tv In Depth Ross Douthat CSPAN November 13, 2021 12:01pm-2:00pm EST
connecticut and our families were from the northeast and we had an idea of escaping from the corruptions of the belt way and the swamp and getting out of dc and getting back to where we have grown up and in my case especially i had this idea that we were going to live in the country, we were going to have a farm, we were going to raise chickens and spend a lot of time with our kids and not spend time on phones and computers and we put our house on the market and sold a lot more for what we expected. the dc market was crazy back then and we took the money and, you know, i like instead of doing something sensible like investing in bitcoin, you know, we plotted all in the 1970's farmhouse with 3 acres, pasture, stonewalls, basically everything that you imagine when you imagine the new england country
side and unfortunately while we were in the process of making this move literally right after we did the inspection on the new house, i suddenly became really, really sick with what started out as pain in my neck and then my head and became this sort of full body mixture of migrating pain, throat and bowel problems. we were still in washington at that point. we had bought the house but we were going the move in late august. for those 3 months i saw probably 12 doctors in washington, d.c. i worked my way up to the head of infectious diseases at one of the major hospitals and none of them could figure out what was wrong with me and they all sometimes gently and sometimes less gently suggest that i was under a lot of stress and i was having some kind of
anxiety-driven breakdown and in some way the pain and everything was all in my head. and it was only when we moved to connecticut, dragged ourselves to what had been our dream house and now a stephen king type scenario that i started seeing doctors, oh no, we see things all of the time. you certainly have a tick-borne illness, lyme disease which i probably acquired literally while walking the overgrown property of our dream house in that -- late in the may. the story of the deep places is first the story of the crazy descent insomnia and the story what happened once we got to connecticut, lyme disease is a controversial condition.
people who have it and don't immediately get better, there's all kinds of medical debate about what they should do next. keep taking antibiotics or stop and wait for the residual pain. i took antibiotics and they stabilized me. i was able to sleep 5 hours a night instead of 1 hour a night. that kind of thing. i didn't get better quickly. and so i was sort of caught in between these competing schools of medicine and ended up basically having to conduct a lot of very strange experiments while living in rural isolation with my pregnant white and our two little kids. so it's sort of a mix, a story about chronic illness and the strangeness of chronic illness and the struggle to treat it in the book and it's also sort of a new england style gothic melodrama i guess instead of the
devil the villain is a tinny crawling insect. >> does that also include some of the research that you were doing for alternative cures to lyme disease? >> yes, the title, you know, it tries to reference a few things at once and one of the fact that the bacteria gets deep inside your body. people with lyme disease ends up with symptoms in their joints, deep in their muscles. there's the literal sense. but yeah, ending up in a way the metaphor that i use, you sort of fall through the floor. you think of sort of medical consensus and the successes of official american medicine, solid hardwood floor that's under your feet most of the time and most of your life from childhood vaccinations through whatever treatments you get for
diseases along the way and when you get a sickness that either can't be diagnosed which was true at first for me or that doctors struggled to figure out how to treat, you basically fall through that floor and you end up a lot stranger underneath where there are people who can help you. there are doctors that helped me a great deal. i wouldn't have gotten as well as i've gotten without them but you have the grope around yourself. first do a lot of strange research. i head a lot of papers and testimony and all kinds of things and you have to try things on yourself. you're the only person who actually knows what -- what will work or what does work. you're the only person who can say this combination of antibiotics seems to help me and that up with seems to do something and then you sort of push even beyond that into the real fringe and when you spend
years being sick and i was sick almost two years before i started to see any sustained improvement, your cost benefit calculus changes a lot and you become open to let's say having a chiropractor putting magnets all over your body and having nurse practitioner pumping vitamin c and down the list of strange things that i never would have expected trying in the life that i had before i got sick. >> why is lyme disease controversial? >> lyme disease is controversial because there is a very simple fix for let's say 75% of people who get it which is you take 4 to 6 weeks of antibiotics and the disease is wiped away or you feel better, mostly better and you go on with your life and then there's this group of patients that doesn't get better or relapse it and there's no
simple system that nobody has figured out that helps autolove them get better quickly. and so the official consensus is we don't know why these patients are still sick but because we've already treated them with antibiotics and you don't want to overtreat people with antibiotics, you assume that the disease itself might have been wiped out and whatever robs problemsremain are residual ande kind of psychosomatic. it's all in your head situation. that's sort of the official view. it's closest to what the cdc says, the center for disease control says about treatment and there's other group of doctors, there's quite a lot of them. serious people but outsiders of the official consensus. look, if someone is sick and you treat them and they are still sick, they probably still have
the same disease. and you should continue treating them until they get better and so these are the doctors that a lot of patients in my situation and eventually seeing and what they do is they run, you know, sort of extended courses of antibiotics, combinations of antibiotics and the other complication here is that ticks can carry more than one disease and sometimes not -- not sometimes but quite often the doctors think people who are sick with lyme disease will also have something called bicia, bartanella., other microbes that are carried by the ticks and you have to treat them too. that's sort of to polarization right there. on the one side you have a consensus that works for most people who get the disease but not all. and that takes a sort of -- we don't want to do any harm. the residual cases and on the other hand you have a
experimental minority of doctors who are willing to treat people for long periods of time. >> in your column today in the new york times, how i became extremely open minded, this is one of those very bad questions where i'm going to combine two topics that are unrelated. number 1 is i want to ask you about the machine and then i'm going to read a quote from your article talking about how you became open minded and what it means to you. human psychology makes us see coherence and simplicity in our understanding of the world. so people who have a terrible experience with official consensus and discover a weird outsider idea that actually seems to work tend to embrace a new rule to replace the old one. that official knowledge is always wrong and outsider knowledge is always right. now this is a key dynamic in political and medical debates.
the conspicuous elite failures in the last 20 years have encouraged narratives with plausible critiques of the system without paranoia but insiders only see the paranoia and his allies at the gates so they pull up the drawbridge and which controls the outsiders' belief that the establishment has blinded itself and only they have eyes to see. >> so i will try to combine those two questions because i obviously combined them myself in the column. i was trying to draw basically some lessons from some of my weird experiences. weirdest experiences with this life on the medical fringe with some lessons for how we think
about political debates which is the stuff that i write about most of the time in "the new york times". so the weirdest experience, probably the weirdest experience. there were a lot of experiences trying to treat lyme disease. there are machines called ripe machines that are named for a man named royal ramen in the 1930's who claimed to have figured out the frequencies and audio and radio or electromagnetic frequencies at which organisms, microorganisms bacteria will vibrate and break apart and shatter and die and you can treat illnesses by pumping waves, frequencies through people's flesh and knocking out the mike ropes that were in them. so this is an idea that is i would say extremely far outside the existing medical consensus
and there are a few studies that you can find here and there. there was a study at the -- i'm not sure which university in georgia but a university that killed e kholy in goat meat with sound awes. maybe there's something to this but in general the world of machines the world from what looks in the outside like similar lattans and salesmen peddling the machines that probably don't do anything, right, to people who are really sick and desperate. and i was really sick and desperate and there are a lot of people who have lyme disease and use the machines and swear by them and at a certain point i acquired one of these machines and it's the craziest thing. you get this machine and looks like a computer in the 1980's sifi movie and has buttons and you hold onto handles while you run it and there's this book, not just lyme disease.
