The Long Game
The Long Game
Jon Ward
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An investigation into the reasons why Americans can't solve big problems anymore. Support this show
The 'Vital Center' of American Politics Needs Heroes & Myths to Beat Back Religious and Secular Extremists, Philip Gorski says
I've spent pretty much all of my life fascinated by the interactions between religion and public life. I grew up in a very strict fundamentalist Christian church. I went to Christian music festivals, marched in anti-abortion protests with my parents, and watched my parents become loyal Republicans from the Reagan era on. As a journalist I've been in rooms on the upper east side of Manhattan where secular liberals hissed and booed in 2004 at the mention of religious conservatives who they feared wanted to impose a theocracy, and I've interviewed Christians who believe America is a Christian nation and should be governed by the Bible. I've always believed that church and state should not be joined together, but I've also been skeptical of those who say religious conviction should have no role in public life or politics. And I think many people feel this way. I came across a book that is a few years old that does a compelling job of laying out this middle ground. "American Covenant" by Philip Gorski is for those who "know that the American project has a moral and spiritual core" (3) but believe that the role of religion in public life is to be prophetic, holding those in power to account and to higher principles, rather than seeking to hold power and domination. Gorski, a professor of sociology and religious studies at Yale University, argues that "religious nationalism is just national self-worship ... political idolatry dressed up as religious orthodoxy." But he also says that "radical secularism is little more than a misguided effort at cultural censorship, political illiberalism dressed up as liberal politics" (3). He also says that "one of the hidden weaknesses of secular progressivism today is its resistance to tradition" (xiii). He aims in the book to provide historical narratives and exemplary figures from history to buttress a "living tradition" (2) that can sustain a "vital center" in American public life "who share "a commitment to liberal democracy and a willingness to put national interests before political power when democracy itself is at risk, as it is now." "To be part of a tradition is to know certain stories, read certain books, admire certain people, and care about certain things," (4) he writes. Gorski writes that the civil religious tradition is what should animate the vital center. We discuss what that term means and how it is found in American history. Here is Gorski's comparison of civil religion to the other two options: religious nationalism and radical secularism. "Religious nationalism fails because it is idolatrous and thus irreligious, because America was not founded as a 'Christian nation,' and because many modern-day Americans are not believing Christians but are good citizens nonetheless. Radical secularism fails because restricting religious expression violates liberal principles, because the United States was not founded on a 'total separation' of religion and politics, and because most Americans are still religious," (4) he writes. "The civil religious tradition ... is neither idolatrous nor illiberal, because it recognizes both the sacred and the secular sources of the American creed, becuase it provides a poliitical vision that can be embraced by believers and nonbelievers alike, and because it is capacious enough to incorporate new generations of Americans," he says. As we get into near the end, i think there is a pretty strong connection between this book and Jonathan Rauch's "Constitution of Knowledge." Rauch's book makes the argument for how we should agree on what is true and what is not. This book provides a historical, theological, philosophical, and moral argument for why the Constitution of Knowledge is the best hope for American democracy, and how it is truly American as well. In the process, it calls out as false many of the ideas and stories being promoted by right-wing figures today, such as Tucker Carlson, and illuminates how the right-wing populism promoted ...
