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Life, liberty and the pursuit of grievances

This country was founded on a grievance, but 250 years later, we may be taking those sentiments too far. Frank Bruni, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, joins host Krys Boyd to discuss why Americans are finding identities in grievances, why hardships have become so performative, and how we are missing out on what’s working for the country, collectively. His book is “The Age of Grievance.”

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    Transcript

    Krys Boyd:

    Americans have this reputation for being remarkably upbeat and enthusiastically competitive. But while the focus of our international competition is often on trade and technological innovation the way we compete with each other at home on an individual, to individual or group, to group basis. It seems to have shifted. We are increasingly eager to define ourselves according to our grievances and to demonstrate that the hardships society has dealt us are worse than anything anybody else might complain about an oppression Olympics, if you will. From KERA in Dallas, this is Think, I’m Krys Boyd.

     

    Our particular resentments tend to vary depending on where we are situated within society and along the political spectrum. And to be clear, there are plenty of people among us whose lives are much harder than they ought to be in a country as well developed. As ours, but if. We’re honest with ourselves. You might also realize that nurturing our sense of grievance can make it nearly impossible to notice or care about things that aren’t working for the country. Collectively, Frank Bruni is a journalist and contributing opinion writer at the New York Times. His newest book is called the Age of Grievance. Frank, welcome back to Think.

    Frank Bruni:

    Oh, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

    Krys Boyd:

    You begin with this story about the shortage of baby formula in the US a couple of years ago, which seemed like a problem that would engender universal concern and empathy. How did Sean Hannity, over on Fox News, use this as a way not just to position his viewers as victims, but victims of the Biden administration’s plot to coddle undocumented immigrants?

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, exactly. He turned it in a manner that is so familiar today in a partisan manner that’s so familiar. He turned it into a narrative that was about one group of people being oppressed and victimized by another. So, he ran this segment and he showed a picture of what he said were pallets and pallets of baby formula. Being delivered to migrant detention centers on the border for the children, for the babies of of migrants who’d come into the country illegally and were thus not available to, and these were his words, more or less, you know, hardworking everyday Americans who were here. Legally, the problem with that was the picture he showed. If you if you zoomed in and looked more carefully and it was somebody at CNN who picked up on this, not me. And I credit that person in the book. If you looked carefully, this was powdered milk for older children. I mean, older than babies, something that was not in short supply. So wasn’t going to migrant detention centers at the expense of, say, supermarkets along main? Street and this became a whole narrative. It was picked up on right wing, Twitter, etc. About how the Biden administration was favoring a group of people at the expense of other Americans because they’ve chosen sides and because they didn’t care about you. And so this was the stocking of a grievance that in fact wasn’t real. That this was so emblematic of so much of our cultural discourse these days, discourse. Even seems too kind to word for it, and it was so emblematic of so of our partisan divides and the way those wars get waged, we make complaints that are legitimate, but we mingle them with made-up stuff with overwrought stuff and with these narratives and this sort of scheme that we apply to everything. Even when the fact pattern doesn’t justify it.

    Krys Boyd:

    There are versions of this coming from the left as well, right? You call the Academy Awards ceremony in 2022 the same year as that baby formula shortage, a grievance palooza.

    Frank Bruni:

    Yes, and the Academy Award ceremony to be the to be totally accurate often is that’s sort of in the nature of the beast. But I focused toward the beginning of the book, shortly after I tell the Sean Hannity story, I focus on Will Smith’s acceptance speech when he won the Oscar for King Richard for Best Actor and quite deservedly so. It’s a brilliant performance. What was fascinating and unique about that victory in that speech is 1015 minutes earlier, he had physically assaulted Krys Rock on national television. And in giving that victory speech, Will Smith did not apologize. The apology came a lot later. What he basically said is you should feel sorry for me, he said. People like me were supposed to. I can’t remember his exact words. They’re in the. We’re supposed to suck it up and take it when people say about us, whatever we want. And he was asking you to pity him and all he’d been through. And what’s fascinating and very illuminating about that is this is just one a best actor Oscar, the ultimate honor in this field. He’s one of the richest. Actors and producers, one of the most successful in Hollywood. And at a moment of distress, you know, when his reputation is perhaps meeting some management. What does he say? He says you should feel sorry for me. He says I’m not the aggressor. I’m the victim again. A really illuminating cultural moment. He understood that for complicated reasons and in a very corrosive way. There’s currency these days. To being able to style yourself as a victim and people want to do that whether they have legitimate claim to it or whether they don’t.

    Krys Boyd:

    Then there is once, and possibly future President Trump. What would you say is noteworthy about his response to his felony convictions in New York State?

