Episoder

  • David and Helen are joined by Diane Coyle and Anand Menon to have another go at pinning down the long term consequences of Brexit. Now we have a deal, what are the prospects for rebalancing the UK economy? Do EU politicians want a post-Brexit UK to succeed or to fail? Can Labour really avoid re-opening the Brexit wars for the next four years? Plus, an update on the next series of History of Ideas.

    Talking Points: 

    Because of Brexit there is more friction in trade with the EU. 

    People will feel the friction more and more as we get back to normal volumes of trade.Right now the volume is relatively low both because of Covid and because of seasonal fluctuations (things slow down after the holidays).It will be hard to disentangle Brexit effects from Covid effects. 

    We will be talking about Brexit for a long time.

    Future governments will be able to score easy economic wins by aligning more closely with the EU, although this may involve political trade offs. This may not be true when it comes to financial services. This trade agreement means that choices have to be made over and over again.

    The British economy is taking two shocks: separating from the EU but also separating from what Osborne and Cameron called a golden era of UK-China economic relations.

    EU policy and British policy on China are diverging.The Uk government may focus more on India and other non-Chinese Pacific economies.

    Brexit does create some opportunities.

    The UK is a world leader in AI, and there is a commitment to investing in energy technology, especially green energy.The UK is also a world leader in higher education and the creative sector; the problem is that the government has declared a sort of culture war.

    A German-led EU tends to treat geopolitical questions as primarily economic questions rather than long-term security questions. 

    China is going to put that commitment, formalized in the China Investment pact, to the test.Britain is now the liberal European state when it comes to foreign policy.The institutions that have been so successful at managing intra-European imbalances now prevent the EU from being an effective actor in international relations.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    Johnson’s piece for The Financial Times on green energyAnand on the HuffPo podcast with Rosie DuffieldThe UK in a Changing Europe‘Who Killed Soft Brexit?’ Jill Rutter and Anand for Prospect

    Further Learning: 

    EU and China agree new investment treaty (from the FT)More on Germany and EU politics on China

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • David talks to historian Jill Lepore about what took place at the Capitol on January 6th. What should we call it? What can we compare it to? And what should happen next? Plus we ask how Biden ought to address what happened in his inaugural next week. Are we past the time for talk about reconciliation?

    Talking Points:

    Is there a word for what happened in the US on 6 Jan? 

    Many Republicans are still defending the insurrection. The likes of Limbaugh and Gingrich are calling it a ‘march.’The American Right always wants to resurrect the American Revolution and the Left wants to resurrect the Civil War.To call it an ‘insurrection’ is to evoke the language used to bar former Confederates from holding federal office.

    A problem with Trump’s entire presidency has been that reporters and commentators have sought precedents in American history, but Jill thinks nothing in American history has been like this.

    Should we be looking to other countries, other failed democracies, for lessons? How do we balance the uniqueness of Trumpism with the familiarity of the things it draws upon?

    Unlike right-movements in countries like Hungary and Turkey, the Trump project did not successfully co-opt the institutions of the state.

    American democracy is older than some of these other examples.The Conservative movement over the last few decades has managed to capture many institutions, namely the courts—although this is not necessarily Trumpism.

    When Trump is out of office will it be easier for him to become a ‘martyr?’ 

    Conviction in an impeachment proceeding could be good for mainstream Republicans. It may also make a split in the party more likely.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    Jill in The New Yorker, ‘What Should We Call the Sixth of January’Jill on inaugural addresses for The New YorkerThe Article of Impeachment against TrumpJill in The Washington Post on letting history judge TrumpFrom our archives… Jill on the American Nation

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • David and Helen look at what's changed - and what hasn't - since we last spoke, from Brexit to Biden to Covid. Has the Brexit deal really given the UK a chance to do things differently? Do Democrat wins in the Georgia Senate races open up new possibilities for Biden? What is at stake in the politics of vaccination? Plus, we talk about where things now stand for the future of the Union.

    *Recorded before the events in Washington on Wednesday *

    Talking Points:

    What can the UK do that it couldn’t do before Brexit? 

