Category Archives: audio and video

a conversation with Farah Stockman about American Made: What Happens to People When Work Disappears

I really enjoyed my conversation yesterday with Farah Stockman, whose new book is moving, insightful, and even suspenseful. She tells the life stories of three workers who were laid off when the Rexnord factory in Indianapolis was shut down, just as Donald Trump was winning the 2016 election.

I asked her versions of these questions:

You recall that your parents used to argue about race. When a waitress was rude, your Black mother would suspect she was being racist; your white father “thought she must be cranky after a long day on her feet.” You say, “I always wondered which one was right. That is why I became a journalist, to talk to the waitress.” I read that sentence as a metaphor for the whole book, and especially for sections like the one where you have a four-hour conversation about race with John—the Trump-voting union guy–after you learn that he displays a Confederate flag in his garage. Can you say more about your impulse to talk to people like the waitress and John? What are you trying to accomplish?

John sees the world in terms of workers vs capitalists. He hates talk of white privilege because he feels oppressed as a worker. He works to make the union fight the company, and he votes for Trump. His wife is more favorable to management. On that basis, he describes her as a “liberal.” He is also surprised when a Republican politician doesn’t seem to favor US workers. Does he see today’s capitalists as the liberals? What is making him feel that way?

Wally is a black man. You say that the first time he gave a “structural” explanation for injustice was when he criticized how the city condemned houses owned by Black people and sold them to white developers. Otherwise, instead of giving structural explanations, he talks about his own responsibility and how he’ll benefit from a positive personality and hard work. I believe in structural explanations, but I can see how they don’t offer much to Wally. He doesn’t have many ways to address structural problems in the society, but he sometimes benefits–precariously — from his own hard work and niceness. Am I understanding him right? And do you think he would have been better off if he had thought more politically and structurally?

College really doesn’t seem to benefit anyone in the book. Several people enroll and rack up debt without getting degrees, or earn degrees that don’t lead to good jobs. They resent college-educated people who are set over them. Shannon says, “I am not a Democrat or a Republican. I’m for the one who will keep good-paying jobs here for us un-educated people that build the parts that make them rich.” Is college good? How could it work better for all?

The book is full of moving moments of solidarity, like when a Mexican worker who will take Shannon’s job pulls her aside and apologizes (233), or when John worries that he might be taking a position away from a Black co-worker, Marlon (289), or when Wally physically embraces a man he has caught sabotaging equipment (214), or—most moving to me—when Wally and his new girlfriend Stacie pray and weep together over his challenges. Factory work can offer solidarity. Unemployment destroys it. Do you see ways to build solidarity, especially across race?

You explore the differences among Shannon, John, and Wally, but also their shared circumstances and culture. And you depict how different their culture is from that of a Harvard-grad reporter who lives in Cambridge, Mass. You are critical of your group (which is also mine) for being out of touch, pretentious, and soft. What should highly educated elites learn from working class Americans?

Peter Beinart interview on anti-Semitism and Middle East politics

This is the video of yesterday’s conversation with Peter Beinart at Tufts:

I asked him:

  • What do you think is the relationship (if any) between rising anti-Semitism and rising criticism of Israel?
  • When is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic, and when isn’t it?
  • Is it important that we have dialogue about Israel/Palestine in places like Tufts? Why? What would be trying to accomplish?
  • In Jewish Currents in July, you wrote, “In mainstream American discourse, the word ‘anti-Palestinian’ barely exists. It is absent not because anti-Palestinian bigotry is rare but because it is ubiquitous. It is absent precisely because, if the concept existed, almost everyone in Congress would be guilty of it, except for a tiny minority of renegade progressives who are regularly denounced as antisemites.” Can you expand on that statement and talk a little more about why you focus on anti-Palestinian prejudice here, apart from Islamophobia or anti-Arab prejudice?
  • What should non-Jews know about Judaism to engage appropriately in civic life?
  • What is your own position on Israel/Palestine now, and how did you get there?
  • What would a one state solution look like? How would the state be organized?

an overview of civic education in the USA and Germany

In this video, I offer a very broad introduction to civic education in the USA–framing my remarks historically. Essentially, I trace a tradition of experiential, community-based civic learning that runs from de Tocqueville through Jane Addams to Dorothy Cotton and onward; and a tradition of studying civics in school that really takes off with Horace Mann. These two traditions intertwine, and John Dewey is an important bridge between them. I argue that neither is in very good condition today.

Then Bettina Heinrich, from the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Ludwigsburg, gives an overview of “politische Bildung” (political education or development) in the Federal Republic of Germany, focusing on the post-War period. We both note significant mutual influence between these two countries.

Another event will follow this one:

“Growing Up Across the Pond” (May 3, noon US Eastern Time) will be more about the general context for youth in Germany and the USA today. (You can register here.)

These are both open events, meant for anyone who is interested. They are also introductory events for people who might want to join The Transatlantic Exchange of Civic Educators (TECE), which “will bring together German and U.S.-American extracurricular civic learning professionals to unlock opportunities for mutual learning and reintroduce a transatlantic dimension to the field.”

The COVID 19 Vaccine in the Global North & Global South: Ethics, Access & Resistance

This is the video from a recent event sponsored by Tufts Global Education and the Fletcher Global One Health Diplomacy Initiative. Susan Sánchez-Casal organized and introduced the event. I moderated and posed the questions. The experts were Karsten Noko, a lawyer & humanitarian aid practitioner originally from Zimbabwe, and Josep Lobera, a sociology professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid & Tufts in Madrid.

In the Global South, billions of people are not going to be vaccinated any time soon because of a shortage of vaccines in their countries. A realistic timetable is 2024. Meanwhile, millions of people in the Global North are going to refuse to be vaccinated because of skepticism and distrust, which is partly caused by elites’ use of weaponized misinformation.

The speakers also explored nuances–including vaccine shortages in the North and hesitancy and misinformation in the South.

on civic renewal on the threshold of 2021

Here is a recording of “The Promise of Civic Renewal to Revive our Democracy” on Dec. 10, 2020. It was the final event in the “Let’s Talk about Our Democracy” series, hosted by Mass Humanities. I talked with Program Officer Jennifer Hall-Witt about reviving our democracy, focusing on the role that ordinary citizens can play in fostering more deliberative, collaborative, and engaged communities. This conversation was based on We Are the Ones We have been Waiting For: The Promise of Civic Renewal in America, but we discussed ways in which the situation and my views have changed since that 2013 book.

(Incidentally, I will deliver the final manuscript of my next book, What Should We Do? at the end of this month. It is meant to complement, not replace, We Are the Ones–adopting a more theoretical and global perspective, whereas We Are the One applies the framework specifically to the USA in our time. But that means that the specific strategies of We Are the Ones need to evolve.)