Jeremi and Zachary sit down and reflect what they learned from this year, from the January 6th insurrection to the new Omicron Variant, and how we can move forward as a country.
Zachary caps the year off with a new poem, “This year I’d like to love my country”
This is Democracy,
a podcast about the people of the United States, a podcast about citizenship, about engaging with politics and the world around
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Welcome to our new and final episode of this is democracy for 2021. Uh, it’s late December of 2021. We’re getting ready for the holidays and we’re getting ready for a new year. If this is democracy starting in January, but this is an appropriate moment at the end of a very long challenging year to reflect.
Reflect on what we’ve learned on the podcast, reflect on what we’ve heard and reflect on what we hope to see, especially for the story of American democracy going forward. So today instead of our normal routine with a guest or two, it is just Zachary and me. Yes. We have the chance to think about all the different episodes of this year and what we’ve learned.
Zachary, are you excited? Yes, I am. We covered quite a lot. Didn’t we? We did. We did. And of course, uh, even when we’re doing a review episode, we have a startling, insightful, exciting poem for Mr. Zachary Siri, Zachary, I’m going to let you go ahead and read your poem.
This year, I would like to learn to love my country this year.
I would like to learn to love my country. Maybe it is too much to ask of my distinctly not divine inspiration to be lovable endearing. I will not say her name. I have too often been forced to stare at it or put my hand to my heart when she is present a crude sort of intimacy in which I’d rather not participate.
Yes. I have known her Chicago’s for Santa Fe’s. Her Oregon’s yes. I have known something of her place and certainly she knows what absurdities she has whispered to me. She knows what epics have been birthed from her bowels only to find themselves ridiculously reincarnated in my heart as her own Elegy.
But have I known her? This year, I would like to learn to love my country and all of its absurdities, her church-going non-believers her prayers posted in post-mortem portmanteaus on the side of the road. I am religious also in the sense that I have seen God wheat, they call it rain, I think. And he has certainly given me something, the feeling of rolling the windows down around dusk and driving slowly around the store-bought neighborhoods with music playing off the radio, out into the crisp conformance.
This year, I would like to learn to love my country and all of its violence. And truthfully told terribleness, I would like to meet a president or a racist or an ignorant. I am political also in the sense that I would like you to remember the show. I am political also in the sense that I would like the lakes between which I was born to still exist pristine sideways and across to the country club.
When I am father to a child or more likely a Tabby cat named Delmore Schwartz, I am political also in the sense that I would like you to remember the Shoah this year, I would like to meet my country to shake her hand and look into her eyes without flinching. This year, I would like to meet you to shake your hand and look into your eyes without flinching.
Perhaps I love my country best when I am flying across state lines, like an angel who chooses Southwest Dallas, love to midway over demand transmogrification, just because it is dirtier and harder to explain.
I love your phrase, meet my country. What do you mean by that sector?
I mean, that, I think this year has really been a moment of chaos for many Americans that we’ve, we haven’t really had a chance to come to.
Uh, with what our country is with the many contradictions that have been, uh, brought to the fore this year. And I think part of my goal, and I think part of the goal of this podcast for the next year is to really come to terms with that, not just to move forward, but to try and understand what just happened in our democracy and in our society.
To understand the contradictions and the. Difficulties. And in some ways the, the scattering nature of all the different orientation. Yeah. Yeah. We, we started of course the year with the, uh, insurrection and attack upon our democracy by citizens of our own society, trying to stop. Uh, the certification of duly elected votes and duly cast votes, uh, and trying to stop, uh, the rightfully elected president from becoming president, uh, the violence on January 6th, I think started all of us.
How do you think about that today, Zachary?
Well, I think it’s really difficult issue because on the one hand, so many of us. Cool, essentially an unfold life. And I, I think that, uh, it only, the more information that we get on January 6th is even more like equally taught looks. Um, so I think it’s really difficult.
We have to come to terms with. That it isn’t a given in our society anymore, that that people are willing to, to, to lay down their, um, their political weapons at the end of the day and their literal weapons, uh, when the election is over. And I think that means we have to be more vigilant in protecting our democracy, but also we have to be aware that our system is fragile and that our system isn’t perfect.
And it’s not just individual actors who caused the. Fatal flaws in the system. Absolutely.
Absolutely. And it’s, uh, it’s striking because democracy is built around and this is a theme we’ve talked about time and again, on the list, it’s built upon a willingness to follow rules and a willingness to lose and try again in a democracy.
The losers have to admit they’ve lost and it’s a democracy because the losers don’t go to jail. They get a chance to actually. Try again, but they have to step aside. Uh, you don’t get to hold power forever. This is a point that George Washington illustrated at the very beginning of our Republic at the same time that we’ve seen this, um, horrifying, uh, unmasking.