    From the start, the two biggest issues for Cameron were freedom of movement and financial services regulation.For the City, Brexit is a tradeoff. Although financial services will not be regulated in the EU, the American investment banks in London are unhappy about being shut out of equivalence for trading.Johnson is talking about innovation and dynamism. He doesn’t seem willing to say it’s about migration and the City of London.

    Northern Ireland and Scotland will both be key questions that we will talk about in greater depth this year.

    There will be a growing sense of Northern Ireland’s separateness. The deal creates opportunities and risks for the government in Dublin.A trade deal changes what Scottish independence would mean.

    Meanwhile, in the USA… the Democrats now have control of the Senate.

    This election could indicate the potential of a remarkable new coalition for the Democratic party.Or it could indicate a future where everything is contested.What can Biden get done before the next midterms? During the Obama years, the Republicans were extremely effective at voting as an oppositional bloc. Holding the Democratic senators together won’t be easy and Biden will not be able to blame oppositional Republicans for any failure to get things done.However a key benefit for the Democrats is that they will be able to confirm nominees.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    Matthew Parris in the TimesDavid’s winter talk: Did Covid kill the climate? 

    Further Learning:

    From December… From Brexit to Scottish IndependenceMore on the partition of IrelandMore on the Georgia election resultsMore on the European vaccine rolloutFrom November… Post-Covid Economics with Adam Tooze

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • Another recent talk by David on democracy: does it make sense to talk about fixing British democracy, and if so, how? David discusses electoral reform, institutional change and he returns to the question of votes for children.

     

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  •  A recording of a recent talk by David on what we've learned in 2020 about the resilience of democratic societies in the face of disaster. Has the experience of Covid shown us how we can deal with climate change, or has it shown us what we are missing? An argument about optimism, pessimism and everything in between.

     

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  • This week David, Helen and our producer Catherine Carr look back at five years of podcasting and five years of crazy politics, to pick our favourite moments and to discuss what we've learned. From the 2015 general election to the current crisis, via the Corn Laws and Crashed, the politics of abortion and super forecasting, Corbyn and nuclear weapons. Plus, we'll let you know about some of our plans for 2021.

    Episodes Mentioned in this Episode: 

    Crashed with Adam ToozeAdam Tooze on post-COVID economicsThe Corn Laws with Boyd HiltonAnother Shock! (From 2017) with Finbarr LiveseyThe Talking Politics Guide… to Nuclear Weapons with Aaron RapportSuperforecasting with David SpiegelhalterAmerican Histories: The Great Abortion Switcheroo with Sarah ChurchwellCatherine’s new podcast, Relatively.

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • We look past Covid and Brexit to ask where the long-term opposition to Johnson's government is going to come from. Can Corbynism remain a force in British politics, even without Corbyn? Is there room for a challenge to the Conservatives from the right? Will climate politics drive street protest politics or can it help the Greens? Plus we consider whether Nicola Sturgeon is really the leader of the opposition. With Helen Thompson and Chris Brooke.

    Talking Points:

    Corbynist energy levels are low these days.

    There is a strong Corbynist presence on Twitter and in certain media institutions, but it’s not clear that it extends far beyond those bubbles.Much of the radical left politics in the near future will be defensive.

    When Starmer ran for leader, he essentially offered Corbynism without Corbyn.

    The manifestos of 2017 and 2019 were popular inside the Labour Party and reasonably popular with the public. Corbyn did move the party out of New Labour’s shadow. Starmer has inherited a party that is firmly outside the New Labour mainstream.Although some Corbynists fear a return to New Labour-esque politics, Labour now seems to be a social democratic party in the European mold. 

    Will the Green Party benefit from these developments?

    Helen thinks that we are more likely to see increased green activism than a resurgence in Green Party politics.Many on the left are disenchanted with parliamentary politics.And over the last couple of years, the major parties have shifted on climate. 

    If Johnson is really committed to greener politics, does that open space on the right?

    Farage is positioning himself in this gap.This could intersect with a rebellion against lockdown.

    What should Starmer do about Scotland?