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, what’s noteworthy about his response to those convictions is also what was predictable. He has basically said, again, I am the victim here, I think he said he and witnesses were literally crucified. Somebody needs to give him a dictionary so we can look up what literally means. Means cause. Thankfully, he wasn’t literally crucified, nor was it. Everyone else, but in a very, very era, emblematic era indicative way. He basically says in any set of circumstances where he is accused of wrongdoing or where he’s being penalized, he says everyone has it backwards. I am oppressed. I am the victim. He, he, he. Articulates the grievance, that there is a rigged system that is persecuting. Him and he’s been what’s interesting is not just that he does that. People have done that in the past. I don’t think any of them have done it at his stature to his extent, but it’s successful. It resonates with many Americans and that tells us something about the psychology of the country right now.

    Krys Boyd:

    So a couple of years ago, you and I talked about this memoir you had written, you had a stroke in 2017 that left you blind in. I think it’s your right eye and at risk for the same thing happening to your left.

    How?

    Krys Boyd:

    Did that experience make you sensitive to the dangers of dwelling on your own misfortune?

    Frank Bruni:

    It so you have that exactly right. You’re you’re you’re recounting of that is right. And I still live with a 20% chance of going blind when I got all of that news in short order that my right eye was gone that I might go blind etcetera. When I began medical NIH approved medical clinical trials where I was getting shots in my. My ball, I realized relatively quickly that I could Stew in my misfortune and Stew about my misfortune. I could I could take inventory, and there were moments when I started to do this and had to stop myself. I could take inventory inventory of all the ways in which this made me unlucky. Of all the ways in which this was undeserved. And all of that would have been warranted and would have been logical. But none of it got me anywhere, right. And I think as I went through that personal journey and as I continued, as I have professionally for many years, man. Decades, you know, to watch and analyze and reflect on the state of the country. I realized in a political sense, many, maybe even most Americans were doing precisely that. They were looking for the ways in which they’ve been wronged. They were tallying those slights. They wanted to figure out just how much. Worse, they’ve been wronged than the people around them, just who had done that. Just what? Just how they should get their revenge. And they took this to a degree and to an extent. That blotted out a sense of the collective good that often had them departing from reality and reason. And I saw in it a kind of parallel to one of the dangers I saw in my own personal response to my medical misfortune. And I want to hasten to say, and I think you articulated this beautifully in. Introduction. There are many people who are hideously wronged in our country. There are many people whose situations are profoundly unjust ones, and they should absolutely shout about that, and they should demand attention to that, and they should advocate for and figure out ways to change that. But I think all too often we have lost. The line. The distinction between what is an urgent injustice that requires immediate attention and redress, and what is the kind of slight that just represents an unlucky break and what is actually imagined like that baby formula to migrant centers, things we talked about a while ago.

    Krys Boyd:

    So we now live in this age where many people draw this bright line between those who are oppressors and those who are oppressed. And I think you know when you call someone an oppressor, the implication is that that’s all been done quite deliberately. I think it’s often more. Complicated than that, but are there problems with sort of bifurcating the world into these two categories, given that most of us? Us are going to find a way not to consider ourselves the oppressor.

    Frank Bruni:

    Right. Yeah. So one of the problems is exactly what you were hinting at right there. You are pushing away and vilifying the people whom you’re asking to change. And if you want them, if they need to change for the betterment of society and for a more just society, and you are telling them that they are conscious oppressors. You’ve done this evil thing. And and and should be atoning for it. You’re asking of them and from them something they may not be instantly capable of, and you may just simply be driving them further into their corner or summoning them more toward their battlements. Or or what have you choose. Your kind of metaphor. You’re also engaging in a really reductive. Black and white view of the world that I think is not true. I think situations are usually somewhat complicated. People are a complex of motives and intentions and accidental behaviors, along with intentional ones. And when you make it as simple and reduced as the schematic of the empowered and the powerless, the oppressors and the oppressed, you’re removing any sense of individual agency. You’re basically telling everyone that that they can’t really kind of change this, that they don’t have a role in this because there are just these huge systems that are putting people. In different positions and that’s the end of the story. Again, I don’t think it’s a kind of thinking or a kind of talking that gets us where we need to go in terms of making progress on things that need our attention and and that need to be made. Better.

    Krys Boyd:

    You mentioned black and white thinking. I don’t think you were using that phrase in the racial sense, but we should acknowledge here. I’m a white lady. You’re a white guy. We are both by virtue of our careers, sort of well positioned in society. There are folks who feel like we shouldn’t even be having this conversation and. And you know, You, Frank Bruni, have no right to tell anybody else what to be agreed about.

    Frank Bruni:

    And and there’s some. There’s some truth to that. There’s much truth to that, but, well, not that I don’t have any right to do it. I I need to do it with awareness of my vantage point, with some humility and and some. And some I need to be realistic and humble about the limitations of my vantage point and my perspective. By dint of the life I lead and some of the privileges in it, and the narrowness of perspective that often comes with inhabiting, you know certain places in society, certain groups. But again, I think it’s more complicated than that. So you know, I grew up and I talked about this in the book. I mean, I grew up gay knowing I was gay from a very young age, in an era. I mean, I was a teenager in the in the 70s and 80s when that was a much more terrifying thing in terms of what your life might hold. Than it is today and it’s still terrifying for many people today. I very much sense that I would be marginalized, feared that I feared that I would be margin. I lived with an enormous amount of of fear and and various things that actually can sensitize me to situations in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily assume just to look at me and say, OK, male, white, upper, upper, middle class. What the hell does he know about bigotry, about marginalization? That injustice? Well, I would submit, I know a little bit not, not a lot maybe, but I know a little bit from the from the life circumstances I just described. And everyone around us is complicated in ways that are not necessarily visible to the naked eye, and everybody has a right to weigh in on what they think is going wrong or right in society. That is the nature of a democracy that’s necessary if we’re all going to feel invested, and because we all do have a vote. We just need if we are reasonable moral people, to acknowledge the limits of our perspectives, and that means everybody, not just you and me, and we need, as I said before, to be to be, to be intelligent and humble.