it claims the list frequencies for every illness under the sun. it seems crazy, right? in fact, when i used the machine it worked in the sense that it generated in my body physical reaction that is were pretty much identical except much faster to the reactions that i would get when i was really sick and take a high dose of antibiotics. obviously this is a personal experience and what goes on your body isn't accessible to you the viewer and interviewer and someone can read the story and say, well, it's just the power of suggestion. it's just the placebo effect. all of that is intellectually possible but i can tell you physically i'm 100% certain that
this machine -- did to me some version of what it claimed to do. anyway, it's up in my attic. i use it from time to time. that's the long story of the machine. but connection to politics, right, there's lots of people who have machine experiences meaning not that everybody is buying these machines and using them to treat their illnesses but there are lots of people who have something happen where they are like, whoa, what i thought was true about the world isn't true or what the political system told me doesn't seem to be actually true. and lots of people have had those experiences in our politics over the last 20 years from, you know, 9/11 through the iraq war through the financial crisis through the way that, you know, experts made all of these
predictions about the benefit of trade with china that did not work out for significant portions of the country. you can go down the list. there have been serious moments that people have had in politics that say wait a minute, the experts said this, saddam hussein had weapons of mass destruction and said the housing bubble would never burst. they said opening to china would be good for america and would make china more liberal. none of these things happened, right? so you have this -- this deep skepticism about sort of elite political narratives just as you can end up with skepticism about official medical narratives and so the question is what you do then and what -- what i think the challenge is, once you had one of those experiences, you obviously are going to be skeptical of the establishment of sort of official consensus, official ideas, that's inevitable but you don't want to assume that everything outside of the establishment is right. the establishment got a bunch of
things wrong, therefore, i'm going to trust outsiders the way i used to trust the establishment. i feel that's the mistake of the fringe. so you have this populist mistake, right, oh, the cnn and the liberal media got all of these things wrong, so i'm going to trust absolutely everything that i hear from conservative sources oring in. in fact, what you want is a skepticism that runs both ways. you want to be able to say probably the establishment gets some things right and i have to still be open to that but i feel to recognize that there are truths about the world that are not captured by the establishment consensus and i have to be open-minded basically in both directions. that's ultimately what this piece is arguing for from its strange right machine beginnings. from open mindedness towards not just the possibility that the fringe gets things right but also the establishment also gets things right too and you have to use your own, you know, your own
things to put a picture of the world together that includes both of those possibilities. >> do you have the country house or have you left the place? >> it was a stephen king experience. my wife is a writer too. we were two writers living in the home where the husband's sanity is a little uncertain. i kept writing my newspaper column but my wife was afraid that she would come around my laptop and see all work and no play, make ross a doughboy. we had little kids and didn't want them to go in the field and all of the things that we imagined about the house we didn't actually want because i
was so sick and all of the things that were required of us was too much. eventually we abandoned ship. took a massive real estate lost and ended up in new heaven, connecticut which is actually where i grew up. we didn't want to go back to dc. we wanted to stay near our family. that's where i live now and it is a -- it's, you know, it's not a full ending to the story and i'm not 100% better and one of the things you find with chronic illness you do have to reconcile yourself to the possibility that you won't get to 100% but most of the time i'm at 90 or 95% as i said. i do my treatments much -- much less frequently than i did when i was at my sickest and i do hope that i will be fully well in 2 years, i haven't made the absolutely full recovery that i wanted from the beginning.
>> when you hear people regarding the covid crisis say trust the science, follow the science, what's your reaction? >> my reaction is that science is not an authority but a process, right? so you do want to trust scientists methods, you want to trust people who do science well and you want the trust scientific results but you can't assume that the first thing that the cdc or the fda says or does especially under crisis conditions is correct. so, you know, really with covid we lived for months the way people with mysterious chronic illnesses live all of the time. we had this mysterious pathogen that, you know, was obviously much more of an immediate crisis than a chronic illness like lyme disease. it's actually killing people by the tens of hundreds of thousands and we didn't know enough about it to know, you know, we didn't -- at first we didn't know how contagious it
was, how it was transmitted, you know, endless unanswered questions. our tests for it at the beginning weren't that great. we went through a whole crisis with the fda where they botched the rollout of the testing so you couldn't test for it effectively and then a lot of the things that were said so confidently at the beginning, who says it's not airborne. cdc or surgeon general and others say you shouldn't wear masks, all of those things end up getting reversed and all of the treatment that is we did, it's unclear now whether we were right to put so many people on ventilators, for instance, in the first few months. there's a lively debate about that. it's all a case study and how there's -- when you're dealing with something that science doesn't understand, you to accept that conventional wisdom will shift a lot and you can't, again, you can't just assume
that there exist this white-coated authority called science that has all of the answers and that you would absolutely trust. with that said, you know, you also don't want to assume that official science is always going to get something wrong. at some point it was official science that delivered vaccines at much more earlier than anyone expected initially, right, so there have been really triumphs for initial medicine, official science in this process. and, you know, i say at the end of the column you were citing that i'm the guy who i have the machine in my attic but i also got the covid vaccine without too many problems early on and that's sort of an example of at least in my case how i try and strike the balance between skepticism of official science and willingness to recognize the sciences achieved. >> speaking of striking the balance, how did you get to the new york times and how do you describe your politics?
>> i got in "the new york times" by being fortunate of coming of age as a journalist early in the internet era. i graduated from college in 2002 and in my 20's i worked as junior editor at the atlantic magazine as my day job and then i did as one does a lot of writing on the side. i wrote some books. i wrote endless freelance essays, book reviews, all kinds of things. i had a personal blog that this was the beginning of blogging. the golden age of blogging, i guess, you can look back and say. so i was sort of there doing a lot of different kinds of works at a period when the internet was just transforming journalism and in third ways transforming it for the works in the sense that the internet very quickly, you know, weakened the position of all kinds of -- all kinds of american newspapers and my wife was a newspaper reporter, she
was at the baltimore sun by the time we got married and i watched firsthand how the economic effects of the internet hallowing out of the economic basis of newspaper, classified ads, all the things that used to pay for the newspaper all went to the internet and that was devastating. there was that kind of turmoil where people were just losing their jobs. but then there was also a demand for people who seemed like they sort of knew how to write on the internet and i think that that, you know, being someone who had sort of moved back and forth between old school journalism, the atlantic was a very old-school magazine but also writing on the internet and having my own blog and being engaged in those debates. i think all of that made me seem like a good person for a
national newspaper and we are bringing bloggers on board or figuring out how to integrate the new -- the new journalism into the old system, i guess. so that was part of the story and then the other part was that i am a -- i'm some sort of religious conservative and the times at that point had never had a -- i believe had never had a sort of explicitly religious conservative on its op-ed page and i think there was a desire from the people who ran the newspaper to add that kind of voice to the discussion and so in that sense i was in the right place at the right time which is a large part of what you need to do to get an extraordinarily fortunate job like the kind of job i'm lucky to have at the paper. >> well, it was in 2011 that your book bad religion came out and i want to read a quote from that. the equip of christian belief
has led inevitable to plurality and private virtual life. >> yeah, that's strong stuff, man. yeah, so that was a book i wrote about 3 years after i started at the times and the argument in that book, that book was partially a history, storytelling, a book about the decline of institutional christianity in the united states from the 1960's till what was back then the present day of 2011 or 2012. as institutional religion declines what replaces is not the rule of secular reason with richard and daniel and all of the new atheists sitting around and making rules for everyone without any reference to god.
that's not what happened. as institution religion declines you get sort of deinstitutionalized forms of spiritualty and religious beliefs that are more individualist in many cases and more consumer oriented, are less theological and have less to go back to the quote, you started less of a strong moral impact on the lives of the people who practice them. you sort of go from a world of, you know, billy graham and martin luther king and sheen as sort of leading figures of american religion to a world of joel olsteen, prosperity gospel and christianity and, you know, one thing that i tried to do in the book was actually take the prosperity gospel and i don't
think that kind of religious stuff is just sort of superficial and empty. i think it has some actual theological ideas that people find appealing for a reason but fundamentally to go from a world of reasonably christian churches to spiritualty provided by the rural figures is a change for the worse and important change that has affected just about every part of our society including politics. if you look at politics on both the right and the left, what you see is a lot of free floating religious energy, energy that used to be channeled into the first congregational church or your catholic perish or your synagogue. instead it's channeled to political identity.
and this leads to political intolerance and phenomena where, you know, it used to be that people -- if you asked them, would you be comfortable if your son or daughter married someone of a different faith people would be a little uncomfortable and if you asked them would you be uncomfortable if they married somebody of a different political party they are more likely to be comfortable with it and now that's reversed. a catholic is more comfortable with the idea his son marrying an evangelical or -- or an atheist than a republican is with the idea that his daughter is going to marry a democrat or a democrat with the idea that her son is going to marry a republican. ..
