The United States of Anxiety

The United States of Anxiety

United States

In a Presidential election cycle big on negativity and short on discussion of issues, anxiety is proving to be a dominant theme -- over the economy, national security, and indeed, what it means to be an American in the 21st century. This podcast brings the voices of people trying to hold on to their piece of the American Dream and others who are looking to build one. The United States of Anxiety gives you an wide-open window into the polarizing economic, social and political ideas that have people on the edge of their seats during this unprecedented election cycle. WNYC Studios is the producer of other leading podcasts including Radiolab, Death, Sex & Money, Freakonomics Radio, Note to Self and many more.


Call-In Special: Across the Aisle  

With The United States of Anxiety, WNYC Studios and The Nation brought forth the ideas and concerns that made up part of the coalition bringing President-elect Donald Trump from his midtown Manhattan

But with Hillary Clinton besting the President-elect in the popular vote by over one million votes to date, and protests of "Not My President" erupting across the country, it remains a question if the tides of discontent will ever pacify in the country.

In the midst of this turmoil Anna Sale, host of WNYC's Death, Sex & Money, questions the perceived differences that so many voters feel after this divisive election cycle.

But this is the fourth time the popular vote has diverged from the Electoral College's ultimate choice of President of the United States and "Not My President" signs previously emerged in 2001 at the Inauguration of similarly-elected George W. Bush and then again in 2005.

Demonstrators at a rally held to protest the inauguration of President George W. Bush, Denver, Jan 20, 2005 (Ed Andrieski/AP Photo)

Therefore, we explore the notion of what keeps this country united following elections leaving us only feeling divided.

Call-In Special: Culture Shock  

In 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain dubbed then-Senator Obama the "biggest celebrity in the world" in a scathing campaign commercial.

But after this most recent election, it seemed like America had moved beyond mere fame and instead was on the path to elect which candidate would serve best as Entertainer-in-Chief.This notion of campaigning for the Political People's Choice Award pulls to the very strings of American society today.

Throughout The United States of Anxiety, we saw that in many communities, shifting demographics and economic realities caused residents--old and new--to question if they had now become embattled in the middle of a culture clash.

WNYC's Ilya Marritz is joined by drag performer Lady Bunny and author Jeff Chang, as he fields calls from individuals to find out how they are utilizing culture during the post-election season.

And after calls for self-reflection from protesters and actors' during Vice President-elect Mike Pence's visit to the hit Broadway show 'Hamilton' recently, we examine elements in the cultural zeitgeist be deployed to express politically-based emotions and what effects that films, books, music and other cultural touchstones have on us following this election.

Protesters shout slogans at Vice President-elect Mike Pence as he leaves the Richard Rodgers Theatre after a performance of "Hamilton," New York, Nov 18, 2016 (Andres Kudacki/AP Photo)

Plus, while Hillary Clinton had 'Fight Song' and President-elect Donald Trump played 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' blasting on the campaign trail, we look to find a unifying anthem for the country and maybe even the world for the Trump Administration.

Call-In Special: Pass the Politics  

Whether you prefer dark meat, white meat, Tofurky or just mashed potatoes, most Americans can agree that the 2016 presidential election was contentious. With neither candidate managing to garner 50-percent of the vote and in a world of charged media outlets, families coming together for Thanksgiving Dinner face the likely prospect of heated political conversation landing on their holiday platters.

And, as The United States of Anxiety found, the caustic nature of politics not only wears away one's patience but also one's health.

So to ensure that the hardest thing you will be between this holiday season is a poorly baked dinner roll, WNYC's Brian Lehrer takes counsel from humorist Henry Alford and Emory philosophy professor George Yancy, PhD, on how to avoid the pitfalls of cross-party dinner conversation. 

Plus across the hour, Brian will be joined by Mary Harris of WNYC Studios's Only Human podcast to provide insights on how to actually listen to those who may have divergent views.

Call-In Special: An Electoral Industrial Revolution  

In a campaign season marked by sharp differences between major party candidates, one unifying issue arose: the dismal nature of the nation's infrastructure and industrial landscape. In the end, the billionaire builder was selected to tackle this problem.

Throughout the series, we have asked about the placement of White America and its positioning against the American Dream. With returns in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania turning red after years of being Democratic strongholds, the present economic anxiety weighs heavy in the post-election air.

