Putting Germany's Governmental Crisis in Context


By Max Lein

Merkel's government was in deep crisis. Horst Seehofer, Minister of the Interior and the head of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), had announced that he intended to instruct border police to start border checks and refuse entry to refugees who have filed for asylum in another European country — against the expressed objection of Chancellor Angela Merkel. This confrontation between Seehofer's CSU and Merkel's center-right CDU (Christian Democratic Union) caught everyone off guard and threatened the ruling coalition formed by these two “sister parties” and the center-left Social Democrats. For if Seehofer issued his decree, Chancellor Merkel would have to sack him — which would invariably lead to the CSU leaving the ruling coalition and therefore an end of the current coalition government. A break-up would leave Europe's biggest economy without a functioning government at a critical time.

The immediate crisis was averted, but at great cost: surprisingly, Merkel acquiesced to most of Seehofer's demands. Most notably, she agreed to the creation of “transit centers” (Transitzentren) where asylum seekers may be held for up to 48 hours. The purpose of these temporary holding facilities is to allow German police to check whether asylum seekers have requested asylum in a different country — and send them back to that country if possible.

But Merkel's troubles are far from over, and this could really be the beginning of the end of the era Merkel.

The special relationship between the sister parties CDU and CSU

Germany has a coalition government consisting of three parties, Merkel's CDU, Seehofer's CSU and the SPD. Getting there was arduous, it took 4 months until all three parties signed and ratified the coalition agreement. One of the main stumbling blocks was to agree on common policy positions regarding immigration.

However, the relationship between CDU and CSU is completely different than that to other parties. Both are conservative parties, but the CSU is up for election only in the state of Bavaria whereas the CDU competes only in the other 15 states. That is why these two parties, which are called “sister parties”, have been in a permanent coalition since 1949 with the exception of a four weeks in the 1970s.

The CSU not only sees itself as a conservative party, but also as the representative of Bavaria on the stage of federal politics. In contrast, all other parties where the interests of many states have to be balanced also when it comes to inter-party politics. This gave Bavaria an outsized footprint on the federal level.

So Minister Seehofer and Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder were not just willing to break a coalition, but sever this special bond between Merkel's CDU and the CSU for short-term political gain. The moves by the CSU were extremely unpopular, even amongst CSU supporters about half thought it was a mistake. And it is quite likely that this episode will impact the relationship between these two parties for years to come.

State elections in Bavaria

The main motivation of Seehofer, who is also the head of the CSU, and Bavaria's prime minister Söder are the upcoming elections in Bavaria. Since 1957 the CSU has ruled Bavaria, often with an absolute majority.

The CSU is on average more conservative than its sister party — one of their mottos coined by CSU icon Franz Josef Strauß is that there should be no party to the right of the CSU. Now such a party has appeared in German politics, the Alternative for Germany (AfD). According to recent polls, however, the CSU no longer has an absolute majority whereas the AfD is currently tied for second place with the Green Party in the polls. That was one contributing factor why Seehofer was “promoted” from Munich (the state capital), where he served as prime minister for the state, to Berlin (as Minister of the Interior). (For prime ministers of all other 15 states, this would indeed be a promotion. Not so in Bavaria, where in jest people would call the prime minister King of Bavaria.)

Now his former rival turned Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder intends to leave his mark and defend the absolute majority the CSU currently has in the Bavarian parliament. And his strategy is to move to the right to take the oxygen from the AfD. In a very unusual step, Bavarian Prime Minister Söder has met Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to discuss the formation of an “axis of the willing” to tackle the refugee crisis (them reviving the term “axis” in this context is either the product of astounding historical tone deafness or a deliberate provocation). Needless to say, the Baviarian prime minister does not represent Germany when it comes to foreign affairs.

Die Mitte: Merkel's pathway to electoral success

Angela Merkel has won all of her elections in the center crowding out the SPD. You can see the slogan “Die Mitte”, German for “the center”, in lots of places in the federal head quarters for the CDU.

During her tenure the Union have abandoned what were once the defining policy positions of these two conservative parties, among them the strict opposition to make civil unions of homosexual couples fully equal to heterosexual marriage, support for mandatory military service, being in favor of nuclear power and a reputation for being “financially conservative”. All of these positions have now been given up during one of Merkel's four terms: the universal draft was put on hold. Merkel allowed an open vote just before the 2017 election on making gay marriage fully equal to marriage between heterosexuals. After Fukushima Merkel reneged on her extension of the operating licenses of existing nuclear power plants (which cost the tax payer billions). And nowadays all German parties want to have a balanced budget, and the policy disagreements are about what to do with the budget surplus (pay back debt? lower taxes? invest in infrastructure? improve the social safety net?). (Note that all of these positions have overwhelming support amongst the Germany population, including conservative voters.)

The more conservative wing of the CDU has long lamented the loss of what they perceive as the CDU's ideological core, and they attribute the electoral successes of the AfD to Merkel leaving too much room on the right. Up until then Merkel's electoral successes and her aptitude to put her allies in key party positions protected her from such criticism — until now.

The future direction of the CDU: staying in the center or moving back to the right?

The surge of popularity of the AfD has made things quite difficult because the CDU has to make a decision on the federal level: do they want to stay in the middle (that’s Merkel’s recipe for success until now) and accept that the more conservative voters migrate to the AfD? Or do they move back to the right in an attempt to push the AfD out of Germany's parliaments?

At least when it comes to electoral strategies there is no clear answer, because the different states’s CDU chapters have different preferences: in some states the CDU won the elections in the middle, in others like Saxonia they won the elections on the right. So depending on the state, their politicians want to put their finger on the scale one way or the other to either keep the CDU in the center or nudge the party to the right.

Immigration as the key differentiator between the parties

The new demarkation line is, not surprisingly, immigration and by extension how to deal with the asylum seekers that have come to Europe. A large part of the German population does not see Germany as a country of immigrants, but a country of ethnically German people, i. e. you can only be German if you were born to ethnically German parents. That stance towards immigration has softened somewhat but is still very much prevalent in large parts of the population.

Nowadays roughly 13 % of people living in Germany do not have Germany citizenship, and another 10 % are “recent” immigrants with German citizenship. This corresponds to a significant increase from the levels in 2011 where only 8.5 % of the population were immigrants. To put this into perspective, according to the 2009 census 12.6 % of the US population was born abroad. Among the younger population, the percentages are even higher. Despite that, serious efforts such as language courses to ease the integration of immigrants into German society are relatively recent. Given these numbers, it is fair to say that as a matter of fact Germany is a country of immigration, but does not (yet?) have a society of immigration.

A lot of German people feel overwhelmed by the speed of change, and there is a feeling there has been “enough” migration. This is the political environment that gave birth to the right-wing AfD and re-invigorated the more conservative elements of CDU and CSU.

The aftermath

Nobody came out of this crisis a winner.

On a European level the big problem is the Dublin Convention that stipulates that refugees have to ask for asylum in the country they arrive in — unless other countries voluntarily take them in. Geography puts the brunt of the burden on Italy, Greece and, to a lesser degree, Spain and France. Note that the South of Italy and Greece are already amongst the poorest regions in Europe that have been hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis. Countries such as Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany on the other hand benefit from the Dublin Convention, because by virtue of geography they have no obligation to take care of the refugees. Many Eastern European countries including Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria strictly oppose taking on any new refugees.

So you have countries that have essentially no choice but to accept refugees and others who have the luxury of deciding whether or not to take refugees.


The popularity of Seehofer, who announced and then un-announced his resignation as Minister of the Interior, took a nose dive. He is now tasked with solving the (impossible) problem he insisted on solving. As Germany's Minister of the Interior is now tasked with negotiating bilateral agreements with Italy, Austria and other impacted countries that regulate how refugees are distributed and whether any will be taken back. Given the diametrically opposed interests of the various players, it is very hard to see how to arrive at meaningful compromises. If Germany and Austria adopt a hard stance and simply refuse entry to refugees registered in Italy, Italy may just stop registering immigrants, for example.

For the CSU at large Seehofer's predicament may not be such a big problem: at age 69 he is at the end of his career. But so far public opinion is staunchly opposed to the CSU's tactics, and polls currently indicate that it is unlikely that the CSU will be able to maintain its absolute majority in this year's election.

They will also have to pay the price for their behavior on the federal level at least.


Angela Merkel had to renege on her policy position of keeping Germany's borders open in exchange for her government. On the European stage, she had to acquiesce to the pressure of many of the other governments who had already shifted to the right on immigration. Her only win is that Seehofer is in charge of mission impossible now, and up until he has closed agreements with Austria, Italy and other key countries, little will change on the ground. Furthermore, Seehofer still is not keeping quiet, he has sent a letter to the European Union in support of a more lenient stance towards Britain in the Brexit negotiations only to be rebuked by a follow-up letter by Merkel. Under any other circumstances this would be grounds for termination, but this indicates the loss of respect for Merkel and the amount by which Merkel's political power has diminished.

The CDU at large is also worse off. Even though in spirit quite a few members of the CDU are in favor of a harder line when it comes to immigration, neither the timing nor the methods of the CSU were appreciated. Not only was there no one to take Merkel's place, the CSU's gambit has weakened the CDU and Germany as a whole. As a result, the CSU could not even count on the support of the CDU's conservative wing.


Lastly, the SPD, the third coalition partner, was not party to the negotiations of the compromise between both parties of the Union. And their reaction to the whole affair was rather meek: they staunchly opposed the transit camps in 2015 and prevented similar measures in the coalition agreement from February 2018. Nevertheless, also they were faced with the decision of being the one who broke the coalition or bow to the pressure, they chose the latter.

Closing thoughts

I would like to close with an important point: just like many contributions to the political debate this blog post so far centered around the mechanics of politics, the tactics and strategies employed by the various actors and how they beat their political opponent. At this stage we are talking about politics as if it were a sports game, and we forget the impact policies have on people. Moreover, we may forget that we are implicitly adopting the framing of the issues as dictated by these political actors, and that there are other, more insightful ways of looking at the problem.

Ultimately, the CSU focussed on the discussion that by his ministry's own admission currently impacts 150 people per month out of thousands. In the grand scheme of things, these are a drop in the bucket. But it furthers the illusion that adopting harsher immigration policies would have any tangible effect on the overall trends. And during the last three weeks, the self-inflicted governmental crisis sucked the oxygen from all other political discussions (Brexit, how to evolve the EU, Europe's relation to the US in the age of Trump, a looming housing crisis in big cities, etc.).

More importantly, we are forgetting why people migrate — they simply want to have a better life for themselves. We forget that the very things that make our first-world countries such a great place for us to live in are the very same things that make them so appealing to others. We forget that our societies are great because of the mercy and generosity we give to each other. Much of the purported policy solutions either aim at criminalization of migration or adopting policies that make our countries less attractive to other potential migrants. And that includes making it harder to get a proper legal status with the help of bureaucratic distinctions between (ineligible) “economic migrants” and “legitimate” asylum seekers, forcing immigrants into “transit centers” (or whatever other moniker you give them) or, as was the case in the US, taking children away from their parents solely as a punitive measure. Doesn't that diminish ourselves and make our countries a less desirable place to live in for ourselves?

Germany and many of the other European countries have not shown the necessary solidarity to their immediate neighbors, and this will have a price. Italy's new populist government's critical stance towards the EU is completely understandable in view of what has happened. Europe did not offer a solution and left these very poor countries alone for years, and it is not surprising that many Italians have started to believe that Europe is not part of the solution. For if we do not extend our helping hand to our neighbors, how can we expect that they will once we are in a time of need?

And regardless of what we believe should happen, our policy solutions will eventually encounter reality on the ground. Africa's population is growing very quickly and currently 40-50 % is under 20. There will soon be a huge number of people who will look for a better life, because their home country cannot provide them with sufficient opportunities. Seemingly never ending wars in the Middle East are contributing factors, as are unfair trade policies (imposed also by the EU, especially when it comes to agricultural goods) and global climate change. The US has a similar problem with migration from Latin America.

Europe will not be able to hermetically seal its borders should these immigrants decide to head to Europe en masse to have a better life. These are facts on the ground independently of one's ideological leanings. Whether we see this as a chance, something that can be managed, a burden or something to be feared is largely up to us.


2018: a year in books (April – June)

Megan is the founder and moderator of the Pantsuit Politics book club and is humbled by the
enthusiastic response of this community to read together. She is an engineer who is passionate about fighting for education and gender equality. Hermione Granger is her guiding light: “When in doubt, go to the library.”


As April kicks off, I am excited not only for the sunshine and warmer weather but the next theme of the 2018 Pantsuit Politics Book Club: Fiction! We will be reading fiction books April – June this year and I am excited to hear everyone’s thoughts on the selections.

I hope you will join us for a book or two (or twelve) this year. I would love to hear from you on Facebook and/or Goodreads (search Pantsuit Politics book club). You can also email the book club (bookclub@pantsuitpoliticsshow.com) with book suggestions / thoughts on books you are reading / ideas for the book club.
Happy Reading!

The start of spring is a time for stories as the world around us reawakens and the sun shines light on new beginnings. After starting our year with memoirs / autobiographies, I wanted to go from there into great works of fiction that not only teach you about others but about yourself. I believe that fiction is how we practice empathy and compassion as we read about lives that are different than ours yet connected to us in some way.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles has been on my reading list ever since it topped the charts in 2017. With its combination of Russian history and personal discovery, I think this book will be both timely and intriguing. There is something so unique about stories that are written from the perspective of a bystander – someone who is not leading the action but is observing the consequences of the changes.

