There seems to be a little bit of a trend of somewhat prominent podcasters becoming authors. I know that you guys have shared a producer with The Last Podcast on the Left, and they’re writing a book. I know Karina Longworth of You Must Remember This is also writing a book. Why do you think it is that podcasting lends itself to writing non-fiction so easily in 2018?
I would say that podcasts are attracting publishers because they come with a built-in audience. Podcasts already have a community of people who are engaged with your show and what you’re talking about, and probably overlap with people who buy books, too. I think podcasting has become such a prevalent medium because it’s relatively easy to do, but it also allows for conversations and voices and feeling like you are hanging out with your friends. I would say out of podcasts there are the kinds that are highly produced and very packaged and story-oriented, that have that kind of NPR music and narration. Then there’s the kind we do that is really more like radio, just a conversation among friends that’s aggressive, and irreverent, and doesn’t have a very strict format to it.
I wasn’t aware of your podcast content so much as I was aware, for at least a time, that it was the first podcast on Patreon to get over $100,000 in donations in a month. To what do you attribute your success?
We started doing it right at the time — like at the cusp of when people started realizing that, like, anyone could do a podcast — and to a certain degree I think the success of our show has proved that. But also, we started doing it just as the Democratic Primary in 2016 was heating up between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. We were doing a show that we thought would just be like us talking to our friends that would be enjoyed by, I don’t know, a few dozen of the people that we liked on Twitter. But what we found was the conversation we were having and our point of view and our sense of humor, particularly in regard to how liberalism and the Democratic Party are wholly insufficient to the moment the we live in.
That there were a huge number of people, particularly young people, who were not thrilled about voting for Hillary Clinton. Who realized that, what is being offered to them by what is supposed to the only rational political choice for decent people, the Democratic Party, is inadequate. Not only that, its major figures are every bit as worthy of ridicule and mockery as Donald Trump or the Republican Party. They are the butt of good people’s jokes. We tapped into something that a lot of people were feeling, but they weren’t necessarily seeing reflected back in the liberal media, for lack of a better word.
Early on, you mount a very ardent critique of liberalism, and that’s probably the most contentious part of the book.You write, “The essential problem isn’t that liberals are as bad as conservatives, but that there’s a giant sucking void at the core of their being.” That’s a fun image, but if I were to ask you to word your critique in a way that’s not meant to be entertaining, how would you summarize your critique of liberalism?
It’s speaking from my own experience, from someone who grew up in an upper-middle-class professional family in New York City — so I think you can just say upper-class, basically. Liberal family, liberal neighborhood. There was a history of radicalism in my father’s family that I began to identify with more. Just like for a lot of people, Millennials particularly, who are not conservatives, but who just grew up either apolitical or liberal in their sensibilities, I think the experience of 9/11 and the ensuing War on Terror, the Iraq War, the financial collapse, and also two terms of an Obama administration that was supposed to be the fulfillment of everything we wanted and [were] hoping for after the Bush administration … I think all those factors put together add up to the feeling that liberalism — American liberalism, that has been largely taken for granted — has been a failure.
It’s been a failure in the lie of making life easier or better for the people who need it the most. And, most importantly, it’s been a failure in stopping a horrific and insane right-wing from gaining power. On those terms alone, I would regard it as a failure. Overall, again, to echo what we say in the book, I think the problem with liberalism is that it can only define itself in contrast to some other, or against itself. It’s always negotiating against itself to achieve some sort of consensus with capitalism and the right-wing, to buy us all a little bit more time. It functions sort of as the safety valve for living under an also faltering capitalistic system. It allows for enough reform or a more pleasant face, but it essentially cannot alter the trajectory of this country politically. Rather than having a vision of power and what you want and how to achieve it, I think liberalism has largely become about defining itself in opposition to being right-wing, but then also forswearing any political solution that doesn’t involve compromising with those same interests.
You’re saying if the ideology can only exist in opposition to its counterpart, then anything that would diminish its counterpart would also diminish it.
Yeah, exactly. We’re seeing this now in the so-called resistance to Donald Trump in much of the liberal commentary on it. By that I mean MSNBC, or these responsible voices of opposition to the president, are all very invested in separating Donald Trump from conservatism; [they are saying] that he is such an outlier to American history and government. That it’s him and Putin, the snake in the garden, and all that stuff about Trump and Putin can be true — we can even take that just for granted.
But, Donald Trump, the people who support him and the things that he’s doing, is not apart from American conservatism at all. It is perhaps its purest expression in our times. The problem with liberals is that they don’t seem to get that. They seem to think “if only we could go back to the way things were,” and explicitly part of this project is rehabilitating the careers and reputations of some of the most evil people from the Bush administration. I am speaking specifically about Bill Kristol, David Frum. Basically anyone, no matter how fucking ghoulish they are, how much blood is on their hands, if they are willing to say, “I am a Republican and Donald Trump, sir, you are not what this country stands for,” [they are] immediately given a place of honor and respect among these people, because again, they love to think of themselves as more enlightened or better than the people that they are opposing. They say, “Well, we’re open-minded so that we listen to differing voices, unlike conservatives, blah, blah, blah, who are just close-minded, or bigoted, or whatever.”