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About The Political Scene | The New Yorker
The Washington Roundtable: Henry Kissinger, who died this week, at the age of a hundred, served in the Nixon and Ford Administrations as national-security adviser and Secretary of State; for a period, he was both at the same time. Kissinger fled Nazi Germany as a teen-ager, and went on to advise a dozen U.S. Presidents, from John F. Kennedy to Joe Biden. He opened up relations between the U.S. and China with Richard Nixon, pursued détente with the Soviet Union, and made decisions that led to death and destruction across Southeast Asia and beyond. Earlier this year, he travelled to Beijing to meet President Xi Jinping in an attempt to massage U.S.-China relations. “There are not that many hundred-year-olds who insist upon their own relevance and actually are relevant,” the New Yorker staff writer Susan B. Glasser says. Glasser calls Kissinger “the paradigmatic Washington figure,” and says that despite Kissinger’s history of destructive foreign-policy decisions, the American national-security establishment had a “collective addiction” to his thinking. How did Kissinger shape U.S. foreign policy, and what enabled him to remain a central political player in Washington long after he left office? The New Yorker staff writers Jane Mayer and Evan Osnos join Glasser to weigh in.
The American public’s increasing fascination with artificial intelligence—its rapid advancement and ability to reshape the future—has put the computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton in an awkward position. He is known as the godfather of A.I. because of his groundbreaking work in neural networks, a branch of computer science that most researchers had given up on, while Hinton’s advances eventually led to a revolution. But he is now fearful of what it could unleash. “There’s a whole bunch of risks that concern me and other people. . . . I’m a kind of latecomer to worrying about the risks, ” Hinton tells The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman. “Because very recently I came to the conclusion that these digital intelligences might already be as good as us. They’re able to communicate knowledge between one another much better than we can.” Knowing the technology the way he does, he feels it’s not currently possible to limit the intentions and goals of an A.I. that inevitably becomes smarter than humans. Hinton remains a researcher and no longer has a financial stake in the success of A.I., so he is perhaps franker about the downsides of the A.I. revolution that Sam Altman and other tech moguls. He agrees that it’s “not unreasonable” for a layperson to wish that A.I. would simply go away, “but it’s not going to happen. … It’s just so useful, so much opportunity to do good.” What should we do? Rothman asks him. “I don’t know. Smart young people,” Hinton hopes, “should be thinking about, is it possible to prevent [A.I.] from ever wanting to take over.” Rothman’s Profile of Geoffrey Hinton appears in a special issue of The New Yorker about artificial intelligence.
How is it that Donald Trump, who won the Presidency with racist rhetoric and a promise to build a wall along the southern border, has managed to make gains in the Latino community with each election cycle since 2016? Geraldo Cadava, a historian and New Yorker contributing writer, joins Tyler Foggatt to consider recent polling and the issues that may be driving voting trends. Trump, Cadava explains, appeals to conservative and evangelical Latinos by presenting himself as pro-business and a defender of religious freedom. The community’s burgeoning embrace of Trump comes as a wake-up call to Democrats who assumed that the changing demographics of the United States would guarantee their Party future victories. Cadava argues that, in order to maintain their hold on the Latino vote, Democrats will need to find effective responses to Trump’s promises.
Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt is a noted historian of antisemitism, and serves the State Department as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. Violence and threats against Jews have been surging for years. “We’ve been seeing [antisemitism] coming from all ends of the political spectrum, and in between,” Lipstadt tells David Remnick. “We see it coming from Christians, we see it coming from Muslims, we see it coming from atheists. We see it coming from Jews.” In the aftermath of Israel’s military strikes on Gaza, particularly on college campuses, she is very concerned about widespread sentiments that deny Israel a right to exist. While she doesn’t believe students or faculty should be penalized for expressing solidarity with Palestinians or Israelis, she believes that the language used by some influential people “has served as a green light to the haters,” she says. “It sort of takes the lid off.” And ethnic prejudice, she notes, rarely limits itself. “Once you start dealing in the stereotypes of that one group, you’re going to start dealing with the stereotypes in another group.”