Kai Wright of The Nation opens the floor to pinpoint the actual state of poverty and jobs in America, and how the patterns around these issues may have led to the Electoral College tipping in favor of the GOP-nominee.

Plus, after a candidacy running against decades' old trade deals, the insurgence of China on the global economic field, and traditional neoliberal economic policies favored by the right, we examine what will be the economic ideology of a Trump Administration.

Call-In Special: Where Technology Takes Us  

From 3:00 a.m. tweets to the never ending drip, drip, drip of a private email server to the insurgency of an online frog, technology and social media were at the forefront of electoral discourse like never before.

Manoush Zomorodi, host of WNYC's Note to Self, draws back the digital curtain on this election and sees just how much technology created the landscape of this election.

Meanwhile, while President-elect Trump champions tools such as Twitter and Facebook reflects internally following the results of this election, the future of social media's intersection with politics remains at a crossroads.

Plus, with incoming-First Lady Melania Trump positioning herself as a champion against cyberbullying, we look closer at the type of conversations that emerged on social media throughout the election cycle and how this rhetoric will either be ended or energized in the upcoming Administration.

Call-In Special: Examining the 'Women's Vote'  

Throughout The United States of Anxiety, Long Island-resident Patty Dwyer acted as a gateway to the perspectives of individuals forming the wave that swept Donald Trump from New York billionaire to President-elect.

And with exit polling suggesting that Democratic nominee-Hillary Clinton gained the support of only 54-percent of women voters, it appears that gender in the voting booth was not deeply intertwined with gender on the ticket.

Long Island Resident and Trump Supporter, Patty Dwyer, Stands Outside Trump Tower, 5th Ave., New York (Richard Yeh / WNYC)

All Things Considered host Jami Floyd discusses the women who helped vault Donald Trump into the White House and what motivates them.

In particular, we delve deeper into what conditions allowed female voters to disregard President-elect Trump's previous comments on women and charge directly into this year's electoral rabbit hole.

Call-In Special: Hopes and Fears for the Next Four Years  

In this election cycle, anxiety emerged as a dominant theme for voters across the political spectrum. 

This is where The United States of Anxiety began--documenting the experiences and perspectives which informed voters as they selected their candidate for President of the United States and caused them to grapple with the idea of their lives if the other side prevailed.

But following a campaign season built on divisiveness from both sides of the aisle and an election results split between the popular vote and the Electoral College, the anxiety that permeated the election has not dissipated with the determination of the 45th President.

The Takeaway's John Hockenberry fields the accounts of individuals preparing for a Trump Administration, and asks what hopes or fears they are carrying into the next four years.

Plus, what can the President-elect do--if anything--to assuage the concerns of Americans and live up to his campaign promise to 'make America great'?

Episode 8: Where Are We Now?  

So, here we are. The race is over and Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States.

WNYC Studios and The Nation take the temperature of the country following the unprecedented election of a consummate political outsider.

WNYC’s Arun Venugopal checks-in with Trump supporter Patty Dwyer and gauges her reaction on a come-from-behind political victory that shook the world. The Nation's Julianne Hing reports from Arizona, where the defeat of long-standing anti-immigrant Sheriff Joe Arpaio is nonetheless tempered by the elevation of Donald Trump.

Plus, Matt Katz and Chris Arnade return to the white working-class voters who propelled Trump to the White House. And Stephen Nessesn returns us to Patchogue to find out how a community that was nearly torn apart by anti-immigrant violence learned to heal and what they're bracing for in Donald Trump's America.

Listen to The United States of Anxiety on WNYC, airing Thursday evenings at 7pm, and stay tuned for a live call-in.

Episode Contributors:

Kai Wright

Arun Venugopal

Stephen Nessen

Julianne Hing

Matt Katz

Karen Frillmann

Joseph Capriglione

Only Human Bonus Episode: What Is This Election Doing to Us?  

This election certainly feels stressful. As Amanda Aronczyk from WNYC's Only Human podcast told us in Episode 7, it's possible to measure the election's effect on us biologically. This bonus episode explains more about Only Human's experiment with the stress hormone, cortisol. 

Every day another article comes out about how voters are stressed by this election. But we wanted to know: what is the election doing to our biology?