Alias Grace: A Novel
By Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood was inspired by Beth. She mentioned on the podcast in response to Sarah’s comments about The Handmaid's Tale that she enjoyed Alias Grace, which got my attention as a fan of the former. I read this book earlier this year and thought it was a lovely narrative that speaks to the difference between a male and female perspective, as well as the importance of having both.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is another historical fiction selection, a genre I greatly enjoy as I find that I internalize history more when in the form of a moving story. It is interesting to me that one historical event can lead to the telling of multiple stories, all from different perspectives and locations but that all contribute to the history as told today. This book is about occupied France during World War II.

I am a teacher - not a warrior.

We shared Liz's letter to us in this week's episode and several of you asked us to post it here so Liz's powerful words can be shared far and wide.

In the aftermath of the school shooting in Florida, I have observed a particular narrative that has really gotten under my skin as a teacher. The murdered children are victims, but the dead teachers are heroes. They took a bullet for their kids. I don’t in any way wish to minimize anyone’s deaths, nor do I wish to criticize these moving tributes but it’s time someone told the truth about this heroic narrative. Teachers being murdered in schools by armed terrorists while protecting their students is not heroism. It is a horror.

We revere police officers and our military because they affirmatively chose that life that most of us do not have the courage to do. Their job is emotionally draining and takes a psychological toll because of the risk to their lives that their jobs pose. Their marriages are tested and their families live with the stress that they may not come home at the end of the day. It takes a special kind of person to be willing to sacrifice themselves to protect the innocent. Every community needs warriors and protectors, and I am incredibly grateful to those people who serve us in those roles.

I am not that person. I am not a police officer. I did not enlist in the military. I am a teacher. I did not choose a career where I am asked to sacrifice myself to protect the innocent. I chose to teach because I love children, I love learning, and I love the school environment. I chose a career that allowed me to balance my family and my job. I am not a warrior. I am an educator, a nurturer and carer.

Ever since the Columbine shooting, every time I enter a classroom, I assess where and how I would hide the children. I consider the fastest way to evacuate. Sometimes I look out at the faces of the children I teach and I see the children of Sandy Hook. This has taken a toll on me, as I regularly experience fight or flight. I regularly consider the possibility of being murdered or witnessing the murder of children while on the job and I did not in any way ask for this when I became a teacher.

I am a teacher, not a warrior.

I’m going to be totally honest and real here. I do not want to take a bullet for anyone except my own family. I don’t want to die at my job. I am not a hero and have no desire to be one. And I don’t think I should be expected to do so. I just want to go to school and be a kind adult in the lives of children and then go home to my own children and husband. My elected officials should protect me and decide that being a human shield to protect children against armed men is not what we want for teachers, children, or our communities.

So let me be clear: if I die in a school shooting, I am not a hero. I AM A VICTIM. I am a victim of greed and lies and inaction. Do not lionize me or any actions that I took in service of protecting the children in my care. I did not willingly take a bullet for my students but because I had no other choice and because I was failed by powerful people who could have saved my life and the lives of the kids in my classroom. If I die in a school shooting protecting the children in my classroom, I have done it unwillingly and at the hands of others. I love children and love teaching but I don’t want to die on the job. I desperately want to come home to my family every day. I did not choose this.

Murdered teachers do not willingly sacrifice their lives and let’s stop acting like they do because it makes us feel marginally better to have heroes among the horror.

- Liz

A Perspective on Gun Violence from a Firearms Enthusiast


We received this thoughtful email from our listener, Eric, and wanted to share it with you. We welcome more perspectives on this important subject. 




Firstly, I'd like to thank you both for producing the podcast, which I know is difficult and costly. Reasonable political discussion is needed now more than ever and seems in short supply. Please keep up the good work.


Secondly, I’d like to share my views on the gun control issue. I am a lifelong firearms enthusiast from Ohio and I feel that the public discourse on gun control is utterly unproductive. Below are my observations.

1.    Free access to guns entails a trade-off of public safety. The facts on this are clear, though many of my fellow gun owners refuse to acknowledge them. More guns mean more gun deaths, either through homicide or suicide.

2.    For the gun owner, the above trade-off is well worth it. In fact, many gun owners, myself among them, would gladly incur increased risks in return for increased access to firearms. This may be hard to believe for the non-enthusiast.

3.    For the ~70% of the population that does not enjoy guns, the safety trade-off is definitely not worth it. If you do not enjoy guns you would be better off in a world without them.

4.    There is much obfuscation on the gun rights side of the argument. Guns are almost exclusively recreational items, rarely used for self-defense. That guns for defense could become much more necessary in an imaginary “end of the world” or tyrannical government scenario, represents the theoretical consideration of a wildly unlikely possibility.

5.    Modern gun culture is radically different from that of generations past. Hunting has been waning for years as a result of suburban sprawl and mass migration to metropolitan areas. Shooting is now a martial art, not a tradition. The weapons most desired by gun-owners are weapons of modern war, i.e. “assault weapons,” semi-automatic pistols, etc. Related equipment, such as body armor and night vision devices are also sought after. As an analogy, consider the popularity of boxing mid-century and the rise of MMA, a more complete and realistic simulation of unarmed combat, in recent decades. Today, “practical shooting,” as it is known, involves practicing rapid firing at humanoid targets, the use of cover, rapid reloading, and other martial skills. These are practiced for the same reasons as any other martial art: it is fun but the skills gained are also potentially useful in the unlikely event of a self-defense situation, unlike conventional sports.

6.    Gun owners and gun control advocates want to live in two different worlds. Compromise is possible in some areas, such as restricting gun rights of domestic abusers, but impossible in others, such as restricting assault weapons. Some gun owners are reflexively opposed to any gun control legislation, but they can be swayed on the right issues, and we should try.

7.    Mass shootings are a unique problem that admits to few solutions other than highly restrictive bans and confiscation. An assault weapons ban would not stop mass shootings because other firearms are nearly as deadly, or even more so. Mass shooters would adopt new tactics to best suit available weaponry. The marginal cost in gun rights of an assault weapons ban is not worth the marginal benefit to public safety (for gun owners). This is related to the “perfection is the enemy of the good” argument posited by Sarah on the last episode. Banning assault weapons would only slightly reduce homicides, but massively impact gun enthusiasts.

8.    Physical security measures, like armed guards and metal detectors, are probably effective and should be employed. I believe Kentucky is taking this approach after the recent school shooting. This will no doubt anger gun control advocates who don’t want to live in a world with obvious security measures in public spaces, but it will impact them much less negatively than gun control would impact gun owners.

9.    The gun issue drives many enthusiasts to become single issue voters, though there are many pro-gun Democrats as well. I regularly attend competitions with immigrants, proud LGBT community members, and others soundly in the Democratic demographic. While I detest Trump and didn’t vote for him in 2016, if we have a Democratic congress in 2020 and no better Republican candidate, I will be forced to. I side with Democrats on many issues, but none effect my life as directly as the threat of gun control.


2018: a year in books (January – March)


Megan is the founder and moderator of the Pantsuit Politics book club and is humbled by the enthusiastic response of this community to read together. She is an engineer who is passionate about fighting for education and gender equality.  Hermione Granger is her guiding light: “When in doubt, go to the library.”

The morning after the 2016 election, I knew I needed to make a change. I had woken up in a country that I did not recognize and I had no one to blame but myself. I had not been politically engaged. I had not been challenging myself and others through dialogue. I had assumed that others would do the necessary work.

Enter Sarah and Beth. Driving to work that morning, I listened to Pantsuit Politics for the first time and realized that I didn’t need to wait for others to make this country and world better. I could learn how to make an impact myself. I did not yet know how but I was going to try.

I subscribed to The Washington Post, picked up a handful of political books, and queued up the Pantsuit Politics archive. Over the past year, I have learned so much – both about myself and the world around me. Through engaging with Pantsuit Politics via Twitter, a book club was suggested and I jumped into action. As a bookworm, I wanted to learn and share alongside those in the Pantsuit Politics community I had found – the community that was challenging me to be a better person each day.

I thought I would be lucky to get 20 people to join. 400 Goodreads members later, the book club is entering the second year and I am thrilled. Following the announcement of the 2018 books, I thought it would be helpful for others to read how I had picked the selections for this year. A summary of the January – March selections are below. I will be back each quarter to detail the upcoming book selections and check in with fellow readers.

I hope you will join us for a book or two (or twelve) this year. I would love to hear from you on Facebook and/or Goodreads (search Pantsuit Politics book club). You can also email the book club (bookclub@pantsuitpoliticsshow.com) with book suggestions / thoughts on books you are reading / ideas for the book club.

Happy Reading!


Q1 (Jan - Mar): Autobiographies/Memoirs

As a new year begins, with the focus on goals and resolutions, I think it is important to ground yourself and set your intention. As a political book club, the words of others seemed like a great place to start. We can learn immeasurable amounts from those with different experiences and life circumstances.

Between the World and Me
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a moving narrative that offers inspiration on every page. I read this book last year and knew it would be a great start to 2018. The reality depicted in this book is heartbreaking but moves you to action.

Personal History
By Katharine Graham

Personal History by Katharine Graham was Sarah’s idea with the upcoming movie The Post. I do not know much about the author’s story and am looking forward to discussing the book and movie with all of you. With the #MeToo movement, it also seemed fitting to read an autobiography by one of the biggest female journalism names.

Decision Points
By George W. Bush

Decision Points by George W. Bush was an idea I had after I heard for the nth time from those of the older generation: George W. Bush was my Trump. I am not equating the characters of these two US Presidents nor the actions. My understanding of these comments is that these individuals were remembering a time that the country seemed divided by the President himself. It seemed fitting to read a book about how George W. Bush made decisions as President as we struggle today to hold our current President accountable while giving him space to do this complex and demanding job.

Pantsuit Politics Holiday Gift Guide


Beth's Gift Ideas


So many lessons to learn in this:

Amazing in every way:


All of the things, please:

Still the best mascara on earth: 


Sarah's Gift Ideas


The most beautiful work of fiction I read all year:

Anything Is Possible: A Novel
By Elizabeth Strout

The book I can't read to my boys without crying:

Rosie Revere, Engineer
By Andrea Beaty

How we upped our coffee game:


The toy every child (and a fair amount of adults) play with when they come to my house:


No nuance for Mayim Bialik?

I’m lying in bed at 3am sick to my stomach over how many of our listeners might react to our conversation about Mayim Bialik’s Times editorial. I cannot bear the thought of hurting those already traumatized further with our conversations about sexual assault. And I have real questions and concerns I can’t shake about the effects of our misogynist culture that I don’t know how to ask without it being seen as victim-blaming.

What I’ve tried to convey (unsuccessfully) from the beginning is that I don’t believe human beings are evil and I do believe that portraying them as such is harmful. I regret now our “No nuance for Nazi” tagline that has now grown into “No nuance for the NRA” and even “No nuance for Mayim Bialik” - who for all her flaws seems a long way away from a Nazi. What we were trying to convey is that nuance doesn’t mean moral ambiguity - some acts and beliefs are wrong and immoral and even evil without equivocation. 

However, I’m afraid that “No nuance for ….” has morphed into “There’s no room for conversation or questions.” I believe where a situation contains another human being there is always room for conversation - even if that person is a Nazi or Harvey Weinstein. We share 99.9% of our DNA with each other and that means we are more alike than we are different. No matter how heinous the act, I don’t believe anything is gained by putting the actor in a box labelled “Other” and telling ourselves we would never do that. Rather, I believe it’s important to acknowledge that given the right circumstance we could and ask ourselves, “Why?”

i keep thinking about what I believe to be the most brilliant pieces of media produced in the past decade - OJ: Made in America. I find OJ Simpson to be abhorrent - a murdering egomaniac without remorse or regret. In fact, were I to believe in evil I’d certainly apply it to him. However, it would be a short and unsatisfying documentary if Ezra Edelman had said, “No nuance for OJ. The end!” Instead, he spent 467 minutes asking questions about OJ and not always providing answers. And yet nobody thought Ezra Edelman was blaming Nicole Brown Simpson or Ron Goldman for their own deaths. 

The idea of victim-blaming itself seems to have taken on a life of its own and morphed into a purity test of sorts. I do believe Mayim Bialik was asking interesting and important questions about the complicity of an industry built on the sexual objectification of women, even if she did not do so in the most graceful way. I also believe she was arguing she feels empowered by her choices regarding modesty and sexuality. There are many, many women who feel the same way and I do not believe they should be shamed for those beliefs. I also don’t think it’s not a bridge too far to cross to decide a self-described feminist with a PhD in neuroscience - no matter how inarticulately she explained herself - would never argue that women can protect themselves from sexual assault through the clothes they wear. 

That is not to say she got it all right. She very clearly did not. In fact, she seems to be making the mistake I’ve made over and over again - which is attempting to deal with a fraught subject matter in too few words or in too short of a time. However, making a point inarticulately does not mean you deserve to have the worst motives possible ascribed to you. When you publish an essay in the Times, you open yourself up to criticism (obviously). But let’s make the criticism count. Let’s move the conversation forward - not shut it down by shaming her. 

P.S. About the First Amendment

We are receiving messages and comments about the First Amendment in relation to our Charlottesville discussion. They're fair questions and comments. 