The Washington Roundtable: In recent weeks, Americans have begun to get a clearer picture of what a second Donald Trump Administration could look like. Some clues have come from organizations like the Heritage Foundation, which has laid out policy proposals for the Trump campaign. Others have come from the former President himself. Trump has said he would appoint a prosecutor to “go after” Joe Biden and his family; on Veterans Day, this past weekend, he pledged to root out opponents and critics who he said “live like vermin within the confines of our country.” “Trump wants to get rid of all of these guardrails that protect the government from becoming a spoil system,” the staff writer Jane Mayer says, including by firing members of the federal civil service. Ultimately, how different would a second Presidency be from the last time that Trump was in the White House? “There are two words that I would say really underscore the difference this time, and why Trump in 2024 is arguably a much bigger threat in many ways than he was even eight years ago,” the New Yorker staff writer Susan B. Glasser says. “The two words are ‘retribution’ and ‘termination.’ ” The staff writer Evan Osnos joins Mayer and Glasser to weigh in.
Deepfakes, videos generated or manipulated by artificial intelligence, allow people to create content at a level of sophistication once only available to major Hollywood studios. Since the first deepfakes arrived seven years ago, experts have feared that doctored videos would undermine politics, or, worse, delegitimize all visual evidence. In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, Daniel Immerwahr, a professor of history at Northwestern University, explores why little of this has come to pass. As realistic as deepfakes can be, people seem to have good instincts for when they are being deceived. But Immerwahr makes the case that our collective imperviousness to deepfakes also points to a deeper problem: that our politics rely on emotion rather than evidence, and that we don’t need to be convinced of what we already believe. You can read Daniel Immerwahr’s essay inThe New Yorker’s first ever special issue about artificial intelligence—out now.
In a relatively short period of time, Amazon has exerted an enormous amount of influence over a broad spectrum of American life. From the groceries we buy to the movies and television shows we watch, Amazon has been setting the prices and driving potential competition out of business. Its prices may seem low, but “Amazon has actually quietly been hiking prices for consumers in ways that are not always clearly visible,” the Federal Trade Commission chair, Lina Khan, tells David Remnick, but “can result in consumers paying billions of dollars more than they would if there was actually competition in the market.” Khan, who is thirty-four, published an influential paper about applying antitrust law to Amazon before she was even out of law school; now she is putting those ideas into practice in a suit against the company. “Amazon’s own documents reveal that it recognizes that these merchants live in constant fear of Amazon’s punishments and punitive tactics,” Khan said. “Ultimately, our antitrust laws are about preserving open markets but also making sure people have the economic liberty to not be susceptible to the dictates of a single company.” (The company’s response says that the F.T.C.’s argument is “wrong on the facts and the law.”)
The Washington Roundtable: In this past week’s off-cycle elections, Ohioans voted to enshrine the right to abortion access in their state constitution; Virginia Democrats took full control of their General Assembly blue; and deep-red Kentucky reëlected Democratic Governor Andy Beshear. Abortion is “an incredibly powerful issue that has the possibility to realign the parties,” the New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer says, and could make a big difference in 2024. Democrats who have made reproductive rights a part of their platform have secured victories in local and statewide elections since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. Yet a new poll, out this week, shows President Biden trailing Donald Trump in five of six key battleground states—all of which Biden won in 2020. The New Yorker staff writers Evan Osnos and Susan B. Glasser join Mayer to weigh in on the role that abortion might play in the politics of 2024 as well as the current disconnect between the facts and public mood on the economy, Trump’s civil trial, and the presumed Biden-Trump rematch in 2024.
Andrew Marantz, who has reported extensively on the far right and far left of American politics, recently wrote a piece about how the different wings of the Democratic Party have responded to Hamas’s terror attack and to Israel’s war on Gaza. Whereas the majority of Congress joined on to a resolution to support Israel with no preconditions, members of the left-wing Squad introduced a bill demanding a ceasefire. The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, called its advocates “repugnant” and “disgraceful,” and, after the recording of this podcast, Representative Rashida Tlaib was censured by the House for her rhetoric about Palestine. Still, Marantz argues that it’s a testament to the pressures exerted by progressives—and by groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow—that the Biden Administration has asked for a humanitarian pause in Gaza. He joins Tyler Foggatt to discuss the state of the Democratic coalition, and how political norms change.