>> guest: the left. like the whole idea of wokeness, right? wokeness is a religious term, you know? awokenning sounds a lot like awakening for a reason. but it's a religious impulse that has, you know, i think a lot of what we think of as wokeness has a kind of religious moral energy, this kind of strong moral zeal and moral absolutism. which isn't always a bad thing, but it doesn't have a metaphysical picture, aicture of god and the universe to put it into it. so it ends up, you know, it delivers the witch hunt, you know -- [laughter] without the community and solidarity and virtue that religion supplies. >> host: and going back to bad religion and the history of it, you write that in the '60s and '70s, the heretics carried the
day. what happened? >> guest: so the idea in the book is that you can see american religious history as this kind of balance between what i call orthodoxy and heresy. meaning, you know, not greek or russian orthodoxy, but just sort of the idea of a kind of religious establishment and then a bunch of religious experiments at the fringes. and for a long time the, that establishment was just main line protestantism, the core protestant denominations. and then the experiments would be, you know, the latter-day saints or christian science or the shakers or the transcendentalists, ralph waldo emerson. those kind of people, right? and these two things existed. america had a really strong institutional religious center that eventually included roman catholics and, to some extent, jews as well by the 1950s. and then it had all this wild energy at the fringes. what happens in the '60s is
that the center falls apart and never really puts itself back together. so for if a variety of reasons, the sexual revolution, economic and technological changes, political changes, there's a lot of different forces at work. the property instant main line sort of collapses. its mindy minisheses -- diminishes dramatically. people who come of age today have no idea just how large the, you know, sort of old-line protestant churches used to looming in hearn life. so that falls apart. catholicism tries to go through this big modernization effort but then falls into civil war between liberal catholics and conservative catholics over, you know, starting with issues about the sexual revolution but also including issues about liturgy, you know, how the mass, what the mass should be like. all these kind of things that
are going on all the way to the present day. that civil war has never ended. under pope francis it sort of burns as hot as ever. so you have a catholic civil war, and you have this resurge in evangelicalism where it becomes a more important part of american political life especially, but it's not strong enough to actually fill that center. so the religious center ceases to be these kind of strong institutional christian churches and becomes this, you know, sort of mix of new age spirituality and pop spirituality and joel osteen type prosperity gospel tube stuff. that's what it means to say the heretics won. it's not that there weren't heretics ask religious freelancers in america before the '50s. there always were. that's always been part of who we are. but what there used to be in america were very strong, solid, intellectually and socially influential churches as well. and those have just gotten much,
much weaker with no sign of them making a comeback. even though, again, lots and lots of americans still believe in god and are still religious, the institutions themselves have fallen on hard times without obvious hope at the moment of recovery. >> host: so are we a christian nation, in your view? >> guest: we are a -- [laughter] we are a nation that's more christian than we are anything else. but not in a, not this a sense that would have been quite recognizable to the america of 1945 or so. so we're still, you know, if you said what is the primary theological influence on american life, it's still christianity even for many people who think of themselves as secular or post-christian. sort of general christian moral frameworks still matter. and even, you know, if you look,
again, at sort of how, like, the -- even just sort of the way that, like, you know, sort of race and identity is framed on the progressive side of politics right now, the idea that, like, you know, you sort of center politics around people and groups that have been victims. and their victim is status makes them somehow, you know, sacred and have a kind of authority, right? like, that's an important part of, i think, progressive ideology in the last ten years or so. that clearly owes a debt to christian ideas about, you know, god himself as a sacrificial victim who's, you know, whose victim status is a source of the sacred for christians, right? so you can still trace these christian lines in contemporary debates. but, i mean, it's, you know, saying america's a nation of heretics, which is the subtitle of that book, of "bad religion,"
is one way to get at this reality, right? we're still heavily influenced by christianity, but overt christian beliefs and practice are in steep decline. and, you know, and there is, i think, a lot of religious energy that aspires to be post-christian, like especially among younger people as you look at sort of the interest in astrology and neopaying anism and wicca and these kinds of things. there is a quest -- or eastern spirituality to some extent. there's a clear desire among people with religious impulses for religious resources and ideas and so on that are fully post-christian. but all of that hasn't condensed into, like, an actual the post-christian religious edifice, right in it's bits and pieces here and there. it hasn't actually come together into, you know, like a silicon
valley tycoon performing pagan sacrifices on the capitol rotunda or something. there's no formal post-christian religion. there's a lot of christian influence and a lot of fragments floating around at the same time. >> host: ross doubtat, spiritual but not religious. what do you think when you hear that? >> guest: i think that this part reflects exactly this kind of desire for a way of encountering the things that religion is supposed to put you in touch with, ultimate meaning supernatural experience. maybe supernatural beings, the for that matter, define moral guidance without doing it inside the framework of either christian orthodoxy or a traditional, a traditional christian church. and, obviously, this applies to
judaism and to some extent islam as well. there are similar impulses there. it's just, you know, the average person who i says i'm spiritual but not religious is someone whose grandparents would have attended a methodist catholic church, right? so they have some cake of sense of, you know, institutional religion means old-fashioned christianity. i've left that behind, we've left that behind. i still have these religious impulses, but i don't want to satisfy them or sort of pursue them within, within traditional frameworks which are seen as either constraining or just simply out of date. like, how could you possibly go back to that. but i think adultly people who say they are -- fundamentally people who say they are spiff spiritual but not religious are religious. they just are desire to be post-christian. the fundamental impulse is there. i don't think there's a real difference between spiritual
impulses on the one hand and religious impulses on the other hand. the distinction is how are you trying to fulfill them and through what kind of experiences n what kind of community with what set of ideas framing what you're doing or trying to experience or find. >> host: well, let's go back to 2008. that's when ross douthat's book "brand new party: how republicans can win the working class and save the american dream," came out. you talked about issues such as income inequality and school choice and a crisis of authority when it came to crime issues. was it a playbook for 2016? >> guest: i mean, i think we -- the book accurately foresaw one of the deep trends that gave us the donald trump presidency and has given us our current political divide, which is that america was polarizing around
education where college-educated voters were moving into the democratic party, non-college-educated voters were moving into the republican party. and the republican party which has this traditional image of the affluent and the country club was becoming -- well, we quoted the then-governor of minnesota tim pawlenty who said, he was a republican, and he said we're not the party of the country club, we're the party of sam's club. and that wasn't completely true when he said it, still isn't completely true now. the republican coalition has a lot of rich people in it, but the republican coalition has become much more working class. and this is extending beyond the white working class right now. so, you know, the biggest trend is that white americans without a college education have become more likely to vote republican. but in the trump era and, you know, we're still waiting to see
but quite plausibly in the elections of the post-trump era, you're also seeing some minority seat -- voters move toward the republican party. and, again, they're likely to be middle to working class voters who are sort of following this kind of polarization that's happening across racial lines. so oddly, american politics is slightly less racially polarized but more class and education polarized than it was before trump came on the scene. so that was what we foresaw. what we wanted was a republican party that sort of leaned into this transformation with an aggressive policy agenda especially on economic policy and family policy to really help and support the american working class which has struggled in a lot of ways with, you know, the impact of trade and globalization and the opening to china, with sort of social
disarray. and when we were writing, the opioid epidemic wasn't on the scene yet, so we were talking mostly about family breakdown, out of wedlock birthrates and so on going way up for less educated americans. now, of course, you have the terrible drug epidemic ravaging a lot of working class communities. not only working class communities, but them especially. so in an ideal world, we would have a republican party that had a strong agenda, social and economic agenda, oriented toward meeting the needs of those voters. and i don't think we've had that. i think we've had sort of gestures at it from trump, but a lot of what trump offered instead was just sort of, you know, a politics of celebrity and grievance that won voters but didn't actually sort of offer a long-term, a long-term policy vision for what the republican party should do for them. and so i think the question in the ohs-trump era -- post-trump era is you had the realignment
that we imagined. could you have the policy, policy agenda that we imagined. and, you know, i'll be perfectly honest, i'm not incredibly optimistic about that. and i think trump's own influence over the republican party makes it hard to develop policy, because policy is not really what donald trump is all about. >> host: well, in 2020 your book, "the death -- decadent society" came out. what's your definition of decadent? >> guest: this my definition, stagnation drift and repetition and a really high level of wealth and development. so it's basically a condition that societies get into when they have really succeeded. you can't be decadent unless you've been triumphant and successful before. but where, you know, a sort of you have loss of energy, you
have these complex systems get built up, and they get really creaky, basically. they don't work as well. innovation declines, birthrates decline. people become less likely to start companies and write the great american novel, and all your movies become superhero movies. so that's, it's sort of an account of what i think has happened really in the whole western world, but especially the united states over the last 40 or 50 years. the book starts with the moon landing as a kind of peak of mid century american achievement. since then economic growth rates have slowed down, birthrates have fallen below replacement level. most people think our political system doesn't work as well as it used to. intellectual debates have gotten stale. so it's this sort of twilight, in-between a peak and real decline. the book is saying we're not at
