Michael (@hirschorn) is the Emmy-winning CEO of Ish Entertainment, which makes political documentaries, and the founder of The People PAC, which promotes democratic values. He’s also an old friend from Harvard, former house-mate, and one of the smartest people I know. We talk about race, class, the resistance, the Democrats, “deep canvassing,” the woke and the promise of the unwoke left. It gets pretty real at times.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. To listen to two excerpts from my conversation with Michael — on whether invoking race undermines liberal economic policy; and on whether Trump is actually “openly” racist or not — head over to our YouTube page.
Meanwhile, a reader responds to the latest episode with Shadi Hamid, on the Capitol assault:
You’ve put into words everything that I’m feeling. This monster’s misinformation campaign was so successful that even after the assault we witnessed on January 6, I have family members who are still justifying these events, because they remain utterly convinced the election was stolen from them. I am heartbroken for my country, and I’m having a hard time seeing the path forward just now. But please take care of yourself as best you can.
Another reader also tries to cheer me up:
I just listened to the Dishcast, which I enjoyed as I always do. At the end it was clear how hurt you were by the Ben Smith piece in the NYTimes. Just wanted to say — though I’m not sure it will help — that it was this piece that encouraged me to subscribe to the Weekly Dish. I thought you sounded fascinating, and thoughtful, and Smith wrote you off in a way that was more revealing about him and the new rules at the NYTimes than about you. If you’ve read the most-liked comments on that piece you’ll see this sentiment is widely shared. I say this as a long-time lefty who now feels alienated by the direction this movement has taken, and its puritanism on issues like identity politics. Thanks for all that you do to keep debate alive.
Thank you. I’m used to this kind of thing, but obviously when directed by the New York Times, it stings. The solace is that the Times still publishes someone its chief media writer cannot defend, and that this newsletter has been such a huge success — speedily heading toward 100,000 paid and unpaid subscribers.
This next reader sees eerie similarities between Trump and another strongman:
If you look at Venezuela, the U.S. fits the pattern. First you have a rich, powerful country that for some reason goes in decline. Typically it is financial, like in Venezuela, and in our case, it was 9/11 combined with the 2008 Financial Crisis. This decline gives rise to a populist nationalist demagogue. In Venezuela’s case it was Hugo Chavez, in our case Donald Trump.
This demagogue will rise through democratic means but then govern and cling to power through undemocratic means. This is received enthusiastically by the masses, so initially the autocrat’s popularity rises … until the decline is so severe that everybody will rebel. Except by then, it’s too late, and the regime degenerates into a dictatorship. I believe the U.S. is in the beginning stages of this, where Venezuela was with Chavez in 2001/02.
Luckily Trump will be out, but we may be here again in four years when the aging Biden has to run for reelection against some Trump wannabe. Speaking of which, one last similarity: Venezuela’s last president elected before Chavez, under the so-called Fourth Republic, was also a past leader — in this case a former president, Rafael Caldera — who was way past his prime at *78 years old* — the same age as Biden. Caldera is still the oldest man Venezuela has ever elected. The similarities are CHILLING!
Another reader is grimly hopeful:
January 6, 2021 is a date that belongs next to only one other in American history: April 12, 1861, the firing on Ft. Sumter. Astonishingly — and I do mean astonishingly — I cannot think of a second comparable moment to set alongside what can only be described as the first salvos of actual civil war (9/11 and 12/7/41 and the British burning DC in 1814 were all foreign attacks).
But as embarrassing as it was as a country on the global stage; as chilling as it was to watch the possible complicity of uniformed officers; as tragic as it was to know that people — possibly elected officials — were about to die; and as heartbreaking as it as to watch the world’s greatest temple to liberal democracy fall, I cannot help but hope against hope that this may break the fever in a way that, quite simply, nothing else could.
Americans needed to SEE the inevitable result of all the lies and grievance and fascist cosplaying. It’s possible this country required not only the images of Charlottesville, or recorded phone calls extorting foreigners, or refusals to concede an election, but actual video of our radical tribalism swarming the Capitol.
This is my hope too. But we’re not there yet. This last reader responds to my appearance on UnHerd’s Lockdown TV:
I was very pleased to hear you refer to the woke ideas about global white supremacy as a “conspiracy”. I have been thinking for some months that while people on the right have their millenarian conspiracy theory in QAnon, people on the left have their talk of a cabal of white supremacists. But I haven’t yet heard anyone refer to the “white supremacist” narrative as a conspiracy.
I recently delivered a lecture at the University of Cambridge that’s related to this, and wrote about it on Substack. My argument was that, just as the invention of the printing press brought on Reformations, so the invention of the internet is bringing on “Deformations”. Both marked “liminal stages” in society, during which all the norms of the culture are inverted, allowing millenarian cults to fill the vacuum as people tried to cope with the sense of disorientation.