    Could Starmer make a case that the democratic voice of the people of Scotland must be heard, and then make a social democratic case for the Union?A more federal union is going to require stronger institutions in England, which is probably to Labour’s disadvantage. Time for the SNP to weaken is probably the best way forward for both unionist parties.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    This Land by Owen Jones

    Further Learning: 

    James Butler on the Corbyn project for the LRBMore on Macron, the constitution, and climate politicsFrom our archives… Labour’s Fault LinesA profile of Andy Burnham from The Guardian

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • As we wait for a Brexit deal or no deal, we discuss what the next year might hold for French and Italian politics. What are Macron's prospects as he heads towards the next presidential election? Has Giorgia Meloni replaced Matteo Salvini as the leader of the Italian far right? And what chance of a return to political normalcy in either country? With Lucia Rubinelli and Chris Bickerton.

    Talking Points: 

    The Italian public is fed up with Brexit—there isn’t much public debate about it.

    Salvini is still playing with the idea that leaving the EU is a good idea, but not as seriously now. All the signals from the government suggest that Italy is lining up with Macron, but they aren’t trying to play a central role.

    There are particular issues that affect different member states. The broader European unity is now being tested on certain key issues.

    The Irish are particularly affected by no deal.For France, the most important issue is probably the level playing field. Fishing also has a powerful symbolic element to it.It may come down to member states being willing to make compromises with each other, or not. 

    Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the virus and the first to lockdown. The response created a sense of pride.

    During summer, however, life went back to normal. It was basically a free-for-all.When cases began to climb again, the mood turned to frustration: frustration at the relationship between governments and regions, and frustration with certain policies, such as the closure of high schools.There is also the sense that Italy is lagging behind on the vaccine. 

    Macron also went in earlier on lockdown, and came out of lockdown earlier too. 

    The idea that Macron has authoritarian tendencies has become part of the debate over COVID. There has been an almost permanent sense of emergency stretching from the yellow vest period to today.COVID has blurred into a border debate about the balance between security and civil liberties in France.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    Our last episode with Lucia

    Further Learning: 

    More on Johnson’s dinner with von der Leyen Why is fishing important in the Brexit trade talks?More on Article 24 in FranceA profile of Giorgia Meloni from Politico EuropeMore on France’s Green Party

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • We try to join the dots from the final days of the Brexit negotiations to the looming prospect of another referendum on Scottish independence. Can the government really risk a no-deal outcome? Will the SNP still hold a referendum if the courts say no? What will Labour do? Plus we ask how COVID politics intersects with the fate of the Union. With Helen Thompson, Anand Menon and Kenneth Armstrong.

    Talking Points:

    Will there be a Brexit deal?

    We know the concessions both sides would have to make. What we don’t know whether either side is willing to make the concessions.The negotiation that matters is perhaps the one going on in the prime minister’s head.Debates over lockdown have reopened the space to the Conservative Party’s right.The Eurozone faces its own problem: trying to rescue the EU Recovery Fund from the impasse over the rule of law issue in relation to Hungary and Poland. 

    The Union is in a more precarious position than it was before.

    The SNP is doing surprisingly well. That gives Sturgeon some comfort in thinking that she can seek a mandate for another referendum if she wins a majority.How will they go about the referendum? Some people are floating the possibility of the Scottish parliament legislating for another referendum without the Section 30 order that would get consent from the UK.For people like Michael Gove, Scotland is a key reason to get a Brexit deal.

    There is undeniably support for independence in opinion polls, but can the SNP offer a coherent independence project?

    Helen thinks that they still haven’t resolved the currency question. There’s also the border issue.Can the SNP accept an independent Scotland outside of the European Union? Membership has been a key part of the independence offer. Will timing favor the SNP or Westminster? 

    Brexit and Scotland are problems for Keir Starmer too.

    How will Starmer whip his MP’s to vote if a Brexit deal comes back? Labour without seats from Scotland will find it hard to win another election.Ultimately, the major economic event of this parliament is going to be Brexit, not COVID, or at least it will be close, so Labour needs to come up with some kind of narrative.Labour’s strength in Scotland bound the Union together. It hasn’t come back since 2011. This makes it hard for any party other than the Conservatives to be dominant in Westminster, particularly under conditions of asymmetrical devolution.  

