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tv   George Packer Last Best Hope- America in Crisis and Renewal  CSPAN  July 10, 2021 3:01pm-4:07pm EDT

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congressional directory with contact information for members of congress and the biden administration. go to c-span shop.org. >> next on c-span's book tv, "the atlantic" staff writer george packer makes his case about how to reunite americans. then peter coleman shares his thoughts about americans can move away from political polarization. and later, harvard professor henry louis gates divides a history of religion and the church in lack communities -- black communities. now, here is author george packer. >> welcome to community bookstore's community book series. i'm the director of the bookstore and in thrilled to welcome george packer for the release of "last best hope: america in crisis and renewal," in conversation with thomas
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patterson williams. events like the one you're about to see have become a bright spot to our days and i thank george, one of our favorite locals. you should be able to see and hear our presenters, but they can't see or hear you. if you have questions, click the button on the bottom of your screen. we will be answering those at the end. there is a chat button through which i will post a link to tonight's books. we are at the mercy of home internet connections, so please bear with any technical issues. we will try to solve them quickly. and we scheduled a host of summer programming, the head to our website and sign up to our newsletter to stay up-to-date. next tuesday, june 20 second, we are collaborating again with friends at new york review of books to welcome joshua call when for the release of his timely new novel, the netanyahus. that is up on our website now
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and taking registrations. and i am going to enable the auto transcribe setting once we get going. hit the button on the bottom of your screen to enable that. george packer is an award-winning author and staff writer at "the atlantic" at his previous books include the unwinding, the assassins gate, and richard holbrook in the end of the american century, the winner of the los angeles times award for biography. he is the author of a two-volume essay on george orwell. michael is a contributor at new yorker magazine and visiting fellow at aei and his works appeared in the new yorker, london review of books and many other places that has been collected in the best american essays. he lives in paris with his wife
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and two children. his latest book will be published by knopf. >> george, amazing to be talking to you about another book you have written. george: and thank you for doing this past midnight your time. you are a great friend to do it. thomas: i wouldn't miss it. this is the second time i have read the book. it is very impressive on so many levels, one of which is the sweep of erudition you are able to fit into a taught -- taut, tight book. i wonder if you might want to say a few words and read a passage. and then we will get into a conversation before finishing with q and a from the audience. george: this is a covid book.
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it was conceived and written during the pandemic when i was trapped in front of the screen and couldn't do any traveling, and not much reporting. so it is an unusual book for me, it is not a research book, it is an essay. i actually think of it as a political pamphlet, in the tradition of the political pamphlet, short books that come out in a crisis and try to say something about it or push thinking in a certain direction. i am going to read the first few paragraphs and then we can talk about it. "i am an american. no, i don't want pity. in the long story of our experiment in self-government, kitty has taken the place of admiration, hostility, auch, envy, fear, affection and repulsion. pity is more painful than any of these and after pt comes indifference, which would be intolerable. i know a woman who said of her husband and children, they are not the people i choose to be
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quarantined with. are my fellow citizens the people i choose to be quarantined with? well, there is no choice. they are mine and i am theirs. during the time of separation, we americans, with our dollars and easy smiles and loud voices, have not been welcome abroad. u.s. passports, once worth stealing, are no good. formerly mobile, we have been trapped with ourselves and one another. a lot of americans have explored their options for expatriation -- a deceased diver's grandfather, suddenly promising canadian girlfriend, an open invitation from the government of ghana, a loophole in new zealand citizenship law. as for me, i am staying put. and not just because these exit strategies are not available to me. i want to see how it turns out, for my children if not myself. whether a huge, multi-everything democracy can survive or will perish from the earth is a
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matter of interest, not only for us. the virus gave us this one gift, it interrupted us. the mask wearing, grocery wiping, regretted handshake, the risk in this muffled person headed my way on the sidewalk, it became impossible to pass through the world in the normal, bovine manner. the virus forced us to look at ourselves and for once, pay the kind of attention that we had always taken for granted from others. i don't mean the image check of a teenager glancing at a smartphone screen or store window. this attention is a long, middle-aged stair in the mirror at a face rising from a dark background. it is not the face i expect to see -- vertical etchings under the cheekbones, the color of exhaustion around the eyes, what is left of the hair badly in need of professional organizing. instead of the calm wisdom expected by now, there is an expression of uncertainty, a
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hint of muted panic. this day or brings a shock of estrangement -- don't look too long or i will stop knowing who this is. the time of separation made us strangers, not just one another, but to ourselves. a young girl told her parents that she felt unreal. she wanted to stay in bed so it would all seem like a bad dream from which she would wake up. and when we do, when we finally come out of hiding and take off our masks, we will ask, who are we? what has happened to us? is this the beginning of the ends, or a new beginning? what do we do now?" george: i love that ink -- thomas: i love that intro. thank you. you mentioned this was in the tradition of the political pamphlet. and it was written fast and under very strange circumstances, during confinement. what was that like for you as a writer?