Aug 6
1 hr 6 min
A New Podcast on Mars Hill Church Dives Deep into Evangelical Subculture
I've been taking a little bit of a break this summer from the podcast, but I've been listening to another podcast that was so interesting to me I decided to talk with its creator. The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is a new podcast that chronicles the downfall of a celebrity pastor named Mark Driscoll. I am interested in this topic because I grew up in a church that was similar to Mars Hill. Covenant Life Church, the church I grew up attending, was intense, it was insular, and it revolved around one person: the pastor C.J. Mahaney. I've reflected for years on my experience in that church, as have many others. The church that I was born into became the hub of a national organization of churches with congregations in numerous other countries, and by one estimate, over 28,000 members. But over the last decade, Covenant Life Church and the umbrella organization he oversaw, Sovereign Grace Ministries, have fallen apart under the weight of scandal. Mahaney and SGM are now largely disgraced, and in 2019 they lost their most powerful ally, Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler, who cut ties with them. "The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill" is about a church that started about 20 years after Covenant Life, and its creator, Mike Cosper, from Christianity Today magazine, does an outstanding job of telling the story. I tried to think hard with him about why these stories matter not just to people of faith but also to people of no faith, or people who are not evangelical Christians. Support this show 
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Jul 28
48 min
Is There a Way Out of Information Chaos & Cancel Culture? Jonathan Rauch Shines a Light
We are in an information crisis. Viral disinformation predominates on the right, and cancel culture on the left, but Jonathan Rauch says in his new book "The Constitution of Knowledge" that both of them "share the goal of dominating the information space by demoralizing their human targets: confusing them, isolating them, drowning them out, deplatforming them, or overwhelming them so they give up on pushing back." The book is not primarily about media literacy. It's not a guide with tips about how to tell fake news from real news. It's a step back or up from that. Rauch delves into the philosophical realm to think deeply about what kind of system can fill that power vacuum in a way that preserves all the things I mentioned at the beginning: personal freedom, peace and prosperity, democracy, the futures of our loved ones and of the most vulnerable. Rauch argues that we already have this system, and in some ways need to replenish it by becoming newly aware of and grateful for it. He draws a parallel between the Constitution of Knowledge and the U.S. Constitution, in that they do something very similar: "They compel and organize social negotiation." The Constitution of Knowledge is a set of "social rules for turning disagreement into knowledge." "If we care about knowledge, freedom and peace, then we need to stake a strong claim: anyone can believe anything, but liberal science -- open-ended, depersonalized checking by an error-seeking social network -- is the only legitimate validator of knowledge, at least in the reality-based community," he writes. Intro music: "A Good Ending" by Dan Koch Post-intro music: "St. Tom's Lullaby" by The Welcome Wagon Outro music: "My Man" by Dan Koch Support this show 
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Jun 8
1 hr 1 min
Dean Phillips, a rising star in Congress, thinks America is on the cusp of embracing ranked-choice voting
I didn't plan for this episode to be about ranked-choice voting, but when I raised the topic, I was surprised at the degree to which Congressman Dean Phillips, a Democrat from Minnesota, was really gung-ho about this reform. I've done several episodes on ranked-choice voting before, but to sum it up if you're new to the idea: voters list candidates in order of preference. If no one gets above 50 percent, then the candidate with the most second- and third-place votes wins. The general idea is that it produces winners who are most preferable to the majority of voters, rather than allowing candidates to win with just 30 or 40 percent in a crowded field where other candidates split up the vote. Phillips made a little news here, I thought. He said he wants to push Democrats in the house of representatives to use ranked-choice voting in their next leadership contest, after the 2022 mid-term elections. Current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said this is her last term as Democrat leader, and so in 2022, Dems will be looking for a new Speaker if they're in the majority or a new Minority leader if Republicans win back the majority. Phillips also said he does not think Congress should mandate ranked-choice voting across the country. He said it's currently working as reforms should, starting in localities and cities and states, and proving its worth as it bubbles up. But he also said he does support the bill that we discussed on this show with Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, which would mandate ranked choice voting nationally. Maybe because he's still new to Congress or because he's a younger member at 52, or both, Phillips was pretty honest, saying he doesn't think the Beyer bill will pass but he supports it because it raises awareness of the topic. Phillips was first elected to Congress in 2018 and won reelection in 2020. He is heir to the Phillips distilling fortune, and was the company’s CEO from 2000 to 2012. He then went on to fund and manage two other investments: Talenti gelato, which he sold in 2014 and is now a national brand, and a coffee and crepe eatery in Minneapolis. He has stood out in Congress for his willingness to buck leadership at times, opposing the idea of overturning an Iowa House election, and for attempts to talk about racism and police reform in a non-reductionist way. His district is suburban and well-off, and he has received high marks from Congressional accountability groups for both bipartisanship and productivity.   