33 episodes

Welcome to Is This Democracy, the podcast where we discuss the ongoing conflict over how much democracy, and for whom, there should be in America.

Hosted by Lilliana Mason and Thomas Zimmer

Is This Democracy Lilliana Mason and Thomas Zimmer

    • News
    • 4.9 • 277 Ratings

Welcome to Is This Democracy, the podcast where we discuss the ongoing conflict over how much democracy, and for whom, there should be in America.

Hosted by Lilliana Mason and Thomas Zimmer

    33. The Many Blind Spots and Pitfalls of the “Biden Too Old” Discourse

    33. The Many Blind Spots and Pitfalls of the “Biden Too Old” Discourse

    Joe Biden is “too old” and should step aside – at least that is what many of the nation’s most prominent commentators are telling us. But do their arguments actually hold up to scrutiny? Is Joe Biden too old and unfit to be president? Is he incapable of campaigning and defeating Donald Trump in the 2024 election? And if he were to step aside, what should be the plan going forward? Specifically, is an open convention in the summer, as Ezra Klein has argued, the best path towards a Democratic victory in November? We discuss why this discourse, although frustrating and exhausting, matters; we evaluate the arguments of those who describe Biden as manifestly unfit; and we explain why, even though we are concerned too, we remain staunchly unconvinced by the arguments and suggestions the “Biden too old” camp has presented. Finally, we reflect on the case against voting for Biden that is coming from the Left, where “Biden too old” is often seen as merely a distraction from what are supposedly the much more significant reasons to reject the president, especially his stance on Gaza. We offer our thoughts on how people should approach an election in which we are confronted with a binary choice between either, in all likelihood, Joe Biden – or Donald Trump as the extremist leader of a party fully controlled by a radicalizing anti-democratic movement that is seeking to impose a vengeful authoritarian order on the country.
    Show notes:
    Ezra Klein, “Democrats Have a Better Option Than Biden,” New York Times, February 16, 2024 https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/16/opinion/ezra-klein-biden-audio-essay.html
    Perry Bacon, “Biden’s Democratic Party is to the left of Obama’s. Thank a progressive,” Washington Post, July 13, 2023 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/07/13/why-progressives-winning-inside-democratic-party/
    Thomas Zimmer, “What the ‘Biden too old’ discourse is really about,” Democracy Americana, February 13, 2024 https://thomaszimmer.substack.com/p/what-the-biden-too-old-discourse

    • 1 hr 22 min
    32. “Project 2025”: What the Right Plans to Do Once Trumpism Returns to Power

    32. “Project 2025”: What the Right Plans to Do Once Trumpism Returns to Power

    What would a second Trump presidency look like? We dive deep into the detailed plans that have emerged on the Right for what they want to do immediately upon getting back to power. Almost two years ago, “Project 2025” was launched under the leadership of the Heritage Foundation. Different factions on the Right are preparing separate plans, but “Project 2025” stands out because it unites much of the conservative machine behind the goal of installing a much more effective, more ruthless rightwing regime. We look at the people behind these plans and what animates them – specifically Kevin Roberts, the president of Heritage, who embodies the siege mentality, self-victimization, and grievance-driven lust for revenge that is fueling the Right. And we dissect the plans and proposals “Project 2025” has to offer, department by department: The goal is to vastly expand presidential power and transform American government into a revenge machine, purge tens of thousands of federal employees and replace them all with loyalists. Already, “Project 2025” is engaged in an unprecedented headhunting operation to ensure ideological conformity. We discuss the tension between the goals of weaponizing the government while dismantling the “deep state” at the same time, and how it is indicative of a larger conflict on the Right between a “traditionalist” and a more rightwing-libertarian wing. Finally, we reflect on why a second Trump term would be much more dangerous, as it could rely on a fully Trumpified GOP in Congress, on a supermajority on the Supreme Court, and on the prospect of escalating violence as the ubiquitous threat against anyone daring to defy Trumpism.   


    Show notes:

    Project 25 https://www.project2025.org/


    Mandate for Leadership: The Conservative promise https://thf_media.s3.amazonaws.com/project2025/2025_MandateForLeadership_FULL.pdf


    Inside the Heritage Foundation’s Plans for ‘Institutionalizing Trumpism, NYT, January 21, 2024 https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/21/magazine/heritage-foundation-kevin-roberts.html


    Don Moynihan, Trump Has a Master Plan for Destroying the ‘Deep State’, NYT, November 27, 2024 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/27/opinion/trump-deep-state-schedule-f.html


    Don Moynihan, The risks of Schedule F for administrative capacity and government accountability, December 12, 2024 https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-risks-of-schedule-f-for-administrative-capacity-and-government-accountability/


    Sam Adler-Bell, The Shadow War to Determine the Next Trump Administration, January 10, 2024 https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/10/opinion/shadow-war-trump-transition.html


    Chris Geidner, On Trump's "deep state" attack plans and where they would lead in a second term, November 27, 2024 https://www.lawdork.com/p/trump-deep-state-attack-v-admin-state-attacks

    • 1 hr 23 min
    31. Why the Reactionary Campaign Against Claudine Gay Is a Matter of Great Concern