The American Psychological Association recently found that more than half of all Americans — 52 percent — say this year’s presidential election is a “somewhat” or “very significant” source of stress in their lives. The survey was self-reported, meaning respondents answered a few questions online and the APA took their self-assessments at face value. Anecdotally, those assessments probably ring true for many of us, but it turns out there’s a way to measure the physiological effects of election stress.  

Over the last few years, a group of neuroscientists and political scientists have pioneered a new field called biopolitics, the study of biology and political behavior. Professor Kevin Smith is a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-author of the book, "Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences.” He often collaborates with Dr. Jeffrey French, who runs a lab at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and studies cortisol, a hormone we release when we’re stressed.  

One of Smith and French’s recent studies looked at stress and voting. They wanted to know if cortisol levels influence whether people vote. The easiest way to test cortisol is through saliva, so they collected spit samples from a bunch of participants and got their official voting records for the past six elections.

The researchers found that people with higher cortisol levels vote less. And that finding correlates with another one of their studies, which found that people who voted absentee experienced less stress than people who went to the polls.

So we asked French and Smith to help us design an experiment of sorts. We’d use the presidential debates as a proxy for the election. Our team would go to debate watch parties and collect saliva samples from viewers to measure their cortisol levels. We’d also ask the participants to fill out a survey about themselves: their party affiliation, age and self-reported stress level. And we’d see who had the biggest changes in their cortisol over the course of the debate.

During the first two presidential debates, we went to watch parties in Times Square, Midtown Manhattan and Northern New Jersey. Participants spat three times into tiny tubes: before the debate, to get a baseline sample, midway through the debate and after the debate.

We over-nighted the samples to Omaha, where Dr. French processed them in his lab. A few weeks later, he had the results.

We all agreed that the debate watch parties seemed stressful. At a bar in Times Square, we talked to young Republicans unhappy with their nominee and worried about their party’s future. Others were terrified at the prospect of a Clinton presidency. In Midtown, a group of Democrats had gathered to watch at the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning think tank. A few of them brought their own alcohol, to temper their anxiety (French and Smith took alcohol and caffeine intake into account in their analysis) and a number of them worried about Trump’s popularity.

But the results surprised us: cortisol levels stayed close to normal levels throughout the debates. Clinton supporters had a small spike at the midway point, but not by much. Overall, the stress levels for liberals and conservatives didn’t really change — with one exception.

The researchers looked at cortisol levels based on whether participants had someone close to them who planned to vote for the opposing candidate. And for Trump supporters who had a conflict with a person close to them — a parent, a sibling, a spouse — cortisol levels actually went up after the debate. They probably found the debate more stressful.

French and Smith warned us that this wasn’t a pristine study. In fact, both professors laughed when we asked if they’d submit our work to a peer-reviewed journal. But they agreed that this finding was statistically significant. And they didn’t find it for Clinton supporters, or voters who supported a third party candidate.

The other significant finding related to baseline cortisol levels — the participants’ stress level before the debate. The researchers found that Trump supporters had much higher baseline levels compared to Clinton voters.

Smith, the political scientist, couldn’t te

Episode 7: This Is Your Brain on Politics  

Stress is a part of everyday life. But in this election filled with bombast, disregard of all sorts of political norms, and multiple October Surprises, the road to November 8th often appears overwhelming.

Join WNYC Studios and The Nation as we explore the burgeoning field of biopolitics and uncover how our bodies respond to 2016’s political circus.

WNYC’s Amanda Aronczyk sits down with neuroscientist Jeffrey French and political scientist Kevin Smith, as we perform an unusual test to find out just what in this election is causing voters’ stress. Plus, learn how our bodies’ natural response systems can indicate where we locate ourselves along the political spectrum.

Afterwards, Kai Wright and Arun Venugopal sit down with political scientist Jonathan Weiler, co-author of the book "Authoritarianism & Polarization in American Politics," to talk about voter psychology, and why certain personality types are allured by authoritarian leaders.

Episode Contributors:

Kai Wright

Arun Venugopal

Amanda Aronczyk

Karen Frillmann

Joseph Capriglione

Episode 6: The Kids Are Not Alright  

Gang violence and a drug epidemic might not be the first things one thinks about when they picture the American suburbs, but they have become prominent facts of life for many residents in Suffolk County, Long Island. In fact, the leafy New York suburb led the Empire State in opioid and heroin overdose deaths in 2014. 