Here's what I want to quickly share with y'all, in the spirit of love and transparency: 

  • I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in the right of people to peacefully express even the views I find most repugnant. 
  • I believe that culturally and civically and then judicially, we need to have a conversation about what "incitement" to violence means. 
  • I also believe that just because you can speak, it doesn't mean you should. Do Nazis and Klans-members and white supremacists have the right to assemble at confederate monuments? Yes, unless and until that assembly crosses the incitement line. However, politicians, businesses, and those of us who fervently oppose them should condemn them for doing so. 
  • I think it is beyond past time for conservatives to stop shrugging their shoulders and essentially saying, "that sucks, but First Amendment, right?" And that's my intention. The tepid reaction to Charlottesville by the President was not about the First Amendment. The "but Antifa" reactions are not about the First Amendment. I'm not going to pretend otherwise. 
    • Side note: we'll talk about Antifa sometime soon. There are problems there, to be sure. We're not going to do it in a "but Antifa" way. There is, for me, no moral equivalence. 
  • My constant refrain: you're free to speak. You aren't free to speak without consequences. 
  • Plenty of people are willing to use their platforms to emphasize freedom of speech and assembly. In this moment, in this instance, I'm not willing to use mine that way. My voice, my work is to say, "that's wrong. That's unacceptable in America in 2017, and our businesses and politicians and families must say so in both words and actions." 
  • I always feel that we are in relationships with our listeners. I hope that our relationships can withstand disagreements about the issues that we prioritize and the ways that we choose to use our voices. As in all relationships, there are defining topics and moments -- bottom lines are critical. For me, a bottom line is to ensure that I never use Pantsuit Politics to intentionally hurt people. I think that meeting the news out of Charlottesville with a lengthy dialogue on the rights of  white supremacists would cross that line. I hope you understand. 

Reconciling Southern Pride, Complicated History, And Rejecting The Alt-Right

Editor's note: Danny Hughes is a good friend of mine, and a restauranteur in Gainesville, FL, a town I lived in for 6 years and of which I have deep ties. I found his response to the tragedy personal, nuanced, and genuine, so I wanted to share it with y'all. Danny has always been somewhat of a community helper. If there's a charity that needs a venue to host a fundraiser, he lends his bar. If there are stray dogs on the street, he'll try to find them good homes. If you need school supplies for your kids and are hard up on cash, Danny will do what he can to make sure your kids have what they need. If you need a job, he'll find extra work at his restaurants for you to do. He's the embodiment of "southern hospitality." Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida in Gainesville in September, and Danny along with some other business owners and artists in the community are trying to organize an alternative event to drown out the publicity of Spencer coming to town. It's not a protest, but an event designed to run directly alongside Spencer that celebrates unity, community, love, and acceptance. I think it's a brilliant idea that still holds free speech up, but chooses to direct attention away from hate and to more productive and socially harmonious ideas. 

Danny's post:

I watched the news last night and I cried. I didn’t cry on 9/11. I didn’t cry about the Oklahoma City Bombing. I was jarred, I was afraid, and I was angry, but I didn’t cry. On Saturday, I cried. I watched my fellow Americans carry torches, dressed in body armor and chanting hatred and bigotry at other Americans and people all over the world because they believe - deep in their hearts - that they are superior, in every way, to anyone else who isn’t a white Christian.

They were marching to protest the removal of a statute of General Robert E. Lee.
I am by no means a student of Robert E. Lee, but I know enough about him that I don’t think he would have stood with the white supremacists marching on his behalf on Saturday. They were on the wrong side of history and I believe Robert E. Lee would have agreed with that.

I am the son of a white southerner, born in the south. My father was raised in northern Alabama at the height of the civil rights movement. I have an autographed picture of George Wallace, addressed to my father, in my office at home and I really don’t know what to do with it. (Short story, dad invited Wallace to his high school graduation and Wallace sent back that picture in response). I don’t want to hang it up, because his career in politics was…ahem…checkered, but I don’t want to get rid of it because frankly I find it interesting. (Side note- there is a lot more to the story of George Wallace, but that's another time).

As an American, white supremacists hurt me. In the deepest part of my being I am jarred by their very existence. As a southerner, it gets a little more complicated. Southern pride is something that is going to and has been questioned many times. How can someone have southern pride and not be a racist? It’s actually really easy. I choose to promote and embrace every part of my heritage and culture EXCEPT those parts. Southern hospitality, 'yes ma’am' and 'no ma’am', rock & roll and blues, country music and southern rock, fried chicken and cheese grits, cheap beer and Coc-a-Cola, bourbon, fresh Florida tomatoes and oranges, tree ripened Georgia peaches, slow southern drawls and Appalachian gibberish. Hell I don’t even hate NASCAR. But to accept white supremacists ideologies as something inherently southern - I just can’t do it. There are too many good people here. People who were born here. People who are 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation southerners (and beyond) who are beautiful, amazing, progressive people who just want EVERYONE to get their fair shake in life, and ensure that EVERYONE gets the same chances, and that NO ONE is less important or less valuable just because of who or where they were born.

Many of you are aware that I am a huge Drive By Truckers fan and those gentlemen are the type of southerners I aspire to be. Many of their songs are poignant after the events in Charlottesville, but I think The Southern Thing is probably the most apropos to my feelings in this matter.

“Ain't about no hatred better raise a glass
It's a little about some rebels but it ain't about the past
Ain't about no foolish pride, Ain't about no flag
Hate's the only thing that my truck would want to drag

You think I'm dumb, maybe not too bright
You wonder how I sleep at night
Proud of the glory, stare down the shame
Duality of the southern thing”

The south doesn’t have a monopoly on racism anymore than Arizona has a monopoly on droughts. It is truly everywhere you go. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The only way to over come it, is to be louder, be smarter and be better.

To my Virginia friends: I’m sorry for what your state had to deal with this past weekend. I’m sorry to every man, woman and child - regardless of their skin color, religion, sexual orientation or anything else - that you had to turn on your TV in 2017 and see what you saw. I’m sorry for anyone that feels scared or less important or in anyway demeaned by what you saw.

I will not apologize for where I was born or to whom, but I will stand together, with anyone who will stand with me, to fight and defeat the ideals of anyone who thinks they are better than anyone else just because of where they were born or the color of their skin.

Myself and some like minded individuals are organizing an event in response to Richard Spencer’s planned speech here in Gainesville on September 12. Lets show the rest of the world how to respond to hatred. Lets be bigger than suppression. Let's be smarter. Let's be better.

Let’s get loud.

Be nice to one another, we’re all we got.
Cheers, y’all.


Sarah from the Left and Adult Friendship

Tomorrow is Sarah's birthday, which seemed like a good time to say this: Sarah from the Left teaches me more every day about the power of friendship between adult women. 

It's hard to prioritize non-crisis friendship when you're working and raising a family and struggling to schedule time for tooth-brushing. Most of us have many beloved friends for whom we'd do anything. If it all hits the fan, we're there for you with pie. You need this shirt? It's yours. But time gets away  when you're focused on all.the.things. Soon it's "let's plan that trip [someday]," "let's have dinner [someday]," "let's have a conversation about our cosmic raison d'etre [someday]." 

Sarah is a pro at adult non-crisis friendship. She's a resource sherpa -- you have a problem or thought or dilemma, she has a link that guides you to the promised land. She gives insightful advice that will push you to be better. She listens. She's funny. She not only makes time for the cosmic raison d'etre conversation; she REQUIRES it. Sarah doesn't care how your day was. She cares how your soul is. 

Best of all, Sarah invites you be a friend back. She reaches out and by doing so gives you permission to do the same. She takes advice as well as she dishes it out and by doing so shows you that she values you. If something's irritating or off, she'll text and by doing so makes space for a random and life-giving outlet. She doesn't make polite conversation waiting for a convenient time to insert her thoughts. She rolls in and takes the floor. It's refreshing and honest and a wonderful, generous recognition that while we don't have all kinds of time, we can still have all kinds of fun and support and comfort and truth. 

Everyone needs a Sarah from the Left friend, and I'm so lucky to have her. Happiest birthday, Sarah, and cheers to many more. 

Listener Feedback On Our Antitrust Episode

Editor's note: This is a submission from our listener Louis Rovegno

I love that you did an episode on anti-trust. It's such an important issue and dangerously under-enforced. I did want to share my perspective on some of the things you said about the tech sector.

You mentioned that Google is a free service, so therefore examining it through the lens of price fixing doesn't make sense. In fact, you are not Google's customer. You are its product, which it delivers to its true customers: advertisers. There is a whole world of fee structures, pay-per-clicks, ad placement, analytics to measure your website's performance, and other tools which are enhanced by Google's ability to get people to use its services so eyeballs will see advertisements. The prices we should care about are the ones charged to advertisers, because we all pay for advertising when we buy advertised products. 

I also want to make the case that Google earned its spot and not because of first mover advantage like Facebook had. There were plenty of search engines in the 90s - Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos, aggregators like Metacrawler, and so on. Google beat them all by having the most streamlined search page, the best algorithm, the best integrated services like email and mapping, and marrying all this to a fast and efficient browser. It cornered the market on advertising too, allowing it to emerge as by far the dominant search engine. Google's only competitor is Bing, and Bing only exists because it had the massive financial backing of Microsoft. 

A few words on startups being bought out: I wouldn't shed any tears for these people! It's a huge payday, and the developers just leverage the accolade into another startup or great job. Maybe they could have gone on to be billionaires, but they more likely would have plodded along or run out of money. This is the red flag: that companies like Google and Facebook are so big, they can afford to buy every startup that seems even remotely promising, just to avoid competition. And worse, we let them.

Ultimately, though, Google is a monopoly. So what do we do? As you said, we want to maintain incentives for companies to be the best. Companies shouldn't be punished for bettering their competitors. But they also shouldn't be allowed to use their success to prevent any future competition or gouge consumers. Fortunately we already have the laws in place to deal with this, we just need to enforce them. We can more aggressively enforce antitrust laws against mergers and acquisitions. It's ridiculous that so many big companies are allowed to keep consolidating, regardless of whether it's tech, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, resource extraction, or what have you.

We can also sue them. Clever economists can estimate the prices that would be charged in a fair market and compare to the presumably higher prices of the monopoly. The difference is called monopoly rent, and it's illegal under the Sherman Anti-trust Act as an exercise of monopoly power. If the monopoly rent is sufficiently high to demonstrate purposeful rent-seeking, there should be a lawsuit and it should be huge. Compliance needs to be cheaper than non-compliance or the laws are meaningless. 

There are solutions. We just need our elected officials to carry them out! That they have been so woefully inadequate in doing so, and the reasons behind that, are fodder for a lengthy and sprawling discussion that touches on regulatory capture, campaign finance, and our societal mores on how we treat white vs blue collar crime. 

The German Election and What it Means for Europe and the World

Editor's note: This piece is a contribution from listener Max Lein

On 24 September the citizens of Europe's most populous country will be called to the ballot boxes, and Angela Merkel is vying for re-election for a fourth term as Chancellor after 12 years in office. Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is leading the “Great Coalition,” so named because the CDU forms a government with its junior partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) which has received the second-most seats in the German Bundestag.

The next German government will have a full plate. On the European level, it will have to contend with difficult Brexit negotiations, find a new direction on how to evolve the EU, tackle the refugee crisis, and think of ways to deal with the erosion of democratic norms in countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Turkey. It will also have to re-think its relation to the United States after President Trump has canceled the free trade deal with the EU in its current form, exited the Paris Accords, and put the US's commitment to NATO in question.

Fortunately for Germany, it can enter negotiations from a position of strength: Europe's largest economy is currently in good shape, it is outperforming its big European neighbors, it has a budget surplus, and France - Germany's closest partner in the European Union - has just elected a Europhile President who has the backing of the French parliament.

The German Political Landscape: Consensus

According to recent polls, 80 percent of Germans think that the EU should fill the void left by the US in international politics, and 93 percent favor stronger collaboration in defense matters on the EU level. Here, the distinction between Europe and Germany is crucial. Independently of the political bent, Germans strongly support the European project — not just as an economic union, but one that aims at furthering the political integration of the member states. This commitment is partly rooted in the shared suffering during the two World Wars. The inner logic of a lot of European politics reveals itself when viewed through the lens of post-WW2 politics. The Euro, for example, was France's asking price for the German reunification and any increase in Germany's military spending is seen very skeptically by its European neighbors. Therefore, Germany's strategy is to push for more collaboration on military spending on the European level,.

There is also overwhelming consensus when it comes to how President Trump is viewed: according to Deutschlandtrend his favorability rating is at a staggering 5 percent. Polls by Pew similarly show a precipitous drop in trust since Trump took office, not just in Germany but worlwide with the exception of Russia and Israel. Trump's numbers compare very unfavorably even to Theresa May's who polls at 22 percent despite her push for a hard Brexit. Trust in the US as a partner has fallen from 59 percent in November 2016 to 21 percent in June 2017; the US is now tied with Russia. These numbers should not be simplistically interpreted as anti-Americanism, but correlate strongly with Trump's pre-election behavior and post-election policies. More on that will be discussed below.

Domestically, Germany's single payer healthcare system (which Germany has had since the 1880s!), the existence of global warming, shutting down all nuclear power plants by 2022 and the move to renewable energies are not political demarcation lines.

One topic that could have been a major difference between the ruling CDU and the other parties was the full equalization of homosexual civil unions and heterosexual marriages. Since all potential coalition partners of Merkel's CDU promised that this would be a non-negotiable item of any coalition agreement, Merkel decided to allow parliament to vote on it, and a mere week later, the Bundestag voted for full equalization with a comfortable 63 percent majority. (A vote in parliament without the CDU's placet would have meant the SPD had had to break the current coalition agreement, thereby triggering a governmental crisis just before the election.)