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    The UK in a Changing EuropeAlex Massie on the SNP

    Further Learning: 

    From the archives… Can Boris Survive Brexit? More on Starmer and the Brexit deal

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • This week we talk about race and representation with Cathy Cohen of the GenForward Survey project based in Chicago. What do young Americans want from democratic politics? How do their priorities vary according to race and ethnicity? And can a Biden presidency deliver on the desire for real change? Plus we catch up with Jeevun Sandher and Michael Bankole of the Politics Jam podcast to explore a UK perspective on why young and minority voices find it so hard to be heard.

    Talking Points:

    We are seeing more racial and ethnic diversity in generations than ever before.

    Young people break for Biden, but for young white men, it was about 50-50.In 2012, a plurality of young whites voted for Romney. If we look only at generation we miss part of the story.The story about ‘young people’ is being driven by young people of colour.

    Does Biden have a problem with young people?

    Many young people voted against Trump rather than for Biden.They decided to vote against Trump and organize against Biden.What is the best method for achieving racial progress in the US? Young African Americans are pointing to the need for structural change.Young people are rejecting the idea that change comes from national-level voting. They are redefining what democratic practice might be.

    Young people broadly favor a more expansive state.

    The Biden agenda is more about tweaking at the edges.There is going to be a real tension. Will there be the infrastructure to mobilize young people? Can they pressure the administration?This generation is highly educated, but they are also precarious. There is an increasing mismatch between the promise of higher education and what it delivers.The younger generation is highly indebted because of higher education.

    In both the UK and the US, young people haven’t been represented well by the political system.

    There are specific issues that young people want to see addressed, including systemic racism.Ethnic differences among young people need to be taken into account in the UK too.The political class in the House of Commons is unrepresentative in many ways. It skews old and it skews white.Conservatives tend to represent white seats. The First-Past-the-Post system doesn’t incentivize serious engagement with ethnically diverse constituencies.

    Mentioned in this episode:

    The GenForward SurveyThe Black Youth ProjectPolitics JaMJeevun’s academic profileMichael’s academic profileAnne Phillips, The Politics of PresenceThomas Saalfeld on substantive representation

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • David talks to author and radio host James O'Brien about everything from therapy to Brexit and from educational privilege to Keir Starmer's leadership of the Labour Party. Recorded as part of the Cambridge Literary Festival https://cambridgeliteraryfestival.com/. James's new book is How Not to be Wrong: The Art of Changing Your Mind.

     

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  • This week a special edition from the Bristol Festival of Economics with Helen Thompson and Adam Tooze talking about what might follow the pandemic. From vaccines to changing patterns of employment, from action on climate to new tensions with China, we explore what the long-term effects of 2020 might be. Plus we discuss what options are open to a Biden administration: with the Georgia run-offs to come and the disease still spreading, how much wriggle room has he got?

    Talking Points: 

    Headlines about the COVID vaccines focus on effectiveness, but it’s also about supply chains, storage, and scale.

    Things are moving so quickly right now in part because so many people, especially in the US, are getting sick.

    After the initial financial meltdown in March, in aggregate terms there was a share market recovery—one which was at odds with what was going on with people’s lives.

    Surging American unemployment numbers went alongside the S&P 500’s continued rise.The biggest beneficiaries initially were big tech. Now big pharma seems to be gaining. Is there a structural conflict in the allocation of capital between big tech and big pharma? Big tech probably won’t be facing much of a challenge from the White House.

    The Biden administration will be embroiled in crisis politics from Day 1.

    The epidemic in the US right now looks terrifying, and Thanksgiving is on the horizon.The logic of economic crisis management is about time. The Democrats are going to have a hard time getting things through Congress, and the fact that things are so hard will divide them further. 

    The Biden Administration will make early moves on climate.

    It will be hard for Biden to take climate seriously without some kind of detente with China, but getting there is hard to imagine. 

    After the health crisis ends, some jobs might not come back.

    The effectiveness of short-term working means that the unemployment crisis has not yet hit in Europe.The US unemployment crisis is in full swing. So far, the bounce back has been relatively quick. But there will be a manifest social crisis. 

    There are imaginably worse pandemics than this one, and yet we have responded in an almost unimaginable way.

    This is a highly mediatized, diffuse threat that has acquired huge salience. This is the most extraordinary thing that has happened in modern economic history. A lot of this unprecedented response was voluntary.