Minneapolis was one of the earliest adopters of ranked choice voting. The city adopted the system for its 2009 elections. There are growing numbers of cities that are now doing the same. The biggest of these is New York City, which will use ranked-choice voting in its citywide primary elections on June 22. The conservative state of Utah announced this month that after two cities used ranked choice voting in municipal elections in 2019, 23 cities are now going to use the system in this year’s local contests. There are just over a dozen states in all now where localities have used RCV or have approved it and are planning to use it in upcoming elections. Outro music: "Tennessee Blues" by Steve Earle   Support this show 
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May 18
53 min
Curtis Chang Is Responding to Vaccine Hesitancy With Respect
Curtis is a former pastor who is now a consulting professor at Duke Divinity School and a senior fellow at Fuller Theological Seminary. And he's done a great job of putting together a wealth of resources that present facts and data, answers to the questions poeple are asking, and presenting it in a way that is informative and persuasive. He's specifically aimed his project at Christians, because white evangelicals in particular are the most vaccine resistant group probably int he country. That's shown in polling. A Pew Survey in February showed that 45 percent of white evangelicals didn't plan on getting the vaccine. But his series of videos, which also have transcripts you can read, will be helpful for anyone who has questions or concerns. There are videos about whether the vaccine is safe, and about whether it is a form of government control. There a video addressing concerns about a link between abortions and vaccines, and another looking at whether Black Americans can trust the vaccine. And there’s one on how to spot fake news about the vaccine. And there is even a video addressing the question, “Is the COVID vaccine the ‘Mark of the Beast’?” That’s a reference to apocalyptic evangelical beliefs about the end of the world and a passage in the final book of the Bible, Revelation, that talks about such a mark. I just sort of laughed at that one at first, but it actually kind of blew my mind, and you'll hear why in this episode. My personal favorite of all the videos was the one in which Chang explores the three most common reactions to flawed systems. You might call this systemic compromise or institutional sin. It’s a great exercise in critical thinking about ethics. I highly recommend it, and the whole series. Outro music: "Rise Up with Fists" by Jenny Lewis Support this show 
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May 12
49 min
Michael Slaby on Trump & Facebook and the Bigger Problem of Reforming the Internet
One of the dominant themes of the last several years, and especially the last year, is the loss of shared truth, a sense in the country that it's increasingly difficult to talk to one another when we disagree. Because increasingly, it seems like people don't know what is true and what is false, and then public debate just becomes a matter of tribalism, where our identity shapes what we believe rather than a more honest attempt to sort through facts and weigh evidence. This is a major theme of this show now. This year so far, I've interviewed one of the most insightful thinkers and writers on the topic, Peter Pomerantsev, two members of Congress who are fighting disinformation -- Democrat Tom Malinowski and Republican Adam Kinzinger -- and another activist -- David Blankenhorn -- who is trying to get Americans to sit down with others who think differently to try to understand their point of view. This episode is an interview with a guy who really understands the Internet, and has some pretty granular suggestions about how to fix it. Michael Slaby's book, "For All the People," is a trenchant analysis of what has gone wrong over the past two decades with the internet, and a passionate call for change. He writes for the leaders of private companies, for politicians and policy-makers, and for you and me, the average person who wants to know what we can do today to reclaim more control of our lives from big tech and to help repair our country. Slaby was chief technology officer on Barack Obama's 2008 reelection campaign, and then oversaw innovation and integration of tech into the entire 2012 campaign. He now runs Harmony Labs, a company working on internet reform implementation at the local scale. Outro music: "Think Too Much" by Hannah Jadagu Support this show 
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May 5
1 hr 1 min
A conservative Christian book ignites debate over reparations — and faith itself