There are differences on policy details, of course, such as how to best switch to renewable energies and how to adapt the health care system to the demographic change and the retiring baby boomers in particular.

Points of Separation: An Overview of the Party Landscape

There are currently 7 political parties which are likely to enter the next parliament. The two with the most seats, the Christian Democrats (CDU and the Bavarian CSU) and the Social Democrats are considered the “big parties”, because they would be the ones who would lead a coalition with one or more parties. The other parties, the Liberal Democrats (FDP), the Green Party, the Left (yes, that is their actual name) as well as the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) are smaller parties. Traditionally, the Chancellor is the party leader of the strongest party and the Vice Chancellor the leader of the junior partner.

The dynamics between larger and smaller parties is a staple of German politics. Typically, smaller parties have a sharper profile and gather votes on a few select issues. The Green Party in the mid-1990s pushed very hard for phasing out nuclear power plants in Germany and for equal rights for gays and lesbians. Once these then-fringe issues have become main stream, that small party would often experience a slump in the polls until it found its next issue. Apart from injecting new topics into politics, small parties allow voters to express displeasure with their preferred party without “wasting” their votes. In an election year where a coalition between the CDU and the FDP looks likely, a CDU voter could vote for the FDP if he or she is unhappy with the state of the CDU but would still like to ensure that a coalition of the two comes to be.

To understand which space each party occupies on the political spectrum, especially the FDP and the Green Party, it is necessary to go beyond the one-dimensional left-right axis that might be useful for countries with few parties. Moreover, one should not use the political demarcation lines of US politics to decide which party is on the “left” of the spectrum and which is on the “right.” Universal healthcare and acceptance of global climate change are not divisive issues, and therefore do not serve to meaningfully distinguish between political ideologies in Germany.

The Two Big Parties Occupy the Center

The Social Democrats moved towards the center in 1998 with Gerhard Schröder who became Chancellor in a coalition with the Green Party. A lot of their policies still echo almost 20 years afterwards, including abandoning nuclear power in favor of renewable energies, civil unions for homosexual couples and fundamental reforms of the social security system (dubbed Agenda 2010). With Merkel, also the Christian Democrats moved towards the center by abandoning many unpopular policy stances (e. g. support for nuclear power and mandatory military service). As a consequence, both parties fight for the same voting blocks in the middle and programmatic differences between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats have become harder to discern.

One of the main issues is how to best deal with the roughly one million refugees currently residing in Germany, and what kind of immigration law to adopt. The CDU wants to introduce yearly caps which on the one hand do not seem particularly relevant, and on the other might be unconstitutional (the right to seek asylum is enshrined in the German constitution). Another issue is what to do with the budget surplus: the CDU wants to prioritize tax breaks while the SPD wants to increase investments in public infrastructure.

This “lack of distinct political profile” has led to fractures in the traditional voting blocks. In 2005 the “Electoral Alternative for Work and Social Equality” was formed by members of the left wing of the Social Democrats who were unhappy with the SPD's move to the center. The CDU is facing a similar movement with the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) who is also appealing to conservative voters for whom Merkel has too readily abandoned certain policy positions. This split has affected the SPD in particular as it has lost a significant voting share since then. It remains to be seen whether the AfD is a lasting phenomenon, and will take a significant vote share from the CDU.

The Small Parties as a Corrective

Christian Social Union

The C*D*U appears only on the ballots of 15 of the 16 states, in Bavaria people can caste their vote for the C*S*U (Christian Social Union). While CDU and CSU are two different parties, the see themselves as “sister parties” which have been in a *de facto* permanent coalition since 1949. Bavaria is a very independently-minded state, the German analog of Texas perhaps, where the inhabitants tend think of themselves as Bavarians first and Germans second. Unlike the name might suggest, the CSU is much more conservative than the CDU at large and sees itself representing Bavaria's interests on the federal level, and is so successful in elections that it can govern without a coalition partner. 

The Liberal Democrats

The oldest small party in post-WW2 Germany are the Liberal Democrats (FDP) who traditionally have a libertarian bent and have appealed to well-educated, middle class voters (disparagingly called the party of doctors and lawyers). They used to be strong on the protection of individual freedoms and privacy, with an emphasis on personal responsibility, the rule of law, free trade, and education. However, as of late the party has been in a bit of a philosophical crisis after narrowly missing 5 percent of the votes in 2013 which are necessary in order to enter parliament. The FDP's marquee issue in this election is to improve education. To quote the party's official program, they want to lead a “man to the moon” project in order to give Germany the best education program in the world. Another key issue is improving the conditions for founders of new companies as well as small and medium businesses.

The Green Party

The Green Party  was born of various political movements from the late 1970s and early 1980s that were against nuclear power, in favor of laws protecting the environment, feminism, for pacifism and a New Left. There was also a significant conservative element as the pacifism and environmentalism movements included a lot of Catholics who saw the world and the environment as part of God's creation that deserved protection. Many of the views that once were radical have since become main stream, e. g. the push for renewable energy and gay rights can be attributed to the rise of the Green Party. The Green Party has entered coalitions with the Social Democrats and, more recently, also with the Christian Democrats. The Green Party has long become fully main stream, it is currently a member of 10 out of 16 state governmental ruling coalitions. In one quite conservative state, the Green Party has become the party with the most seats and replaced a conservative Christian Democrat as the state's prime minister. The Green Party's main principles, social progressivism coupled with (financial and environmental) sustainability, have proved attractive to especially urban voters of all stripes as it promises to combine social progressivism with financial conservatism. The main campaign issues are abandoning coal power plants until 2030 and the switch to all-electric mobility (e. g. from 2030 all new cars sold have to be electric). Other promises include a commitment to a multicultural society, better integration of refugees, imposing stricter privacy protections for consumers and a push for net neutrality as well as a better way to mitigate negative side effects of global trade.

The Left (Die Linke)

The Left  is the union of two rather distinct movements: left-leaning former Social Democrats in the former West of Germany and left-over communists in former Eastern Germany. This schism becomes visible on many policy positions, because German Social Democrats are very distinct from what many Americans might consider socialist or communist parties. (The SPD (founded in 1863) predates Karl Marx's “Das Kapital” from 1867, the manifesto that socialism and communism as we understand it now are based on.) The Western wing of The Left as well as all other main stream parties are very critical of the Eastern wing's tendency to be uncritical of the crimes committed during the East German dictatorship. For these reasons the SPD on the federal level and in the formerly West German states are currently not open to a coalition with the Left; in the East they belong to 3 out of 5 state governments. Its policy ideas are quite traditional, critical of global trade, against military interventions and using the taxation system to redistribute the money from the affluent to the poor.

The latest addition to the German political system is the Alternative for Germany (AfD). None of the established parties are open to a coalition with the AfD. It feeds of the same trends and fears that are attributed to the rise populism in the US with Donald Trump as well as other Western countries: skepticism towards the European Union and multiculturalism (Islam in particular), a renewed focus on the nation state and the Germans as a people, and distinctly against refugees and asylum seekers. Amongst all main stream German parties, they are also the home of a lot of climate change skeptics — something rather unusual in Germany. The AfD supports a strong social safety net, although it wants to offer this safety net only to Germans. They reject what is viewed as “immigration into the German social safety net”. A lot of the AfD's policy positions oscillate between neoliberalism and arch conservatism — and further than that. There have been numerous scandals where party officials have been anti-Semitic and espoused right wing extremist and Christian fundamentalist ideology.

Potential Coalitions

Alternative for Deutschland

Of those six parties, only four are open to coalitions as the Left and the AfD intend to stay in the opposition. And they would not be able to find a partner willing to enter a coalition with them either.

Judging from current polls, the CDU will remain in power. So let us start with possible CDU-led coalitions. A very likely option is a continuation of the center-right/center-left Great Coalition between CDU and SPD. Other likely combinations are a coalition of CDU and FDP or the so-called Jamaica coalition between CDU, FDP and Green Party (since the colors associated to those parties, black, yellow and green, are found in Jamaica's flag). A traffic light coalition between SPD (red), FDP (yellow) and Green Party is also an option.

The German-American Relationship and How It Will Be Affected by the Election

For decades Germany's most important partner outside of Europe has been the United States. And while the friendship has been strained over the last decade-and-a-half, skepticism of US administrations and their policies should not be conflated with anti-Americanism. While anti-Americanism certainly exists to a certain degree, from the German perspective the growing distance between the US and Germany is the result of a number of policy positions and decisions by various US administrations.

Merkel's change in tone represents a sea change in the attitude towards the US that will have long-lasting effects on the trans Atlantic partnership. The reason being that both of the major parties, including the more US-friendly conservatives, will treat the US with more skepticism, less like a friend and close ally, and more like a business partner. Therefore, independently of what coalition will be elected to lead Germany for the next four years, its stance towards the US will likely be very similar. Where previously there might have been an implicit trust in diplomatic dealing, in the future the German side will proceed with much more caution.

It is important to not just blame this on Donald Trump, the estrangement between the US and its traditional allies in Europe has started in the George W. Bush years. The Bush Administration has pushed for a number of policies, chief among them the invasion of Iraq that much of the population of European countries were strongly opposed to, but skepticism towards climate change among other things should also be mentioned. Initially the CDU was still willing to join the US-led coalition into Iraq. In fact, it cost the CDU an electoral victory in 2002 when the conservative candidate Edmund Stoiber would not rule out that German troops participate in the war in Iraq in a TV debate with Gerhard Schröder. Contrast this to the close relationship between Germany and George W. Bush's father whose role was pivotal in the German reunification just a decade earlier.

Donald Trump's behavior pushed even the German conservatives over the edge: From the vantage point of Germany, the most important political issues are preserving the European Union, fighting global climate change and stemming the rising tide of autocratism in Turkey and Eastern Europe in particular. Donald Trump has openly supported Brexit and criticized the EU, abandoned the Paris Accord and claimed the treaty's intent was to harm the US, and seemingly used every opportunity to say nice things about various autocratic leaders while chiding its European allies (and Germany in particular). This is in addition to Trump's thinly veiled anti-Semitic, racist and sexist overtones, many of which would have permanently ended his career if he were a German politician.

Also behind the scenes the relationship has taken a turn for the worse: on several occasions German diplomatic efforts were stymied by the sheer lack of people in the US's State Department — on several occasions German diplomats literally had no one to talk to about important issues due to the plethora of unfilled positions in the State Department. President Trump has yet to appoint an ambassador to Germany and the European Union, for example, and during low-level diplomatic meetings on Germany's trade surplus the US counterparts were reportedly ill-prepared. This makes maintaining proper diplomatic relationships very difficult.

For many international initiatives, the US won't be part of the discussion — not because it is being excluded by its partners, but by its own choice. And if the world's no. 1 economy decides to step aside, then no. 2, 3 and 4 will naturally fill the void. That is why there is are more eyes on Chancellor Merkel than ever, and Germany as the West's largest economy has to step up.

It is not all bad, though. In a recent campaign speech for the Social Democrats their candidate Martin Schulz called for Germans to take a page from American virtues and be more daring and that young people should have to courage to try new things. While this was just a campaign speech, the mere fact that this characterization of Americans was included in the campaign speech of a center-left politician is telling. The American people are still admired, envied, for their optimism and can-do-anything attitude, despite the facts and naysayers. That is how the US sent men to the moon within a decade, relying on less computing power than the smartphone we currently carry in our pocket. That is why it is home to Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook. However, this great strength can turn into weakness if the US decides to move down the wrong path, undeterred by the warnings of friends and allies.

Insights On The Eve of The GA 6th Special Election with Kim Mellen

Editor's note: Like all political junkies, I woke up today with a keen eye on the final movements of what can only be described as the most visible House of Representatives race I can ever remember in Georgia's 6th District, and the most expensive House race in history. I know from ongoing conversations with our listener and Atlanta native, Kim Mellen, that she's been heavily involved in the GOTV effort for Jon Ossoff, so I touched base with her today to get her thoughts going into voting day. 

This race is incredibly close. I've been following the coverage and it seems as if the enthusiasm for Karen Handel is tempered at best from a national standpoint. What are you seeing in the district? Well, she's had Trump, Pence, Tom Price, and the Perdues campaign for her and Senator Johnny Isakson has radio ads endorsing her. So she's got national support, but I'm not convinced that they care about her as much as they care about retaining her seat. When I was canvassing, the Ossoff yard signs were 12:2. There is a lot of excitement in the district about Ossoff and excitement is coming primarily from women and younger people. The campaign office I worked out of was (literally) run by high school kids led by a young man named David who just graduated college. Ms. Handel has run for every office north of dog catcher and has not been very successful in terms of legislation or policy in any office. 

The knock on Ossoff has been his national support, that he's only gaining traction because of Hollywood and outside money, so you're saying that in the district that bears out a little more normal to what we'd see in a typical congressional race? No, the energy and attention is like nothing I've ever seen in the 30 years I've been following state races. It's through the roof. The energy for Handel is muted and not nearly as enthusiastic from what I've seen. Of course, I am not likely to be closely related to her orbit, so her supporters may be enthusiastic. but it's not visible to me. She is at best, a tepid politician with a dangerous anti-gay, anti-women agenda who will be a rubber stamp for the Trump agenda. 