    31. Why the Reactionary Campaign Against Claudine Gay Is a Matter of Great Concern

    Claudine Gay, Harvard’s first Black president, resigned on January 2 – the endpoint of a brutally dishonest rightwing campaign that could not have succeeded without the mainstream media eagerly joining the crusade to get her fired. We discuss why this disastrous affair matters: It was the latest iteration of the eternal reactionary grievance against higher education, which conservatives have always seen as a place of subversive liberal indoctrination and dangerous social engineering; part of an attempt to recapture the institutions of American life that “the Left” has supposedly hijacked; and a crucial battle in a much broader struggle to extinguish whatever progress towards diversity and integration has been made. Harvard matters because this sets the precedent for other places, other universities, other institutions. The campaign was orchestrated by far-right activists like Christopher Rufo, promoted and financed by a rightwing billionaire donor class, and pushed by MAGA Republicans like Elise Stefanik. But wait, even if bad actors were behind it, did Claudine Gay not still plagiarize? We discuss that too and assess the substance of the plagiarism allegations against her. Friends, there is no there there. Then why did the mainstream media propagate, launder, and legitimize such a dangerous campaign and ardently accept the role Rufo needed it – publicly told it! – to play? They didn’t just “fall for it,” they deliberately joined this crusade – a decision indicative of the media favoring “neutrality”-theater journalism over accuracy, of an increasingly reactionary, anti-“woke” stance on the center, and of America’s elites rapidly accommodating extremism. We are in for a rough ride.


    Show notes:

    Alvin Tillery, “Putting the Racist Crusade against Harvard’s Dr. Claudine Gay in Context” https://medium.com/@atillery2/putting-the-racist-crusade-against-harvards-dr-claudine-gay-in-context-26535c307f96


    Don Moynihan, “The campaign that removed the President of Harvard was about DEI, not plagiarism,” https://donmoynihan.substack.com/p/the-campaign-to-remove-the-president


    Moira Donegan, “Claudine Gay’s resignation had nothing to do with plagiarism” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/jan/04/claudine-gay-harvard-resignation


    Claudine Gay, “What Just Happened at Harvard Is Bigger Than Me” https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/03/opinion/claudine-gay-harvard-president.html

    • 1 hr 20 min
    30. Mad Poll Disease and the Folly of “Popularism” – with Michael Podhorzer

    30. Mad Poll Disease and the Folly of “Popularism” – with Michael Podhorzer

    In early November the New York Times released a poll that had Donald Trump clearly ahead in 5 of the 6 battleground states that will decide the 2024 election. It caused an earthquake and outright panic among (small-d) democrats. But just two days later, Democrats emerged victorious from an actual election. What on earth is going on in American politics right now? What are we to make of poll after poll claiming that Trump is on a path back to the White House? Do they tell us anything about what’s actually going on in the electorate? How should Democrats react in this situation?  
    There is no one else better equipped to discuss these questions – and shatter a few well-entrenched myths about elections and politics in the process – than Michael Podhorzer. He was, until recently, the long-time political director of the AFL-CIO and is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. And Mike is, without any exaggeration, a legend in progressive policy circles, having been instrumental in building and organizing an infrastructure for data-driven and evidence-based progressive politics. He is also someone who thinks deeply and sincerely about American politics and combines that with decades of experience as a leading progressive strategist and campaigner. The result is a clarity that few other political observers can rival – something he demonstrates regularly in his Weekend Reading Substack newsletter, in which he offers some of the very best political analysis out there.  
    We talk with Mike about why horse-race polling is “worse than useless” and should be ignored entirely; we dissect the dogma of “popularism” that is extremely influential in Democratic politics – even though (or, perhaps: precisely because) it offers white male identity politics rather than an adequate diagnosis or campaign strategy; and we discuss what’s actually going on in the electorate: Why there is so much frustration in U.S. society; the massive impact of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision; and why the pervasive idea of “education polarization” sanitizes and obscures the fault lines that actually shape U.S. politics.   
    Show notes:
    Michael Podhorzer’s Weekend Reading Substack newsletter: https://www.weekendreading.net/

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    • 1 hr 20 min
    29. What Do Americans Value in 2023?

    29. What Do Americans Value in 2023?

    We start with a reflection on the results in Tuesday’s elections, and how they relate to polls that indicate Joe Biden is not just unpopular, but actually trailing Donald Trump in key swing states. What can and can’t we take away from such polling, one year out from the presidential election?


    We then dive deep into a very different kind of polling and survey data: the 2023 American Values Survey – arguably the most in-depth attempt to capture the values, ideas, and attitudes that shape American society and politics. What do American think of democracy, political violence, authoritarianism, and all the many issues – from abortion and history education to trans rights and QAnon – that define the political conflict? On the basis of this major survey, we try to take the temperature on where things currently stand in America. The results is… mostly not very encouraging.