Duke Kwon is a minister in Washington, D.C., at Grace Meridian Hill, which is part of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). Gregory Thompson pastored for 20 years — most of it in Charlottesville, Va. — in that same denomination, which is decidedly on the conservative side of American Christianity in terms of its theology. The PCA itself was formed by congregations who objected to the civil rights movement. And yet these two men, one an Asian-American and the other a Caucasian-American, have written a book called "“Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair.” And one of their primary points is that they don’t think the place to start is with questions like, “How much?,” “Who gets them?” and, “Who has to pay them?” Thompson said he and Kwon wrote the book for two reasons: they want the American Christian church — including the conservative and mostly white evangelical wing in which they have pastored — to help lead and shape the debate over reparations, and they also know that the conservative church is still broadly resistant and often fiercely hostile to even considering the topic, even as the Episcopal church and other more mainline denominations are grappling with it and in some cases embracing it. It’s a tall order within conservative, largely white evangelical Christianity. On Thursday, the first major rejoinder to their book came from a conservative evangelical pastor with a significant national following. Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina — another PCA congregation — wrote a critical review for The Gospel Coalition, a prominent evangelical website. Thompson and Kwon represent a corner of evangelicalism that parts with liberal Christians in significant ways in how it reads and interprets the Bible and in how it understands the faith’s core teachings. Yet evangelicals like Thompson and Kwan also believe that true fidelity and orthodoxy requires a much broader understanding of what the Christian gospel means than the narrow interpretation that has dominated much of conservative evangelicalism for a long time. And they argue that it's critical for Christians to grapple with this issue, not only as a matter of faithfulness to their professed doctrine, but also as a matter of credibility. The stakes, the argue, are high because many are watching and weighing their own faith in light of the church's response to this. Outro music: "Bloomsday" by Samantha Crain Support this show 
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Apr 24
1 hr 15 min
Will Big Money Donors Get Behind the Move to Get Rid of Partisan Primaries? Nick Troiano Is Working On It
American politics is being held hostage, says a group of reformers with growing access to big-donor money who define their mission as trying to set it free. The hostage-takers, to hear them tell it, are the small group of voters who decide party primaries. Only about 10 percent of American voters choose about eight out of ten members of Congress, says a new report out Tuesday from Unite America, a group that is pushing states to adopt nonpartisan primaries and ranked-choice voting. This small group — this 10 percent who make up primary voters in both parties — encourages extremism and gridlock rather than bipartisan cooperation, the report argues, in a conclusion that is widely echoed by many political scientists. This is due in large part because of partisan gerrymandering, the process in which state legislatures draw distorted congressional districts to give their party an advantage. As a result, in many congressional districts, the primary is the only truly competitive race, with the winner coasting along to victory in the general election because the district is designed to be either heavily Republican or Democratic. “Most Americans tend to point the finger at the other party or at both parties when it's actually the system itself that, by its design, produces the bad outcomes that we don't like. And so if we were to be as pissed off at this broken system as we are at each other, I think we actually stand a chance at fixing it,” said Nick Troiano, the group’s executive director. Unite America is more than an organization that puts out reports, however. It is aiming to mobilize $100 million dollars over the next two years to push for open primaries and ranked choice voting in states around the country. And they have some momentum. Kathryn Murdoch, a billionaire philanthropist with deep financial resources as the daughter-in-law of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, donated over $6 million to the group in 2020 alone, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Murdoch is on the board of the group, and she is trying to help persuade other big donors to give to the cause as well, which includes expanding access to voting by mail and ending partisan gerrymandering. “An underlying challenge facing this movement is, one, a lack of awareness, but two, a lack of resources. There is so much money going into deciding who gets elected, over $14 billion last election cycle, rather than in how we elect, which was only about $30 million last election cycle,” Troiano said. In Alaska, voters not only approved ranked-choice voting in November, they also agreed to get rid of partisan primaries and move to a “final four” primary. This means that any voter can vote for any candidate from any party in the primary election. The top four vote-getters will then advance to the general election in the fall of 2022, and ranked-choice voting will determine the winner from those four. Unite America spent at least $2.8 million in the campaign to promote the initiative, which was narrowly approved by voters. Outro music: "Remind Me" by Emily King Support this show 