real decline, which is good. obviously, this is something that's debatable. i don't think we're there. i think we are sort of stagnant, unhappy in our stagnation with lots of social problems associated with stagnation. but you still could imagine a kind of renaissance or rebirth without having to go through something like, you know, the actual collapse that, let's say, russia, for instance, went through in the 1990s, right? or to be more extreme, you know, the empires of the past experienced at the end. >> host: from your booker "the decadent society," as a leader for a decadent age, trump contains multitude. he was both an embodiment of our society's distinctive vices and a would-be rebel against our torpor and repetition and disappointment. a figure who rose to power by attacking the system for if
sclerosis while exploiting that same decadence to the very hilt. >> guest: yeah. so trump, i mean, trump was complicated. still is complicated. as we await, as we await the trump restoration, right, in 2024. but, yeah, i think trump's campaign in 2016 was in part a kind of rebellions against -- rebellion against the stagnation that i'm describing, the kind of decadence that i'm describing. trump comes in and basically says, you know, the elites who have been running the country have, you know, sold out our interests and let our industrial base hollow out and let, you know, american carnage take over our societies, and is we want to get back to the future that was promised. we want to make america great again. and, you know, that, i think, was sort of central to his appeal. and also, i think, to bernie sanders' appeal in the same
election, right? that you had these figures in both political parties, hillary clinton and jeb bush being sort of the obvious examples who sort of stood for the establishment as it's existed for the last 20 years in american life. and so if you have trump as a populist and sanders as a socialist saying, you know, weren't we promised more than this? weren't we promised more than this sort of technocratic management of slow? you know -- slow growth? where are the flying cars? where are the moon colonies? where's the surging economic growth? where's the future, right? so i think that was crucial to trump's appeal. and, yes, it was nostalgic in certain ways, but it was nostalgic for a mid-century america, an america in the '50s and '60s that believed that the future was just going to get better and better and better. so that's trump as, like, an anti-decadent figure. but then trump himself is obviously decadent, right? [laughter] he's a guy who's, you know, been married three times and sleeps
with porn stars and, you know, is a sort of, you know, kind of personally corrupt in various ways and is not actually interested in the work of government, but is a kind of creature of reality tv whose main concern throughout his presidency was how he was being covered on the cable news shows that he watched all the time, right? so it's this sort of dualism where trump runs and wins, to everyone's surprise, by campaigning against decadence and stagnation, but then as a president, you know, he represent ares sort of, you know, the pop culture form of decadence, the guy who plays the great businessman on tv. and the guy who, you know, played the president. that was what he wanted to do. he wanted to occupy the presidency as a reality television office, and he didn't do many of the things he promised to do like an infrastructure bill. the sort of basic things that he promised didn't happen, and in
the end he lost re-election because not enough people once a real crisis hit wanted this kind of reality tv president in charge. but he may be back. >> host: well, your colleague at "the new york times," frank bruni, has a column this morning, behold the rise of the sordid trumper. emulating trump without embracing him is the new republican strategy. is that the way to go? >> guest: yeah. i mean, that's the way you have to go. there's no future in republican politics right now to you say, you know -- if you say, you know, donald trump and all his works are evil, and i will cast him into the outer darkness. you're just not going to function as a republican politician with that kind of message. and also it's the wrong kind of message, i think for some of the reasons we've just been talking about. the transformation of the republican party into a more working class party and the idea that you should have this sort
of, you know, rebellion against a decadent establishment, those are powerful changes and powerful ideas. and to be a leader on the right going forward, you need some version of those ideas incorporated into your pitch and your argument. and so figuring out how to do that without, you know, also going in for, you know, trump's endless twitter warfare against his enemies, his family's corruption and his, you know, conspiracy theories about, about how the election was stole, that would be the sweet spot for a future republican party. sort of trump is populism without trumpist, certain elements of trump's personality and air now ya. paranoia. whether you can do that while trump himself is still around though, i think, is a open question. you can do it and win the governorship of virginia, you can win a senate seat.
you can do it below the presidential level. but i don't know if there's a model for doing it in 2024 if trump himself is actually there on the ballot saying, you know, why would you want this imitation of trumpism when i, donald trump, am right here to deliver you the genuine article again? especially because republicans have, you know, they've sort of been forced to at least tacitly accept his narrative that he really won the last election. and if you accept that, any version of that narrative, then he is sort of the rightful leader of the party, right? he's like the exiled king, you know, waiting to come back to his throne. so that, i think, is a big problem for the republicans in moving beyond trump. as long as you have the idea that he really beat biden and the democrats stole it, then it's hard to see how someone else comes along ask says put me this charge of the party when trump is right there saying, you know, i won, i'll win again. you have to make an argument
that threads a really narrow needle. you have to say, look, you know, the election wasn't really fair to trump last time, but i, ron desantis, i, glenn youngkin, can beat the democrats more handily, so you should give the nomination to me even though you still like trump. that's the argument you have to make. it's a challenging one. it's not a normal kind of political argument, i think. >> host: well, mr. doubtat, the day after election day 2021, you tweeted this out, that i should say that i have revised my relative pessimism/optimism index about the near future of american conservativism from 10 to 90, from 15 to 85. >> guest: so still pretty pessimistic, yes. the change, the change in optimism from the virginia outcome from a republican perspective was, you know, one of the, one of the concerns that
republicans had and still have was that, you know, trump brought all kinds of new voters into the party. he really did. he got much higher turnout in certain areas, rural areas especially, than past republicans had. and he got a lot of voters who hadn't voted before to cast ballots for him, nonvoters, right? and this was something, you know, this was why, how he was able to win in 2016 even as a lot of traditional suburban republicans switched to the democrats, and it's how he kept it close even this 2020 as even more of those suburban voters went for joe biden, right? so the question was if trump isn't leading the republican party anymore, maybe you win a few of those suburban voters back, but you probably don't energize trump voters or the party's base in the same way. and so it's a wash, and republicans are still, you know, end up behind no matter what,
right? and in the, these elections that didn't happen. in fact, youngkin and this also happened in new jersey this a slightly different way, republicans were able to win back suburban voters especially on issues around education and schools and still got really good turnout from trump voters, rural voters especially and, i think with youngkin -- we're still going to take a while to parse this, but also continue to make these modest inroads with hispanic voters which were also important to trump's success in keeping it close in 2020. so that's a very optimistic model for the republicans, that you can have candidates who get the mitt romney voters from 2012, get some of those voters back. still get the really high rural turnout, add a more hispanic voters, and suddenly if you
translate that to the national level, that is a winning coalition. that's a coalition that wins the presidential election outright. doesn't have to win the electoral college. that's a reason for optimism. the reason to stay pessimistic is, again, at least for the next four years i don't know how in presidential politics you get out from under trump's shadow. and trump does not win back enough of those suburban voters himself, i don't think. although, you know, who can say what will happen in 2024? >> host: well, good afternoon and welcome to booktv's monthly "in depth" program. this is where we invite one author on to talk about his or her body of work, and this month it's new york times columnist and author ross douthat. he establish -- published his first week in 2005 three years after graduating from yale, and-called "privilege." next came "grand new party: how
republicans can win the working class and save the american dream." he had a co-author on that book which came out in 2008. bad religion: how we became a nation of heretics, came out in 2012. and then a book about the future of the catholic church, "change the church: pope francis and the future of catholicism." in 2018, "the decadent society: how we became the victims of our own success," came out last year. and his latest book, which is a hem missouri, "the deep places: a memoir of illness and discovery. with the we've spent the last hour talking with mr. doubtat, and now it's your turn. if you'd like to participate in our conversation this afternoon, 202 is the area code can. 748-8200 for those of you in the east and central time zones. 202-748-8201 if you live in the mountain and pacific time zones. now, we've set aside a line for
text messages only, and here's the number. 202-748-8903. that's for text messages only if you have a question or a comment you'd like to make. please include your first name and your city, if you would. and there are several ways of getting us on social media. you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. you can also tweet, make a comment on facebook @booktv is the handle that you want to remember if you go to twitter or facebook. we'll run through those numbers again, so if you didn't get a chance to write them down, we're going to begin taking those calls in just a few minutes. mr. doubtat, we mentioned your book "privilege." you graduated from harvard in 2002, wrote that book in 2004. harvard is a terrible mess of a place, you write, an incubator for an american ruling class
that is smug, stratified, self-congratulatory and intellectually adrift. why did you choose to go to harvard? >> guest: oh. i mean, who wouldn't? [laughter] i chose to go to harvard because i was the kind of person who goes to harvard. i was an ambitious young meritocrat who wanted to join that ruling class. that was part of it. and then there was another part of me that i think had an idea of a harvard that existed that didn't exhale twist and that this was, hopefully, the better art of myself that sort of imagined a place that was actually devoted to, you know, the best in thought and imparting a serious, humanistic education to its students. and, you know, so i think i had both motivations. i had vaulting ambition and, you
