Profiles, storytelling and insightful conversations, hosted by David Remnick.
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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 “The Valley,” 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 to be Slate 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.”
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.”
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.
The director Sophia Takal is working on a remake of “Black Christmas,” an early slasher flick from Canada, in which sorority girls are picked off by a gruesome killer. Takal brought a very 2019 sensibility to the remake, reflecting on the ongoing struggle of the MeToo movement. “You can never feel like you’ve beaten misogyny. . . . In this movie the women are never given a rest, they always have to keep fighting.” Her producer, Jason Blum, of Blumhouse Productions, talks with David Remnick about the success of horror movies with a political or social message, like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” And the humor writer Colin Nissan combines four scary plots into “The Scariest Story Ever Told.”
For a new music ensemble, Roomful of Teeth has made an extraordinary impression in a short time. Caroline Shaw, one of its vocalists, received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for “Partita for 8 Voices,” which was written for the group. Then, in 2014, the vocal octet’s début album won a Grammy. Their sound is often otherworldly: apart from the singers’ expertise in classical technique, they have incorporated other musical traditions into their sound, including Tuvan throat singing, Korean pansori, yodelling, and more. Almost all the pieces they perform are new compositions written by or for them, and they hold a residency every year, demonstrating their unique capabilities to the composers who are commissioned to write for them. The staff writer Burkhard Bilger visited the residency at MASS MoCA, a contemporary-arts museum and complex in Massachusetts, in 2018. While they may be the only group that can currently perform the full range of their repertoire, Bilger found that their goal is not exclusivity. “If the songs are good enough, and the techniques are appealing enough, then more and more classical singers will learn how to how to throat sing, will learn how to yodel, and belt, and do Korean pansori,” Bilger says. “And Roomful of Teeth songs will start to sound like yesterday’s classical music.”
Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein and other accused perpetrators of sexual assault helped opened the floodgates of the #MeToo movement. In his new book, “Catch and Kill,” and in “The Black Cube Chronicles” published on newyorker.com, Farrow details the measures that were taken against him and against some of the accusers who went on the record. These included hiring a private spy firm staffed by ex-Mossad officers. Speaking with David Remnick, Farrow lays out a connection between accusations against Harvey Weinstein and NBC’s Matt Lauer. And he interviewed a private investigator named Igor Ostrovskiy who was assigned to spy on him—until he had a crisis of conscience.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a lot of fights on her hands. After she led the Democrats to victory in the 2018 midterm elections, her legislative agenda hit a number of roadblocks, including the Republican-controlled Senate. But it is Pelosi’s confrontations with Donald Trump that will go down in history. Through numerous scandals, Pelosi resisted pressure to move to impeach the President, frustrating many members of her party and leading some on the left to question her leadership. “There was plenty the President had done, evidenced in the Mueller report and other things, that were impeachable offenses,” she tells Jane Mayer. “For me, timing is everything. I said, ‘When we get more facts, when the truth has more clarity, we will be ready. We will be ready.’ ” While she has come around on impeachment, Pelosi still hews toward the center of the Party and resists some proposals from the progressive left, such as Medicare for All. “November matters,” Pelosi likes to tell colleagues running in the primaries. “What works in Michigan . . . [like] economic security for America’s working families—that works in San Francisco. What works in San Francisco might not work in Michigan. So let’s go with the Michigan plan, because that’s where we have to win the Electoral College.”
Pelosi, who has been in Congress for more than thirty years, has led the House Democrats since 2003. She spoke with the staff writer Jane Mayer in a live interview at The New Yorker Festival, on October 12th.
The months of protests in Hong Kong may be the biggest political crisis facing Chinese leadership since the Tiananmen Square massacre a generation ago. What began as objections to a proposed extradition law has morphed into a broad-based protest movement. “There was just this rising panic that Hong Kong was becoming just like another mainland city, utterly under the thumb of the Party,” says Jiayang Fan, who recently returned from Hong Kong. In Beijing, Evan Osnos spoke to officials during their celebration of the Chinese Communist Party’s seventieth year in power. He found that the leadership is feeling more secure than it did in 1989, when tanks mowed down student protesters. “I think the more likely scenario,” Osnos tells David Remnick, “is that China will keep up the pressure and gradually use its sheer weight and persistence to try to grind down the resistance of protestors.” And, from the archives, reflections from Richard Nixon on the fallout from Tiananmen Square.
In fifteen years, people of retirement age will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history. But, the staff writer Adam Gopnik finds, the elderly are poorly served by the field of design, whether it’s a screw-top plastic bottle or the transportation system of a major city. Gopnik visited the M.I.T. Age Lab, where he tried on a special suit that simulates the pains and difficulties of advanced age for research purposes. And, to put the issues in context, he called a much older friend: the painter Wayne Thiebaud, who, at ninety-eight, is still leading an active career and is preparing for an upcoming exhibition. Plus, the writer Elizabeth Strout has set many of her books in Maine, including “Olive Kitteridge.” She brought us to one of her favorite haunts: a steep hill on her college campus, where she would sit and look out over the world. And in a new sketch by Colin Nissan, a routine call for technical support leads to a chilling transformation.
David Remnick asks five New Yorker contributors about the nascent impeachment proceedings against the President. Susan Glasser, the magazine’s Washington correspondent, notes that Republicans have attacked the inquiry but have not exactly defended the substance of Trump’s phone call to Zelensky. Joshua Yaffa, who has been reporting from Kiev, notes Ukraine’s disappointment in the conduct of the American President; Jane Mayer describes how an impeachment scenario in the era of Fox News could play out very differently than it did in the age of Richard Nixon; Jelani Cobb reflects on the likelihood of violence; and Jill Lepore argues that, regardless of the outcome, impeachment is the only constitutional response to Donald Trump’s actions. “This is the Presidential equivalent of shooting someone on Fifth Avenue,” she tells Remnick.