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Mar 30
46 min
Yuval Levin Wants the GOP to stop making it harder to vote
You would think that most people would agree that we should try to make voting secure and accessible, that we should have confidence in the results and that we should make it possible for as many people as possible to cast a ballot. But Republicans increasingly are seeking to make it harder to vote. There has been a rush in state legislatures to crack down on mail-in voting, to restrict early voting, to make it harder to register to vote, and to make it easier for state officials to remove people from the voting rolls. The GOP is basing much of this on the fiction that the 2020 election was rigged or that there was wide-scale cheating. That, of course, was the lie that former President Trump told over and over last year before and after the election, which ultimately led to the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Last year all of Trump's lies created a backlash among Republican experts on voting and elections, who were compelled to set the record straight. "The truth is that after decades of looking for illegal voting, there’s no proof of widespread fraud. At most, there are isolated incidents — by both Democrats and Republicans. Elections are not rigged,” wrote Benjamin Ginsberg, who for more than 20 years was one of the GOP’s fiercest election attorneys and led attempts to root out cheating. Yuval Levin is the director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He's the editor of National Affairs magazine. He is widely respected in serious Republican circles and talks regularly to a lot of members of Congress. And he tells me in this conversation about how he's mobilizing the division of AEI that he oversees to push the GOP to stop making it harder to vote. "Republicans are at risk, and more than risk, of confirming the Democratic caricature that Republicans just don't want people to vote because they're afraid they would lose. That's what it sounds like. And, increasingly, that's what it is. And that's dangerous, and wrong," Yuval said. But he also said he thinks "Democrats are at risk of confirming the caricature that they think about election reform in a cynical partisan way, as a means of enabling themselves to win more elections."Yuval is the director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He's the editor of National Affairs magazine. He is widely respected in serious Republican circles and talks regularly to a lot of members of Congress. And he tells me in this conversatino about how he's mobilizing the divisino of AEI that he oversees to push the GOP to stop making it harder to vote. "Republicans are at risk, and more than risk, of confirming the Democratic caricature that Republicans just don't want people to vote because they're afraid they would lose. That's what it sounds like. And, increasingly, that's what it is. And that's dangerous, and wrong," Yuval said. But he also said he thinks "Democrats are at risk of confirming the caricature that they think about election reform in a cynical partisan way, as a means of enabling themselves to win more elections." Outro music: "Martin Was a Man, a Real Man" by Oliver Nelson Support this show 
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Mar 11
1 hr 8 min
Can Americans Still Discuss Their Differences Constructively? David Blankenhorn Is Trying To Make it Happen.
David Blankenhorn is co-founder of Braver Angels, which now has 70 chapters around the country, and has hosted more than 1,400 meetings, Blankenhorn said. The mission of Braver Angels is to get Americans to talk to one another, and to have honest conversations about their views on politics. The practice they preach is to get their members to listen to one another, rather than try to persuade each another, because the goal is to reduce alienation and demonization more than anything. In other words, they want to bring people together to see that the other side isn't necessarily a bunch of raging maniacs who fit the descriptions that are churned out on cable TV, online and in fundraising emails. Blankenhorn started Braver Angels a few years ago in 2017, and this task was tough then. But now, with the rise of conspiracy theories and many Trump supporters having been blue-pilled into an alternative reality, this is even tougher. And we talk at length about this. Blankenhorn is very firm that he doesn't want his group to do a lot of fact-checking. I don't know what I think about this. At a certain point, if people are not able to discern basic facts from complete falsehoods, I don't know what good it does to pretend they're nt completely around the bend. But I admire Blankenhorn's desire to bring people together, and I think we need a lot more groups and efforts like this. He also discusses how his personal history -- and his rather searing and personally painful experience being a public spokesperson on both sides of the marriage equality debate -- drove him into this work. Outro song: "Fire" by Waxahatchee Support this show 
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Mar 4
53 min
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