What would you say are the key issues in the district, the stuff that doesn't necessarily fall under the national platform umbrella? Healthcare and jobs. People here want to keep the ACA and make it better. Ossoff also has a vision to make Georgia 6th into the Silicon Valley of the southeast, investing in technical jobs and enticing large tech companies to come to Georgia. 

So the AHCA is a central issue to voters you've talked to in the district. What would you say you've learned knocking on doors? Honestly, That Dems, Independents, and moderate Republicans are all concerned about the same things. The older Republicans are concerned about "experience" which is ironic given who they elected to the presidency, and that Ossoff is one of "them" (other, Millennial, Jewish, progressive, etc). All these things seem threatening to older Republican voters here. 

What was your most surprising encounter knocking on doors? The most surprising (and encouraging) thing I've encountered since March has been the absolute dedication of women (several liberal Mom groups have spring up in the district) and young people. Specifically, teens not yet of voting age. They are knocking on doors, going to campaign events, phone banking, writing post cards, getting their parents involved, etc. Being in the campaign office is inspiring. Every canvas effort from Chamblee has had no less than 30 people in the room for the brief before going out. The Latino community is heavy in this area of the district and the Latinas are out in force as well. 

When you said earlier that Dems and moderate Republicans were concerned about the same things, what are those things? Aside from healthcare and jobs, which you mentioned. Issues that are paramount besides the ACA/AHCA and jobs are women's reproductive health, protecting Planned Parenthood, the environment, Trump's ties to Russia, education and infrastructure. Recently more people are talking about America's reputation in the international community. The ICE raids have been a big deal too. 

And you said you heard these issues come up with moderates as well as Democrats? Yup. I grew up in the 6th. For it to potentially go blue is both incredible and very exciting. 

Does it concern you that so much national attention and money (from both sides) is influencing a House race? Nope. Elections have consequences. Rebekah and I have sent money to Democratic candidates all over the country and will continue to do so. I am considering going to California to work against Darryl Issa. The way people vote affects us directly - especially in national office. It feels very disingenuous for Rs to specifically call out national money as an issue give the money they pour into local, state, and federal races for PACs, etc. Most of Ossoff's money has come in the form of donations of $50 or less and they've been raised locally. But I'm not mad about out of district money on either side. Rs are mad because it seems Dems are spending like them, and it's taken the RNC by surprise and it's making a difference here. I can't overstate how big it will be if Ossoff wins tomorrow. 

You said earlier if the 6th "finally" goes blue. Finally implies it was trending there. What factors would you say have influenced that trend? Finally may have been the incorrect word. Actually turn blue would be more appropriate. 

Well, what factors would "actually" make it happen? The 6th is very red, and contains a large portion of metro Atlanta's wealth. I believe that the growth of Atlanta's economy regionally has contributed to the influx of younger, more socially progressive people. I also think that the women in the district have finally had it. Hillary's loss and Trump's rhetoric against women are directly responsible for the grassroots women-led efforts occurring in the 6th. 


Pulse: A Year Later

We tend to frame big moments in history, big moments in our lives, in “where were you?” terms. The big ones for generations past were, “Where were you when JFK got shot?” “Where were you when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?” “Where were you when the Challenger exploded?” or “Where were you when the Berlin Wall came down?” Obviously for the modern era there is “Where were you during Columbine?” “Where were you on 9/11?” Unfortunately, June 12th for everyone in Orlando, everyone in the global LGBTQ community, and millions more around America will now live as a “Where were you?” moment.

I remember where I was. It was 5 a.m., I was in bed with my wife, and the TV was on. I normally play golf on Sundays and get up around 6, but it was still too early for my alarm. Through almost-shut eyelids I could see police lights flashing on the screen from what looked to be a fleet of cruisers. Just hours earlier, there had been a tragic shooting at the Plaza Theater, a music venue just a few miles from my home. Christina Grimmie, a former contestant on The Voice was shot and killed by a fan after her performance. It was the big news of the night, so when I woke up I figured it was ongoing reporting from that incident. I asked Laura, “Are the police still there?!” She said “No, another shooting. At Pulse.”

Orlando, at least during my lifetime, has always been a pretty gay friendly place. Pulse wasn’t one of those places people went to in hiding. It wasn’t a secret. Pulse was out in the open, on the corner of Kaley and Orange Ave, just south of the heart of downtown, less than a mile from where I went to high school. The club, like the Orlando LGBTQ community, was out for all to see, and everyone embraced that. Until June 12th. As soon as I heard my wife say, “at Pulse” my heart sank. I feared the worst. The chryon on the local news was reporting 9 dead. Horrific. The both of us sat and watched the news in disbelief that not, one but two public shootings had struck not just our town, but our neighborhood in less than 24 hours.

As the morning went on my phone was flooded with texts. None of them were good. “21 dead.” “Over 30 now.” The last text to hit my phone as I drove my golf cart up to the 12th tee box didn’t even seem real. I thought it was a typo. “50 dead.” Later that number would be retracted to 49 (we don’t acknowledge the shooter). Golf at that moment seemed so utterly pointless and stupid. The weather was classic Florida, sunny and beautiful, but it was impossible to enjoy. The breaking news seemed unimaginable. At this point it was about 10:30 a.m. Nobody knew a motive, although knowing the prominence of Pulse in our town it wasn’t hard to add 2 + 2. Outside of 9/11, it was one of the most painful, bewildering, helpless days I can ever remember. That comatose stare that you get when your brain can't quite process reality and when your heart feels like it's been punctured? I couldn't shake that stare. I’d later learn that my cousin was one of the first OPD officers on scene. The shooter was still armed and in the building. Luckily he and the other first responders made it through the morning safely. I’d never been one degree of separation from terrorism before, and the reality was sobering.

For the Pulse 49, their families, friends, coworkers, loved ones, life would never be the same. Worlds shattered. Lives ended. Families torn apart. For the survivors, wounds would be dressed, long roads to recovery both physically and mentally lied ahead. For a Central Florida community, especially the tight knit LGBTQ community in Orlando, unspeakable heartache and vulnerability arose. But in spite of all that, Orlando came together. We persevered. We mourned together. We helped each other. Millions of dollars were raised. Gallons upon gallons of blood donated. Countless memorials were held. Murals went up. The city turned rainbow, and if you have the pleasure of driving around our great town you’ll see that it still is.

Pride Month and the most gruesome American tragedy aimed at LGBTQ people are forever linked. It sickens me to know that 49 people were taken from this planet simply for celebrating their existence. It sickens me to know that some people in the wake of this tragedy, because it happened at a gay club, felt the victims deserved it. It sickens me that then candidate Donald Trump used it as confirmation for his disgusting worldview that terrorism is something he should gain credit for constantly fearing, and by proxy – predicting. It sickens me that one of the few beacons of the LGBTQ community in my city is currently non-operational. I remember seeing an interview with a trans woman who performed and worked at Pulse. She was choking back tears talking to Don Lemon, just steps from the crime scene, as she lamented that Pulse was one of the only places a person like her could hold a job. And now it's gone. 

But it strengthens me that those who needed Pulse the most, those who lost the most on June 12th, those who saw evil come after them and take their brothers and sisters – they stared it right back in the face, joined hands, and said “Fuck you.” It strengthens me that I can truly say my hometown, the place where I was born and where I live today, set an example for the rest of the world to show that unity and compassion are what make up a place, not buildings and attractions. It strengthens me that this month millions around the world will celebrate people’s right to exist as whoever they are, to live their truth, without judgment from society, religion, or government. It strengthens me to know the Pulse 49 will never be forgotten. They are the embodiment of Pride and they should be remembered as such.

June 12th will always be a “where were you” day and also a day to remind the world, we’re still here, and we are still standing – with Pride.


Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old


Reflecting on Terror

We arrived in London on Monday. We flew into Gatwick and took trains to London Bridge station. From the underground station, we walked to Southwark and checked into Citizen M hotel, directly across from Borough Market. We spent three nights there, walking the streets, eating in the pubs, having picnic breakfasts beneath the trees. On Friday, we took a train to Edinburgh, Scotland. There, we learned about the attack via late-night text messages from friends and family asking if we were safe. 

We're taking a train back to London now. The train is quiet--our compartment nearly empty. As I watch sheep and countryside roll by, I can hear my thoughts: Why Southwark? It's lovely. The people were so kind. We were just there. It could have been us. I'm nervous to go back to London--maybe we should skip it and head south. What if something else happens? 

I don't ask myself "why Kabul?" I don't think about the architecture in Egypt's Minya Governorate. The kindness of strangers in Tangi never occurs to me. Do I really need to have just been in a place to feel, in a real and present way, sickness and sadness? Do I really need to assess the familiarity of a culture to care about what happens to it? Do I need to apply my own lens of worthiness to people to grieve their murders? That is not the heart I want to have. 

It could always be us. That's the nature of terror. There are people nervous to go back to work today, to walk outside their homes. They don't get to opt out. Something else can always happen, and perhaps our best expression of solidarity is carrying on. 

I am not an expert in safety, a politician, a pundit, or a policymaker. I wish I had ideas to deter those seeking infamy and justly punish those who aid in their plans, to thwart radicalization and end extremism. I don't. The only heart that I can improve is mine. In the wake of this latest attack, improving my heart means sitting in the most vulnerable answers to the questions I'm asking. It means saying yes, we could have been there. Yes, something else could happen. Yes, I have grieved attacks on the western world and become numb to violence elsewhere, and no, that's not who I want to be. It means believing that we can probably do more to ensure our safety while knowing that there has always been and will always be evil in the world. It means carrying on, and carrying on with a little more kindness than yesterday because it's all I know to do. 




Pantsuit Politics talks LGBTQ Politics with Kim Mellen

Editor's note: A long time ago Kim Mellen, a devoted listener and activist, reached out to the show and offered her perspectives if we ever wanted to discuss LGBTQ issues. I decided to take her up on it. Last week, while everyone was freaking out over the firing of Jim Comey and the Yates/Clapper testimony, Kim and I had a long chat on the phone about the past and future of LGBTQ politics in America, where the next fights are, how age shapes your political vigilance, and where conservatives fit into the social policy equation. This is part of our conversation. 

Do you think that LGBTQ people by nature are more politically active than your average citizen? Do you think activism is a necessity for LGBTQ folks? Or conversely, is inactivity viewed as a luxury?

100% I think we’re more politically active. We have seen an uptick in people’s engagement, and donations to organizations protecting LGBTQ rights. I don’t see that going down anytime soon. Locally in Atlanta our Human Rights Campaign chapter has endorsed John Osoff in the 6th district. There is a lot of support behind organizations and candidates fighting for LGBTQ rights. You see information getting passed around and it starts linking into every community. The thing about our community is it’s truly representative of the entirety of our populations. We’re men and women, rich and poor, black, white, hispanic. It really covers the spectrum. There is a lot of community engagement and there is a lot of fear in the community right now, and that in turn spawns engagement. You see that in other groups too. Professionally you’re seeing lawyers organize, which is crazy.

But to me personally, engagement isn’t new. I have always been politically engaged. The first time I went to D.C. I cried as an adult, it was kinda dorky. The last two election cycles have in particular really provoked a big uptick for me. After the Supreme Court passed Obergefell v. Hodges, the marriage equality measure, in our local and state groups we started looking at the shifts in local policies because that’s where the real damage was being done. I remember when Act Up got started in the Reagan era, and Harvey Milk, and representatives in the political space being recognized and listened to. It breeds a culture of activism. We have to be active. If we’re not, we get nothing. Even with marriage equality. In North Carolina, and Tennessee, and Texas, and Mississippi, the legislation that happens at the local level is really what will affect and impact your life. People are paying attention. With the wave of younger progressive people coming into the political space, it’s been an interesting time to watch that come together. The energy, Dante, it just feels different. Just talking to people in the neighborhood. It’s always present.

Do you find there to be an age disparity with LGBTQ folks fighting for their rights? And what I mean is, for younger people who have grown up in what is a nowhere near perfect, but more demonstrably progressive America, does the fight not feel as real or as urgent as say, someone who grew up in the height of the Christian Right in the 80s?

Yes, definitely. I see that even with my wife Rebecca and I. We are 14 years apart. She grew up knowing a more open society, her generation, they started that big shift. They are all gender fluid and all that stuff. I graduated high school in 1986, knowing what it was like to drive to a bar and know that you might be arrested. I’ve been run off the road for holding hands with my girlfriend in a car when people saw us at a stoplight. I’ve been pulled out of a car by young guys thinking I was a guy, and when they saw I wasn’t they just kind of let me go. Everything now feels like a physical blow, and it’s just different. When Rebecca and I talk, I’ll explain it to her and she’ll say stuff like “That actually happened to you?” There is a difference generationally in how people are feeling this in the community. It doesn’t detract from any age group getting into the fight. People telling their stories like they’re hearing now. Those who lived through the Reagan era, and the AIDS crisis. I never thought I’d see marriage equality in my lifetime and if I did I thought it wouldn’t happen until very late in my life. It doesn’t make the progress less tangible. But I think the young people are seeing that the fight is never really over, and there’s still so much work to be done.

What do you say to straight people or people outside the LGBTQ community that have viewed the incoming Trump era and said, you know I don’t know what they’re so afraid of?