WNYC Studios and The Nation set out to explore how these problems emerged in the first place.

WNYC’s Arun Venugopal sits down with Anthony, a former-drug user who recounts how he became addicted while growing up in the environs of Long Island's South Shore.

Anthony, a recovering heroin addict

We talk to two individuals on the front lines of treatment to gain their insight into what has caused the uptick in drug use, and how Donald Trump figures into the conversation.

Then, The Nation’s Julianne Hing goes to Brentwood, NY, a Long Island town where the remains of five murdered teenagers tied to gang violence have been discovered in the past six weeks.

Episode Contributors:

Kai Wright

Arun Venugopal

Julianne Hing

Karen Frillmann

Joseph Capriglione

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Listen to more from The Nation.

Episode 5: White Like Me  

Once again, race has become a central issue in a presidential campaign. But this time, it's not all about people of color. It's also about white Americans, and what their place is in 21st century America.

This week, WNYC Studios and The Nation examine the history of what it means and has meant to be white in the United States of America.

WNYC’s Jim O’Grady accompanies journalist Chris Arnade to Long Island. What they find is that as the economy has transitioned away from manual labor, it's struck at the very heart of the way many working-class Americans define masculinity, and, in turn, themselves.

Connie and Fiore Napolitano at a roadside hot dog stand off Montauk Highway in Suffolk County. (Chris Arnade )

Plus, The Nation’s Kai Wright explores this notion with a group of Italian Americans who document their families' journey from immigrant scapegoats to full-fledged "whiteness."

Episode Contributors:

Kai Wright

Jim O'Grady

Karen Frillmann

Joseph Capriglione

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Listen to more from The Nation.

Episode 4: Down the Rabbit Hole  

So how did we get to this point? Where a nominee for a major party has been heard bragging about assaulting women. The United States of Anxiety has been listening carefully to Trump supporters in an effort to understand this election season.

This week, WNYC Studios and The Nation turn once again to Patty Dwyer. We then go down the rabbit hole with WNYC reporter Matt Katz and take a look at the media landscape that helped create this moment. 

Finally, we visit with another Long Island resident, Joselo Lucero. Just after Election Day in 2008, Joselo’s brother, Marcelo Lucero was murdered during the course of a hate crime.

Joselo Lucero speaks openly about the death of his brother, Marcelo, which occurred during the course of a hate crime in Patchogue, Long Island (Richard Yeh / WNYC)

Though separated by years, these two events—the rise of Donald Trump and the murder of Marcelo Lucero—may have arisen from a single reality: individuals listening to inflammatory language.

Episode Contributors:

Kai Wright

Arun Venugopal

Matt Katz

Julianne Hing

Karen Frillman

Joseph Capriglione

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Listen to more from The Nation.

Episode 3: This Land Is My Land, That Land Is Your Land  

Tom McCarthy, a retired NYPD detective and lifelong Long Island resident, has spent much of his adult life straddling two very different worlds. Each day he would leave the calm of his suburban community to patrol the notorious Queensbridge housing projects. This was in 1989, at the height of the crack epidemic, and what Tom saw in New York's public housing felt worlds away from his suburban Eden.

But now, the line that once separated Tom’s home from his work feels like it's dissipating. It's exemplified by leafy Suffolk County leading all of New York state in heroin overdose deaths last year.

What's brought about this change in the suburbs? For many, the problems seem to stem not from within, but from the outside, coming over our southern border. Donald Trump has repeatedly bemoaned the crime and drugs that he says Mexican immigrants who are here illegally are bringing into the United States. He has said he'll deport this population and send them to "the back of the line."

But of all the controversial things the Republican nominee has said, sending immigrants here illegally to the back of the line is actually quite mainstream. In fact, it's been advocated by both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The idea projects order, fairness and a sense of process. There's only one problem, according to Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist who helped to workshop "the back of the line" phrase in the early-2000's: the line doesn't exist, leaving the country's immigration process a hopeless hall of mirrors for people trying to do the right thing and enter the country legally.

Episode Contributors:

Arun Venugopal

Julianne Hing

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Listen to more from The Nation

Episode 2: Who Owns the Deed to the American Dream?  