Sybrina Fulton was thrust into the national spotlight more than a decade ago for the worst possible reason: her son, Trayvon Martin—an unarmed teen-age boy returning from the store—was shot. Her son’s body was tested for drugs and alcohol, but not the self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, who killed him, claimed self-defense, and was acquitted. “Trayvon Martin could have been anybody’s son at seventeen,” Fulton tells David Remnick. He was an affectionate “mama’s boy” who wound up inspiring a landmark civil-rights movement: Black Lives Matter. B.L.M. became a cultural touchstone and a political lightning rod, but all its efforts can’t make Fulton whole again. “I think I’m going to be recovering from his death the rest of my life,” she says. “It’s so unnatural to bury a child,” she says. Fulton has become an activist and founded Circle of Mothers, which hosts a gathering for mothers who have lost children or other family members to gun violence.
The Washington Roundtable: Justice Clarence Thomas is once again under the spotlight—this time, for a forgiven R.V. loan. In the nineties, a wealthy friend loaned Thomas more than a quarter of a million dollars to purchase a forty-foot motor coach. A Senate inquiry has now found that Thomas’s loan was later forgiven, raising questions about the ethics of the deal. Over the years, the conduct of Justices appointed by both Democratic and Republican Presidents has been in question, the staff writer Jane Mayer explains, “but there is nothing that comes near the magnitude of goodies that have been taken by Clarence Thomas”: if Thomas “were in any other branch of government, he’d never be able to stay in that job.” Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are looking to subpoena three conservative donors and activists tied to gifts and trips involving Supreme Court Justices. Why has the judicial branch been allowed to regulate itself for so long, and who has the responsibility to clean it up? The New Yorker staff writers Susan B. Glasser and Evan Osnos join Mayer to weigh in on how the Supreme Court’s unchecked power has affected American politics.
The South Carolina senator Tim Scott likes to point to himself as an example of racial progress in America. But in a recent story for The New Yorker, Robert Samuels looked into Scott’s personal story—in many ways a messier tale than the one he tells—and into the ways that the “concave mirror shaped by his own experience” distorts Scott’s view of politics. Samuels joins Tyler Foggatt to discuss Scott’s Presidential run, and what he reveals about the Republican Party’s relationship to race and racism.
After returning from a week of reporting in Israel, David Remnick has two important conversations about the conflict between Israelis and Arabs both in and outside of Gaza. First, he speaks with Yonit Levi, a veteran news anchor on Israeli television, about how her country is both reeling from the October 7th terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas, and grappling with how to strike at Hamas as the country prepares for an invasion that would be catastrophic for Palestinians. Meanwhile, the Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh maintains that peace is possible, if the influence of Hamas and the Israeli far right can be curtailed. David Remnick’s Letter from Israel appears in The New Yorker, along with extensive coverage of the conflict.
The Washington Roundtable: It’s been a major week for the unfounded idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. First, House Republicans elevated Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who was formerly almost unknown on the national level, to be Speaker of the House. Johnson is a creationist and a climate-change denier, and he was a key figure in the effort to keep Trump in power—which certainly helped in his bid for leadership this week. On the other hand, as some of the former President’s most loyal associates have faced the threat of jail time in Georgia, they have renounced their false election theories. “You have to lie about the election to rise in power if you’re a Republican in the House,” the staff writer Jane Mayer says, “but when you face potential sentencing in a court yourself, the truth finally comes out.” Mayer joins the New Yorker staff writers Susan B. Glasser and Evan Osnos to look at the current dynamics of election denialism in Republican politics.
Jim Jordan may have failed to become the Republican Speaker of the House, but he still remains the Party’s most influential insurgent. The former wrestling champion and current Ohio congressman first took office in 2007. Since then, he has not sponsored a single bill that has become law. Instead, he has made it his mission to expose what he calls “big-tech censorship” against conservatives, and to undermine the institutions that are investigating Donald Trump. Jonathan Blitzer, who wrote a piece on Jordan’s conspiratorial quest for power for this week’s New Yorker, joins Tyler Foggatt to discuss why this man is still key to understanding the contemporary Republican Party.