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and was that something that in some ways made the writing easier, the urgency of the issue and the timeframe? george: yeah. on the one hand, it was liberating, because i had a short time to do it, i had a short book to write, i didn't have massive piles of notebooks and transcripts and recordings and readings to try to assimilate. it was like, say what you think right now. what are you thinking right now? say it. so there was an impulsiveness and a directness that was exciting, and maybe rocked me back to my earlier days as a writer, before they came under the very stringent discipline of magazine work. and yet, it was also really hard because i didn't have a built in narrative to follow. every paragraph was a kind of high-wire act, because i had to
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think. i had to come up with ideas. and a book like this, it is the ideas as well as the pros that -- the prose that carry the reader. i always feel like i am going to lose the reader at any second, making sure that there is energy and tension and excitement, or else they are going to abandon me. and in this case, it was particularly hard because there is no story to tell. telling a story is a natural form for me, but i only had a minor line to dry in this case and that is a scary thought. thomas: but the world provided you with some crazy events. [laughter] your last book, a sprawling biography of diplomat richard holbrook, was in many ways about the end of sheer american dominance of the 20th century, and it was often looking out to the world, whereas this book is
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looking inward. it is taut and concise and it is about pulling ourselves together to survive. the books seem to represent different areas and complement each other. do you see them linked? george: i am always writing about america and american spirit my last five books including this one, that has been the theme of all of them. the book this is most connected to is "the unwinding" which came before the holbrooke biography. immersive reporting, storytelling about left behind, forgotten regions of the country where people felt disconnected from power and from money. and in the work on that book, i saw the institutions of our democracy failing, and not connecting to people and not helping people, and people feeling as if it was a con game, a kind of rigged system that had
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nothing for them. that came to me as a shock because it was in the first term of obama when there was still a fair amount of optimism about the future of the country. so i began to get a dark view of america from the work on "the unwinding," and the holbrooke book goes back to world war ii. "last, best hope" returns to some of the material of "the unwinding," but it is more essay style and does more analyzing. it has a first-person voice, which "the unwinding" did not. "the unwinding" a lot on the characters to speak for themselves but here, i am telling you where we are going and what we are doing. so it is very much in the style of essay writing and my favorite essayists like baldwin and orwell are in my head when i am writing in this mode.
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i began it right before the election. it was an incredibly frightening time. we were in the thick of the pandemic. we were facing the possibility of a second from term, which i thought of as the end of our democracy, and of possible violence. people were arming up. i even thought maybe i should get a gun. thomas: [laughter] george: seriously. and my wife said no, you are not going to do that. people were having conversations about a civil war. that was a normal conversation in october of 2020. i didn't there would be lines of troops shooting each other across a creek, i thought there might be widespread violence whipped up by trump and by nihilistic forces on the right. it didn't happen quite to that degree, although january 6 was violent enough for most of us.
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i had a sense of dread when i began the book, and i wanted to write both a really unvarnished, brutally honest account, as much as i could, of how this happened, how did we get here. not just went to 20, the first part of the book, the year of covid, the election and the protests, but the 50 years that led to 2020. but in the last part of the book, i felt a really deep urgency to write about how we could rebuild our democracy and come out of this. so i looked to the past for sources of inspiration and understanding. i read a lot of tocqueville, walter litman, frances perkins, roosevelt's secretary of labor, rustin, great civil rights figure. we have been through this before. we have been in even more
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near-death experiences, closer to death that we are now, but it was kind of affirming almost to watch americans in fairly are times deal with some of the same issues and find their way through them, and give examples to us that we can use, even though we have to live in our own moment. so the book, yeah, was an intense experience that really began with the fear of the pre-election period, and ended with the really cautious hope of the biden inauguration and the beginning of the ending of the pandemic. it was an intense, three-month arc that i think i am still recovering from. thomas: i do feel like the ending has a slightly more optimistic note that the beginning dies. it is palpable. i don't know if i was talking -- if it is because i was talking to you throughout, but i feel good by the time the book is overcome even though you have taken through -- taken us
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through quite a lot of what is wrong with thus. i have that stubborn american hope as well, but the idea of self-government that you draw on from tocqueville that is central to the book and indeed is something that would have seemed self-evident to many readers in the past, but today on the left, we don't hear many people speaking of this idea that as you point out is an art form. and on the right, there is an obsession with the kind of negative freedom embodied in the slogan "don't tread on me," which you argue is shallow isolation. what is self-government exactly and why is it crucial that we recommit ourselves to this? george: i use self-government more than i use democracy in the book. they are sort of seen as meaning the same thing. i inc. of -- i think of self government as democracy in action. it is what people under democracy should do together to solve common problems.