My emotional reaction is not very nuanced. It’s a big fuck you. And that’s from my gut. I would point people to all kinds of places you can find news in the LGBTQ community. There are links on the HRC’s website. The ACLU has information on cases that I’ve been involved in. Source your own research but here is where you can go to find it. Ten trans women of color have been killed just this year due to hate crimes. TEN. The hate, and the danger, it’s around you everywhere you look. It impacts my life every single day. You things that most people don’t even think about my wife and I have to think about, like whether she can make medical decisions with me, not even talking about children and parental rights, just making medical decisions together.

It’s one story at a time and one person at a time. I keep watching all these things happen and the only way I’ve ever made an impact with people is to sit and talk to them and meeting them where they are and not apologizing for that. After talks it’s usually, I understand you a little bit better and I hope you understand me a little bit better. I have a boring mundane life. I am married to the woman I love. I go to work, pay my taxes. You know it’s basically the same as everyone else’s, but sometimes it takes real conversations to get people to see that.

LGBTQ for a long time has, from a national politics perspective, been focused on sexuality. But now it seems more and more the gender portion of the acronym is moving into the spotlight. Gender is a really tough thing for people to wrap their heads around, is it like that even for folks within the community?

I think there are some people in the community that struggle to understand that experience. Even if you don’t fully understand it, protecting their rights becomes about appreciating someone’s right to exist as they are. Transgender people, there’s so much to unpack there. I can’t fathom the experience they have or that they go through. But I can understand what it feels like to be different, and viewed as “other” and not fit in and not feel comfortable as myself because I couldn’t be my true self. I couldn’t imagine my entire life, as an open and out lesbian, under that weight. I don’t need to experience being transgender to know that weight, and fight for people to never have to live with it.

Where is the next fight for LGBTQ rights?

It is definitely in the area of trans rights. It’s the bathroom bills that are coming out. At the state and local level is where it gets really scary and the feds have basically passed these issues on to the states, and at the local level discriminatory legislation can happen much quicker. Adoption is now on the table. Tennessee just signed into law the invisibility law, NC is trying to work on the repeal of HB2. Texas has lots of adoption laws on the books. It’s definitely centered around trans and family and keeping the more “traditional” definition of what a family is and getting it enshrined into law.

What do the words religious freedom mean to you?

It means you have the freedom to practice a religion unencumbered by anyone or government. Practicing your religion means gathering in your church, or mosque, or synagogue. It doesn’t to me mean that if you run a business, that you can use scripture to discriminate against people. Practice your religion. Then when you step into the public space you can’t deny people coverage, or service, or anything based on religious freedom just like you couldn’t based on the color of their skin. The religious freedom argument is a license to discriminate and there is no other way to look at it.

Why do you think religious freedom has been used as a weapon, even as its legal justification to discriminate keeps getting challenged. Socially and economically too, we’re seeing more and more activism against religious freedom bills that aim to discriminate.

Freedom is to be free of that kind of discrimination, really. But when you say religious freedom it feels like something that is being taken away. It immediately positions it as a removal of freedom. It’s all about things being taken from you by the “other.” At the heart of it, it’s racism and sexism and homophobia, and xenophobia driving that sentiment in the GOP. There’s always this concept of the “other.”

It seems to me though, that the party shift under Trump might draw some focus away from LGBTQ folks as the "other." Trumpism to me is more of a nationalist movement, so is there an argument to saying that there is less of a stereotypical social conservative bend to this administration and its supporters?

Well, there is the David Duke segment of that base and there’s obviously the alt right, but you’re probably talking about the Fox News watcher. They just have a different enemy. They’re riled up about Muslims, or illegals. They have bigger “others” to deal with at the moment. It just happens to be our turn not to be in that crap pile for that segment of the population.

Who are the political heroes and heroines in the LGBTQ community?

Barney Frank. Tammy Baldwin. Barack Obama. Although he’s not really in the party right now. The progressive caucus is leading there, but getting more people at the table is happening slowly but surely at the federal level. But it’s going faster at the local and state levels. In ATL we have 3 openly LGBT people in city commission, we have an openly LGBT mayoral candidate about to run in Atlanta. That campaign is set to start soon. I realize Atlanta is a bubble comparatively in the South, but it’s happening. That race is going to heat up. We’ve got some old time Georgia candidates, some black candidates. It will be an incredibly diverse race.

If you don’t have a seat at the table you don’t have a voice, even though you have people advocating for you. Those are two very different things. It’s all about perspective right?  We have Tammy Baldwin in the Senate. There is a guy in the house, but his name is slipping me at the moment. There might be 2 openly LGBTQ representatives at the federal level, and 2 out of 535 is pretty poor. One openly sitting Senator. I think that is starting to shift. Maybe not at the federal level, but it’s coming.

Do you think we’ll see an open president?

Not in my lifetime. It make me a little sad to say it but I don’t think so.

You’ve categorized a lot of things tonight in terms of your lifetime. Considering the gains that have already been made and what you’d like to continue to see, if at the end you could give a recap, what would a lifetime of progress look like for you?

The further away I get from it, I think it’s really gratifying to see how the community itself has grown and changed and embraced the more marginalized sections of even our own community. I think it’s only going to continue, and as we get coalitions built with other marginalized communities. Now you’re going to get into my liberal Democratic side where we’re all one and everyone is beautiful, but you know I really believe that! Seeing a younger generation coming into life without the same hang ups that I have has been a wonderful thing to see, you know? Just people being more comfortable with who they are and being able to live as they should - that and a female president are things that I would look back on and feel very proud of. I’d also look back on two political moments, and they are both Obama inauguration speeches. When he said we’re looking forward to welcoming our LGBTQ brothers and sisters so they can enjoy equal rights, and when he said Stonewall to Selma my jaw dropped. To hear that in the inaugural, it was unbelievable to someone like me.

It’s common to associate LGBTQ folks with the Democratic Party, but we know there are conservatives too. What do you see as the future of the conservative movement within the LGBTQ community? And moreover, conservative politics in relation to it? There is a lot of talk that young cons are really not as concerned with some of the social aspects of the last 30 years of GOP politics. Could you see a shift that brings the country closer together on social policy?

There’s continued talk of that and I would love a movement. The younger conservatives are what might ultimately save the party. They really are talking about policy issues not social issues, and policy issues should really define a party. I think I would like to see that. It’s a truer representation of what government would be and what governing is. The conservative movement within the LGBTQ community will always survive, and unfortunately it presents itself in some ugly ways. You obviously still have the dominant white male and everything that comes with that, even in the gay community. You still have elements of sexism and racism and all that. People that are born and raised in these gentile environments - which is my experience in the South - they really believe they’re better than people. They believe that I’m white so I’m important or I’m a man and people are interested in what I have to say. It tends to coalesce around a certain kind of individual, and it tends to be white men. I think there are a lot of people really concerned with government and not social issues. Democrats can get there too. We have a lot of policy points that have nothing to do with who you love or who you marry. It will be interesting to watch, to see the younger conservative members of our community and their evolution.

My last question. Are we doing a good enough job of covering LGBTQ issues on the show? And if we’re not, what would you like to see us cover?

Y’all do a great job of bringing issues to light and talking about the social fabric of politics. Of course it’s always done in a fair and loving way. I’ve never felt left out listening to the show or participating in the community. Something I would like to see though, The Democrats have just reintroduced the Equality Act, maybe do a show on what that means? The Equality Act basically inserts sexual orientation and gender identity into the civil rights protected classes and grandfather’s us in so we don’t have to fight these constant battles to get the next protection on the books.

Would it essentially be a re-shaping of the 14th amendment?

Well the 14th amendment says you can discriminate based on race, religion, etc. so yeah, in essence we are talking about adding to the 14th amendment. It expands the categories of public accommodation. It amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexuality among the prohibitive categories. That takes all these discriminatory cases running around in cities and states and throws them right out the window.   


Digesting the Democratic Party with Bryn Behrenshausen

Editor's note: Bryn worked on the Hillary Clinton GOTV effort in the 2016 campaign, is an active participant in North Carolina state politics, and is one of Pantsuit Politics' most devout followers. He and I have often had short Twitter conversations about the direction of the Democratic Party and different ideas of what liberalism is or isn't in the modern era. I wanted a conversation that spanned more than 140 characters so I called him this week to chat. 

If you were a doctor, how would you assess the health of the Democratic Party right now?

I’d say we are pretty much healthy, we’ve got high cholesterol and some other things that we need to address immediately - we’ve got some things we need to work on. This conversation is going to happen any time you lose a presidency to another party and you’re recovering afterwards. I think people are over playing this. We don’t have one central figure to lead the party, but I am also of the mind that we don’t need to have one central leader. I think we need a couple leaders and those are emerging. Keith Ellison and Tom Perez are trying, and they don’t always go about things the way I would but they are making an effort to get out there and talk to people and that’s a good start. I think they need to get some more diverse people in that ring, I saw a lot of push back about them running around with Bernie Sanders because he’s not technically a Democrat. It’s a lot easier to move the furniture when you’re inside the house instead of shouting about where it needs to be from the outside. He needs to shit or get off the pot. You can’t use the Democratic apparatus - and I was sucked into that message of screw the Democrats – and not be trying to move the party in a positive direction. I’ve had some time to realize that that’s not productive.

I know you were one of the show’s most devout Bernie Sanders supporters early in the 16' campaign. Obviously that feeling has changed. Was this the first time you’d voted in a national election? What was your tie to the Democratic Party prior to 2016?

I voted before this election. I voted out of civic duty and wasn’t engaged. It was the 2012 election. Unfortunately I did not vote for President Obama in 2012. I voted for the Libertarian candidate in 2012. In order to understand how I became a Bernie supporter is to understand my background. My dad is a staunch libertarian and my mother voted with my dad. She was the stay at home mom, took care of the kids. They used to joke that she was internal affairs and he was external affairs. Neither of them ever had a good thing to say about Dems or Republicans, especially the Clintons. But obviously I got older and started questioning my beliefs about my own morals and beliefs on religion. I wouldn’t even say that was college that did it, my college wasn’t political. Everyone talks about liberal colleges; I went to a hick school in Central, PA. I took a class in state and local government and had a fantastic teacher that really brought home bi-partisanship, she was middle of the aisle. As I started getting more into the issues I started to form more liberal ideals and Bernie Sanders came along and being on Twitter and seeing the post of him taking the really brief press conference stuck with me. He came out and said “I’m running for president, Ok now I have to get back to work.” I started seeing other friends sharing posts, and I thought “He’s talking about all the things that I care about!” I was so pre-disposed to being against the Clintons and I failed to take it upon myself to learn about Hillary. I was drawn into that whole “against the establishment mentality.” All I heard growing up was nothing works. They’re all corrupt. They all suck. That’s quite a hill to get over when you are trying to vote into one of the parties. It resonated with me.

There’s so much talk of Sanders’ role in the future of the party because of this “Bernie v. Hillary" split. What, if anything, comes of that fissure? Do Democrats have to fix it, or bring along those folks for future success?

What I have come to realize is that we are a two party nation, and it’s going to take a significant amount of other things to happen to make that not the reality. In the immediate future if we want progressive ideas and progressive policies that the Democratic party is the best apparatus for that. I am no longer for this notion that he is going to be an independent. People can debate his effectiveness in office, but he does have the energy. We need to make sure that as Democrats that we have a message of things that we are for. I am very much against Trump. I spend a considerable amount of time criticizing Trump but that isn’t going to win us the election. That is proven. I did an exit interview when I worked with the Clinton campaign, and I said that I felt too much of our time was spent being against Trump, especially people who are engaged. The last thing people want to hear is “This guy sucks, vote for me.” And I think targeted messaging is important. We want a platform of Democratic ideas that can benefit everyone but things need to hit harder for certain groups of people. Talking about raising minimum wage in middle class suburbia doesn’t really resonate. When you have a town hall of all white people in middle America, a message of the importance of diversity isn’t going to hit home. It will carry more weight in those diverse areas.

What policies, not ideals or values, policies, are at the heart of the Democratic Party?

What the top priority should be is jobs, but you know so many things are interlinked. Being the clean energy party, being the next generation jobs party. Being the economic party of the 21st century. How do we face unemployment, and low income jobs, and this growing economy where automation is an increasing reality? I think it’s important to understand that to say “what is next?” Trump convinced people that they were losing their jobs to immigrants, and to get more jobs we’ll just control immigration. For Dems we need to figure out what is our plan for providing jobs or income. Do we need to explore UBI to ensure everyone has their needs met, as we enter this next round of work? Does a job look like 40 hours a week? At least have that conversation within the party. There is a candidate that is running for congress in Mass, her name is Brianna Wu, and her big platform is we need to focus on jobs and how to handle jobs in the face of automation. I’m not the one who has the solution to this, but smarter people need to talk about it. We need to find a message for how are we going to get people jobs. With clean energy, here are all these jobs we can provide. If we can give people jobs and feel like people are getting something from it, hopefully we can get a win there.

How do you reconcile the idea that if jobs are at the heart of the party, it seems the dividing line, or the litmus test for what it means to be a Democrat or a progressive always seems to come down to social issues. One break from the party line on a social issue can really cause trouble from the tribe, so it if all the issues are weighted equally, can we be a party of tiered values?