know, a sort of serious intellectual desire. and the ambition found at harvard what it expected to find and wanted to find which was sort of an entry point into the american elite. and the intellectual side of me found that it could get the harvard education that it had imagined, but it had to work incredibly hard to find it and put it together on its own. so inside elite universities you can find a great education, but it's no one that's going to give it to you. you have to sort of piece it together. so if i look back at my time in college, i would say probably one year out of the four i did the kind of intellectually serious work that i imagined that when i got there that harvard was supposed to deliver. and the rest of the time i was sort of caught up in the pursuit
of sort of preparing for if, preparing for professional success. and then there were some, you know, some romances and too much drinking and a lot of other things that i kind of embarrassingly put into that memoir and hope that my children never, never read. so, you know, it was college, right? it's a mixed bag. >> host: is the four-year liberal arts model outdated at this point? >> guest: i don't know. i mean, i think it is outdated in the sense that it doesn't work for lots and lots of people who do go to college. i think, you know, it's outdated in the sense that if you live in a society where you're aspiring to get 30 if, 40, 50, 60% of high school students to go on to college, you should not expect everybody to spend, you know, four years in, you know, weird ivy-bricked campuses having that
kind of experience. i don't think it makes sense. and i think you need a lot more flexibility in the models that you have for higher education if you, you know, the if you want to live in a world are higher education where higher education is the norm. you need more flexible programs that people can go to while working a part-time job and so on and continuing education. programs that people can come back to after they've been in the work force for a while. it should be possible to have some, you know, equivalent of a college education that's available easily to someone who has worked, you know, in the real work force from 18 to 27 or something. and you can go back to college at that point, but the system isn't set up for that kind of flexibility. so all of that is to say that, yes, to some extent it's the model has sort of been overextended. we've ended up using this kind of archaic upper class model of
education as a means of delivering mass opportunity. or as, like, the ticket to opportunity, the golden ticket that everyone's supposed to touch. i don't think that really works that well. at the same time, i think that, you know, there are the virtues in having schools that maintain that kind of model especially if they can actually focus on, you know, on intellectual work and intellectual preparation. and i think that, you know, it's a failure for our elites that they don't get as much -- including myself in this indictment -- that they don't get as much out of those four years as they should, right? the point of having those four years is to give people a space that isn't yet part of professional life, that isn't yet just a field for ambition where you're actually supposed to be, you know, learning some things about world that happened before 1965, right? like a big chunk of our sort of masters of the universe whether
they're in washington or silicon valley and so on don't really seem to know a lot about the world outside a relatively narrow, you know, elite american kind of band. and i think it's a failure of education in high school as well as college that they don't have that range of cultural and historical knowledge and grounding. but i don't think it would get better if you just did away with the four-year experience altogether. >> host: well, let's take some calls. ross douthat is our guest, new york times columnist and author. karen is calling in there tampa. good afternoon to you. >> caller: good afternoon. my question is i'm very, i'm confused by the can conservative christianity concept of dominionism. that is, the call to believers to take control of all seven
aspects of culture, the seven mountains. that would be family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. how, why do they -- to me, this conflict, is this conflict with the constitution on a very basic level; that is, with the idea in article vi that there should be no religious test for anybody, for any qualification of office and also that there should be, the government should in no way make any law of establishment of religion. >> host: karen, where does -- karen, do you know where dominionism comes from? >> caller: okay, that's -- i would like to understand more about that. >> host: all right. of let's see if -- >> guest: sure. yeah, no, i'm happy -- yeah. dominionism is -- well, there's
a bunch of different ideas that go under that label, but they all are, there's sort of an extreme form that is a very, a very unusual per sective and not a major influence on our society which is basically the idea holds that christians are obligated to set up a kind of theocracy, and there's these figures with named like r.j. rush that are associated with this idea that you're supposed to set up a iranian three of coursely city state with christian principles rather than shia islam. that's a narrow and small group. then there's this larger idea that i think you're getting at with the seven mountains of culture which is basically a perspective on the idea that, you know, evangelical christians are supposed to increase their influence everywhere that they find themselves.
and, you know, if they're in business, they're supposed to, you know, have greater christian influence in business. if they're in politics, they're supposed to have greater christian influence in politics. and i guess i would say to your specific question about the constitution that, you know, there's always been this balance in american life where we have the separation of church and state, we don't have formal religious tests for office, we don't have an established, single established faith. but religious groups have always been tremendously influential in sort of launching reform movements and doing things in our politics that are religiously inspired. so we haven't actually separated religion and politics. we've only separated church and state. and so, you know, if you go back to the 19th century and look at these, you know, important movements, the abolitionist movement is heavily influenced, overtly influenced by, you know, in certain ways the evangelical
christianity of that era. you have the social gospel in the late 19th century. you have prohibition which, you know, people don't look back on necessarily as a huge success, but was a huge social reform crusade motivated by religious sentiment. and then you get all the way could be to martin luther king, you know, if you read the letter from birmingham jail or listen to the i have a dream speech, these are religious documents making cases to a country that is mostly christian using christian arguments. so there's a version of christian or any religious engagement with politics that is inevitable and inescapable, right? as long as you have people who are serious about their religious beliefs and who think their religious beliefs have implications and they could be liberal implications or conservative implications, you're not going to tell them, you know, oh, you can't bring those ideas into politics because they're religious. that's never been how american society has worked. it's not really realistic to think that it's how it would
work with. the question then is when does that lead to the kind of, you know, a kind of practical intolerance that does foul afoul -- fall afoul of the constitution and the separation of church and state. and basically what you see in our history is religious movements are always sort of working back and forth on that line where, you know, it seems like they'll push too far. like prohibition was basically baptists telling cath hicks -- [laughter] you know -- catholics, you know, how much, i'm stereotyping here and i apologize, but telling catholic ares how much guinness they could drink and so on, right? that's, but that push and pull is sort of part of the negotiation of democratic politics. so, i mean, i guess my if advice to you in reading about these tendencies in specifically evangelical thought is to say, well, look, you know, this kind of engagement is inevitable if you have a society where people
take religion seriously. the question is where does it cross, where does it cross a line, what's the difference between having christian motivations for your politics and trying to impose too much, too many theological beliefs on the society as a whole. and that's, but's where the -- that's where the argument is, i think. it's not, you know, if people take christianity or any religion seriously, they're going to want it to have some influence this society. you can't have a perfectly secular society in people's beliefs are religious. >> host: ellen's calling in from lee, massachusetts. you're on with author ross douthat. >> caller: hello, mr. ross douthat. i want to speak about the united states conference of catholic bishops who will meet november 15 and begin their meeting. regarding eucharistic revival,
because of the, as you have said, the diminishment of faith for many reasons, but for serious reasons because of the pandemic which closed many churches, etc. i'm going to read two sentences, hopefully. pope francis has explicitly identified the united states as the source of opposition to his pontificate, preached this month that it's not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners. this -- i'm a catholic, very devout, and i believe the sacrament of reconciliation, repentance is necessary before receiving the bread of jesus, the holy communion -- >> host: all right.
ellen, we're going to have to leave it there. let's get a reaction to the upcoming bishops' meeting from ross douthat. >> guest: well, so, i mean, ellen is right, basically right, that there is, you know, we've been talking about the weakness of institutional religion. and catholicism has only been through a tough couple of decades with the sex abuse crisis and its aftermath, and the pandemic has put extra stress on all kinds of churches. you just have a lot more people who were sort of lukewarm, occasional churchgoers falling away and, you know, that's not the core of catholic believers, it's not the core of any church but churches thrive on having a core and also a periphery. and you lose the periphery, it has a lot of negative consequences for the church. itself and its influence. so this is sort of a baseline reality. and part of that reality is the sense that a lot of catholics
have sort of lost a sense of is sacred around the eucharist, around holy communion which, you know, in catholic thinking literally becomes the body and blood of christ. it's not just a symbol with. so it's this particular source of sacredness. and so the bishops, i think, have a general concern about, you know, how, effectively, how do you resore that sense of the say sacred -- restore. how do you get catholics who are attending mass to take the mass itself more seriously, but then coexisting with that you have the political controversy where the president of the united states is a catholic. he rather clearly diverges from the church's teaching on abortion, and he takes communion every sunday. and there is a big argument in the church about, you know, with -- i think ellen is right, it's fair to say that the pope is more on the side of letting, you know, of sort of not
withholding communion from politicians who stray from church teacher ogg defect from church teaching where some american bishops think that you need to do it. and i suppose i should offer an opinion. i mean, i think the problem for the if church is that he doesn't have, he doesn't have the general credibility that you would need to effectively, to effectively publicly call a politician to repentance. i think right now because of the sex abuse crisis and a lot of other stuff, people who aren't really devout catholics, and many devout catholics don't take the bishops seriously as moral arbiters. so you have them standing up and saying we're boeing to deny joe biden communion, one, i don't think you would get enough priests and bishops to go along with it to make it enforceable, and it would make the church look partisan to people who are,