Senator Cory Booker burst onto the national scene about a decade ago, after serving as the mayor of the notoriously impoverished and dangerous city of Newark, New Jersey. To get that job, Booker challenged an entrenched establishment. “My political training comes from the roughest of rough campaigns,” he tells David Remnick. “You just won’t think it’s America, the kind of stuff we had to go up against. And it [was] such a great way to learn [that campaigning] has to be retail—grassroots. And so much of this, in those early primary states, is about that.”
Booker spoke with Remnick about growing up black in a largely white area of New Jersey, where his parents had to fight to be able to buy a home; about his long relationship with the Kushner family, which started back when Jared Kushner’s father, Charles, was a leading Democratic donor; and why he’s proud to collaborate with even his direst political opponents on issues such as criminal-justice reform. “Donald Trump signed my bill,” Booker states. “I worked with him and his White House to pass a bill that liberated thousands of black people from prison” by retroactively reducing unjustly high sentences related to crack cocaine. “Tell that liberated person that Cory Booker should not deal with somebody that he fundamentally disagrees with.”
Note: In this interview, Senator Booker asserts, “We now have more African-Americans in this country under criminal supervision than all the slaves in 1850.” The historical accuracy of this comparison has been challenged. More accurately, the number of African-American men under criminal supervision today has been compared to the number of African-American men enslaved in 1850.
It was just seven years ago that Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Today the drug is legal in eleven states and counting, with polls showing that sixty per cent of Americans support its legalization. How did that happen so fast? This episode of The New Yorker Radio Hour looks at the end of reefer madness—and the early days of corporate cannabis. Bruce Barcott talks about the politics and the public-health aspects of legalization; Jelani Cobb looks at how legalization tries to undo the decades of harm that marijuana prohibition has done to communities of color; Sue Halpern drives around Vermont, where weed is the new zucchini; and Jia Tolentino shares the joy of watching David Attenborough under the influence.
Alabama Shakes started out playing covers at local gigs but quickly found a unique personal voice rooted in rock and soul. The band came to national attention, found a wide and devoted public, and soon earned four Grammys, for the album “Sound and Color.” But after that record, their second, Brittany Howard—who sings, plays guitar, and writes songs for the group—announced that she was putting Alabama Shakes on hiatus, to work on a solo album. “We sat and we talked about it for several hours; we sat in a circle,” she recalls. “At the end of the conversation, everybody was, like, ‘O.K., we understand. We get it.’ They gave me their blessing to go on and find what I needed to find or create what I needed to create.” Howard gathered a different group of musicians, including the keyboard superstar Robert Glasper, to back her up on a solo album, called “Jamie.” It’s named after Howard’s late sister, but it’s very much about the singer herself—her passions, her concerns, and her upbringing, in Athens, Alabama. Is this, David Remnick asks, the end of Alabama Shakes? “I don’t know,” Howard says, after a pause. “Wherever creativity leads my ship, I can’t force it. That’s the thing. Once I start forcing it, it’s not going to be no good, anyway.”
An exodus is under way in the House of Representatives: not even halfway into the congressional term, fifteen Republicans have announced that they will not run in 2020. One of the exiting members is Will Hurd, a former C.I.A. officer who was elected in 2014. His district in Texas includes nearly a third of the state’s border with Mexico. Although he is reluctant to criticize the G.O.P. directly, Hurd tells the Washington correspondent Susan B. Glasser that he thinks the President’s border policy is ineffective: a wall isn’t the answer, Border Patrol is underfunded relative to the area it covers, and the technology in use for border security is both out of date and overly complicated, “requiring a Ph.D. in computer science to operate,” he says. “I wish I could pass a piece of legislation,” Hurd tells Glasser, “that says you can’t talk about the border unless you’ve been down to the border a few times.” Hurd’s departure is particularly significant because he is—for the sixteen months he has left to serve—the only African-American in the House Republican caucus, and he worries that the President’s negative rhetoric toward people of color is contributing to a demographic shift that’s turning Texas from deep red to purple. “When you have statements the equivalent of, ‘go back to Africa,’ ” Hurd notes, “that is not helpful.” Plus, two leading environmental writers, Bill McKibben and Elizabeth Kolbert, wonder if the new sense of urgency around climate change is coming too late.
Vjeran Tomic has been stealing since he was a small child, when he used a ladder to break into a library in his home town, in Bosnia. After moving to Paris, he graduated to lucrative apartment burglaries, living off the jewels he took and often doing time in prison. He became known in the French press as Spider-Man, and he began to steal art. Tomic has a grand sense of his calling as a burglar; he considers it his destiny and has described his robberies as acts of imagination. He eventually carried a truly epic heist: a break-in at the Musée d’Art Moderne, in Paris, in which he left with seventy million dollars’ worth of paintings. But selling these masterpieces proved harder than stealing them, and that’s where Spider-Man’s troubles began. The contributor Jake Halpern tells Vjeran Tomic’s story; excerpts from Tomic’s letters from prison are read by the actor Jean Brassard.