We’ve had these discussions. If we could drop the social issues from politics, I’d love to have discussions about economics and foreign policy. If you care more about the social issues but are economically conservative you have no party, but what I want to see Is if you’re going to run as a Democrat, you’ve got to be pro choice. It needs to be firm, do you support a woman’s right to choose? It has to be yes. I don’t think it should be the central issue of anyone’s campaign really, if you are personally pro life, great, but it’s not the government’s role to limit a woman’s right to an abortion. You don’t have to be out there every day talking about it. It shouldn’t be this hard. Bernie has all these litmus tests for himself with Wall Street, and you’re not a real progressive if you don’t scream about Wall St. all the time, but when it comes to a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, he says maybe we can be lax on that. I am trying to get better about diversifying along race lines and gender lines. When they hear that you’re willing to compromise on their rights, that’s a real affront to them. I would love to be cheering for Bernie, but when he does this, he has such a narrow set of issues, but everything else is “I don’t really care about that.” There are issues that he missed. Anyone can be a Democrat. There is no litmus test to being in the Democratic party. But if you’re going to run and get the financial backing and the grass roots energy from the party, but you’ll at least have to be pro choice.

Do we as liberals have an exclusivity problem?

We are seeing that in both parties right now. Within the GOP they are fractured on the Healthcare bill. Democrats are having the same problem legislatively. It would be interesting to see healthcare being debated as like one wing of the party being staunch single payer and the other wanting minor reforms to Obamacare. Part of the problem is everything is a national issue right now. All of these house races and special house races everyone is focused on them because it’s the next way to resist Trump and so everyone is still campaigning for their issues instead of listening to the district. Let’s have their representative respond to them. It’s this challenge of having a national platform they’re trying to move forward with while balancing that locality reality. Can we have a Bernie Sanders style candidate win in Montana or Kentucky? Probably not. It depends on the issue. I was saying today that I wish less focus was put on abortion. If you are not a real staunch and loud supporter of a woman’s right to choose and that we are going to shut you down.

Oh I don’t necessarily mean within the party, I mean culturally. I’ve noticed a lot of infighting because of stuff like what companies people patronize or where people eat. I’ve literally seen friendships end because one person found out the other ate at Chick-Fil-A. Is the list of rules to be a “good” liberal too long?

This is something I am challenging myself on. I am “woke” enough to not take offense to people saying you’re doing this wrong, or you’re using the wrong phrase. We should not be just destroying people for not being “woke” enough. I’m not the person who is going to say “You still eat at Chick-Fil-A? Well screw you.” I get it, they are a conservative company that I have problems with but if a buddy wants to get lunch at Chick-Fil-A, I’ll probably go. If it’s really an issue someone can always say, “Hey maybe we can eat somewhere else because I have a problem with this.” I don’t like Wal-Mart. I don’t like their corporate culture and they don’t treat their employees well. My wife, she shops there, I’m not going to tell her where to shop, but I don’t shop there. It’s up to you if you want to make that call. Everyone has their passions. Some people are more worried about Walmart, or using a credit union over Wells Fargo because they fund the Dakota Access Pipeline. Our problem is that we shout at people instead of explaining. Twitter is a big cause of that. It’s easy to bang out a snarky response to someone on Twitter rather than having a long conversation. I can have five tweets to explain my point or I can just say fuck you and move on. We have lost this kind of ability to discuss in better.

Yeah, where I view the disconnect is that as a culture, liberals have lost their sight of government. Because really that’s what all of this is about right? The idea that my party is in favor of a certain role for government. Where I’m trying to get is how do we transform back to a party that used to have a concrete idea of how government ought to run, and less on how people should think, or believe? Getting out of the idea of a right and wrong way to live, and more of a right and wrong way of governing. There are ways to continue to espouse a value system, but it has to be through government, not in spite of it. In my experience, what someone’s cultural values are have less bearing on how they may view government that most liberals tend to believe.

Many of the reasons I am a Democrat or a liberal is because I have a real problem with conservative ideology and specifically religious ideology. I don’t think we’re going to abdicate our social responsibility as a party to equality, to gender equality, LGBTQ equality, race equality, etc. As long as there is the religious right that is going to want to discriminate against those groups, the progressive left are going to be the warriors against that. Until the right side of the country grows out of some of those ideals, the left are not going to go back to just being a party of social safety nets. The word is that younger conservatives are more socially liberal. I would challenge that with some of the things I’ve seen, but if that holds true, the great because as soon as we get the right side more socially liberal then we won’t have to fight all the time. Democrats are focused on the people, and equality, and that is the main focus right now of the party. I don’t see that going away or not being a significant part of the party’s platform until we stop having to defend equal pay legislation, having to defend anti-gay “religious freedom” legislation. Trump is planning to sign some executive order on religious freedom in a nod to Mike Pence.

How do we get those conversations back to government related conversations though? Because they aren’t always that, the “Deplorables” line comes to mind.

She quantified it. And that rubbed people the wrong way, including people in my own family. She wasn’t talking about half of the Republican party, she was talking about the alt-right, Pepe types on Twitter. But she quantified it. Democrats believe in government solutions for a lot of things, we believe in protecting its citizens including discrimination.

I think a lot of the conversation is what as a society we deem right and wrong, and if you want to be an advocate for a societal change, put it in the context of government. We spend too much time saying, this is what we’d want the government to do, or what we’d want the government to look like. The smug liberal article, I had problems with it when I read it. I think there were some important points to take away from it. You are right in that we like to watch the late night comics who are shitting on Trump on backwards conservative ideology, and I consume quite a bit of it. If we want to start winning again we have to put that on pause and I want to represent what we want legislatively. That is something that liberals need to get better at. Republicans aren’t really any better about it. Donald Trump sure wasn’t talking policy on the campaign trail. I am in the camp that considers his election a fluke and not the norm. People are really pissed off at the government and try some crazy out there person. People want to hear specifically what you’re going to do. Here’s how we want you to change your life.

Conservative media tends to be the poster boy for tunnel vision attitudes toward politics. The ultimate echo chamber. What would you say to someone who say liberals also have a media problem?

Liberal leaning news outlets like MSNBC, the New York Times, etc go out of their way to bring in conservative voices, Trump alternate reality voices. They’ve hired Megyn Kelly, they have some conservative hosts. Look at NYT’s issue with the climate stuff. Liberals go out of their way to give alternate voices, even if its at the detriment to their own interests. Putting Jeffrey Lord on CNN, or hiring Corey Lewandowski. That is not raising the level of debate. That is just increasing the drama or peddling lies or half truths. Every news agency is going to mess up, but having people who are intentionally out there who are ignoring the truth or the facts giving them those voices, it just goes to show how liberal news outlets are trying. I see Joe Scarborough as a reasonable voice of what you might call a traditional Republican. I don’t have a problem listening to Joe Scarborough talk about policy. But when they have Trump die-hards coming on to spout this and that, their audience is not Trump supporters, they aren’t going to pick up viewers there. Liberal leaning news agencies don’t suffer the same level of bias that Fox News or Brietbart might suffer from. If we want to pick on places like HuffPo or the Daily Beast, those are absolutely liberally bent. If you read it with that understanding then that’s fine. The NYT, and the Post make conscious efforts to have moderate voice. You know the thing about the “liberal” news media is that facts aren’t liberal conspiracies. They report the news. Is it a reality that more of the people in the media lean to the left? Probably. I don’t think they’re starving for conservative voices. I don’t see the news as liberal news. MSNBC, Larry O’Donnell is very left. But again you have Brian Williams who is fawning over military weapons during the coverage of the Syria attack. Anyone who calls MSNBC a liberal news network when they are potentially going to bring on Hugh Hewitt to me is overstating it. Katy Tur, Kasey Hunt, their anchors are pretty straight up. Katy Tur was under attack by Trump and kept it professional. But not in the way that Fox News feels like state TV. You’ve heard Obama staffers say time and time again “we didn’t have a great relationship with the press either.” The press, if you’re a president, is  there to be hard on you. They aren’t just out to make conservatives look like idiots unless they say idiotic things.

The victimhood propagated by conservative media is troubling too. With the media diet I have, I never feel like an immigrant coming into this country is hurting my chances of moving up, or making my money, I don’t feel like someone practicing Christianity is somehow restricting my ability to be an atheist. I don’t feel like because people of other religions exist that I feel threatened. They already feel victimized. You are the victim of liberals. You are the victim of immigration. You are the victim. I don’t feel like MSNBC perpetuates that idea.

Are there conservative viewpoints that you find compelling?

I have been raised to fend for myself. I have personally conservative fiscal values. I pay for what I need to. Anything left over I put into savings and divvy it up however I want. I have good money practices in general. I don’t know if it’s conservative or liberal, but personal fiscal responsibility is something I lean to. And when it comes to foreign policy it’s a little hard to figure out what the go to is. I am not an isolationist, but I am not an interventionist. Square that, I don’t know? I might have some more conservative views like having an adequate military. Jill Stein wanted to cut the military down to a quarter of its size, I think that’s crazy. I think the military expansion that Trump and McCain are calling for isn’t really necessary. I believe in government. But I’m not a big government person, I’m an efficient government person. I would be open to closing agencies that aren’t needed anymore with a compelling argument. I am for trimming government waste. When I hear about the amount of money that gets dumped into the Pentagon simply for bureaucracy. I will give credit to conservatives, they want to trim government waste. But I don’t think that means simple talking points, just slashing away at budgets haphazardly. It kind of depends on the issue. The roles are reversing right now. The Dems are heralding in states rights, and Trump is talking about sweeping federal policies when it comes to enforcing immigration with local police forces. Fed government shouldn’t be telling them how to police. I like nationwide standards for things. I am a big public education proponent. Do I think we maybe need some more tailoring to neighborhoods and states or whatever to make sure education is applied properly at the local level? Someone in FL shouldn’t have a fundamentally different education from someone who lives in Maine, or Wisconsin. It’s all different levels of what is state controlled and what is not. I don’t think discrimination laws should be states issues or marriage laws should be a state issue. Some states just abdicate their responsibilities.

What do you want your party to look like in 2018 when the midterms roll around?

 I want a party that is organized and running candidates in every house race that we can. I want a fund raising apparatus that supports all those candidates that are running. We have to put our resources and distribute them smartly. Anyone that runs as a Democrat, if they can meet those certain criteria to run they should get funding. Distributing info on who is running and where, so that we have the best chance of picking up more seats. We are hurting at the state level too. We need to take back state houses. Less infighting in 2018 within the party. I would like us to put away the 2016 primary. If I have to have one more argument over Bernie and Hillary. Hillary is done. She ain’t running anymore. Josh Barro pisses me off so much about the Clintons. We have other people to focus on. What I really want to see is turnout. We need to accept that our generation is failing its civic responsibility to be engaged and informed and vote. We need to put pressure on our friends and peers to be informed enough to vote. Are you registered to vote? We need to start making it more of a social faux pas that you didn’t vote than it is to talk about politics. Our generation takes for granted our democracy. I know I did. People say “I don’t want to read the news, it’s too depressing. I don’t need to be bothered with that.” Life was simpler and more enjoyable when I didn’t care. The hardest thing was arguing Samsung vs. Apple. You don’t need to be an activist but you need to be engaged. Don’t take it for granted. When I see 25% millennial turnout when all of us are complaining about Trump. I’d like to see 90% millennial turnout. Realistically it would be nice to see 40 or 50%. The pressure needs to be on, high voter turnout in the midterms. If we ever had a better catalyst than Trump I can’t think of one.



What the hell is going on with journalism? I wanted to know, so like a good reporter, I asked.

Editor's note: Dr. William McKeen is an American author and educator. He is a professor and chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University, and was formerly a professor and head of the Department of Journalism at the University of Florida, where I served as his student and teaching assistant. Dr. McKeen is also a noted biographer of Hunter S. Thompson, the journalist that broke all the rules. There's nobody I know better qualified to speak about the current state of the media, so I called him. We spoke for about an hour on Trump, journalism, why reporters are having trouble understanding America, and Hunter. Here is part of our conversation. 

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the media’s overall coverage of the Trump administration through 100 days? Does it meet your journalistic standards? Who is doing the best job, in your opinion?

It’s so inconsistent, I’d probably say 5. Some publications have done a wonderful and fierce job and those are the usual suspects – The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, etc. I was glad to see The New York Times broke its practice of never using the L word (lie). They finally said it’s not a euphemism, it’s a fuckin’ lie. One of the more exciting things to watch these days is the Washington Post. It’s really been reinvigorated. I have some friends that are working there that are over the moon excited by what The Post is doing. The morale is high. What is really worrying me is that he’s being covered these days by, mostly television, as a normal president. He’s not a normal president. He’s an aberration. He is dangerous. He is a demagogue. He is proof that you don’t need to be very smart to make money. I don’t think he has any real depth of understanding about our political system or our foreign relations. We had some of that kind of coverage, at the beginning, and directly after the election. Now it’s been 3-4 months and now the press is kind of covering it as if it’s normal. I get the Times at home every day and the Boston Globe. The Globe has been doing a great job of covering the nuts and bolts of government. It reported that Trump has only actually nominated people for something like 1/6 of the positions in the cabinet, and we’re at the 100 day mark. Why is this happening? I see that in the Times and the Post and the Globe, and I don’t see that across the board. That ought to be the lead story across the nightly news. I see I think what we are seeing is when normalizing, they are doing their regular agenda based coverage. The 'what is happening'' instead of the overall story, which is the incompetence of the government. If it’s not along the usual lines, then the press kind of falls flat and doesn’t know how to behave.

One of the main criticisms leveled at journalists in the current era is bias, favoritism, pushing a clear agenda. Can you describe for our community exactly what lengths journalism academia goes to to ensure that stuff isn’t the case.