you know, sort of on the outskirts of catholicism. so that, all of that means it probably -- one, i don't think they're going to do it. there's not going to be an official church statement from the conference of catholic bishops saying joe biden shouldn't take communion. that's just not going to happen. but even the idea itself, it's hard to see how it would be effective. but then, there's a problem -- [laughter] you know, democrats, the catholic church has been trying to dialogue with democratic politicians who are pro-choice for a couple of generations now. and the idea being it's better to have a dialogue than to draw some kind of hard line that seems to exclude people from the church. but over the course of that dialogue, the democratic party has become more pro-abortion, not less pro-abortion. including joe biden, who used to hold more pro-life positions than he does now. so it's not clear that that strategy of dialogue is actually
gaining anything for the church. and all this is a long way of saying that the church is faced, therefore, with this sort of impossible choice where they can deny communion, withhold communion from joe biden and look bipartisan and it will seem ineffective, or they can just continue with a dialogue that has gotten them nowhere over 40 or 50 years. and those kind of bad choices are what religious institutions face when they're in periods of decadence or decline, unfortunately. >> host: text message from paul in florida. why are the working class voting for republicans who have hardly done anything for them? >> guest: so there's, you know, how long -- cowe have another two hours? [laughter] to answer that question. so there are a number of answers to that. one, the simplest way to look at it is to say that working class
americans tend to be more culturally conservative. and this could take a lot of different forms. sometimes it means they're more religious, sometime it means they hold more conservative views about race or immigration. sometimes -- and this is increasingly important -- it just means that they don't, they feel sort of condescended to, and they don't relate remotely to sort of, sort of cosmopolitan academic progressivism. which is to say the world in which most of the elite of the democratic party is formed. so you just frame it in, you know, really specific, really specific cultural examples from the present, right? so there is this shift in how liberal politicians are expected to talk about women and pregnancy because of the desire to be inclusive of transgender
people. where official democratic party rhetoric at least in some documents will now say pregnant person instead of pregnant woman or birthing person instead of woman. woman giving birth. and these, this kind of slightly soar thetic and academic mode of speaking is more likely to be alienating or seem totally bizarre to working class americans overall than college-educated americans. so that's, like, a very small, particular example of a larger pattern which is there's just deep cultural alienation between working class americans and sort of well-educated progressives. so you have that alienation. then you have the fact that on economic issues working class voters are still a little more likely to be close to the democrats on a bunch of issues
than they are to the republicans. because the republican party's economic agenda has been traditionally to cut taxes for all americans but especially upper income americans and and not do that, not do much else. and the democratic party's agenda has been more likely to redistribute money to the working class. but there are two, a couple of things have happened in the past five or six years especially that has bridged that divide a little bit on economics. and and is the fact that under donald trump the republican party sort of walked away from a lot of its message that it had with mitt romney and paul ryan about cutting or reforming entitlement programs. so that was an issue that really turned off a lot of working class voters who depend on medicare and social security. and that was part of how barack obama won re-election in 2012, was basically saying to working class voters, you know, i know you don't love cultural liberalism, but the republicans
are going to cut your medicare, and i'm going to protect it. so if trump, in the trump era republicans took those issues off the table. basically said, you know, yeah, we're sort of notionally committed to medicare reform. we'll put something this our budget, you know, that supposedly will change the system over 20 years, but basically we're not going to make those kind of cuts. we're not going to do the paul ryan agenda anymore. and at the same time, trump also made a lot of promises, some of which he kept, some of which he didn't on trade and infrastructure where he, you know, sort of pitched himself directly to working class voters who felt like they had been left behind by the the agenda of both political parties under globalization. so in both of those ways, he moved the republican party a little closer to a lot of working class voters on economics. and that still happens now. like, if you look under the hood of glenn youngkin's campaign this virginia, for instance, he didn't. campaign on deep budget cuts.
he campaigned on spending more money on schools and cutting the gas tax which is something that falls harder on working class voters often than it does on upper middle class voters. so there too you see republicans doing a kind of modest economic outreach to voters who have a strong cultural reason or set of reasons not to want to vote for progressives. and when you put those two things together, the a republican party moving a little bit towards the economic center and a democratic party whose elite at least are moving more to the cultural left, that's how you get working class voters shifting pretty steadily rightward even more than they already had under, you know, in the ronald reagan and george w. bush era. and it's the also why you see that happening, to some extent the, with hispanic voters. this was the big shock for a lot of democrats in 2020, that trump was able to win a bunch of hispanic voters. but, in fact, there are a lot of
hispanic voters who are culturally conservative in various ways who are economically moderate, will not vote for a rigidly -- republican party. we're residing over a pretty good economy pre-covid. trump was willing, in the end, to spend a bunch of money on covid relief. and, you know, the republican party was basically moderate enough on economics to get more culturally conservative latinos and do better in florida and texas than democrats expected. so anyway, there's a lot more to be said, but that's a somewhat condensed attempt to describe the dynamic that necessary in play. -- that's in play. >> host: jim in caliente, california, you're on with author ross ross douthat. >> caller: thank you very much for taking my call. i live in an area which is fairly poor, very white, some
hispanic, a pretty good number of native americans, and i don't find that the connection with the democrats, the color con except everything has any resonance at all. i don't see this concept of these people, you know, blacks, indigenous, people of color belong together. i don't even know what people of color really means because many people, you know, what is that, what does that mean in terms of a society that has become much less racially -- in spite of what's being said -- much less racially demom significant. >> host: so, jim, what would you like ross to respond to? what's the nugget in your question? >> caller: the whole issue of the fact that the rural poor are just as poor as the black urban poor and have just as if
problems if not more in some aspects, other aspects no. but in the medical area, for example, vast numbers of people die very young where i live, and there's no reason for that except. the complexity of the system makes it almost impossible to find doctors. >> host: jim, i tell you what, we're going to have to -- a lot there. anything you'd like to unpack? >> guest: well, yeah, let me try and take two points there that really interesting, really interesting set of comments, right? yeah, and one is that if you're, yeah, if you're wondering to connect it to the previous question why do working class whites not respond well to current democratic party messaging, part of it is precisely what the caller was suggesting, right? that democrat party messaging especially in the last few years has focused a lot on the idea of white privilege as a powerful force in american society. and to the extent that white
privilege manifests itself, and it does, it manifests itself mostly among the upper and upper-middle classes. if you have a rural white person and you are told you have white privilege, you're going to look around and say, what are you talking about? [laughter] i don't see that privilege at all, right? and that, you know, that's a reasonable position to take the you're, you know, one of joe manchin's voters in a poor white state like west virginia, you know, the extent to which you're going to relate to a liberal message that says basically that the primary purpose of the democratic party's agenda is to close racial gaps, like, that's just not a message that you're going to relate to. even if sometimes the policy in question would help, right? sometimes the democrats end up, you know, with a policy that actually would help, you know, rural white voters, but it's
being sold as a policy that's about closing racial gaps. and it's, you know, again, it's totally understandable that that messaging just sort of falls flat with the underprivileged or not exactly privileged white working class or white poor. so that's one place where i think the caller is on to something. the other point that he, i think, gestured at at the beginning was, you know, you have a lot of voters who are, you know, who are native american, who are often immigrants, hispanic immigrants, who are african-american, who don't see their own vision of america in the sort of progressive narrative of, you know, oppressive whiteness as this, you know, all-encompassing force, right? so often times democrats end up talking to activists who they see as spokespeople for minority voters. but, in fact, the activists just
represent activist groups or bureaucracies or foundations and don't actually represent what the voters themselves think. so you have a lot of, again, a lot of hispanic voters who believe very strongly in the idea of the american dream and the idea that they're getting ahead in hurricane and that they're -- in america and that they're doing well or their ethic background or color of their skin isn't an impediment. liberalism spends all this time talking about the centrality, this narrative doesn't actually describe my experience. and then you get -- i'll stop here, but, you know, again, to sort of distill it to a single point, there was this moment when democratic politicians all started referring to hispanic and latino voters as latinx voters because activists had coalesced around it as the most inclusive, non-gender-specific,
non-gendered way to refer to latino voters because it was a way of escaping the genderness of romance language, right? but there are no hispanic voters who actually think of themselves as latinx. if you do these polls and say how do you describe yourself, 1-2% of people say latinx. so you have democratic politicians making, doing outreach to minority communities using a term of art that the minority communities themselves don't recognize. and that's a very strange way to do mass politics. and, again, it reflects the sort of, the way that elite progressivism has basically undercut what should be a lot of the democratic party's natural advantages with minority voters. >> host: next call for ross douthat comes from don in new york city. hi, donald. >> caller: yes, good afternoon. mr. douthat, i'd like to though what are some of the religious,
who are some of the prominent religious writers that have influenced your viewpoint such, and i also as i understand you and your family experienced conversions into pentacostalism and then into catholicism, and i wonder if you could elaborate on your consciousness and some of the intellectual experiences you had during those conversions. >> host: tell you what, let's leave it at those two, donald. it's all yours. >> guest: sure. so to go from back to front, so, yeah, when i was a kid, we basically did a kind of tour of american christianity where we started out as episcopalians, and then my mother specifically had experiences at, kind of faith healing service, the services that were held, this