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and tocqueville did call it an art. he saw it as something that had to be learned -- had to be learned. it is not natural at all. throughout most human history, it did not exist and it feels more fragile today than it did a year or two ago. it has to be learned and relearned and can easily be forgotten or cast aside, which is something that americans seem willing to do right now. because it is art. it requires a lot of almost contradictory impulses. you have to think for yourself. that is crucial. and yet, you also have to grant others the tommy of their own views, so that you don't agree with them but in some a sick way grant that there is going to be other views. there is pluralism. it means being able to argue without wanting to kill each other. it means being able to compromise, and know when not to
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compromise. i keep going back to this speech lincoln gave when he was very young, just a new state legislator in illinois, after the killing of an abolitionist minister in southern illinois. he gave a speech and said, we will not be conquered by some napoleon striding across the atlantic and raking from the ohio river. if destruction be our lot, we must be its author or finisher. we should -- we shall live as free men for all time, or die by suicide. suicide is a powerful metaphor for what democracies can do, and is absolutely relevant to what has been happening in this country. we haven't been conquered from abroad. i would say we haven't even been conquered by donald trump. i think we have contributed to our own destruction in a lot of boys, and i wanted to look hard
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at the ways in which trump is a failure on the part of the whole country, not just one part of the country. so self-government is the unnatural art form that free people have to practice. and it is related to equality in an interesting way. because i think without equality, without the sense that we all are as good as each other , all of the same rights and opportunities and status, self-government is going to fail in this country. and it has happened again and again because we have never lived up to the code of equality. it is the hidden code that creates a sense of shared citizenship and without it, self-government is going to fail here. it is not true in other countries but in this country, it is the first keyword of the declaration of independence. it is what tocqueville called the ardent desire of americans, the most striking thing about us
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is our passion for equality. so equality is integral with self-government, but equality also drives us apart because each of us is pursuing our self-destiny in this country. it is our famous individualism. and if taken too far, individualism leads to inequality without having any sense of common destiny. so equality is the necessary ingredient to self-government and can also be a threat to self-government if we lose track of the true equality that holds us together. thomas: that common thread. in the framework you develop that talks about how we have come apart, it is interesting. you break down american society into for americas -- four americas. smart america in many ways is a global phenomenon, what a
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british writer describes as people from nowhere as opposed to somewhere, or real america, and your analysis. but what i found so interesting were the ways you pointed out smart america, who tend to be democrats can overlap with libertarian free americans because they both embrace meritocracy and individualism. and i wonder if you see opportunity for new alliances, for example, these two america's finding comet -- americas finding common ground against xenophobic populism. george: that section of the book was excerpted in "the atlantic" and did justice to that section but did not do justice to the whole book. so i want to say about that notion of the four americas,
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this is not an f-number fee the trust to capture the whole country. so a lot of people are left out because these are the dominant narratives, these four, and by definition they are going to leave out a lot of people, including for the most part working class who don't have the clout and cultural capital to influence the narratives that drive us. at the end of the book, i try to find a narrative that doesn't leave them out, but these four in some ways have a chronology. free america comes from the 1970's and 1980's. it is reagan's america. it is consumer capitalism on steroids. and it is negative freedom. it is the freedom of leave me alone so i can make money, get the government out of my life. and it began with a sense of limited government but really took a turn toward nihilistic
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antigovernment feeling. and while it created prosperity in some areas and freed up people from the malays of the 70's -- malaise 1970's, it also created massive inequality and corporate consolidation and distorted -- and destroyed the union movement, what was left of it. in the end, it did not answer the real needs of the country and that is true of all four of them. they have their own value but also have some basic flaw or blindness that creates winners and losers. smart america follows chronologically because i see it as the ether's of the clintons -- ethos of the clintons, and educated people of the
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1990's. the democratic party largely became the party of educated professionals, and that was not true 20 years earlier. it was a big shift and has gotten more dramatic up until now. education is really the dividing line between the parties today, not the only one, but the most decisive one. meritocracy sounds good. people should be judged on their talents and should get as far as their talents and efforts can take them, as measured by things like standardized tests. but once meritocracy becomes a closed system, where you are born in a certain family come into a certain neighborhood, school, life, your ticket is almost punched from the start because of all the advantages you are going to get from the start, and that is true more and more in our education system. then meritocracy becomes a sort of aristocracy, a privileged class rather than a class of the truly deserving. that happens more and more.