Well the adage has always been that we train people or reinforce the idea of getting both sides, but more and more we have to realize there are many sides. One of the news values that draws people to storytelling and journalism is conflict. The political conflict now is between the president pushing a certain agenda and the opposition pushing back. At a certain level you have to cover that. But traditional news values aren’t working with this administration, because it’s such an aberration. People think the press is out to get him. I do know that’s not the case. What I do believe is that he’s his own worst enemy, with his disregard and arrogance and such. And I think that needs to be shown. If people who voted for Trump don’t like the way he’s being treated, they should look at what is upsetting them, and that’s that journalists are reporting what they’re seeing and observing. I understand how people feel about that, if I was on the outside of it maybe I couldn’t see the truth.

Speaking of truth, what is your take on the truth? How do we know a good source anymore? How do we recognize the truth?

We’ve been dealing with that this whole semester. I doubt we’ve gone a period of two weeks without some kind of major convocation out-of-class to focus on helping people recognize truth, vs untruth. We flew in the editor of Politifact to describe their fact checking process. We had Sopan Deb, a reporter, come in and talk about being arrested at a Trump rally. We had women reporters talking about the danger they feel in covering Trump. It’s energized journalists but now we’re also painted as the enemy. So a lot of it comes down to skepticism. Being online if you see this particular statement, don’t believe it, don’t accept it as fact. Finding out fact vs. fiction is going to involve research which people are really not willing to do. I have done it too. I have passed along information that was untrue. I’ve been fooled. And when it has happened I immediately delete the post and tell people I’m sorry. I think there will be more and more fact checking sites. If you can’t verify a statement, you can approach a site like Politifact and ask them to check it out – that’s what they do and they have a transparent process. What I’m advising is we have to use much more caution, but are people really going to do that? When an untruth is discovered we have to do our best as journalists to quickly either lay claim one way or another whether it’s true or not. I don’t really understand the motive behind sites posting deliberate untruth, possibly because I believe that people are good.

Do you think news outlets, especially print outlets have a greater responsibility to educate their readers on the firewall between the newsroom and the editorial board? When I see people use the bias or fake news attack, they typically point out opinion pieces. But there seems like there’s a disconnect between the two sides of the media coin?

That’s long been a problem. People would refer to a column I wrote and call it an editorial. We take for granted that the audience understands our jargon and what we do as journalists. To somebody who has no background in journalism they have no clue what an op-ed piece is. News outlets need to keep people informed on what we as journalists do. The NYT has changed the 2nd and 3rd page of its A section to be not only an index of what is in the paper, but there is a piece in there and a blog that goes with it, a podcast, that explains the reporting of this particular story or the background and the decisions that were made. I wish more people would notice that. I don’t want us to become only this inward looking, self-centered institution. But we do need more explanation. This goes into the press’ inability to see what was happening before the election. I went on a trip this summer to the Midwest with my sons. I am one of those people who just starts talking to strangers, and the whole way I felt that I was reporting. I came back and said to my friends, Trump is going to win. And to the outside world he was imploding. In the liberal fortress of Massachusetts, the thinking was “no way in hell.” I think part of the problem is journalists only talk to each other. They’ll get the quote they want, but they won’t understand the person they’re talking to. And they only interview the usual suspects, people that hold office, people that have status, people in positions of power. I would make the reporters work out of little store front offices, and live in the community. Journalists only talking to other journalists is a big problem we have right now. They talk to the same people who reinforce their own beliefs. Part of journalism is providing an account of living.

Name one quality you think is necessary for the survival of journalism? What is the biggest problem you see in the industry?

There is more to journalism than just covering speeches and meetings. One of the overlooked components is observation, but we are too much in this stenographic mode. We need more interviewing, getting different points of view. The press needs to become more reflective in terms of diversity, gender diversity, minority diversity. We’re not really reflective right now of our society. That’s a fundamental change that needs to happen no matter what. As a consequence of that change we’ll have better reporting about “real people.” That sounds like a Trump thing to say, but there were people in this election who voted for change no matter what the cost. I heard so many times on the road ‘We need to shake things up in Washington.’ I think Hillary had the intellectual capabilities and was much better prepared, but we never got a pulse on that fear. That’s not what all those people out there wanted. They wanted a bull in a china shop. They wanted to destroy the status quo. There are certain elements of the status quo that are working, and if they are going to be changed they need to be changed in a more fluid and gradual manner. The press needs to be better prepared to cover society. One of the tenants we try to teach is not to ignore people. Irritate, infuriate, and inform. That’s our motto as journalists.

Will we ever get back to a place where the media is trusted again? Were we ever there?

Just this week I did a lecture about CBS News and Walter Cronkite and while he was on the air he was the most trusted person in America, even more than the president. Journalists are never going to win a popularity contest because by our nature we are always going to bring the bad news. We’re interested in aberration, and we’re interested in things that are odd or different. There is a natural tendency for the public to figuratively kill the messenger or blame the messenger. We can’t counter this by just replacing bad news with happy news. Our job is to look at the problems and what a reporter ought to do is point out a problem. What an editorial writer ought to do is point out a problem and propose a solution and point a finger at the person who can affect that change. A columnist like Thomas Freidman, every mover and shaker reads his column, so journalists do have a function in the opinion side of the equation. One of the most ferocious journalists right now is Charles Blow of the NYT. He’s just been eviscerating the president. We don’t want to be beloved, but we do want to be trusted. If we can show that it was done with care, and precision, and that it’s verifiably true – people will accept it. We can be respected for that ability. People say, ‘These must be terrible times for you?’ I see in students, the ones that are really serious about it, they have an almost ministerial view of journalism, like this is “my calling.” There’s almost a fervor to it. I sense that in my favorite news sources and it makes me very proud to be part of the tribe.

The current political battle, to me anyway, seems to be less conservative vs. liberal, Republican vs. Democrat, and more establishment vs. anti-establishment. Are the legacy journalism outlets by default elitist? Is legacy more of a hindrance than a help in this era?

That’s a very good question. I do think that doing what I do, we’ve “academ-icized” journalism. When I started reporting early in my career in the 70s, there was only one person in our newsroom who had actually taken a journalism class. But post Watergate everyone wanted to be like Bernstein and Woodward and topple governments. But before that people came from all sorts of backgrounds. We have produced generations of journalists who are kind of out of touch with the typical average American in the Midwest or the Southwest or what have you. We’ve produced people who are extremely well educated and adept, but they go out on the streets and don’t know how to talk to people. I would never want to slam a generation because if anything the generation that needs to be slammed is mine. But if there was one knock on this generation it’s they’re afraid to talk to people. There is too much of a fraternization between journalists and the government when their allegiance is really toward the governed.

A medium is a way of conveyance. What we are talking about are institutions who have decided the they are going to pass on information. The internet has leveled the playing field. To be a voice in the marketplace of ideas even 20 years ago went like this: Do you have something to say? Ok now, do you have 30 million dollars? It got to be such an expensive enterprise. The internet was a leveling of the informational playing field, and the bad thing was that it leveled the playing field. Consuming information, especially today, It requires a savvy. But to the unsophisticated internet consumer sources like Breitbart and the NYT have the same level of legitimacy. When you have legacy media, you know the process. I know that someone researched it, wrote it, passed it to an editor, people fact checked it, made decisions on whether to publish it, so when it reaches me I can reasonably believe it’s accurate. I don’t know how to do this, but somehow we have to educate consumers on what is trustworthy. I don’t understand why people want to believe things they know are wrong.

If Hunter S. Thompson were alive today, what would his role be in the Trump era? I believe you’re one of the few people uniquely qualified to give this answer.

First of all if Hunter S. Thompson were alive today he would kill himself. One of the things that drove him to commit suicide, among other things, was that he was so depressed following the election of president George W. Bush, he chose an irresponsible way to alleviate that misery. I would want to know what he had to say. His muse in his lifetime was Richard Nixon, and his greatest writing was his revulsion for Nixon. It didn’t have to do with his personality which is what some people believe, you know, despite his image HST was extremely patriotic. He loved the documents that preserved freedom and any time he saw someone insulting those documents it infuriated him. Nixon violated the law but it was behind closed doors, but Trump does it in public. Hunter would have despised this president. You can tell by the way Trump treats people in his life. When he is somewhere with Melania, he doesn’t have any regard for her, walks in front of her, he has no courtesy, no manners, no couth. And when it comes to his political ignorance there are so many things Hunter would be compelled to comment on. People always ask me what Hunter would say and my answer is ‘Who knows?’ Deep down he was a good ol’ Southern boy. He wasn’t as enlightened as some of his followers would expect, but if he chose not to kill himself I think you’d see the journalistic equivalent of Nero setting fire to Rome. He’d untangle a wire clothes hanger, take some weenies, put them on a stick and enjoy the barbeque and the fall from grace that is currently happening.



A Response to Christopher, Who Says We Are Fake News

Hi Christopher, 

You've written a message to me that is similar to messages I've received from others, so it felt like a good time to respond. Since you take the time to listen to every single podcast of ours (understanding that you are not a fan), I'm going to take the time to respond to every point you've raised here. 

Let's start with your subject line: "you are fake news." Actually, Christopher, we aren't news at all. We are two people expressing opinions on the news. Separating opinions from fact is really important. We do our best to discuss the news as responsibly as possible based on all information available to us, but we are doing so from disclosed positions of bias. 

I'm not sure what false narratives we are putting out like clockwork the days after they are debunked, but I can assure you that is not our intention. Certainly, the news changes and situations evolve between the time we record our podcasts and the time they air. But, we are never trying to espouse information that is false. If you also take the time to look at our show notes, we link to sources we are citing for the propositions we're discussing. I'm making an assumption--perhaps an unfair one--that the sources we cite, such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Politico, Vox, and the National Review, all qualify as fake news in your mind. We cite those sources because we believe the journalists at those outlets check their sources and do their best to print accurate, if not always unbiased, information. It's the best we feel we can do. 

Christopher, listen to this point because it's very important: it crosses my mind on a daily basis that all the things that create fear in me about President Trump are exactly why you voted for him. I'm not confused in any way about that. 

I assume on the "known criminal" point you are referring to Hillary Clinton and that the deaths that you're citing refer to Benghazi. While we are discussing debunked false narratives, maybe you'd be interested in checking out this, this, this, and this. I don't like what happened in Benghazi. I grieve for the loss of life, and I am saddened by the failures that contributed to this tragedy. I also do not agree with your characterization. 

Let's talk about Russia. We believe there is ample evidence that Russia aided in a propaganda campaign designed to influence our election. We believe there are concerning ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. We have not talked about it recently because the FBI is investigating the matter quietly, as is appropriate. The House has not held public hearings. The Senate is working out the staffing and resources it will devote to an investigation. We will talk about it again when there is something for us to discuss. Again, we aren't reporters, so we are not in a position to provide updates on ongoing investigations until those stories are written by multiple outlets.  

We also recognize that there is tension between the Trump administration and the Russian government over certain foreign policy issues. That Russia could have wanted Trump to be president and have tension with President Trump can both be true. As a listener, you might be familiar with this kind of theme from us--nuance is our deal. I'm not sure to whom or for what you think we should apologize, but we're not going to be doing that. We will provide updates on this situation as more information is available. I sincerely hope that those updates will sound something like, "actually everyone, there WAS lots of smoke but no fire." That would be best for America, and I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Finally, if two women talking politics from the houses in which they raise children, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities as well as they can is "irresponsible and dangerous to our nation," I have to question what kind of nation it is that you're interested in living in. Regardless, we share it with you. So, I'm acknowledging your views, and you can continue to acknowledge mine. Or not. That's the beauty of America. 

Take good care,



An update on Syria from Kerry Boyd Anderson

On Friday's show, Beth spoke Kerry Boyd Anderson for a discussion of the humanitarian, military, and political crisis unfolding in Syria. Here are Kerry's updated thoughts on the most recent developments, which we will be discussing more in-depth on Tuesday. 

The Trump administration has done a 180 on its attitude toward the Assad regime. The same officials who last week said we need to accept the political reality of Assad in power are now saying he needs to go. On the one hand, I'm thrilled that they now understand the brutality of the regime and its role in driving the conflict. At the same time, I'm stunned that they seem to have just discovered this. While this week's chemical weapons attack was a particularly large one, it was not the first chemical weapons attack (nor the first apparently to use sarin) and is certainly not unique in terms of the regime's targeting of civilians and brutality against them. Surely, the president, the secretary of state, and the ambassador to the UN are not just now learning that the Assad regime systematically targets children after six years of such behavior, which has been well publicized.

In terms of military action, I'm still digesting the news on this. I was probably wrong on Tuesday when I said that I expected little response from the administration, but still we should be careful not to get wrapped up in the administration's particular form of drama. Little may come of this - a couple missile strikes on some minor Assad targets wouldn't be a huge deal necessarily, if that's what they do. On the other hand, a lot may come of this, given that the Russians are involved, and any action against the Assad regime would be a huge policy change. It's very possible that I'll feel supportive of whatever the administration chooses to do, as I think the US should have acted more resolutely against the regime before. At the same time, I'm deeply concerned about the incredibly fast change in policy on risky, complex issues. The administration is behaving as though there is suddenly new information about the Assad regime and now the US has to respond, when in fact the regime has been incredibly brutal and violating international law all along. What has changed is the Trump administration's view, which was directly in contradiction last week, and I'm still trying to figure out why.

Meanwhile, I wonder if we're now going to let some of those "beautiful little babies," as our president accurately calls them, into the US as refugees.