woman whose name was literally grace in high school auditoriums around connecticut where people would basically have what were described and experienced as encounters with the holy spirit. they would be prayed over and fall on the floor and, you know, be slain in the spirit, is the language, the pentacostalist language that's used to describe it. and so this was sort of a pivot point in my childhood. and, you know, my mother's name is patricia snowe, and she's actually written a couple of essays about it that you can find on the internet the the you're interested in a more direct description because i was more of an observer of this. my parents both had these kind of experiences, and we sort of went through a phase of sort of going to pentacostalist services, and we drove all the way to toronto for this religious revival there at one point. but for he, i watch -- for me, i
watched the experiences. i didn't have them myself. i'm not really a mystical personality. or maybe god just decided that i didn't need -- [laughter] i didn't need whatever my parents were getting. and so then when we ended up sort of as becoming roman catholics, i think for hi mother especially there was -- my mother especially there was this kind of mystical bridge where she went there if having experiences to reading catholic mystics, you know, teresa and avila and sort of using the catholic mystical experience as a bridge into roman catholicism. for me, it was much more intellectualized. i read, you know, fairly predictable writers like g.k. chesterton when i was a teenager who were influential. i was also very happy to sort of enter as an awkward teenager
the, i was very happy to enter a church where you just memorized the prayers and nobody asked you to pray spontaneously or testify to how the lord jesus had changed your heart. hi 14-year-old self wasn't very keen on that art of pentacostalism, so just memorizing hail marys instead came as a welcome relief. that's a very condensed version of the arc. and, yeah, chesterton was influential, c.s. lewis was pretty influential. again, these are fairly predictable people to have read. one writer who i like to recommend especially to people who are sort of, you know, maybe halfway in and halfway out of religious belief but really interested in these questions is a polish philosopher named kolikowsky who wrote "is god happy" and he wrote a book with the one-word title, "religion"
but has a really long superintendent title if you look it up on amazon. raised semi-catholic, interesting religion writer who i came to later in life who had an influence on some of my writings on religion. so that's another name, a more obscure name to throw out there as an influence for people interested in this kind of stuff. >> host: and christine is calling in from middle borrow, massachusetts. good afternoon. christine? sorry about that. john is in lieu certain valley, california. john, please go ahead with your question or comment for ross douthat. >> caller: hey, greetings, ross. as a columnist for "the new york times," i wanted to see your take on the 1619 project that is
based, many historians say, on faulty history and advocating crt and racial conflict as opposed to the more positive, virtuous character ethics espoused by the 1776 project. >> host: thank you, sir. mr. d the -- douthat? >> guest: so, the 1619 project, my colleague nicole hanna jones played a big role. and i think there are a bunch of things going on in the project and in the controversy around it. and part of what it's trying to do, i think, is just basically, you know, have a more complete history of slavery and the black experience in america. and i think this is, in part, in general of what some of the ideas that are sort of in play
this debates about education and changing ideas about history right now are, i think, just that. just the idea that, you know, we've had this sort of oversimplifieded narrative about slavety and -- slavery and african-american history that, for instance, doesn't focus enough on, you know, the real nature of life under segregation and what happened to african-americans after civil war and things like the controversy over confederate statues, for instance, i think are part of that where, you know, basically white america for a certain period of time told a story about american history that was mostly about sort of knitting the country back together after the civil war that left a lot of the story of black america out and minimized, you know, some of the worst things that went on under segregation, i think. and, you know, overly romanticized certain figures in the confederacy. so that's a long way of saying that i think there's a big part of the 1619 project that is just
trying to do that, basically, trying to tell a more complete history around slavery. but then there's also this particular controversy around an argument about the american revolution and, you know, sort of the specific question of whether the founding fathers and the american revolutionaries were actually, like, worried about that slavery was going to be abolished, right, by the british and maybe the american revolution was fought in defense of slavery. that's, you know, and then connected to that there is this, this sort of historical school that argues that the cotton economy was incredibly important, more important than a lot of people think to the development of hearn capitalism and so, therefore, there's sort of this -- slavery is basically in both cases that slavery is closer to the root of american
revolution and american capitalism than conventional wisdom holds. and, you know, i wouldn't want to get into a long argument with my colleagues. i would just say very simply that i think the argument that it's the connection of the founding to slavery and the connection of early captainism to slavery -- capitalism to slavery, think those arguments ended up overstated in some of the pieces in the project. but it's more an argument for he istorians than -- historians than for columnists. but i think this is a distinction there that's important, right, which is that there's a general desire for a more complete accounting of slavery and racial history that i think is entirely reasonable. and then there's a specific argument about the nature of the american founding and how, you know, sort of how compromised it was by slavery where there's a very wise and important
controversy that, yeah, where i would be on i guess what we think of as the more conservative side of the debate. >> host: and in july, this past july, you wrote a column for "the new york times" called the excesses of anti-racist education. and you specifically cited two books, robin deangelo's white fragility and ibram kendi's how to be an anti-racist. why those two books? >> guest: well, in art because those books -- in part because those books between them sold approximately 1.2 zillion copies -- the. [laughter] in the summer of 2020 in, you know, the period around the george floyd protests. but i think there is a sort of, they represent how a certain kind of progressive ideology on race catches out in practice in views on public policy, in views on sort of how we should deal
with racism like kind of corporate anti-racist trainings that you hear so much about come often straight out of robin deangelo's work or other work like hers. a lot of the push is to, you know, sort of do away with or revise education and academic standards, i think, are connected to the argument in ibram kendi's work that, you know, those kind of programs are themselves effectively racist. they're sort of, you know, they aren't just sort of revealing differences, dlairting differences -- they're creating differences and so they need to be done away with. and all of that is stuff that i fundamentally disagree with and i think is taking a, again, similar to what i said i answered the last caller. i think there's a generally, generally admirable desire to make america a more equal society and to sort of do more
justice to the particularities of the black experience in america that shows up in a certain kind of progressive energy right now. but to the extent that the way it hashes out is through, you know, corporate anti-racism training or doing away with, you know, gifted education practice or calculus requirements in california schools or talking a lot about, like, toxic whiteness to third or fourth graders i'm just really skeptical that that is going to have anything like, that that's going to actually have anti-racist effects. and, in fact, i think it's actually more likely to ratify certain racial divides than to break them down. >> host: well, it was two years prior to those two books coming out that you coined the term woke capitalism in 2018. how did that occur to you? >> guest: i think that i stole it from another bearded catholic
journalist named matthew walter. i'm not 100% sure. i get credit fairly often for the term the, but i want to say i'm not 100% sure i coined it. yeah, it's a very useful and resonant term because it reflects the fact that a large part of corporate america decided that there was a piece of progressivism, the piece that does diversity training and anti-racist education and so on. the piece that's reflected in the works of robin deangelo that corporate america could just sort of get onboard with and enfold into their hr processes and, you know, their sort of attempt to build corporate culture. and so that's what you see all over now. you know, the odd thing, right, is that we had an earlier caller asking about, you know, the place of evangelical religion in america and the separation of church and state. well, you know, historically in the u.s. there's also the question of how business -- [laughter] relates to religion, right? and you have various points
where, you know, sort of business seems very secular and material theistic and various points where it sort of takes on some elements of religious culture. in the 1950s you had sort of in the cold war era a kind of con nation of american capitalism and christianity. now you have a conflation on the left of sort of corporate culture especially this silicon valley and elsewhere with, you know, sort of semi-religious progressive ideology where, you know, the corporation will stage a land acknowledgment where they talk about how the land is being held on was taken from a native american tribe right before they, you know, get into their third quarter strategic report or something. and it's super weird -- [laughter] it's just very weird to sort of watch, to sort of watch the incorporation of these, this
kind of, you know, again, slightly academic progressive rhetoric into corporate hr speak. but what in part it reflects is sort of, you know, the the extent to which this is seen, i think, by people who run big companies in part as a way to sort of give something to progressivism to avoid the kind of bernie sanders version of progressivism. like, americans, american corporations would much rather, you know, construct diversity programs and trainings along the lines that robin deangelo suggests in "white white from if jillty" than they would be to be subjected to bernie sanders tax rates. it's a way to say, look, we're progressive too. don't tax us. we've got diversity programs. we've got anti-racist training programs, right? it's, in a sense, an attempt to divide the left and have the culture left and corporations sort of working hand in hand so
as to prevent the economic left from, you know, raising the corporate income tax rate too high. that's the most cynical reading on it. it's not the only thing gone, but it's one of them, undoubted dedly. >> host: as a fellow harvard alum, i wonder why he allows himself to appear in front of a profane word, yale. what is his connection with that wannabe school? let me tell the viewer that that was the only studio available in new haven, and anytime we can avoid doing a video uplink interview is a good day. so we've made progress to an actual studio with great audio and that type of thing. hopefully next time in person. that said, do you have think connection to yale? >> guest: yeah, i mean, the texter will be even more disappointed to hear that not only have i profaned my harvard