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one statistic i came across was that today, it is no easier for somebody from the poor parts of america to get into one of the top ivy league universities than it was in 1954. we have made no progress for americans to rise through education that we were at in 1954. it has become a kind of entrenched meritocracy. thomas: just america has a critique of smart america along these lines. thomas: we will get to that. but chronologically in the book order, real america is a phrase i cribbed from sarah palin. it is sarah palin's america. it is white identity politics. it is the america that sees itself as the backbone of the country and to be honest, it is white, christian america in the rural areas and small town.
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it goes back to jacksonian america. those were his supporters. william jennings bryan, the big populist. and even george wallace in a much more virulent form. it is a long thread that connects this narrative, which is a populist narrative and which in our time saw sarah palin as john the baptist to the coming of donald trump. and trump brought real america to the forefront of our politics, and yet it is a rebellion against free america because it is a rebellion by ordinary republican voters against the shibboleths, the cliches of reaganism -- free trade, immigration, low taxes, deregulation. none of that spoke to sarah palin's people, or even donald trump's people, because they were living in deteriorating places, in post-industrial cities, in small towns that were
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kate -- that were decaying as main streets had boarded up shots. it was no longer the sunny optimism of reagan. it had become darker and a nativist and hostile to groups seen as aliens, whether it was the elites on the coast or black and immigrant americans or others. so real america is a rebellion from below against free american and they have had little resistance in the republican party, with free america continuing to dominate at the top political levels, with mitch mcconnell and the koch brothers. in the republican party has to pay homage and count out to that. and in the last five or six years, we have seen the explosion of a new narrative that is also an old narrative, the narrative of social justice. i call it just america. but it is generational. it is people under 40 who have
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looked at their parents' promises, their liberal parent'' promises, smart america and their promises, and said bullshit. this is a lie, we are not getting better, we are trapped in the same history we have been in from the beginning so let's look at that history. and just america is deeply interested in american history, but as a source of criticism of our system because it is full of injustice and inequality. and just america is a rebellion as smart america just as real america is a rebellion against free america. it is a rebellion against the meritocracy. so now there is a generation of young people who don't believe in meritocracy. and even though they are going to continue to run on the treadmill of the rat race and take the tests to get into colleges, there is something seen as hollow about it, and inauthentic pursuit. at the authentic pursuit is the
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pursuit of justice and that is the narrative of the younger generation, and for that reason, it is a powerful one. thomas: you are obviously a member of smart america. where do your sympathies lie, or whose struggle -- you seem to be hard on your own group. you are very critical of smart america. george: i am. because i think there is a great deal of complacency and hypocrisy and a kind of spineless this. because what -- spineless ness. because when it comes down to it, i have a line in the book that says achievement is to fragile basis for people to stand up for their own worth when they are under attack. it doesn't do it. thomas: very interesting
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insight. george: i haven't quite got it right, but it is something like that. what i believe is that when meritocrats come under attack and they are under attack in so many institutions, the media, universities, the arts, politics, they cave. it turns out that that liberal values that they seem to stand for are very fragile, and when in illiberal force challenges them -- an illiberal force challenge t challenges them, and shows they may not end up. -- may not stand up. and it shows a weakness of values. i am also hard on free america because it has devastated this country, creating so much inequality in pain and
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pain-and-suffering, while offering the same mantra like a cult, low taxes, deregulation. you could read that on the homepage of the baron's foundation of the cato institute year after year, no matter what is going on in the matter what facts tell you that is not true. low taxes actually have not created jobs. it has been during high taxes on the wealthy that we have had job creation. so those are the two that got my juices going, my hostile juices to some extent. real and just, i am most threatened by because they are the most potent right now. they have the energy of the new, end of populism -- and of populism and a kind of contempt for the previous generation. and no one wants to be cast aside or told you are irrelevant or told that the world belongs
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to us, not you. so in some ways, they are threatening. and maybe my portrait of both of them has a certain angst and maybe even intensity to it that reflects that. i am sort of sympathetic to both, far more to just america than real america. but even real america, i feel some sympathy for the motive that goes into it, a kind of anger that the elites for their contempt, leaving them behind, for not caring, for thinking of them as inferior americans, which is real. i really don't like real america's attitude toward nonwhite americans. that is what is its downfall. that is what makes it so toxic in our body politic. just america, i am sympathetic to the idea of forcing america to confront a racial history we
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have never confronted. white americans have never had to face it. just america is forcing us. but it is doing so in a way that herds us into identity groups, erases our individuality, can become morally coercive in some ways. no one is cracking the whip or herding people into jails, but morally and socially there is a lot of pressure to fall in, or you will be shamed. and that is not to me that way to build a free society, a liberal society. so those two have my attention. those are the ones i am most seized with and think about of the come to sort of an equanimity with. thomas: you raise interesting contradictions within smart and just america. and smart america, you mentioned unions hardly exist in it and it
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put me in wind -- put me in mind of "the new yorker" and the gap between the values they espouse and what they are willing to concede to their least powerful employees, i wonder what is behind this contradiction between theory and practice in this segment of society. thomas: union step -- george: unions seemed like dinosaurs in the clinton years. they pretty much faded from the scene. unions were like cigar-smoking, corrupt afl-cio boss. unions today have a new energy, they are full of the energy of social justice. and unions at the times, the new
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yorker, and now the atlantic where i work, just organized. so i am now, today or very soon will be a member of a union. and i want to be. because i think younger journalists need collective bargaining and collective support in order to have a chance in a very difficult profession, in an industry that has suffered so many devastating blows in the last 20 or 30 years. what i don't love, and we saw they said "the new york times," -- saw this at "the new york times," a spirit of keeping workers in a political orthodoxy. and if you stray from that
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orthodoxy or you make a mistake or you refuse to swear by it, you might find yourself on the wrong side of your union or your colleagues. and those colleagues may not have a view that you have a right to your own disagreement. they may think that you are not fit to be their colleague. we have seen examples of that. thomas: people being held to account, yeah. george: so in that sense, new journalistic unions have both what is best about the union in american tradition, and also some of the aspects of america today that make me uneasy. thomas: i recently shared on twitter what a friend pointed out as a good example of your assertion that just america is concerned with language and identity more than material conditions. there was a piece in "the
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washington post" about birds that are named after unsavory historical characters, and it put me in mind of a times article two years ago about how presently, one third of birds in north america, 3 billion in total, have just vanished. it strikes me we are worrying about semantics and naming animals that might not even exist much longer because of much more serious underlying problems that we don't seem to have the mental bandwidth to deal with. and it seems you get at the crux of something that is very wrong in this moment. even though i think nobody would object to the idea that, yeah, we should thank about historical legacies of oppression even names carry. but it seems we are not keeping things in perspective. george: right, the emphasis is on gestures and symbols and in some ways on performance, that i sometimes wonder when just
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america is going to create justice. because i don't think that is how you do it. just america is very concerned with language and subjective experience. and this comes from both the theoretical background of just america, because in some ways each of these four america's -- four americas -- free america is the philosophers of the early 20th century and just america is the philosophers of the late 20th century, which is concerned with identity and subjectivity, not so much in the old marxist tradition with concrete, material conditions.
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it also draws on an older american history, the history of the puritans, who were the original settlers of this country and who sought god in everything, and god as expressed in our language in everything, and believed that goodness, justice depended on each of us purging ourselves of whatever got in the way of that connection to god. and that meant there was confession of sin, a lot of public shaming and repentance, or death. . -- and then a kind of redemption and salvation that allowed us to be reunited with god. i can't help thinking that there is a bit of that in the social
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justice movement today. there is a strong sense of original sin, especially in white americans. white america -- whiteness is now kind of a stand-in for original sin. and it is just as vexing, because get rid of your whiteness is now i kind of prompt, a dogma -- now a kind of prompt, a dogma in some circles. and if it is simply the accident of your skin color, first of all, how do you do that? and secondly, should we make in essence of the accident of our skin color just because history has made an essence, the worst aspects of history have made an essence? doesn't mean we should repeat that in the opposite direction? sometimes, i worry we are making an essence of race when race is a construct, not an essence.
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you have written about this, thomas. thomas: i very much share your sensibility, but there was someone else would love to talk about before we get to audience questions. at the end of "last best hope," you mentioned by your rustin -- rustin, an unsung civil rights hero who could make the country what it has long been promised to be. george: if you read about him or read him, it is breathtaking what kind of life he lived. he was a freedom writer years before anyone knew -- freedom rider years before anyone
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knew about freedom rider. he was on a chain gang for 30 years and wrote an incredible narrative entered himself into the indispensable man prison guards needed and he showed them respect and in the end, they couldn't help but show him respect. and yet he was so radical. he was a socialist, he was a christian, he was a civil rights activist. he was a gandhian, he brought gandhi and the civil rights movement more than any other figure. and he was gay. being a his constant downfall. civil rights leaders could tolerate a lot of things -- things, but that was one thing they couldn't tolerate. he was constantly being pushed down, including by martin luther king who in some ways, he never forgave he organized the march on washington. he wasn't the front man, he was
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the guy behind the scenes who had the ideas in strategy and also philosophy. he understood the civil rights movement was part of the worldwide struggle for equality, and because equality is the keyword of my book, it is moving to me that he uses it in a way that isn't rhetorical alone, and isn't a simple reference to the declaration of independence. but he believes it, that we really are all equal. in 1969, he was asked by the city of cleveland to write a letter to schoolchildren of cleveland about the wonderful times in which we lived. and 1969 was not such a wonderful time. cleveland was having riots, factories were closing, there was white flight, the cuyahoga river caught fire. it was a bad time and end away,
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cleveland has never recovered. but he sat down and wrote this letter to the schoolchildren of cleveland and explained what is equality, which he describes as conditions in which no one is held back by virtue of race or other qualities, everyone has equal opportunity and can live in relative decency. poverty doesn't hold you back. lack of education doesn't hold you back. so it is material conditions, and then self-government, which he describes as the right to participate in the running of your own affairs, whether local, state, national. anti-boyles the and he boils the american experience down to these two simple ideas in a letter to the schoolchildren of cleveland. and he was able to do it because he had a crystal spirit, the spirit of someone who has lived in that, who didn't need to learn it or be reminded of it and who didn't betray it when it was convenient, but who lived
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it. i can't say enough about bayard rustin, and those ideas take the book home. they land the book in what i call equal america, an america where the passion for equality is realized and the barriers between groups and identities, and the relentless inequality we have seen throughout our history, especially recently, begins to be reversed policy, but also by individual action. so there is hope at the end. thomas: and you wrote something i really agree with, you wanted to create mechanisms for meeting each other again, and people we don't necessarily run into in our corner of america, through some type of national service or something like that. it is a compelling idea that you end on, and a compelling vision. we have managed to speak for 45
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minutes and you have a lot of questions. the first one, and i want to hear your answer as a fan, can you talk about some of the nonfiction that influenced your most recent writing? any novels, films, or whatnot? records? george: "hamilton" took over my family for about two years. it is all we listen to in the car. the kids have the entire soundtrack memorized, and we would all just break into cabinet battle number one spontaneously. it also became a civics class my children could have come it because they weren't getting a lot of it at their own schools. in terms of writers, i tried to read fictional the time when i am writing, not always research it, but when i am sitting down to write, i want
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the best fiction in hand. i don't want research. don't want journalism. god knows i don't want social media in my head. i want elaina ferrante, i love the neapolitan novels. i want bleak house. i want "the brothers karimov aziov -- "the brothers karimov matzov." it hurts that these books are not taught in school anymore. toni morrison said if you want children to read, give them good books, the stuff that is the best literature. end in nonfiction -- and in nonfiction, i can't get enough
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of baldwin, orwell, i am not a huge didion fan, but some of her essays speak to me. and people like bill finnigan of "the new yorker," alec mckinney us' book about amazon fulfillment, really important book. lawrence writes books about everything. we are living in a golden age of narrative journalism over the last 20 years or so and i think we will look back and say, just as media was making itself more trivial because of the loss of its financial base, etc., there was also this great writing, essays and narrative journalism that probably took the place of fiction and a lot of people's reading habits. thomas: you have good questions,
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i have got to say. were there any stories or passages that didn't make it into the final book, whether because of length or direction of argument? george: this was speak to you, thomas. i had a little page about the experience you and i shared last summer as co-organizers of what became known as the harper's letter. i had never written about the experience, what it was like, because there was a lot of interesting things going on behind the scenes and i thought would be interesting to tell the story. my editor said, you don't need to do that. that had its moment, it got a lot of attention, it will be a distraction from what you are trying to do. he was right. i had to cut it. when an editor's right, you can't fight it. the passages in my books that i