The director Spike Lee looked back at the length and breadth of his career so far during a sit-down with David Remnick at the New Yorker Festival. Although Lee’s storied filmography may be familiar to movie buffs, few are likely to know as much about his humble beginnings as the scion of a celebrated, but often unemployed, musician—the late Bill Lee. The young Spike Lee bore some resentment toward his father, an upright-bass player who eschewed countless gigs because he refused to play an electric bass guitar. “[I]t wasn’t until later that I saw that, yo, this is his life. He was not going to play music that he didn’t want to play.” As an artist in his own right, Lee has taken a similar approach to filmmaking. He has tackled a myriad of genres and difficult subject matter, without sacrificing his unique voice and social consciousness to satisfy Hollywood. “Some things you just can’t compromise,” he told Remnick. Now in his fourth decade as a filmmaker, Lee hopes to one day make a long-gestating bio-pic about Joe Louis and have his career last as long as that of one of his idols. “Kurosawa was eighty-six!” the sixty-six-year-old Lee said, of the Japanese filmmaker’s retirement age. “I got to at least get to Kurosawa.” In this interview, Lee mentions the influence of Kurosawa and several other notable filmmakers. For further reading, here is a list of ninety-five films he has deemed essential for any cinephile.
The Washington Roundtable: President Biden embraced the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv this week, reiterating America’s support for Israel amid its war with Hamas. The President brokered a deal to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and warned Israelis not to be “consumed” by rage as they respond to Hamas’s October 7th massacre of civilians in the country. “It’s not clear yet what really has been accomplished by this extraordinary amount of personal diplomacy,” the New Yorker staff writer Susan B. Glasser said. Senior Israeli officials are allegedly predicting several years or even a decade of war. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration is seeking more than a hundred billion dollars in federal funding, including assistance for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. But, because the raucous battle to elect a Speaker of the House is ongoing, the question of when this package might pass remains open. As the staff writer Evan Osnos noted, the events of the past two weeks underscore the challenges that democracy is facing both at home and abroad. The staff writer Jane Mayer joins Glasser and Osnos in conversation about it all.
Earlier this week,The New Yorkerpublished aninterviewwith a senior Hamas political official, Mousa Abu Marzouk, about the group’s rationale behind the October 7th massacre in Israel. How did Hamas militants determine that now was the time for violence? And, given that Netanyahu’s deadly response was a sure thing, how did they weigh the cost of Palestinian lives? (This podcast episode was recorded on Monday afternoon, and since then civilian deaths in Gaza have continued to rise as Israeli airstrikes bombard the strip.) TheNew Yorkerreporters David Kirkpatrick and Adam Rasgon join Tyler Foggatt to discuss what they learned from speaking with Abu Marzouk, and how this conflict differs from what they have each seen in their many years of reporting on the region. Share your thoughts on The Political Scene.
When Rodrigo Duterte ran for the presidency of the Philippines and won, in 2016, the Western press noted the similarities between this unconventional candidate and Donald Trump—who also liked to casually espouse violence on the campaign trail and beyond. Duterte used provocative and obscene language to tap into the country’s fears about a real, albeit overstated, drug problem. “Every drug addict was a schizophrenic, hallucinatory, will rape your mother and butcher your father,” as reporter Patricia Evangelista puts it, “and if he can’t find a child to rape, he’ll rape a goat.” But, unlike Donald Trump, Duterte made good on his promise of death. More than twenty thousand extrajudicial killings took place over the course of his six-year term in office, according to human-rights groups—and Duterte remained quite popular as bodies piled up in the streets. Reporting for the news site Rappler, Evangelista confronted the collateral damage when Durterte started to enact his “kill them all” policies. “I had to take accountability,” she tells David Remnick. Her book, “Some People Need Killing,” is published in the U.S. this week, and Evangelista has left the Philippines because of the danger it puts her in. “I own the guilt,” Evangelista says. “How can I sit in New York, when the people whose stories I told, who took the risk to tell me their stories, are sitting in shanties across the country and might be at risk because of things they told me.”
On Saturday morning, Ruth Margalit, a contributor to The New Yorker who lives in Tel Aviv, awoke to air-raid sirens. It was a familiar sound, but as the day unfolded, it became apparent that Hamas’s latest attack on Israel was more severe than she had realized. “I mean, I’ve certainly never seen anything like this. My entire generation hasn’t,” Margalit says. Since then, she has been reporting on the incursion from Gaza—including a massacre of civilians at a music festival—and on its aftermath. She joins Tyler Foggatt to discuss the political backdrop, both global and regional, to this catastrophe; the history of hostage negotiations in Israel; and the response that the Israeli public expects from Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in the coming days and weeks. Share your thoughts on The Political Scene to be eligible to enter a prize drawing of up to $1,000.