background by appearing before this yale backdrop, but i have even co-taught a couple of classes at yale since returning to new haven. and, you know, i did grow up in new haven, so i obviously had bug dog -- bulldog in me at some level, and it's just sort of bubbled to the surface. i will say, you know, if harvard wishes to preempt, you know, yale's kind invitation to me to cooccasionally co-teach a class by offering me a tenured position, i am more than happy to take them up on that offer anytime. [laughter] so if the president of harvard is watching right now and wants to bring me home, i'm fully available. >> host: phil, buffalo, new york. please go ahead with your question or comment for ross douthat. >> caller: ross, what will it take to get chronic lyme disease recognized as a real disease so that health care insurance companies stop persecuting doctors who treat chronic lyme
and the people that have it get the care they deserve? >> host: phil, do you have lyme disease? >> caller: no. my significant other does. >> host: thank you, sir. >> guest: as you know, i know what you're going through. i'm very sorry. i'd offer two plausible answers. the first is generational change in the medical system where you have basically, you know, this is a very longstanding phenomenon in science where it is less likely that you convert people who believe, who are sort of committed to an existing paradigm, and it's more likely that the younger generation comes along and just sort of takes over than recognizes that that paradigm is wrong and a different paradigm is needed. and i think you can -- in some places at least you can see this happening, that there really are certain group of younger doctors and researchers who recognize that chronic lyme does exist,
and it almost certainly is caused by, you know, the persistence of an actual infection, not just by inflammation or psychosomatic issues. and there's a lot of really interesting research going on at places like johns hopkins ask columbia, tufts and elsewhere on treatment. and so i think part of what has to change is just, you know, in 20 years' time you'll have a different group of doctors and researchers as the dominant forces in the debate and, hopefully, they will be influenced by the research that's going, that's already happening right now. and, you know, one -- i mean, the book that i wrote on this subject is not designed to just be an entry in that debate, but hopefully it does offer a summary of the reason -- [laughter] the reason to believe, the reasons to believe that this is real. but then the other thing, and this is connected, these two things are connected, the other issue, right, is that as you must well know even for doctors and researchers who are ready to
treat chronic lyme, there isn't a single treatment protocol that everyone agrees works. instead it's incredibly complicated. you know, i have spent myself with, you know, the resources of, you know, being a semi-prominent journalist with a lot of sort of financial resources at certain points at my disposal, it's taken me six or seven years to get as well as i've gotten, and i'm still not all the way well. and there's lots of people who spend, even with the best doctors, experimenting and trying to find things that work or them. so the the closer you can get to a single clear, you know, this drug works most of the time, this protocol works most of the the time, the easier it is to overthrow the paraclimb that says you shouldn't -- pair a are dime that says you shouldn't treat it at all. it's not enough, basically, to have -- well, to put it in
old-fashioned scientific terms, it's not enough to say that the system of the solar system has a lot of problems in it. you these galileo and coperny cuts to come along and say and here's the alternate system that will replace it. so the closer doctors and researchers get to a simpler way of treating chronic lyme, than the crazy things that i and maybe your significant other have had to deal with, the easier it will be for the system as a whole to say, okay, we can switch there if our, you know -- from our mix of denial and agnosticism to an embrace of this clear alternative that we have strong ed that it actually works -- ed that it actually works. so that's the the combined answer. generational change and more clarity in the question of how you actually treat this damnable infection. >> host: when an author is on "in depth," we ask him or her about their faith books. here's ross douthat's.
richard adams' watership down. the great combats by. tolkien's the lord of the ring ares. chesterton, the everlasting man which we've talked about, and a book called the secret history by -- [inaudible] did i get that name correctly, and what is that book about? [laughter] >> guest: oh, if only. i met the secret history, which is a novel by donna hart which is named after the secret history. classic students who get involved in a -- i shouldn't give it away, but it's deb given away earlier in the book, in a murder. it's sort of a cult of classic students at a small liberal arts college in the northeast. >> host: it's by donna tart though -- >> guest: by donna tart. gold pin finch was her well known -- >> host: ah, of course. >> guest: -- just a few years ago. but, yeah, i tried to pick novels because, you know, as a
newspaper columnist, you write mostly about, you know, politics and ideas. but, in fact, the books that have tended to stay with me throughout my life have been more likely to be fiction. >> host: currently reading victor hugo's lay miss wrap -- lay miss wrap. why? >> guest: trying to. yeah, we have a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old, and we have been listening to the les mis soundtrack. and at a certain point i was, like, well, maybe i should actually read the victor hugo novel. and it is approximately 1400 pages. i believe i've read 500 pages. i cannot guarantee you that i will finish. i struggle a little bit to read in spite of the influence on me to read novels in my everyday existence as someone who's
always reading twitter instead. so "les mis" is a real challenge, but it is also, it's the remarkable to sort of step into that kind of novel because there's really nothing, there's no novelist who writes like this today. and, you know, you have the sort of basic story and then what strikes you most about the book is just the extraordinary confidence that hugo with has that he's right about everything. the world is totally comprehensible. it's getting better every day. you can put the french revolution together with french catholicism, and it's all going to work together. it's valjean for 40 pages and then we're going to pause, and he's going to tell you about the ballot of waterloo. he's going to tell you all about the battle of waterloo. [laughter] so it's just really an immersion this, well, i would say to go back to one of my own books, a nondecadent society, a society defined by the kind of reckless
confidence and optimism and also a literary style defined by this, you know, aggressive, novelistic arrogance. and if you pick it up and then pick up, you know, a contemporary novel, i was also reading a novel by sally rumi who's a very talent ared irish novelist of relationships. that novel is this thick, and it's very minimalist, and the characters are all, like, hmm, the universe is mysterious, and i have some radical ideas, and i would like to be religious, but i can't make it all come together. and then you turn to hugo and it's the students are mounting the barricades -- [laughter] and hugo is monologuing about, you know, ma nast schism. it's just different modes of civilization, our own versus the 19th century, and it's really interesting to have that feeling even if i don't actually get to the end of the book. and i do know how it ends because i've, obviously, heard for soundtrack to the musical. many times. [laughter] >> host: i think that soundtrack
is about 1400 pages long too. >> guest: it's an extends thive soundtrack but very, very good, i have to say. >> host: bo is in stuart, florida. hi, bo. >> caller: hi. i -- thank you very much for the program. it's very interesting. excuse me, i have a slight, slight lisp. i'm very old, and i have been observing things for about six decades. long ago i was religion editor of the "pittsburgh post-gazette", and i loved some of the priests and the nuns and the catholic organizations. but i believe the catholic church is unable to change, unable to evolve because by today there really should have been religion section of the priesthood that would allow for married clergy. women should be able to have the
same authority as priests and offer holy communion. and it seems to me that catholic church is declining in the western world, and this 50, 100 years it'll be a shadow the of u.s.. so -- of itself. so ill like to hear your -- i would like to hear your thoughts, your sons. >> host: thank you very much for calling in. and, ross douthat, you only have 2-3 minutes to expound on what that big question that the caller asked. >> guest: probably for the best. so, i mean, yes, the story of catholicism in the western world is already a story of decline, and at least for the next 20 years or so in the united states, i would expect that to continue. i think the problem for the church though is more complicated than the caller suggests because we actually have men the city of examples and models -- plenty of examples and models of protestant churches, the episcopal church,
the lutheran church in germany ask elsewhere that have gone the exactly the same, they have married clergy, they have female clergy or priests. they have, you know, shifted their positions on various issues both theological and moral. and in most cases, they have the same problems that catholicism has or worse problems, a steeper institutional decline and sort of a greater loss of cultural influence. whatever is happening to institutional religion in the western world, it's not just a simple matter of these churches haven't kept up with the times because we have models that have tried that, and they have not had great success. i mean, i think the challenge for catholicism in the 30 seconds left is to, it's slightly different. it is to adapt without losing core elements of catholic
transition that are still attractive to a lot of people, right? and i think previously celibacy comes with a lot of problems, and presumably you could get a few more priest ifs you allowed married clergy. at the same time, the virtue of celibacy is an ancient christian principle ask one that catholicism has defended across 2,000 years. and if it isn't presenting that principle at all anymore, then it's a reason -- its very reason for existence, i think, is somewhat called into question. and so that, i think, gets -- and maybe it's a way of getting at the challenge, right? that christianity can't survive the it doesn't seem to be offering something that is actually timeless or actually connected to the church of jesus christ which is, you know, the early church was extremely big on celibacy. the same goes for questions about the eucharist and communion we were talking about earlier. so then the question is not as simple as how do you adapt, it's
how do you adapt while preserving these essentials without which you have anything to preserve at all? the if i knew exactly how to strike that balance, i would be in rome right now writing memos for the pope instead of being here with, you know, all of you fine people. >> host: ross douthat, new york times columnist, author now of six books. his most recent is "the deep places: a memoir of illness and discovery," a rather accidental book or not one that you were probably planning on writing. what's your next book going to be about, do you know yet? >> guest: i do not know for sure, no. i don't plan to get infected with any new diseases, god willing. [laughter] so probably not, probably not another memoir. maybe something about religion and these questions about belief in god that we've been talking about here, but maybe something totally unexpected like a fantasy novel. who can say? >> host: thanks for spending the the last two hours with