Jeff Schechtman talks with authors, journalists, newsmakers and opinion shapers, and sheds light on the issues of the day, from local stories to national and international headlines and ideas.
Does America Need to Find Its First Principles? A conversation with Tom Ricks
The past four years, really right up to this moment, have been a test for the American republic. Over and over we’ve heard it asked, “can our institutions hold, are the ideas and documents of the framers adequate for the modern age.”
At the same time, we’ve heard over and over again since Nov. 8, 2016, how did we get here? What has driven us to such political and social division, to our appetite for authoritarianism, the disregard for norms, the rural-urban and the educational divide?What ties all of these questions together is the idea that when faced with a complex sometimes unsolvable problem, it’s best to go back to foundational principles. To deconstruct the enterprise and strip it to its original foundation to see how all of the problems have been layered on and how we might find meaning and/or solutions. This is essentially what Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and another Tom Ricks does in his new work First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our CountryMy conversation with Tom Ricks:
A Dolly Parton Moment
During our last great cultural and political upheaval in the 60s, music provided the soundtrack. Rock stars were not in Silicon Valley, but in the recording studios of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Nashville.
Historically, our culture has been shaped by music and music has shaped by our culture. Additionally music, like sports, has been a way out of poverty for many. Few personify this better, particularly for many women, then Dolly Parton, and no one captures this better than Sarah Smarsh in her new work She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs.
My conversation with Sarah Smarsh: DOG
The Collapse of America's Founding Mythology
Every company has its foundational myth. From the beginning, it becomes the basis of the company’s culture, its marketing, and really its DNA. The same is true for nations. And perhaps not surprisingly no nation has done a better job of that mythology than the United States. From the ideas of manifest destiny to John Winthrop's shining city on the hill, from freedom and equality to American exceptionalism, these stories are not only foundational for Americans, but they run in the American bloodstream.So what happens when it’s discovered that the myth and reality don’t match up? That the emperor has no clothes. Ultimately, the myth is exposed, the wheels come off, the anger spreads, first internally and then outside and the enterprise usually collapses or morphs.Arguably that’s what we’ve been living through today. The exposure and crumbling of the American myth. It explains the populist anger that brought Trump to power, as well as the anger on the other side that has fueled Black Lives Matter. When the myth is stripped bare, the company or the nation must be reinvested or die.These ideas are at the heart of Jared Yates Sexton’s book American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People.
My conversation with Jared Yates Sexton:
Biden..We Hardly Knew Ye
With the election just hours away, think about how many Presidents we’ve watched grow into the office. Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Earlier JFK and Jimmy Carter also came to the office unseasoned
Compare this to Ike, or Reagan, George HW Bush, or Lyndon Johnson all who arrived, for better or worse as fully formed political and human beings.In this year’s election, policy aside, Joe Biden comes to us having lived a very long public life during which time he has grown into the person and politician he is today. Arguable, as a man who would become the nation’s oldest president it is fair to say that he is not still becoming. While our presidential candidates seldom lack for position papers and policies, it’s who they are that ultimately determines if they have what it takes. Our vote for president is essentially a gut check vote about the man and the moment.And sometimes, not always, but when we are lucky, the man and moment match up.This is the question much of the nation is asking and answering about Joe Biden. After almost 50 years in the arena, it should be easy to answer. But amid all the clamoring, it takes work like the new book by National Book Award winner Evan Osnos to pull it all together in Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now.
My conversation with Evan Osnos:
Up Close and Personal with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown
The United States Senate was once considered the world’s greatest deliberative body. As we witnessed in the first presidential debate, it’s entirely possible that honest debate in America is actually dead. And why should we assume that the US Senate is any different?
But rather than coming to mourn what once was, perhaps by summoning up the history of some of those senators who once infused the body with all that made it and the country great, we can almost by sheer force of will create an environment that might let it bloom once again. After all, isn’t that why we study history, why we visit monuments and capitals and museums. So that we might take with us, in some primal and visceral way, the inspiration of the best that came before and integrate it into doing good today?
In part, this is what US Senator Sherrod Brown, does in his new book, Desk 88.
My WhoWhatWhy conversation with Sen. Sherrod Brown
Is Socialism Coming To America?
Bernie Sanders an avowed Democratic socialist, never a member of the Democratic party, ran two failed presidential campaigns, and yet he has succeeded in moving the Democratic Party to the left.AOC, is a one-term congresswoman with no previous political experience and yet her Democratic Socialist views have gotten attention on a national scale.Particularly among young people, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the state of capitalism and free markets today. Even the likes of billionaires such as Chase’s Jamie Diamon and Salesforce’s Mark Benioff have talked about the need for a new more inclusive capitalism. While this is essentially about the economy, it’s also about shifts in the social, cultural, and political landscape. The coronavirus has laid bare many of the lurking flaws in our system and the politics of the moment magnify everything.Is this a tectonic shift in the politics of America or a temporary blip in an otherwise centrist nation?John B. Judis breaks this down in his new work The Socialist Awakening: What's Different Now About the Left.
My conversation with John B. Judis: