George Saunders on the ‘Braindead Megaphone’ That Makes Our Politics So Awful
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George Saunders is regarded as one of our greatest living fiction writers. He won the Booker Prize in 2017 for his novel “Lincoln in the Bardo” and has published numerous short-story collections to wide acclaim, including his most recent book, “Liberation Day.” He also happens to be one of my favorite people to read and to talk to.
Saunders is an incredibly prescient and sharp observer of American political culture. Way back in 2007, he argued that our media environment was transforming politics into a competition within which the loudest voices would command the most attention and set the agenda for everyone else. With the rise of social media — and the advent of the Trump era — that observation has been more than vindicated. So as we approach the midterm elections, I wanted to have Saunders back on the show to talk about how politics and media have changed, and how those changes are shaping the way we interact, communicate and even think.
We discuss how Twitter takes advantage of — even warps — our “malleable” selves, how politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene strategically manipulate our attentional environments, how Barack Obama leveraged our human desire to be seen as our best selves, whether discipline or gentleness is more effective in helping others grow, what options we have to resist anti-democratic tendencies in our politics, whether a post-scarcity future — with jobs for everyone — would leave us more or less satisfied, how the greatest evils can be committed by those trying to care for their loved ones, what attending Trump rallies taught Saunders about political violence and more.
The Braindead Megaphone by George Saunders
“Host” by David Foster Wallace
“The Semplica-Girl Diaries” by George Saunders
Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber
“What It Means to Be Kind in a Cruel World” by The Ezra Klein Show
“I Didn’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message” by Ezra Klein
The Storm Is Here by Luke Mogelson
Sugar Street by Jonathan Dee
Marlena by Julie Buntin
Thoughts? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reaching out to recommend a guest, please write “Guest Suggestion” in the subject line.)
You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at https://www.nytimes.com/article/ezra-klein-show-book-recs.
“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Emefa Agawu, Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris and Mary Marge Locker. Original music by Isaac Jones. Mixing by Jeff Geld. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.