The New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, talks with Salman Rushdie about “Quichotte,” his apocalyptic quest novel. A few years ago, when the four hundredth anniversary of “Don Quixote” was being celebrated, Rushdie reread Cervantes’s book and found himself newly engaged by a much improved translation. He immediately began thinking of writing his own story about a “silly old fool,” like Quixote, who becomes obsessed with an unattainable woman and undertakes a quest to win her love. This character became Quichotte (named for the French opera loosely based on “Don Quixote”), who is seeking the love of—or, as she sees it, stalking—a popular talk-show host. As Quichotte journeys to find her, he encounters the truths of contemporary America: the opioid epidemic, white supremacy, the fallout from the War on Terror, and more. “I’ve always really liked the risky thing of writing very close up against the present moment,” Rushdie tells Treisman. “If you do it wrong, it’s a catastrophe. If you do it right, with luck, you somehow capture a moment.” At the same time, the novel gives full rein to Rushdie’s fantastical streak—at one point, for instance, Quichotte comes across a New Jersey town where people turn into mastodons. Treisman talks with the author about the influence of science fiction on his imagination, and about his personal connection to the tragedy of opioids. Rushdie’s much younger sister died from the consequences of addiction, and the book is centrally concerned with siblings trying to reconnect after separation.
Mischele Lewis learned that her fiancé was a con man and a convicted pedophile. By lying about who he was, did he violate her consent, and commit assault? Lewis’s story raises a larger question: What is consent, and how do we give it? It’s currently the standard by which the law regulates sexual behavior, but the continuing prevalence of harassment and assault has led many college campuses to adopt more stringent standards. At the core of many new rules is the principle of affirmative consent: that sexual partners must verbally and explicitly express their acceptance of each and every sexual overture. The problem is that few of us use affirmative consent—even many of its advocates find it cumbersome in practice. Alondra Nelson, a professor of sociology and the president of the Social Science Research Council, explores this shifting of sexual norms with The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman. They spoke with the legal scholars Jeannie Suk Gersen and Jacob Gersen, and with the facilitator of cuddle parties, who compares her nonsexual events to “going to the gym for consent.” Plus, an interview with a climate striker. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, fourteen-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor spends her Fridays outside the United Nations, demanding action on climate change. But the risk of “eco-grief” is high, she tells the reporter Carolyn Kormann.
Marianne Williamson, the self-help author associated with the New Age movement, has never held political office. But the race for the Presidency, she thinks, is less a battle of politics than a battle of souls. In her appearance in the July Democratic debates, she said that President Donald Trump is bringing up a “dark psychic force.” “The worst aspects of human character have been harnessed for political purposes,” she tells David Remnick. Williamson sees herself as a kind of spiritual counter to Trump, reshaping our moral trajectory. And she does have policies, which include repealing the 2017 tax cut and an ambitious plan for slavery reparations, and also tapping some surprising people for her Cabinet. Campaigning on her credentials hasn’t been easy: she’s had to debunk some myths and clarify some statements. She is not an anti-vaxxer, she insists—she apologizes for her earlier remarks on the subject—or a medical skeptic. “I’m Jewish,” she says, “I go to the doctor.” She does not, she says, even have a crystal in her home. “I know this sounds naïve,” she complains, but “I didn’t think the left was so mean. I didn’t think the left lied like this.”
Jia Tolentino writes for The New Yorker about an extremely wide range of topics, but a central concern is what it has meant to her to have grown up alongside the Internet. In her new, best-selling collection of essays, “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion,” she traces how the digital world has evolved and shaped our minds. Tolentino tells Remnick that, in the early, freer days of the Web, the Internet felt like “a neighborhood you could walk through, and just go into these houses decorated with all of these things you’d never seen before—and then you could leave.” Tolentino remains a very popular and influential figure online, but she has concerns about how the digital world has developed. Now that profit-seeking social-media giants dominate the landscape, there is fierce competition for our attention spans and the constant demand for people to perform their identities, all of which she finds “corrosive.” For Tolentino, writing—which takes “uncertainty and agony and work and devotion, and sustained attention”—is an antidote to that corrosion, and almost a kind of spiritual practice. “The fact of having time to think about something in private before it becomes public still feels like a real miracle to me.”Plus, David Remnick talks with two of the creators—one Israeli, one Palestinian—of HBO’s “Our Boys.” The ten-part series examines the forces that led to a crime that was shocking even by the standards of a country that is used to terror: the torture and murder of a Palestinian teen-ager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, by Israeli right-wing extremists. “Our Boys” is a brutally truthful depiction of the effects of hate crime.
The winner of twenty Grand Slam titles and the top-ranked men’s player for three hundred and ten weeks, Roger Federer remains a dominant force in tennis. On the eve of playing in his nineteenth U.S. Open, Federer spoke with David Remnick about how he got over the hot temper and predilection for throwing racquets that he showed early in his career. At the advanced age of thirty-eight—and as a father of young children—Federer explains what he’s had to give up in order to keep playing professionally. But he doesn’t plan to retire a day before he has to. “I think it's nice to keep on playing, and really squeeze the last drop of lemon out of it,” he tells Remnick, “and not leave the game of tennis thinking, Oh, I should have stayed longer.” Plus, the staff writer Hua Hsu on the singular career of a Chinese vocalist with global ambitions.
Derren Brown wants you to know that he is not a magician. The term he prefers to use is “psychological illusionist,” and his acts mix psychology, misdirection, and showmanship. When he performs, he’s explicit about engaging with audiences’ minds and beliefs. “If you’re an audience member, the most interesting process is you,” he tells Adam Green, at the New Yorker Festival. Like most of the best mentalists in recent decades, Brown is open about the fact that his one big trick is his ability to manipulate a roomful of people.
Brown’s show “Secret” opens on Broadway in early September.
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first starring role was in the 2002 movie “Secretary,” a distriburbing romantic comedy about a troubled woman in a sadomasochistic relationship with her boss. Since then, Gyllenhaal has continued to push the boundaries of how sex is depicted on screen as an executive producer and star of “The Deuce,” HBO’s drama about the beginnings of the porn industry. In a conversation with The New Yorker’s Lauren Collins, Gyllenhaal talks about her character, Candy, who leaves street prostitution to perform in porn, and eventually makes her way into directing. Since the show premiered, the #MeToo movement has shed light on how women are asked to compromise themselves, not only in sex work but in entertainment, at almost every walk of life. “Many women have been asked to compromise themselves and have done it,” she tells Collins, admitting that she has moments of thinking, “Oh my god. How did I laugh at that joke or stay in that meeting or put that shirt on?” Gyllenhaal also talks about adapting for film a novel by Elena Ferrante, who gave her the rights—on condition that Gyllenhaal herself direct it.
The third and final season of “The Deuce” begins in September, 2019.
Ian Frazier, who has chronicled American life for The New Yorker for more than forty years, travelled to a house in Fort Collins, Colorado, where three roommates build, fly, and race drones. Jordan Temkin, Zachry Thayer, and Travis McIntyre are three of perhaps only fifty professional drone racers in the world, piloting the tiny devices through complex courses at upward of eighty miles an hour. Drones have had an enormous impact on military strategy, and the commercial applications seem limitless, but, for these pilots, drones exist in the strange overlap between pure adrenaline and big money that defines pro sports.
Nanfu Wang grew up under China’s one-child policy and never questioned it. “You don’t know that it’s something initiated and implemented by the authority,” she tells The New Yorker’s Jiayang Fan. “It’s a normal part of everything. Just like water exists, or air.” But when Wang became pregnant she started to understand the magnitude of the law—and the suffering behind it. Wang’s documentary, “One Child Nation,” explores the effects of one of the largest social experiments in history. She uncovers stories of confusion and trauma, in Chinese society and within her own family. After Wang’s uncle had a daughter, his family forced him to abandon her at a local market so that he and his wife could try for a son. “He stood there, across the street, watching to see if somebody would come and take the baby,” Wang tells Fan. “He wanted to bring her home, but his mom threatened to commit suicide. . . . He felt so torn. There was no right decision.”
Toni Morrison read The New York Times with pencil in hand. An editor by trade, Morrison never stopped noting errors in the paper. In 2015, during a conversation with The New Yorker’s Hilton Als, Morrison noted that the stories she cared about were once absent from the news. Now they’re present, but distorted. “The language is manipulated and strangled in such a way that you get the message,” she noted wryly. “I know there is a difference between the received story… and what is actually going on.” Morrison, who died on Monday, was the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and one of the most beloved writers of the 21st century. In a wide-ranging interview with Als, Morrison discusses her last novel, God Help The Child, writing in a modern setting, and her relationship to her father, whom she says was complicated man and bluntly calls a “racist.” When she was older, she learned that he had wittnessed the lynching of two of his neighbors. “I think that’s why he thought white people… were incorrigible,” she explains to Als. “They were doomed.”
Language Advisory: At around 34 minutes into the interview, Hilton Als quotes a line from Toni Morrison’s book “Jazz” that contains the n-word. We feel it is important to leave the word uncensored as it is an accurate depiction of the language Morrison used in her description of black life in America. However, it may not be suitable for younger listeners.
In January, The New Yorker’s Ben Taub travelled to Mauritania to meet with Mohamedou Salahi. An electrical engineer who had lived in Germany, Salahi was detained at Guantánamo Bay for fifteen years and tortured, despite the fact that he was not a terrorist. But one of the key pieces of evidence was that Salahi’s cousin, known as Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, was a high-ranking member of Al Qaeda—a member of the group’s governing Shura Council and a spiritual adviser to Osama bin Laden, who had drafted bin Laden’s infamous fatwa against the United States. While Salahi endured torture at Guantánamo, Abu Hafs was never captured or detained by the United States. When Ben Taub met Abu Hafs at a wedding of Mauritanian élites, he wondered how this man had gone free while his cousin had suffered so much. Abu Hafs agreed to an interview, but it quickly took a turn that Ben didn’t expect.
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.
The cultural critic Doreen St. Félix goes to Madame Tussauds with Justin Kuritzkes, the début author of the novel “Famous People,” to talk about the nature of celebrity. Jia Tolentino heads for the children’s section of a bookstore with Rivka Galchen to compare notes on the kids’ books that still inspire them. And Jelani Cobb recommends three recent works of history that shed light on our current moment.
Tana French was an actor in her thirties when she sat down to write about a mystery that took the lives of two children, which became the global blockbuster “In the Woods.” With her subsequent books about the Dublin Murder Squad, French became known as “the queen of Irish crime fiction”—despite having been born in the United States. French’s latest book, “The Witch Elm,” departs from her line of police procedurals: the narrator is a civilian, a happy-go-lucky young man named Toby whose life is turned upside down when he is attacked during a burglary. Although the book involves a murder, “The core story arc is not the murder and the solution,” French tells Alexandra Schwartz. “The core story arc is Toby going from this golden boy [with] his happy life to somebody who’s had that shattered. . . . Where will this crisis take him?” Though known as a literary mystery writer, French acknowledges that some of her fans have found the plot frustrating. “If you’re coming to this book expecting a straight-up crime novel . . . you are going to be a hundred pages in [asking], ‘Where’s my murder?’ ”
Fahamu Pecou has shown work in museums all over the country and appeared on television shows like “Empire” and “black-ish.” The men the artist depicts tend to strike exaggerated poses, with sagging bluejeans and a cascade of colorful boxer shorts. Pecou gained notoriety in Atlanta, for a poster campaign bearing the legend “Fahamu Pecou Is the Shit.” The New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb notes that Pecou “has the ability to deal with themes that relate primarily to black male identity in the U.S.,” including stereotypes and police violence, “while injecting a very subversive element of humor.” Cobb went to Atlanta to meet with Pecou and spoke with him about the influence of African tradition on his life and work.
L. D. Brown of Grey Reverend contributed music for this story.
Some people have always believed that the moon landing was a government hoax, and, in the age of the Internet, that conspiracy theory continues to thrive. Andrew Marantz explores the value of skepticism, and the point at which disbelief leads to a totalitarian breakdown. We went to the archives for three real-time accounts of what it was like to watch the moon landing on television.
In 2014, Tom Hanks—the star of “Apollo 13,” among many other accomplishments—wrote a short story about going to the moon. But his was not a dramatic story of NASA heroes facing grave danger. Hanks told the tale of a very twenty-first century mission, executed D.I.Y. style, with four misfits in a space capsule run off an iPad and held together with duct tape. The story, “Alan Bean Plus Four,” was published in The New Yorker in 2014. Hanks originally read the story for the New Yorker’s Writer’s Voice podcast.
“I can remember, even four months after [“Call Me Maybe” ’s] release, being claimed in the press as a one-hit wonder,” Carly Rae Jepsen says. “Isn’t it too soon to decide that? Give me a chance!” The Canadian singer and songwriter was by no means a one-hit wonder, and her talent for crafting earworm pop songs about love in all its forms won her a legion of fans and the devotion of many critics, including The New Yorker’s Amanda Petrusich. In 2017, while Jepsen was working on her fourth album, “Dedicated”—which was released in May, 2019—Jepsen sat down at the New Yorker Festival with Petrusich, to talk about her creative process. She had already written eighty songs for the record, she estimated. “If you wanted, I could write you a song right now, but it might not be good. I never run out of ideas, and I never stop enjoying doing it.” With her collaborator and guitarist Tavish Crowe, Jepsen performed an acoustic version of her hit “I Really Like You” live.
It’s hard to recall a newly elected freshman representative to Congress who has made a bigger impact than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her primary victory for New York’s Fourteenth District seat—as a young woman of color beating out a long-established white male incumbent—was big news, and Ocasio-Cortez has been generating headlines almost daily ever since. Practically the day she took her seat in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez became the hero of the left wing of the Democrats and a favored villain of Fox News and the right. She battled Nancy Pelosi to make the Green New Deal a priority, and has been involved with a movement to launch primary challenges against centrist or right-leaning Democrats. Like Bernie Sanders, she embraces the label of democratic socialism and supports free college education for all Americans. She has called for the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She joined David Remnick in the New Yorker Radio Hour studio on July 5th, just after her trip to the border to examine migrant-detention facilities. Remnick and Ocasio-Cortez spoke about why she courted controversy by referring to some facilities as “concentration camps”; why she thinks the Department of Homeland Security is irredeemable; and whether Joe Biden is qualified to be President, given his comments about colleagues who supported forms of segregation. “Issues of race and gender are not extra-credit points in being a good Democrat,” she says. “They are a core part of the ... competencies that a President needs. . . . Where are you on understanding the people that live in this country?”
As he set about adapting “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the stage, Aaron Sorkin found himself troubled by its protagonist, the small-town lawyer Atticus Finch. Harper Lee’s Finch, he thought, is tolerant to a fault—understanding rather than condemning the violent racism of many of his neighbors. Sorkin also felt that Lee’s two black characters, the maid Calpurnia and the falsely accused Tom Robinson, lacked a real voice. “I imagine that, in 1960, using African-American characters as atmosphere is the kind of thing that would go unnoticed by white people,” he tells David Remnick. “In 2018, it doesn’t go unnoticed, and it’s wrong, and it’s also a wasted opportunity.” Sorkin’s changes in his adaptation led to a lawsuit from Harper Lee’s literary executor, who had placed specific conditions on the faithfulness of his script. In Sorkin’s view, the criticisms of the executor, Tonja Carter, were tantamount to racism, in that they reinforced the lack of agency of black people in the South in the nineteen-thirties. (Carter declined to comment on Sorkin’s remarks, and the lawsuit was settled before the play was produced.) Sorkin says that, of his own volition, he cut some of his new lines that hinted too broadly toward the current Presidency. But Atticus Finch’s realization—that the people in his community whom he thought he knew best were people he never really knew at all—mirrors the experience of many Americans since 2016. Plus, Ocean Vuong, the author of the best-selling autobiographical novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” visits the food court at a largely Asian mall in Queens that reminds him of home.
Tracy K. Smith was named Poet Laureate, in 2017, right after the most divisive election of our time. She could have spent her two-year appointment writing and enjoying a nice office in the Library of Congress, but she felt poetry might be able to help mend some of the divisions that the election had highlighted. Her plan was this: to put together a collection of poems from living poets, called “American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time,” that she felt were in some way relevant to our moment, and to hit the road—visiting community centers, senior centers, prisons, and colleges. While serving as Poet Laureate, Smith estimates that she travelled one or two nights every week, reading poems written by herself and others, and discussing them with groups of people. “It was exhausting, and exhilarating, and it was probably the best thing I could have done as an American,” she told The New Yorker’s poetry editor, Kevin Young.
Valeria Luiselli first travelled to the U.S.–Mexico border in 2014, when the current immigration crisis began to heat up. Under the Trump Presidency, the border has become the dead center of American politics, and Luiselli returned with the radio producer Pejk Malinovski. Luiselli is a Mexican writer living in New York, and the author of “Lost Children Archive” and other books. She wrote in The New Yorker about Wild West reënactments, in which actors stage scenes like a gunfight at O.K. Corral. In Tombstone, Arizona, and Shakespeare, New Mexico, she finds a very particular view of Western history that elides the U.S.’s long and complicated relationship with Mexico, which once owned this region. She finds that historical reënactments feed a notion of the border region as a lawless frontier requiring vigilantes to defend American interests.
For decades, critical praise for a TV show was that it was “not like TV,” but more like a novel or a movie. That ingrained hierarchy always bugged Emily Nussbaum, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for her criticism in The New Yorker. She has been compared to Pauline Kael, but Nussbaum—acknowledging the compliment—is quick to point out that she has never written about movies, nor has she wanted to. She was inspired to be a TV critic by “Television Without Pity,” a blog site of passionate, informed fans arguing constantly. In her new book, “I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way through the TV Revolution,” Nussbaum argues that the success of serious antihero dramas like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” has led many to devalue mainstays of TV, like comedies and even soap operas. It’s time to stop comparing TV to anything else, she tells David Remnick.
The New Yorker contributor Jenna Krajeski recently met with a woman who calls herself Esperanza. In her home country, Esperanza was coerced and threatened into prostitution, and later was trafficked into the United States, where she was subjected to appalling conditions. Esperanza eventually obtained legal help, and applied for something called a T visa. The T visa contains unusual provisions that recognize the unique circumstances of human-trafficking victims in seeking legal status. It has also been a crucial tool to obtaining victims’ coöperation in prosecuting traffickers. The Trump Administration claims to want to fight the problem of human trafficking, but Krajeski notes that its policies have done the opposite: T-visa applicants can now be deported if their applications are rejected. This dramatic change in policy sharply reduced the number of applications from victims seeking help. “If what [the Administration] cares about is putting traffickers in prison, which is what they say they care about, their prosecutions are going down and will go down further,” Martina Vandenberg, the president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, says. “Trafficking victims under the circumstances can’t actually coöperate.”
After a U.S. drone was allegedly shot down by Iran last week, relations between Tehran and Washington are again approaching a low point; on Thursday, President Trump ordered and then called off an air strike. The situation has been deteriorating since the beginning of the Trump era, with the Administration actively supporting Saudi Arabia as a regional competitor to Iran, and the President withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The New Yorker staff writer Dexter Filkins says that Iran’s initial strategy was to wait the Trump Presidency out. That calculus has changed as more hawkish advisors, like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, who are intent on imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, have joined the Administration. The result has been a series of tit-for-tat exchanges between the two countries, which could ultimately lead to a larger conflict. “If things got out of control in that region, that would be, Iraq, to Iran, to Afghanistan,” Filkins said. “I can't imagine where that would end, or how it would end." Kelefa Sanneh shares three music picks with David Remnick: artists who deliver all the emotional joys of pop music, but aren’t extremely popular.
Robert Caro is a historical biographer unlike anyone else writing today, with the Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, and other honors to prove it. But to call his books biographies seems to miss the mark: they’re so rich in detail, so accurate, and at the same time so broad in scope, that they’re more like epics of American history. David Remnick sat down with Caro at the McCarter Theater, in Princeton, New Jersey, on the occasion of the publication of “Working,” a volume of Caro’s speeches and other writings. They covered Caro’s early years as a newspaper reporter, his determination to tackle a project—the rise to power of Robert Moses—that no one had accomplished, and finally his chronicle of the life of Lyndon Johnson. Caro has completed four volumes on Johnson, with a fifth, covering the Presidency, in the works. Remnick asks about Caro’s singular method of interviewing in depth, and Caro describes his interview with Sam Houston Johnson, the president’s brother, which Caro conducted at the National Park Service’s Lyndon B Johnson Boyhood Home historic site. “I took him into the dining room,” Caro recalls, and told Johnson to sit where he had sat as a child. “I didn’t sit where he could see me . . . . I sat behind him. So I said, ‘Now tell about these terrible arguments your father used to have with Lyndon at the table.’ At first it was very slow going, you’d have to keep prompting him. But finally he was just shouting it out: ‘Lyndon you’re a failure, you’ll always be a failure. And what are you, you’re a bus inspector!’ And I felt he was back in the moment. So I said, ‘Now Sam Houston, I want you to tell me again those wonderful stories you told me before, that everybody tells about Lyndon Johnson.’ And there was this long pause. And then he says, ‘I can’t.’ And I said, ‘Why not?’ And he says, ‘Because they never happened.’ And without me saying another word, he starts to tell the story of Lyndon Johnson, which is a very different story of a very ruthless young man.”
Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (which owns Google), and Facebook—known in the tech world as the Big Four—are among the largest and most profitable companies in the world, and they’ve been accustomed to the laxest of oversight from Washington. But the climate may have shifted in a significant way. The Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, and the House Judiciary Committee are all investigating different aspects of the Big Four; Elizabeth Warren has made breaking up these companies a cornerstone of her Presidential campaign. Sue Halpern, a New Yorker contributor, sounds a cautious note about these developments. Current antitrust law doesn’t well fit the nature of these businesses, and breaking up the companies will not necessarily solve underlying issues, like the lack of privacy law. In a twist, Halpern says, the Big Four and now asking the federal government for more regulation—because, she explains to David Remnick, the companies’ lobbyists can sway Washington more easily than they can influence state governments like California, which just passed a rigorous data-privacy law similar to the European Union’s. “They’re being called to account, they have to do something,” she notes, “but they want to direct the conversation so that, ultimately, they still win.” Plus, we contemplate the dire prospect of Houston without air conditioning. Bryan Washington, a Houston native and a celebrated young fiction writer, introduces non-natives to a cherished local institution: the open-air bar and community space called an ice house.
Masha Gessen co-hosts this episode of the New Yorker Radio Hour, guiding David Remnick through the fifty years of civil-rights gains for L.G.B.T.Q. people. From drag queens reading to children at the library to a popular gay Presidential candidate, we’ll look at how the movement for L.G.B.T.Q. rights has changed our culture and our laws. The actress and comedian Lea DeLaria takes us through five decades of queer history in five minutes. Gessen talks with a Stonewall historian named Martin Duberman about whether the movement has become too conservative, and, later, she visits with a gay asylum seeker who recently fled Russia’s state security agency.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this program misidentified the location of the 2016 Pulse night-club shooting.
Ava DuVernay doesn’t like using the term Central Park Five—a moniker created by the press in the aftermath of the notorious and brutal assault of a twenty-eight-year-old woman, Trisha Meili. “They’re not the Central Park Five,” she tells the New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb. “They’re Korey, Yusef, Antron, Kevin, and Raymond.” They were five teens who were coerced into confessing to a terrible crime by police determined to find a culprit. It was a time when “the police, the district attorney, the prosecutors [wanted] to get a ‘win’ on the board,” DuVernay thinks, “because there were so many losses, so much going wrong.” Cobb wrote in The New Yorker that “The reaction to Meili’s assault came as the nadir of a two-decade-long spiral of racial animosity driven by a fear of crime,” noting that, in that same week, brutal attacks on women of color failed to generate any headlines or perceptible outrage. The story has returned to public consciousness in recent years because of its role in launching Donald Trump’s political career. One of Trump’s first political acts, in 1989, was to take out a newspaper ad calling for the execution of the boys, and he stuck by his view even after they were exonerated. DuVernay’s goal was to tell the story of those five boys and the men they became.
“When They See Us” was released on Netflix on May 31st.
The #MeToo movement of recent years started in the entertainment industry, with revelations about moguls such as Harvey Weinstein and CBS’s Les Moonves, and, since 2017, television writers have been grappling with how to address sexual harassment for a modern audience. Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker’s television critic, examined the issue in a recent essay. Some of the shows she thinks are doing the best job are actually comedies, from the strange animated series “Tuca and Bertie” to the deeply cynical “Veep.” “Maybe there’s been a hesitation to deal with this head-on in drama,” she tells David Remnick, “because drama does, to some extent, at least, require sincerity, and sincerity can be uncomfortable in talking about trauma and assault.” One of Nussbaum’s favorites from this “deluge” of plotlines comes on the show “High Maintenance,” where, instead of some appalling revelation of misconduct, we watch a character reassessing a seemingly minor incident with fresh eyes. “He’s clearly thought about this in a post-MeToo way, as ‘Is this the shitty thing that I did that traumatized a woman that I know? . . . How do I take responsibility for it?’ ” Plus, Ruth Franklin on the late poet Mary Oliver, whose spirituality, love of nature, and unusual directness made her one of the most beloved poets of our time.
The idea of reparations—real compensation made to the descendants of slaves or the victims of legalized discrimination—has gained traction since the publication, in 2014, of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s influential article “The Case for Reparations,” which appeared in The Atlantic. But even among proponents of the concept, the ideas about what reparations would mean vary wildly. Questions linger about the intended recipients. Should only descendants of people enslaved on American soil (rather than the Caribbean or elsewhere in the diaspora) be eligible? That is the contention of people using the hashtag ADOS, or American Descendants of Slavery, which has become controversial. How important is genealogical proof to making a claim, given that slavery often did not leave good records? What about Americans who may have had an enslaved ancestor, but have not personally identified as African-American?
Alondra Nelson, a professor of sociology at Columbia University and president of the Social Science Research Council, talked with two prominent scholars who have addressed the issue: Darrick Hamilton, the executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, and William A. Darity, the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Then Nelson sat down with The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman to explain the challenges faced.
Late in the Civil War, the Union general William T. Sherman confiscated four hundred thousand acres of land from Confederate planters and ordered it redistributed, in forty-acre lots, to formerly enslaved people—a promise revoked by President Andrew Johnson almost as soon as it was made. More than a hundred and fifty years later, the debate on what America owes to the descendants of slaves, or to people robbed by the legal discrimination that followed, still rages. David Remnick talks with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Susan B. Glasser about how reparations has become a major focus in the 2020 Democratic primary contest. And we’ll visit Georgetown University, where students have chosen to take reparations upon themselves.
Despite winning a Grammy for her song “Passionate Kisses,” which was performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucinda Williams spent many years overlooked by the music industry: she was too country for rock, too rock for country. In 1998, American music caught up to her, and her album “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” broke through. The staff writer Ariel Levy sat down with Williams at the New Yorker Festival, in 2012, to talk about God, Flannery O’Connor, and the musician’s path through the industry. Williams topped it all of with a live performance.
James Taylor’s songs are so familiar that they seem to have always existed. Onstage at the New Yorker Festival, in 2010, Taylor peeled back some of his influences—the Beatles, Bach, show tunes, and Antônio Carlos Jobim—and played a few of his hits, even giving the staff writer Adam Gopnik a quick lesson.
Few Americans dispute the centrality of the Constitution as a statement of our country’s goals; it is as though holy. But what the Constitution actually means to any two people may differ widely, and those differences are dramatized in a new play, on Broadway, called “What the Constitution Means to Me.” It’s essentially a one-person show written and performed by Heidi Schreck (profiled in The New Yorker by Michael Schulman), and it’s her first play to reach Broadway. The performer reflects on her personal history as a high-school debate champion, when she was rewarded for upholding an officially sanctioned view of American politics that she has come to realize is a distortion. Both the play and Schreck’s performance have been nominated for Tony Awards; it’s a hit, and it’s a cultural flashpoint in an era when the phrase “constitutional crisis” is invoked almost weekly. Dorothy Wickenden spoke with Heidi Schreck. Plus, SoundCloud rap—once a marginal, willfully weird genre for amateurs—has lately created some of the biggest hits in hip-hop.
After years of languishing far down the list of voters’ priorities, climate change has moved to the top of many voters’ concerns, according to a new CNN poll. Now Presidential candidates are competing to establish themselves as leaders on the issue, and children are making headlines for striking from school over the issue. Bill McKibben, whose book “The End of Nature” brought the idea of global warming to public consciousness thirty years ago, tells David Remnick that the accumulation of weather catastrophes—droughts, wildfires, floods—may have finally made an impact. “You watch as a California city literally called Paradise literally turns into hell inside half an hour,” McKibben reflects. “Once people have seen pictures like that, it’s no wonder we begin to see a real uptick in the response.” McKibben joined the New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert in a conversation about the U.N.’s new report on biodiversity. It finds that a million species could become extinct within a few decades and that human life itself may be imperilled. Although the political tide could be turning, both worry that it is too late. “The problem with climate change is that it’s a timed test,” McKibben notes. “If you don’t solve it fast, then you don’t solve it. No one’s got a plan for refreezing the Arctic once it’s melted. . . . We’re not playing for stopping climate change. We’re playing—maybe—for being able to slow it down to the point where it doesn’t make civilizations impossible.” And Karen Russell, whose books are inspired by her native Florida, finds a new sense of enchantment after relocating to the Oregon coast, where the big trees are like characters out of Jim Henson.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand been fierce on the issue of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the military and government; as a champion of the MeToo movement, she was among the first Democrats to call for Senator Al Franken to step down. Some in the Party, she has claimed, are still angry with her over it, and have withheld donating to her campaign. Gillibrand tells David Remnick that her experience as a female politician will be a strength if she were to face Trump in the general election. “My first two opponents were in a 2-to-1 Republican district, who demeaned me, and name-called me, and tried to dismiss me. And not only did it make my candidacy relevant, but it made it got a lot of people deeply offended, and they wanted to know who I was and why I was running.” Trump’s “Achilles heel,” she says, “is a mother with young children who’s running on issues that . . . families care about. His kryptonite is a woman who stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t back down.”
Plus, a visit to “Interfaith Alley” at New York’s Kennedy Airport with the comedian Pete Holmes, who lost his evangelical faith but not his passion for the way religions give life meaning.
By the standards of any musician, Rhiannon Giddens has a twisting and complex path. Trained as an operatic soprano at the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory, Giddens fell almost by chance into the study of American folk music. Alongside two like-minded musicians, she formed the Carolina Chocolate Drops, in which she plays banjo and sings. The group is focussed on reviving the nearly forgotten repertoire of black Southern string bands, but the audience for acoustic music remains largely white. Giddens tells David Remnick she was heartbroken that her largest black audience was at a prison concert. “The gatekeepers of black culture are not interested in what I’m doing,” she says. “This is a complaint I’ve heard from many, many people of color who do music that’s not considered black—hip-hop, R&B.” Her view of black music is more expansive: “There’s been black people singing opera and writing classical music forever.” As a solo artist, Giddens is moving increasingly far afield from African-American or American music; her new album, “There Is No Other,” recorded in Dublin in collaboration with the musician Francesco Turrisi, explores folk styles from the Middle East, Europe, and Brazil, as well as early America. She and Turrisi perform “Wayfaring Stranger,” the ancient ballad “Little Margaret,” and the tarantella “Pizzica di San Vito.”
In the field of memory care, there is a fierce debate around the question of honesty. Lying can, under certain circumstances, alleviate or avert distress in patients who are suffering from memory loss. But, on principle, many providers, patients, and family members don’t like the idea of deceiving patients who are in such a vulnerable position. Some care homes have strict no-lying policies.
But the New Yorker staff writer Larissa McFarquhar recently spent some time at a different kind of assisted-living facility that takes the opposite approach—The facility is one of only a few of its kind in the United States." The Lantern, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, is home to about forty patients who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The care staff at the Lantern are taught that, in some cases, lying to patients is kinder than telling them the truth. McFarquhar talks with Andrea Paratto, who helps train the Lantern’s staff. In a previous job, at a facility where lying to patients was against the rules, she had to remind a ninety-year-old woman that her mother was long dead. “She just started crying,” she tells McFarquhar. “I stopped right then and there and said I’m never doing that again. I cannot put somebody through that ever again.”
Some people argue that lying to patients undermines their dignity. But when it comes to patients struggling with dementia, McFarquhar says, there are other factors to consider. “Maybe something else should be the goal—I don’t know. Happiness? Autonomy? Or living your life as you want to, insofar as that’s possible.”