The idea of an idyllic 'suburbia' has been a touchstone along the cultural landscape of America for over 70 years. From Norman Rockwell's 1943 Freedom from Want to the printed pages of Martha Stewart's Living, the trimmed hedges, white picket fences and—most importantly—families who live behind them, have become the consummate symbol encapsulating the American Dream.

For Patty Dwyer's mother — Mrs. Johnson — Long Island was the American Dream and she's called the village of Patchogue on the Island's South Shore home for nearly 50 years. In fact, Long Island had always been a refuge for her, after spending summers at her uncle’s house in Farmingville throughout her youth. So when a mysterious figure appeared outside her doorway in Jamaica, Queens in 1958, Mrs. Johnson left the city for the 'burbs.

Suburbia was a Garden of Eden for people like Mrs. Johnson. Apolitical for much of her life, she does not fully recall her voting record but experiences genuine pain towards the racial divisions she sees in America, including the death of Eric Garner. Yet, she also believes that Trump’s projection of strength, and prioritization of American citizens is the best antidote to her view of a faltering nation. 

Plus, WNYC Studios and The Nation speak with University of Boulder’s Kwame Holmes to decipher the so-called “White Flight” movement that brought millions of Americans out of cities and into the suburbs. Following World War II, a massive housing shortage found itself intermingling with growing white anxiety spurred from the 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education; a combination that would initiate one of the most significant alterations to American society and how Americans live. Following World War II, the suburbs offered three key attractions for the residents moving to them in droves.

According to Lawrence Levy of Hofstra University: they were safe; they were secure; and, they were segregated.

Episode Contributor:

Arun Venugopal

Listen to WNYC's call-in show, airing Thursday evenings at 7:30 after each episode of The United States of Anxiety

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Listen to more from The Nation

Episode 1: How Did We Get Here and Where Are We Going?  

For many voters, this election is not simply about deciding the next President of the United States, or even setting the landscape of national politics. Instead, it serves as a referendum on what it means to be innately American.

Join WNYC Studios and The Nation as we travel to East Long Island to embark on a new journey beyond the constant churn of daily headlines. There we will begin the journey documenting not only what Americans are thinking, but what events transpired that brought them to their current state of mind.

First we meet Patty, a one-time Obama supporter who now can be found protesting on highway overpasses, and skeptical of the president for whom she once voted. Patty had high hopes for the Obama Presidency; she thought he could heal a nation still grappling with its racial history. Instead, she says he's only made those divisions worse. Patty's dealt with her own hardships over the past decade as well: She was forced to sell her dream home after a divorce, her son battled addiction to prescription drugs, and she had her hours cut at her job. In short, Patty thinks the country is changing, and not for the better, and she thinks that Donald Trump is uniquely qualified to turn the tide.

In time, we turn our attention to Leni, a woman attempting to keep her family from unraveling, as her fiancé fights deportation.

Episode Contributors:

Arun Venugopal

Julianne Hing

Listen to WNYC's call-in show, airing Thursday evenings at 7:30 after each episode of The United States of Anxiety

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Listen to more from The Nation

Welcome to The United States of Anxiety  

The United States of Anxiety is an in-depth look at the human stories underlying this year's presidential election.

Too often, political reporting tells us how voters feel about the issues, but now why they feel that way. And in this election, just about everybody is feeling anxious about something.

Poll after poll shows the vast majority of Americans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. And for many of them, those frustrations are rooted in economic anxiety. They feel that they're losing their grip on what's left of the American Dream. Donald Trump has emerged as the vessel through which they believe the country can turn back the clock and that they and the country can regain its greatness.

But another group of people are here specifically because they think that America remains the best chance they've got to build better lives for themselves and their families, and they're willing to break the law and risk everything to build new lives here. But immigrants aren't always welcome in their adopted communities, and with immigration front and center during the 2016 campaign, they're feeling anxious about their ability to remain in the country and continue to seize their destiny in a land of opportunity.

This is the story of the people whom the Trump campaign targets: both through outreach and scapegoating. And it just so happens that on Eastern Long Island, they're living side by side.

Beginning September 22nd, join us in The United States of Anxiety. Subscribe today wherever you get your podcasts.

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