    Mentioned in this Episode: 

    Biden’s piece in Foreign AffairsPaul Krugman’s latest piece for the NYTimesOur last episode with Adam

    Further Learning:

    The NYTimes’ COVID vaccine trackerMore on China’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2060https://www.ideasfestival.co.uk/themes/festival-economics

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:

  • We talk to the historian Margaret MacMillan about the changing character of war, from the ancient world to the twenty-first century. Do we still understand the risks? Where are the conflicts of the future likely to break out? And how can we reconcile the terrible destructiveness of war with its capacity to bring about positive change? Plus we talk about why war produces so much great art.

    Talking Points:

    Is the way we commemorate war distancing us from the reality of it? 

    Those who have seen war tend to be wary of it.There is complacency in a number of countries that war is something that ‘we’ don’t do anymore.

    War is terrible, yet so much of the innovation that we value seems intertwined with it.

    For many people WWI exemplifies the futility of war, yet many of the things we value came out of that war, particularly political and institutional change. WWI essentially gave Europe modern welfare states and universal suffrage.The two world wars also led to much greater social equality.There seems to be a deep connection between peace and inequality, and violence and equality. But it might depend on what countries and what wars you look at.

    If war is connected to innovation because it is so wasteful you cannot recreate those conditions.

    Perhaps we are doing something similar with COVID, but climate change is the true existential crisis.Climate change does not seem to be a unifying crisis.Declaring ‘war’ on an abstraction is dangerous. How do you know when it’s over? Wars on abstractions are wars without limits.

    Templates from the past don’t fully apply to the US-China relationship.

    There is the nuclear element, which should hypothetically rule out war.There’s also the energy resource conflict question: China has been able to take responsibility for its own energy security.In the long run, it is in the interests of both the US and China to cooperate with each other. The problem is the political factor.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    Margaret MacMillan, War: How Conflict Shaped UsGeneral Nick Carter’s interview with Sky NewsWalter Scheidel, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First CenturyRana Mitter, China’s Good War‘La Grande Illusion’Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried‘Apocalypse Now’

    Further Learning: 

    Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919Talking Politics History of Ideas: Max Weber on...  

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  • Now that we have a result, David and Helen reflect on what the next four years might hold. What issues could define a Biden presidency? Has this election indicated a possible realignment of American politics? And is it enough to restore faith in democratic politics? If Trump is not how democracy ends, where does the real danger lie?

    Talking Points:

    Biden faces three big issues: China, climate, and COVID.

    It’s probably not possible to go back to US-China relations pre-Trump. However, China does perceive this election as significant.Making climate a priority has implications for the China relationship.

    This was too close to be a realignment election. Both parties turned out their vote because they had oppositional energy.

    But there are shifts within. Florida went red, but people voted to increase the minimum wage. California went blue, but people voted to resist the unionization of essentially Lyft and Uber workers.Trump has opened up the possibility for a more cross-racial, working class Republican Party. These shifts are still small, but it will be hard for them to go back to being a party of tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and cultural conservatism.It’s more complicated for the Democrats. There has been a shift to the left, but there are also deep divisions in the party.

    A lot of the ‘Trump is how democracy ends story’ didn’t add up. How can American democracy have been so vulnerable, and yet so easily restored?   

    The threats to democracy: COVID, climate, and China, don’t fit electoral cycles.American democracy faces huge medium to long term challenges; too much energy has gone into short term risks.Trump has allowed people to close their eyes to deeper structural problems.

    Trump’s presidency did have serious geopolitical implications.

    He changed American policy on China; most of the political class now regards China as a serious strategic rival.He changed relations with Iran, and, in doing so, relations with Europe.He pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    China, climate, COVID: the new energy mapDavid’s book, How Democracy EndsDavid on TP: How Democracy EndsJoe Biden’s victory speech

    Further Learning:

    Biden’s endorsement interview with the NYTimes (on big tech and other things)Talking Politics American Histories: Monopoly and MuckrakingStacey Abrams’ fight for a fair vote, from The New Yorker

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking

     

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  • David, Helen and Gary convene on very little sleep to try to make sense of another extraordinary election. Though we still don't know who won, we do know that some things are going to get even harder for American democracy. What's the nightmare scenario: the loser refusing to lose, or the winner being unable to govern? Why did the pollsters get it wrong again? And what's likely to happen when the contest reaches the courts? Plus we ask if the American Constitution can cope with close elections any more.