I don’t even know if it’s new. I think it’s just unmasked for us. It’s been there for a long time. This unmasking of extremism of authoritarian. Of racism and anti-Semitism among a part, a small part, but a significant part of our, part of our popular. We’ve also seen and talked about this on our podcast, amazing courage activism, a Renaissance of, uh, progressive activities, uh, more young people voting and becoming politically engaged than ever before.
Um, more evidence of concern and activism around climate. The rise of a new political movements within our own society and countries like Germany and elsewhere. Germany, as we discussed in a recent podcast episode has a government. Now that includes the green party, as well as the FTP, as well as the SPD.
So you have the social democratic party, the green party and the free Democrats all in one government after 16 years of conservative rule. Um, how do you think Zachary about the other side of this story, that progressive center, left activism. I
think on the one hand, it shows that, um, there really is a, a large portion of the population who, who, who does embrace competence and understanding, and, and to some degree compassion.
Uh, and I think also as, as an American, it teaches us that we need to look abroad for inspiration, not just at home and that many of the, many of the biggest innovations. Uh, and, and, and important ideas that we need to incorporate into our society. Aren’t just going to come from at home. And I think in particular, the German elections have taught me, uh, that we need to, we need to look to other societies systems in the case of Germany, one that we really set up after world war II.
Uh, and we need to think about how we can incorporate some of those elements into our society. And we need to, particularly in the light of January, I think about how we can conduct our elections better and how we can, we can run our, our politics better. Right,
right. And create a system that’s actually more adaptable to the challenges we face today.
One of the things that’s become evident throughout our podcast discussions all a year, uh, is how the parts of the American system that worked well. Or at least we think worked well in prior generations. Don’t work as well. Our voting system, which has always had problems, of course, uh, the way we apportioned representatives, uh, the relationship between different levels of government, uh, but even more specifically, uh, the ways in which we handle healthcare as a society, the ways in which we handle housing, all topics we’ve talked about, uh, in great depth, none of our podcast episodes really advocated for revolutionary overthrow and the restart.
But, but for major reforms. Um, and, and COVID, I think brought that really directly to us. And we’re, we’re, we’re recording this episode at a moment when COVID is resurgent again with a new strain. Um, COVID I think has made it clear to us at all. Um, that our system has to be better about getting information, good information, factual information for people and getting them the kinds of care they need.
Uh, it’s extraordinary. And to me, one of the great accomplishments of the last two weeks. How we have developed these vaccines that provide extraordinary protection, not 100% protection, but, uh, radically reduce death rates and hospitalization rates produced by our innovative system produced by the wealth that our system allocates to pharmaceutical companies, which is often a problem.
But in this case, a source of innovation. Uh, I think we’ve learned a lot from this, but it’s, it’s a story of accomplishment, but it’s also a story of deep frustration because although about 70% of Americans have taken these vaccines 30% have not. Yeah.
People who have died since, since the vaccine has been widely available than before.
And that’s a really hard thing to grapple with. Uh, and we as a democracy have to do a better job of not just distribute. The product. In fact, we’ve done a pretty good job of distributing the vaccine, at least within, but, uh, uh, educating people and making sure they understand this. And then of course at the international dimensions, right, uh, the United States has benefited from far more access to vaccines.
Many many, uh, other other societies. Um, I think this brings us to another topic that I think we should spend a few minutes reflecting on, which is why our society today is so obsessed and having so many arguments about his history as a historian. Of course, I think it’s important and great that people care about history, but our discussions about history have been often, um, Quite belligerent the last year, uh, debates over critical race theory, which almost no one can define calls even for banning books in our own state, in Texas and elsewhere as someone Zachary who’s in high school history course, uh, this kind of ground zero for these debates.
How do you see. The last year around this issue.
I think it’s really difficult. I think part of the problem and I’ll go back to, in to an episode, I think we did last year, uh, with Susan Nyman on, uh, on lessons from German history after world war II for the American side. Uh, I think part of the problem is that we never really had a reckoning with our own history, uh, that, and I think to some extent, George Floyd represented that sort of collective collective recognition of, of the, the trauma, uh, the violence that still exists at the core of our society.
But I also think in another way, we haven’t, we still haven’t fully come to terms with that. And we haven’t embraced the same. So Gungan Heights alpha by tone or working off the past, uh, that Germany did, uh, after world war II, many decades after world war two. And I, I think, I think we haven’t reached that point where we can finally have an on this conversation yet.
And it’s, it’s made every aspect of our schools and our, um, our politics about.
And how should we move forward then? Um, some people want to silence certain topics. They don’t want to talk about slavery. They don’t want to talk about racism. Um, the real criticism of critical race theory is the criticism of the argument that United States is a racist and has been a racist society.
