: more than two hundred people are said to be dead, according to Amnesty International. The Iranian government has laid blame on the United States, which has a campaign of “maximum pressure” aiming to destabilize the country—and Donald Trump is happy to take credit. But Robin Wright, the author of several books on the Middle East, notes that Iran is also facing opposition from some of its Shiite allies in the Middle East. In Iraq and Lebanon, protests have erupted against Iran’s efforts to increase its influence in the region, and the Iraqi Prime Minister announced his resignation partially because of that unrest. The Iranian regime is in real trouble, Wright believes. As she sees it, the country’s Green Movement of a decade ago, and the Arab Spring in the same period, were not a failure or a blip but the start of a process that may yet reshape democracy in the Middle East.
In August, India suspended the autonomy of the state of Kashmir, putting soldiers in its streets and banning foreign journalists from entering. Dexter Filkins, who was working on a story about Narendra Modi, would not be deterred from going. To evade the ban, he sought the help of an Indian journalist, Rana Ayyub. Ayyub had once gone undercover to reveal the ruling party’s ties to sectarian and extrajudicial violence against the Muslim minority. In a conversation recorded last week, Filkins and Ayyub tell the story of how they got into Kashmir and describe the repression and signs of torture that they observed there. Ayyub’s book “Gujarat Files,” about a massacre of Muslims in Gujarat, has made her a target of Hindu nationalists; one of the book’s translators was killed not long ago. She spoke frankly with Filkins about the emotional toll of living in fear of assassination.
In the winter of 2007, a songwriter by the name of Justin Vernon returned to the Wisconsin woods, not far from where he grew up. Just a few months later, he emerged with “For Emma, Forever Ago”—his first album produced under the name Bon Iver. Since then, Vernon and various bandmates have released three more records, won two Grammys, and collaborated with Kanye West, becoming one of the most celebrated bands in indie music. The music critic Amanda Petrusich spoke with Vernon at The New Yorker Festival, alongside his bandmates Brad Cook and Chris Messina. They discuss using made-up words as lyrics; Vernon’s deep, deep love of “Northern Exposure,”; and how a group like Bon Iver engages with current events in today’s toxic political climate.
Bon Iver performed “U (Man Like),” “Marion,” and “RABi”; Vernon was accompanied by Sean Carey, Jenn Wasner, and Mike Lewis.
Billy Porter’s résumé is as impressive as it is difficult to categorize. His performance in the musical “Kinky Boots” won him a Tony Award and a Grammy, and, recently, he won an Emmy for his character on Ryan Murphy’s FX series “Pose.” Take any style award and he probably deserves that as well: at the 2019 Oscars, he showed up in a gender-bending “tuxedo gown.” In the words of the New Yorker fashion columnist Rachel Syme, his “torso looked like it was smoking a cigar with a brandy, while his skirt . . . was ready for a gothic Victorian-era coronation.”
Porter sat down for a conversation with Syme at The New Yorker Festival, in October. “I grew up in the black church,” he said, which “is a fashion show every time you show up.” Porter spent much of his early career searching for work that represented him—a black, gay man in show business. Such work was dry in those early days, but it’s a problem he’s left behind. Porter’s just signed a book deal for a memoir, he’ll play the role of the Fairy Godmother in the upcoming live-action adaptation of “Cinderella,” and he’s working on a new album. But Porter sees downsides to his success, and describes being mobbed at dance clubs by admirers. “I am a person who is of the people,” he says. “And when you lose your anonymity inside of celebrity—that scares me.”
Since 2016, Andrew Marantz has been reporting on how the extremist right has harnessed the Internet and social media to gain a startling prominence in American politics. One day, he was contacted by a woman named Samantha, who was in the leadership of the white-nationalist group Identity Evropa. (She asked to be identified only by her first name.) “When I joined, I really thought that it was just going to be a pro-white community, where we could talk to each other about being who we are, and gain confidence, and build a community,” Samantha told him. “I went in because I was insecure and it made me feel good about myself.” Samantha says she wasn’t a racist, but soon after joining the group she found herself rubbing shoulders with the neo-Nazi organizer Richard Spencer, at a party that culminated in a furious chant of “seig heil.” Marantz and the Radio Hour producer Rhiannon Corby dove into Samantha’s story to understand how and why a “normal” person abandoned her values, her friends, and her family for an ideology of racial segregation and eugenics—and then came out again. They found her to be a cautionary tale for a time when facts and truth are under daily attack. “I thought I knew it all,” she told them. “I think it's extremely naive and foolish to think that you are impervious to it. No one is impervious to this.”
Samantha appears in Andrew Marantz’s new book, “Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation.”
