A senior fellow at Brookings and a contributing writer at The Atlantic, Shadi runs a podcast and pens articles with Damir Marusic at the Wisdom of Crowds. He’s been a strong advocate of the argument that American democracy is resilient, and that Trump never represented an existential threat to American democracy. We debated this before, so I asked him to come back and defend his case in the wake of the insurrection in Washington this week.
I also began the podcast with an extemporaneous rant about Wednesday. I needed to get it off my chest.
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 Shadi — on the silver linings of the Capitol crisis, and on the hypocrisy of much of the left right now — head over to our YouTube page.
Meanwhile, several readers respond to my Black Christmas conversation with Caitlin Flanagan:
I hope your Christmas wasn’t too miserable. I thoroughly enjoyed your conversation with Caitlin. You did an excellent job of articulating the underlying philosophical truths and half-truths pervading the far left and Trumpian right. However, I have some criticisms.
I agree with you, Douglas Murray and others who have pointed out that Wokeness is filling the Christianity-shaped hole in our society. A decrease in traditional faith has given rise to a new religion led by modern saints. I also agree that it is a faith devoid of the “good” parts of Christianity like forgiveness and individualism.
However, this does not mean a return to classical religious thinking is the solution to the deficiencies of intersectionality. By asserting the credibility of the evidence-free foundation of Christian faith, you are providing cover for the equally unfalsifiable dogma of the Woke. By claiming that a belief in God watching over us is justified because it brings meaning, you excuse the belief that the ethereal patriarchy is what keeps women down.
We must reject all irrational belief systems if we are to criticize any one of them, even if some are worse than others. Islam is worse than Christianity, but they are both unreasonable. Wokeness is worse than Catholicism, but they are both built on wishful, anti-scientific thinking.
Another reader dissents from the other direction:
Your articulation of the gift of your Catholic faith and upbringing, your gratitude for the Church’s ancient traditions and ritual, and the powerful paradoxes of the Christian story — these things I embrace, and I share in the wonder. But I confess to wincing when you (not infrequently) make a snide or dismissive remark about the Church of England or the Episcopal Church. As a gay man and “cradle” Episcopalian, who grew up in the American South with nothing but support and acceptance from his parish clergy, I find this brand of Roman Catholic snobbery a bit unattractive.
Yes, I know, that the Anglican Church came into being for “political” reasons in Tudor times and that the Episcopal Church was born in Revolutionary America because the Scottish bishops would recognize its episcopacy and the Anglican bishops (for obvious reasons) would not. But the Roman Catholic Church — from the Spanish Inquisition to the brutal colonization of the Americas — has hardly been an apolitical and pure institution.
My Anglo-Catholic (Episcopal) parish in Hollywood is ritually more rigorous with the liturgy than any Roman church in the diocese (we even have a Latin Mass on Saturdays, for God’s Sake!) In the Plague years here in LA, it was a singular haven for gay men seeking solace in a traditional church when the local Roman Catholic bishops were disciplining their priests for trying to embrace and minister to suffering and dying gay members.
And, in the podcast, when you extolled your wonderfully diverse parish in DC and the Roman Catholic Church in general as being uniquely “inclusive” ... well, I beg to differ, at least a little. Not too many years ago, a Jewish friend of mine returned from a trip back East to visit his ailing father, only to find his 31-year-old Latin-American partner dead in their home from alcohol poisoning. (He had struggled with his addiction for years, sabotaging a promising legal career.) I was among their friends who attended the funeral mass at a huge and packed Roman Catholic parish church where the family had worshiped. The celebrant and members of the family in their homilies praised the many virtues of the deceased young man ... without mention of the partner or their relationship. And the priest extended a welcome to guests — but reminded us that, if we were not baptized Roman Catholics, we were not to come to the altar for communion.
It was a strange sensation, being at the mass of a friend in that church — every word, each prayer and movement of the liturgy intimately familiar to me — and yet being uninvited to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I’ve rarely felt so “excluded,” in a way. I believe to be truly catholic is to be truly welcoming to all, respectful of all faith traditions, trying not to get caught up in a hubristic regard for the theological or aesthetic superiority of our branch of Christian worship.
Another reader recommends an alluring book:
During your recent podcast with Caitlin Flanagan you mentioned that — forgive me I don’t have verbatim — you have embraced “the new” (e.g. jumping in new forms of journalism) but you also really appreciate “the old” (e.g. traditions). This brought to mind the book, Why Old Places Matter, by Thomas Mayes, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Tom beautifully articulates that old places give us, among other elements for social wellbeing, Continuity, Memory, Beauty, History, Sense of Sacred, Community, Ancestors ...
Another reader zooms out with a much needed dissent:
After falling a few episodes behind, I caught up on the Dishcast this weekend, which, in general, I rather enjoy. But I’m noticing a theme: most of your guests share with you the general premise that wokeness is bad and illiberal, the effect of which is sort of an ironic one: many of your conversations become an echo chamber of criticism of wokeness.
Now, yes, some of your episodes haven’t even touched upon the theme, such as your conversation Olivia Nuzzi, which, incidentally, was wonderful. But the dichotomy is that you toggle between focusing on a guest’s expertise and expressing mutual exasperation with wokeness. I too love exploring every nuance of the rising illiberal tide, and I think we, your audience, get some sort of catharsis from you discussing it. But you may make more headway on the subject engaging with folks who are influenced by or sympathetic to critical theory. The podcast presents an opportunity for that in a way your column does not.
Perhaps your answer is that you can’t engage with someone who is fundamentally illiberal. Unfortunately, that would suppose a binary between wokeness and anti-wokeness that doesn’t always play out at the level of the individual (though it usually does at the level of a Twitter mob). The best evidence of this is your two podcast episodes on The Ezra Klein Show. In practice, Ezra Klein is about as liberal as they come, hosting people of all sorts of ideology and background. But he is often sympathetic to critical theory-inspired viewpoints. And that’s what makes those conversations with you so fascinating — that he has to concede some points to you on the subject and you to him, painting a more nuanced picture of the situation. The true liberal must believe that their opponent argues from a place of earnestness, believing that the small concessions which debate forces reveal the kernel of truth hidden in each side. Therefore, in the case of Woke v. liberals, it is the liberal’s obligation to engage because only the liberal has the faith that free dialogue will lead to progress.
I don’t think the illiberalism involved in being a card carrying member of the social justice left comes from a bad place. The justice part is in there for a reason. Every time I get frustrated by the orthodoxy of my woke friends — I’m 24, live in cities and went to a private university — I try to remember that. I would love to hear you explore the common aspirations between yourself and the proponents of wokeness as fiercely as you investigate the wrongheadedness and unintended consequences of their methods.
Yes, as the reader anticipates, it’s been difficult to find good-faith adherents to critical theory who are willing to come on the podcast, but we’re committed to doing so, and it’s a big shortcoming of the Dishcast so far. If you’d like to suggest a woke guest prepared to debate the issues in good faith, we’re open to any suggestions. I want to do this. Stay tuned.