That’s what people are angry about. They don’t want their kids exposed to that argument. How do we convince people that that’s a necessary argument to here and that it’s. An argument that just says the United States is bad. One could say the United States has done extraordinary things. Our podcast has highlighted some of those, but it also has these deep sense, these deep scars, um, that Susan Neimann and others talk about.
Well I think if anything. Has sort of have kicked the entire concept of American exceptionalism in the, but if, if only temporarily, I think that we’ve, we have this, we have this under this idea that, that, that we are, that I think the majority of Americans recognize at least to some extent the flaws in our history and in our country.
But we have this, we have this very endearing, but also dangerous optimum. That we can always work through them and that we’re always improving, but it takes so much work and it’s not always the case. And so I think part of the problem is that people aren’t people aren’t willing to acknowledge that. And it does take, it is very.
Hard to recognize. And, uh, I just hope that the COVID this moment of extreme leveling in many ways, uh, but also exacerbated inequality, uh, can, can help us to see those flaws that still exist within our society, but also in the way that we interact with.
Right, right. I think one of the lessons we’ve learned, um, this year is that we have to work harder to talk about the flaws in our society, but to make people recognize the value of talking about those flaws.
Right. Um, we’re not just talking about the flaws in our society to flog ourselves. A democracy is not. Self-flagellation uh, but we are talking about these issues because of democracy must be committed to its continual self-improvement and to highlight the continuing legacies of slavery in the criminal justice system, a topic that came up multiple times this year to highlight the legacies of Jim Crow.
Yeah. Voting system, uh, to highlight the legacies of lynching in the violence of our society today, and to highlight the legacies of white supremacy in the ways in which power and inequality play out in our society. All of those were themes throughout the year. And there are themes that require meditation and discussion.
It seems to me, not simply because we want to score points, uh, but because we want to recognize that there’s much to the American promise that remains to be fulfilled and that there are possibilities. Maybe I’m sounding too optimistic again, Zachary, but that there are possibilities there. Uh, and to me, our podcasts brought that out because almost everyone we had on.
Believed we could do better. Not that we were done that the story of our democracy had in Franklin Roosevelt’s terms, more chapters to be written.
Yeah. I mean, I think as always that you may be a little too optimistic, but, um, I I’ll go back to the example of Germany again, uh, for the last time I promise.
Uh, but I remember reading about, um, in this, in the late sixties and early seventies, there were these conversations that were going on in. In universities in, in schools where you would have young people who would, who would question their, their parents, who would, who would scream at them, who would ask them, how could you have done this?
And, and I think part of the point is we’ve never really had that moment. We need to, we need to be able to say, look at these horrible things we’ve done so that we can go back and, and an hour later have a serious discussion about how we’re all responsible for this, but also how we can. Create something new and create something better.
And I think part of the problem is that it’s very difficult. I’m not saying it’s easy. Part of the problem is that we have not had that moment when we’re all at, at each other’s throats and maybe that’s what we’re experiencing right now.
We certainly like we’re at each other’s throats. I guess what it is is that we’re set on two sides of a fence, right?
Not really at each other’s throats. How does one, um, Continue the kinds of conversations we’ve had on the podcast, which we hope to continue in the next year, where we’re talking productively about how to learn from the past to improve the present and future without falling into identity politics, where you’ve experienced this yourself.
I know, uh, in some contexts where people don’t want to listen to you because you’re associated with something that they. You know, represents a horror from the past. So why should we listen to this group when this group did this to us in the past? Or are there other elements of identity politics where one trumpets the misdeeds of the past to justify.
Not accountability today. How do we avoid falling into that?
I think it’s, it’s really difficult. I think part of it is we have to be willing to have conversations about these issues like we have on this podcast and we have to be willing to acknowledge other people’s humanity while having those conversations.
Um, I think it’s important to recognize the personal experience, the personal responsibility we all have in these conversations, but we also have to be to some extent, capable of separating that from the person we have to be able to separate our political discussions. From the people. And I think COVID, and the sort of separation, uh, of, of people literally physically has made that even harder.
And I think as we, hopefully in the next year, begin to move away from isolation, from lockdown, we’re able to, to have more of those conversations. Um, I think it’s very hard to deny someone’s humanity. The truth of someone’s experience. If you’re actually looking at them,
Yeah. I used to believe that, uh, I’ve seen too many examples of that though.
I think, I think what works on our podcast is we have rules of the game that say you can’t do that. But in too many settings school board meetings, political meetings, people do seem to want to deny the people yelling at journalists at rallies, as enemies of the people, when these. My former students just trying to do their job of covering the news as they see it on the other side, people, uh, yelling at those who look a certain way and not wanting to understand that their neighborhood, that, that, that they have to have neighborhoods to live in as well.