    Relevant Episodes:

    From our Mini-Series:

    History of Ideas on Tocqueville and American democracyAmerican Histories: The 15th and the 19th American Histories: Deporting Mexicans American Histories: The Great Abortion Switcheroo 

    Old Episodes on Trump:

    What Trump Means to UsOne-term presidents Can America CopeAmerican Fascism: Then and Now America First? Michael Lewis on Donald Trump (And Michael Lewis Updated)Trump and History 

    A Broader Perspective on US Politics:

    The Talking Politics Guide to … the US Constitution Police State USAAdam Tooze on US vs. China Judith Butler: Then and Now Where Power StopsThe Talking Politics Guide to… the Gilded AgeInaugurals 

    From the LRB

  • David talks to Roberto Foa about his recent report into young people's attitude to democracy around the world. Why are millennials so much less satisfied with democratic politics than older generations? Can populist politics do anything to alter that? And what does the generation divide tell us about changing attitudes to Trump? Plus we discuss the generational politics of climate change, education and wealth inequality. 

    The report in full: https://www.cam.ac.uk/system/files/youth_and_satisfaction_with_democracy.pdf

     

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  • A conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin about the new energy map of the world. What impact has the shale revolution had on global politics? Is China winning or losing the energy wars? And will the energy transition happen fast enough for climate change?

    Daniel's book: www.waterstones.com/book/the-new-map/daniel-yergin/9780241472347

    Helen on oil: play.acast.com/s/talkingpolitics/oil-

     

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  • Helen and David talk about what four years of Trump - and of talking (and talking) about Trump - have meant for their thinking about America and about democratic politics. Is it possible to give a balanced picture of Trump's presidency? Have the last four years followed a pattern or has it just been chaos? What is the likely legacy of Trump's extraordinary level of global fame? Plus we discuss whether 2020 marks the beginning of the 'short' twenty-first century and what that means for Trump's place in it.

    Talking Points:

    Will historians see 2020 as the start of the ‘short’ 21st century?

    If so, Trump belongs to the interregnum. He’s not a dramatic break. Certainly there are continuities, for example, in the Middle East. But there are also discontinuities with China and Iran.Is the pandemic a fundamental watershed?  

    Is American power in decline? 

    In some ways, the US is more powerful this decade than it was the decade before.The US has a strong domestic energy supply again.The Fed is still an international lender of last resort.One of the consequences of the pandemic was that in March the Fed effectively extended an indirect dollar credit line in principle to China. The story about rising Chinese power is not straightforwardly at American expense. The domestic political turmoil in the US is going to be consequential to the American-Chinese strategic competition.

    The Republican party got what they wanted out of a Trump presidency, the courts.

    In that sense, 2020 could be another watershed year: pre-Barrett and post-Barrett.Although history of the court suggests that partisan affiliations don’t always predict outcomes.Since the late 1960s/early 1970s, American politics has become judicialized. The crucial point is the intense politicization of these decisions.

    Trump invokes huge depths of revulsion in many Americans. Trying to stand back and look at his presidency historically can seem like moral indifference.

    The narrative about Trump as a singular evil is the lens through which many people have lived their lives in the past four years.This narrative takes a pretty distorted view of the American past as well as the state of the republic before Trump.Trump seems incapable of understanding the distinction between the president as head of state and the president as head of government.Geopolitically, the Trump presidency has made a difference, especially in relation to China.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    Our post-election episode from 2016Our last episode with Gary GerstleOur last episode with Sarah ChurchwellOur most recent crossover with 538David’s review of David Cameron’s memoirs

    Further Learning:

    Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes: The Short 20th Century
  • We talk to Peter Geoghegan of openDemocracy and Jennifer Cobbe of the Trust and Technology Initiative about Cambridge Analytica, money, power and what is and isn't corrupting our democracy. How easy is it to buy influence in British politics? Did Cambridge Analytica break the rules or show just how little difference the rules make anyway? Who has the power to take on Facebook? Plus we discuss why the British government's failure to handle the pandemic tells us a lot about the corrosive effects of cronyism.  https://www.petergeoghegan.com/books/

    Talking Points:

    The ICO report on Cambridge Analytica largely concluded that their tactics were not unusual.