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regret leaving in my books are always passages some editor suggested. thomas: [laughter] george: so there is one answer. thomas: with regards to the rhetoric rent self-government, is it possible to rescue that notion away from the ko ch-backed push? george: if we use that language and take the word freedom away from the plutocratic libertarians for whom freedom is the freedom to destroy the planet, or freedom is the freedom to pay no taxes on billion-dollar incomes, then yeah. but if you abandon the language to them and if the word freedom of eggs you uncomfortable because reagan used it or newt
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gingrich or ted cruz, then you will lose that argument. i think in their hearts, most americans know that simply destroying our ability to govern, whether by cutting it to the bone or denuding the irs so it can't audit rich people, or simply using language that debases us, has not helped us. it has not brought people up. it has dragged people down. if we use that language in a way that says freedom is the freedom to live by your own choices, but that ability depends on social conditions, on whether you have the strength to participate in our political and economic systems. if you don't, if you're just trying to survive, if you're working at an amazon warehouse,
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the night shift, just getting by, you are not free. you can't participate in our political and economic system. and i think if we keep saying that, we will take back language that has been co-opted and may be debased by cynical people for their own purposes. thomas: this is a good question, different than who you are reading as a fan. it is from inez schroeder, who are contemporary cultural critics who you read and who you might be arguing with in this book? george: right question. todd hasse coats -- ta'nahasi coates is a wonderful writer and is arguing with me in my head
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and we even got into an argument in print once, and i certainly felt we treated each other with respect and managed to find a way to have a serious argument without drawing blood, so coates is certainly one trying to think of others. there may be some on the right, because there is a type of numbered-trump -- never-trump republican that i am drawn to, who i know i disagree with completely about taxes, the welfare state, social democracy, but who i admire for being willing to go against the tribe, and draw its wrath, and yet stand up for values that go beyond this political partnership, what i call liberal values.
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that group of people, people like peter weiner, a writer for the atlantic who was a george w. bush white house aide, evangelical christian, and someone different from me and yeah i always read him, because i think he is doing something quite brave. adam su -- adam serwer of "the atlantic" is a terrific writer and an honest one. i don't always agree with his ideas but i know he is going to play it straight, think hard and write well, and those are qualities i admire. in some ways, political disagreement is less important than admiration for a writer as a writer. i wish we had more of that, but we seem incapable of admitting that we like someone's work if we disagree with their politics. thomas: i blame social media for
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that, in so many ways. this is from another anonymous -- do you think there is anything potentially positive about nationalism that can be used in the 21st century? or has that well been completely poisoned by trump's spin? george: here is another word i would take back. not nationalism, which has the connotation of aggression, maybe hatred, violence, exclusion, but patriotism, which doesn't mean beating down other countries and forcing our way on them and chanting usa, usa. patriotism, i think of it as an extension of family loyalty, similar to the love and loyalty of my family which, no matter how hard i might try to be a universal humanist, i acknowledge my first love would
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be for my family. i think that is human. and to me, the same is true for my country. it is a different love and loyalty, but it is they are. it is a feeling that doesn't go away unless you really try to kill it, or unless your circumstances erode it until it disappears, which i think has happened to some americans. but what happens if you lose it is, first of all, the ability to do beat things as a country depends on it. you cannot combat racism, reverse and equality, stop global warning, save democracy, without national solidarity. these are two big for one tribe -- too big for one tribe or one party. and patriotism is the motor, the glue that can allow us to take them on. because if you don't love the country, what is the point in solving these problems? patriotism is something i talk
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about a lot in the book. bayard rustin and other historical figures i write about had no trouble being left-wing patriots. that was not a contradiction. frances perkins, great new dealer, was a progressive patriot but today, it feels like a muster contradiction. that is a great loss. thomas: from claudia kuntz, would the gop have to deliver material support to real americans, or will white panic suffice? george: they have gotten quite far on white panic. and being something of a materialist, someone who thinks first about how people are living concretely, i am shocked at how well they have done without offering anything in the way of material improvement. biden is a politician in the mode of equal america. his domestic policies are
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largely driven by a sense that we need to improve conditions for the majority of people. we need to empower workers. we need to take power away from giant corporations and breakup monopolies. those are the key ingredients of a policy of equal america and if that can happen, and if it includes the real americans, if they are part of it, whether they want to be or not, that is the only with the temperature can start to go down. we are not going to persuade people of anything. we are not going to convert them. we are not going to show them the error of their ways and show them how foolish it is to vote against their interest. that only drives people further into the arms of the demagogue/ -- demagogue. but if we can slowly rebuild the working class and restore or create conditions of equality i
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think the level of vitriol might diminish and with it, the specter of the country breaking up or falling apart. that is my bet. thomas: i think we have time for one more question, kind of related, from john byers. who are some actual thinkers, writers, who represent real america and who aren't white supremacists or conspiracists? george: it has a pretty impoverished literature. i don't know whether that has helped it with the mass of americans, but certainly hasn't helped it in the competition for cultural supremacy. but there are interesting philosophers, writers -- i
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forget people's names when i put on the spot. willing to attack the foundations of the enlightened. he's like a monarchist. yeah. yeah. he believes in going back to a pre-enlightenment hierarchy in which kings and priests are i'm probably distorting it. so forgive me if i am. patrick deneen who wrote a book about the yeah, the the failure of liberalism and of the modern world and the need to to go back to some form of identity that isn't fragile and and fluid like modern identities are. there's a whole anti-liberal i suppose strain in. the support for trump which in some ways i don't want to exaggerate this but in some ways
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mirrors the anti-liberal strain on the left, both of them have lost faith in the enlightenment. in rationality and science and due process and the idea of individually quality and freedom and instead. i think we we have to have stronger medicine because liberalism has not solved our and in fact his let us into a kind of a terrible dead end in which nothing means anything as a desire for meaning and for community that is constantly being felt by modern people because modern life is constantly eluding it. and so they turn back to other forms of identity and that's something that i think has driven the trump reaction as well. we in some ways we are right to call it racism, but it might have other.
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contours that aren't quite so easily defined and that may even be in some ways more dangerous, although racism is about its dangerous as it gets racism is compounded in these other things. it's kind of like the the bitter poison. that's at the heart of a lot of other ideas. so yeah that i don't know that i've named a whole lot of writers, but i've tried to describe philosophically what's interesting about trump and you've written about this thomas with the white identitarian movement in france, which a lot of traffic with the american version yeah, it does. i just i wonder is that question was fascinating to me because i wonder if if real americans some ways is a is a place without real? thinkers, maybe that's probably too simplistic, but it made me wonder and i couldn't name any off the top of my head. someone in the chat mentioned
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megyn kelly, but she's she's a journalist, but she i think i think the question was asking for writers. so i i i'm going to think about that some more. unfortunately. we're out of time. i would love to talk to you. um for two or three or four joe rogan like hours, but i think that hal is going to i come i'm the worst part about the event because i'm ending it. but as always for tom you need to get some sleep. so yeah thomas needs to get some sleep is extremely late. he's he's in from paris which we didn't mention but so a huge. thank you to thomas the mvp of the event staying up late asking great questions george as always wonderful working with you wonderful seeing you and for everyone. thank you for joining us and one thing that yes the book thing that i want to do. by the book one thing that i do want to do is post a link to the book, which i should have had ready, but i was just so captivated by that last answer that involved monarchism of all
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things. and so i am posting that in the chat one more time before we all leave. so, please click that link. check it out plenty of copies of the bookstore if your local and otherwise george thomas, thank you so much and this was lovely and everybody have a lovely evening and thank you for community bookstore and in every course everywhere. thank you guys. we'll see you all soon, hopefully in person. weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast every saturday you'll find events and people that explore our nation's past on american history tv on sundays book tv brings you the latest and non-fiction books and authors. it's television for serious readers learn discover explore weekends on c-span 2. here's a look at some of the best selling nonfiction books according to the new york times
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topping. the list is bill o'reilly and martin dugard's history of organized crime in america killing the mob followed by bestselling author malcolm gladwell's examination of the development of precision bombing during world war ii in the bomber mafia after that two memoirs actor matthew mcconaughey's green lights and activist glennon doyle's untamed and wrapping up our look at some of the best-selling nonfiction books according to the new york times is pulitzer prize-winning author isabel wilkerson's look at what she calls a hidden cast system in the united states some of these authors have appeared on book tv. you can watch their programs anytime at booktv.org. weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on sundays book tv brings you the
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latest in nonfiction books and authors funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more including comcast. are you think this is just a community center? no, it's way more than that. comcast is partnering with a thousand community centers to create wi-fi enabled listings. so students from low-income families can get the tools. they need to be ready for anything. comcast along with these television companies support c-span 2 as a public service you're watching book tv for a complete television schedule visit booktv.org. you can also follow along behind the scenes on social media at booktv on twitter instagram and facebook. welcome and thank you for joining us this evening. my name is steve cohen. i'm a professor at the school of international public affairs. and i'm the senior vice dean of the school of professional studies and i directs and

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