And that they’re just helping one group in one neighborhood. We mean, you can deny the existence of another group in that neighborhood. Right. So how do we move forward? I
think it’s really hard. Um, honestly, I think, I think part of it is that, um, I think that part of it is there’s this sort of lack of a willingness to.
Confront, but also accept some of the complexities in our society. Um, how, how is it possible that our society can be both, uh, very racist and violent, but also welcoming to thousands of refugees throughout our history and, and the Haven, uh, for people, a land of opportunity. And I think those can co-exist and we have to be willing to accept those as coexistence.
It doesn’t mean we, we. It’s acceptable to be racist or ignorant, but it does mean that we have to be willing to, to fight for the hopeful aspects of our history, the hopeful, um, the hopeful future that we can build from that, um, and, and reject, uh, those racist elements while still acknowledging that they’re there.
And I think it’s possible to do both and we have to, we have to be willing to know that we’re not going to be perfect and that. There are things that come before political victory or winning the, at the
end of the day, I think you’ve hit on something that’s so important that, that isn’t talked about enough that we have fallen into in our podcast.
I don’t think we intended this when we started a few years ago. Uh, I think what you’re describing is grace. It’s the willingness to accept. That all people are flawed, including ourselves. Um, and the willingness to try to work with people, to understand where they’re coming from and work through their flaws.
And, and it is sort of what our podcast does. We bring people on and we never try to embarrass anyone. We never try to have gotcha. Moments. We’re not bringing people on to have debates. Gosh, you know, even though I’m a former debate or myself, there are plenty of debates in our world. We don’t need more debates.
We don’t need more people yelling at each other. We actually try to hear people out. We try to elucidate their point of view, uh, and share it in a way that is accessible and useful and historically relevant to the past, the present and the future. And, um, I think there is a kind of grace in that that we’ve aimed for and something we need more of in our society.
Uh, last, um, Zachary, uh, our, our podcast is aimed at everyone and we hope everyone listens, but particularly it’s aimed at. Bringing forth, a younger generation of people who care about democracy. Have we done that? Well this year? I don’t
know. Um, I think as a podcast, we’ve done a pretty good job at the very least of addressing the topics that better geo people, uh, and that hopefully, uh, learning, uh, as, uh, Zachary and Jeremy, but also as, as a community of listeners, um, about many of these topics.
Uh, but I think as a society, we’re not reaching out to young people enough. Um, I think. The fact that many young people are participating in the civil discourse, the political discourse of our society, and yet unable to run for office, unable to vote. I think that at this moment, it’s such a travesty because when we have things like, like dramatic, uh, natural disasters as a result of climate change, when we have a huge public health threats in our society, what we need most is a new perspective.
And yet, so many of our institutions are, are, are, are, are shutting that down.
Yeah, we do seem stuck sometimes. And, uh, one of the ways to get unstuck is to get new voices in, right. And you showcase this Zachary and I appreciate it so much. And so many of the other people we’ve had on the podcast, so many who are people who have written to us about the podcast who have listened to it, uh, showcase a young, eager, energetic.
Less ideological, more pragmatic generation. And we’ve talked about this a bit on the podcast, but we can do better to bring those voices out, to connect better with those voices to empower those voices. Democracy is always made by the next generation. Uh, change comes through generation. It’s very hard to.
Convince someone to change their behavior or their ideas. It’s a new generation that views things differently. Think of any issue we’ve talked about on the podcast that change has come with generations. So we closed 2021 meeting our country again, is that GRI put it in his poem and we close 20, 21, uh, after a challenging year, having learned a lot.
We’re blessed in our challenges because they force us to think and reflect, uh, blessed to be able to listen to, uh, more than 45 different guests this year, who brought so many different perspectives. We thank you all. And we thank our listeners for, for being a part of this, uh, Zachary. I usually sign out.
I’m going to let you sign out now. So I’m going to give you the last word and you can sign out and say something. What we’re going to do in 2022? Well, I
think 20, 22 is anybody’s gave at this moment, uh, and you know, it could be a great year for it. It’ll definitely be a great year for our podcast. Uh, we’ll certainly have 50 more guests.
Uh, we will, uh, be coming to you, uh, every week as usual. Um, and I think that we all need to, uh, go into 2022. And understanding of all the horrible and frankly, deeply concerning things that happened this year. But also we need to take a moment to reflect on the many wonderful things that happened this year.
And speaking of acknowledging that sort of complexity, the fact that both can exist at the same time. I think we need to go into 20, 22 hopeful, uh, but also vigilant. Uh, so thank you for listening to this episode of this is democracy and go out there and make some change.
Thank you. See you and hear you and talk to you soon.
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