    Show notes:

    The complete 2023 American Values Survey can be found here: https://www.prri.org/research/threats-to-american-democracy-ahead-of-an-unprecedented-presidential-election/


    “What Do Americans Think About the Health of Our Democracy and the Upcoming Presidential Election?” Panel discussion on the findings of the 2023 American Values Survey, with Lily Mason and others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbeuG-lGiyU


    “Trump Leads in 5 Critical States as Voters Blast Biden, Times/Siena Poll Finds,” New York Times, November 5, 2023 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/05/us/politics/biden-trump-2024-poll.html


    Jeff Sharlet, The Undertow: Scenes From a Slow Civil War, W.W. Norton & Company 2023 https://wwnorton.com/books/9781324006497

    • 1 hr 14 min
    28. The New Speaker vs. Democracy, Threats of MAGA Violence as the New Normal, and the State of the 2024 Presidential Race

    28. The New Speaker vs. Democracy, Threats of MAGA Violence as the New Normal, and the State of the 2024 Presidential Race

    The Speaker drama is over (for now) – but who is Mike Johnson? His ascension is not only further evidence that the January 6 insurrectionists are now fully in charge of the House, but also a manifestation of how much the Republican Party is dominated by the interests and sensibilities of religious reactionaries. Johnson rejects the separation of church and state, he disdains pluralism, and he certainly doesn’t like “democracy.”


    We also discuss the role threats of violence played in this whole affair. The MAGA base wanted Jim Jordan – and threatened those who didn’t support him. We talk about the surge of political violence from the Right, violent threats as a form of political communication, and the kind of political culture that has been established on the Right and is constantly being normalized not just by Donald Trump, but also by an inability and/or unwillingness of America’s elected leaders and political institutions to hold the line. Does the fact that some Republicans publicly resisted these threats signal that this is about to change? We are skeptical: After all, even those Republicans who lamented the MAGA threats have not been willing to break with Trump or critically reflect on the escalating demonization of “the Left” that is animating the rise of rightwing violence.


    Finally, we are taking a big-picture look at the state of the 2024 presidential race. On the Republican side, Trump’s “legal troubles” have not hurt him – he is not only in a stronger position now than before he was first indicted, but also than at a comparable point in time before the 2016 election. What are the reasons for his hold over the Right, and what does this tell us about the field of Republican “challengers”? On the Democratic side, we discuss what to make of all the polling data that suggests a tough road ahead for Joe Biden – and why the conventional wisdom about the electoral effect of presidential approval rating and perceptions of the economy might not apply. We also discuss the question of Biden’s age: There is a real issue here, as America’s political elite is indeed significantly older than that of any other comparable democracy. But the mainstream media’s fixation on the “Biden so old” trope also signals something else.

    Sources and Further Reading:


    Annie Karni, “In Johnson, House Republicans Elevate One of Their Staunchest Conservatives,” NYT, October 25, 2023 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/25/us/politics/mike-johnson-house-speaker.html


    “They Legitimized the Myth of a Stolen Election — and Reaped the Rewards,” NYT, October 3, 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/03/us/politics/republican-election-objectors.html


    Sarah Posner, “The Christian Legal Army Behind ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop,’ The Nation, November 28, 2017 https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/the-christian-legal-army-behind-masterpiece-cakeshop/


    Jamelle Bouie, “The Apotheosis of Jim Jordan Is a Sight to Behold,” NYT, October 17, 2023 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/17/opinion/jim-jordan-house-speaker.html


    Ron Brownstein, “The Threat to Democracy Is Coming From Inside the U.S. House,” The Atlantic, October 18, 2023 https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2023/10/us-house-democracy-threat-republican-speaker-race/675679/


    Aaron Blake, “Threats couldn’t save Jim Jordan. But Trump-era intimidation has had an impact,” WaPo, October 20, 2023 https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/10/20/threats-havent-saved-jordan-trump-era-intimidation-has-had-an-impact/


    “Threats to American Democracy Ahead of an Unprecedented Presidential Election,” PRRI, October 25, 2023 https://www.prri.org/research/threats-to-american-democracy-ahead-of-an-unprecedented-presidential-election/


    Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason, “Threats as Political Communication,” Political Communication, October 18, 2023 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.10

    • 1 hr 17 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
277 Ratings

277 Ratings

MrPicasso ,

Earnest thoughtful and smart

The analysis of "Biden too old" was excellent! That wa well-done thoughtful treatment of a critical topic that in other places is disappointingly reduced to simplistic narratives or lazy conclusions that do not have supporting data. More broadly, this podcast addresses the nuance and reality of what has and is happening in America relative to the goal of a multipluralistic society. I wish that the clear analysis presented here was more common and happening at levels where appropriate action can be taken to advance the cause of justice and freedom for all.

DK7Wonders ,

Excellent insights

Love the show. You both offer excellent insights on the state of politics in the US and the threat to democracy. Love the synergy among the co-hosts as well. It’s fantastic to hear smart people put words to the feelings and thoughts that I’m too angry to coherently vocalize myself.

Em Castro ,

Strong Start, Now Shockingly Callous

The hosts made a conscious decision to dismiss and deride the tens of thousands of Americans who have grave concerns about Joe Biden as it relates to the bloodshed in Gaza. As they are normally quite balanced and thoughtful, this turn shocked me. Unfollowing.

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