Jenny Slate is on tour for her new book “Little Weirds.” It comprises short, strange essays, many of which involve clothing and how we present ourselves to the world. While Slate was in New York, the fashion columnist Rachel Syme paid her a call at her hotel room. Together, they rifle through Slate’s suitcase and analyze what she had packed for her appearances as a début book author, and what those choices said about her. Syme finds Slate to be a kindred spirit: someone for whom getting dressed is a complex but pleasurable business. Sweater vests, top buttons buttoned, and other choices are dissected. “More and more,” Slate says, “I want to turn away from things that are designed for men—or a certain man, I should say, to be fair. ” Her authorial wardrobe, Slate says, expresses a simple credo: “I know who I am, I know what’s going on, I’m not freaked out, and I think I’m allowed to be here.”
As he opened public impeachment proceedings last week, Representative Adam Schiff invoked Watergate—which, after all, ended well for Democrats. To understand how that history applies, or doesn’t, to the current proceedings, The New Yorker’s Dorothy Wickenden spoke with Thomas Mallon, the author of the deeply researched “Watergate: A Novel,” and of historical fictions about Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. How would Mallon write the story of the Trump impeachment as a novel? “I would go right inside the heads of Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, and Mitt Romney,” he tells Wickenden. “A guilty conscience is one of the best springboards for fiction.” Plus, a conversation with Philip Pullman, whose beloved trilogy, “His Dark Materials,” has been adapted for a new HBO series. But he’s already onto a second trilogy about its heroine, Lyra, because he has more to learn about her universe.
Eliza Griswold spoke recently with Doug Pagitt, a pastor from Minneapolis who is a politically progressive evangelical Christian. Pagitt left his church to found an organization called Vote Common Good, which aims to move at least some religious voters away from decades of supporting conservatism, and toward messages of inclusion and tolerance that he identifies as Biblical. And the radio personality Lenard McKelvey, known professionally as Charlamagne Tha God, talks about why he wrote a book, “Shook One,” about his treatment for anxiety disorder. Charlamagne wants to reach black men, in particular, to try to remove a perceived stigma around mental-health treatment in the black community.
Jeff Sessions, then the Attorney General, announced in 2017 the cancellation of the Obama-era policy known as DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. A number of plaintiffs sued, and their case goes to the Supreme Court next week. The New Yorker’s Jonathan Blitzer spoke with two of the attorneys who will argue for it. The noted litigator Ted Olson is generally a champion of conservative issues, but he is fighting the Trump Administration on this case. He told Blitzer, “It’s a rule-of-law case—not a liberal or conversative case—involving hundreds of thousands of individuals who will be hurt by an abrupt and unexplained and unjustified change in policy.” And Blitzer also spoke with Luis Cortes, a thirty-one-year-old from Seattle who is arguing his first Supreme Court case. Cortes is an immigration lawyer who is himself an undocumented immigrant protected by DACA status; if he loses his case, he will be at risk of deportation. Plus, while reporting on wildfire in Los Angeles, the writer Dana Goodyear was evacuated from her home. She sees the increasing frequency of intense fires as a wake-up call from the California dream.
One of the almost unsolvable problems with the U.K.’s exit from the E.U. is that it would necessitate a “hard border” between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, which would remain a member nation in Europe. The border was the epicenter of bloody conflict during the decades-long Troubles, and was essentially dismantled during the peace established by the Good Friday Agreement, in 1998. The prospect of fortifying it, with customs-and-immigration checks, has already brought threats of violence from paramilitaries such as the New I.R.A. At the same time, moving the customs border to ports along the coast of Northern Ireland—as the U.K.’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has proposed—strikes Northern Irish loyalists as a step toward unification with the Republic, which they would view as an abandonment by Britain. Patrick Radden Keefe, who wrote about the Troubles in his book “Say Nothing,” discusses the intensely fraught issues of the border with Simon Carswell, the public-affairs editor of the Irish Times. Plus, the writer Carmen Maria Machado takes us back to a farmers’ market of her childhood.
Six months ago, David Remnick interviewed a politician named Pete Buttigieg, who was just beginning his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President. Buttigieg was an unlikely candidate: the youngest person to run in decades, he was a small-town mayor with no national exposure, and had a difficult last name to boot. But a smart campaign has made Buttigieg a contender, and a recent Iowa poll put him in second place, behind Elizabeth Warren. Gay, Christian, and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Buttigieg is running as a kind of centrist outsider. “If you really do want the candidate with most years of Washington experience,” he told Remnick, “you’ve got your choice”—meaning Joe Biden. Furthermore, “if you want the most ideologically, conventionally left candidate you can get, then you’ve got your choice”—between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. But, he claims, “most Democrats I talk to are looking for something else. That’s where I come in.” Buttigieg spoke with Remnick in October, at the New Yorker Festival. They discussed whether he can overcome one notable weakness in his campaign: a lack of support among black voters, which would injure him in the South Carolina primaries. Plus, the New Yorker food correspondent Helen Rosner shares three current food-world favorites with David Remnick, including an ingenious cheat that blows the lid off of lasagna.