    Of course, we can take issue with the fact these practices are so widespread. One of the reasons Cambridge Analytica was such a scandal was that people didn’t realise they could be targeted in this way.Cambridge Analytica and organizations like it can do is seed misinformation into a wider ecosystem. They take advantage of the lack of regulation.Sowing misinformation doesn’t require sophisticated skills; it’s easy.

    The conversation about micro-targeting often centers on Cambridge Analytica, but we need to look at the structures that make these practices so easy and so potent.

    Facebook makes all of this really easy to do. Why were we so complacent? When we think about the influence of money in politics, it’s easy to imagine nefarious people throwing around big sums, but at least in the UK a small amount can go a long way when people have the right connections. This is cronyism.

    The pandemic has made the tech giants unthinkably wealthy.

    At the same time, they’ve changed the way that money affects politics.Could Trump have won without Facebook and Twitter?The tech companies do not need to lobby politicians in the traditional sense because they are simply that powerful.

    Governments are dependent on these technologies, as we all are.

    Can we think about the tech companies as the technical infrastructure of society?Right now, these companies have a huge amount of discretion. 

    Cronyism has been a prominent feature of the UK Government’s COVID response.

    There is a strain in a certain school of political thought that the state isn’t good for much. When politicians who believe that are in charge, it can be self-fulfilling.A hollowed out state creates space for more cronyism.The civil service has become a punching bag. This could have a long tail. 

    Does the system that needs reform have the capacity to generate the necessary reforms?

    When it comes to tech, the biggest problem is ideological.It’s hard to get politicians to agree that changing micro-targeting is necessary because they all use it.Politicians do not want to change a system that has benefitted them even if they can recognize its flaws. Can you build a coalition that would force them to do so? 

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    The UK Information Commissioner's Office report on Cambridge AnalyticaPeter’s book, Democracy for SaleJennifer’s recent piece in the Guardian
  • David talks to the historian Sarah Churchwell about how well America's political institutions have withstood the stress of the last four years. Have we seen the limits of presidential power or have we discovered how easy it is to trash those limits? Are constitutional checks and balances still intact? Is it really Mitch McConnell who is putting American democracy under stress? Plus we talk about what will be needed to restore the social contract and the perils of political humility.

    Talking Points:

    Many of the founding institutions in political life have been put under stress during the Trump administration. 

    Trump has said a lot, but he hasn’t done much. We’ll have a better sense of the extent of the damage after the election.Trump’s behaviour often gets more outlandish as the constraints on his power become more visible.

    The power of the U.S. executive has been growing, certainly since 9/11.

    Both Bush and Obama strengthened the executive presidency. Some have argued that Trump’s incompetence precludes authoritarianism. Strong men have to be strong.But from an institutional standpoint, the Trump presidency has revealed that the American system is vulnerable to strongmen leaders.

    Because congressional Republicans have sanctioned his behaviour, Trump has not been as constrained as he might have been.

    The other institutional check that often flies under the radar is states rights.The electoral system is bound up in local state power. Every state has a series of strong, legally required actions that go into certifying vote counts.So far, states rights has been the most effective check on Trump’s power.

    We focus on Trump, but the lasting legacy of the Trump presidency may be elsewhere.

    If the lasting legacy of Trump is in the judiciary branch, it won’t be because he created a Trumpian judiciary. In this sense, Trump is the enabler of Mitch McConnell rather than the other way around.McConnell’s agenda is about obstructing the Democrats and consolidating Republican power. 

    Trump has not been able to totalize authoritarian control. 

    Certain aspects of liberalism have gotten stronger during the Trump administration.There can be an authoritarian regime without an authoritarian state.

    Mentioned in this Episode:

    Sarah on impeachment for Talking Politics American HistoriesSarah on TP on American fascismKimberly Jones, ‘How Can We Win’ Ross Douthat, ‘There Will Be No Trump Coup’ 

    Further Learning:

    The 538 U.S. presidential election forecast Sarah on American Fascism for NYBooksWhat is originalism?The precedent, and perils of court packing in the...  

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