    Krys Boyd:

    About it, Frank, have you noticed that the sort of business of nurturing grievance plays out? Differently on the right versus the left, is it just the particular issues that differ or do the tactics for raising grievance have their own flavor depending on where we are situated politically?

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, I’m really glad you asked that because this is a difficult subject to talk about honestly because and and and to get it right, because if we’re being honest, this quickness to grievance, this, this obsession with grievance, this constant desire to flex grievances, that is something that has become more pronounced across the breadth of the political spectrum. You see it on the right. Left both. And wherever you fall on the political spectrum, I think acknowledging that it is important is important if we’re going to have the right kind of discussion about this and look at it in a way that enables us to change it and pivot to a better place, which is my real desire and agenda here and with writing this book, I want us to see how we got here. I want us to take stock of the cost of it and I want us to figure out how to pivot to a better. In place, but it also must be said less one be accused of a false equivalence or or of really lazy both sides ISM that this does play out somewhat differently on the right and the left in terms of the degree. So we see what we have seen and we’re seeing more organized political violence on the right. It’s important to say that and to call that. January 6th a violent, violent day, an attempt to overturn a legitimate election, an incredible insult to an attack on democracy that happened on the right. Not on the left. It is important to note that on the right we are seeing a much more pervasive. And profound election denialism. And we need to we need to note that. So I do think right now there are manifestations of grievance on the right. And there are some threats from the right that outweigh what you see on the left. But again, I think we see this quickness to grievance, this obsessions for grievance. Across the political spectrum, because some of what’s causing this, this obsession with grievance, some of what’s causing it is felt regardless of political disposition, regardless of demographic group, etcetera, etc. Sure.

    Krys Boyd:

    How does the hierarchy of grievance work? Like what is the prize for being able to see oneself as the most victimized in the society?

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, the prize is a prize is of. Course we’re using that in a cheeky sense.

    Krys Boyd:

    -Air quotes, yeah.

    Frank Bruni:

    We’re using that word in sort of your air quotes or scare quotes or whatever you call them, right? The prize is you no longer have responsibility for whatever is wrong in your life. You no longer have accountability if things didn’t turn out the way you wanted them to. Well, it’s not. It’s no failure of initial. It’s no shortcoming of character. It’s about how oppressed and rigged you are. And when I say that, by the way, because the word oppressed, different people hear different things. I’m not. I’m not looking in that. Right. Right. When I say that word at any particular at any kind of point on the political spectrum, for example, Maga Republicans. They consider themselves oppressed and one of the very interesting things that has happened over the last couple of decades is if you go back to the late 80s and the and the early 90s, you saw people on the right, people who are who were right of center, you saw Republicans. Mocking Democrats and mocking people on the left for for their attention to, or fixation on, depending on who was judging it. You know, with the ways in which different racial groups were oppressed with the ways with all these various isms. And they said, well, that is just such an evasion of any accountability for character. That is a desire to play the victim and to blame other people for anything that’s wrong in your life. What happened? What happened after 2008? With the rise of the Tea Party, which was a precursor to the MAGA movement, is what we now see what people right of center mocked about the left being the language, the tactics, the psychology of the right. They’re now every bit as, if not more, fixated on the notion of victimhood. And on being victims. And so, we now have this, we now have this happening with such a broader and more diverse population than in the past.

    Krys Boyd:

    How does our sense of grievance feed not just our desire to correct whatever wrongs may have been done to us or people we care about, but to seek revenge on those we think are responsible?

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, if you feel aggrieved enough if all of your political and emotional energy is going into figuring out just how long you’ve been and just who’s done it, it is the logical next step that you then want to make sure to get even with those people to put them in in there. Days and so we have things being said and done in politics that go beyond what we what we saw being said or done before at the beginning of his current election or reelection campaign, depending on how you want to see it. And speaking of Donald Trump, he came out at CPAC and gave a speech. And said to the people who support he was seeking again. And to people who support, he wanted to really cement and strengthen, he said. I am your retribution. What he meant by that is you are feeling wronged by, condescended, to, oppressed by all of these people in the establishment, the liberal elite, whatever nomenclature you want to hang on it. You can get back at them by voting for me, I am your retribution. You have politicians like Ron DeSantis just to choose another Republican who his entire political identity is built around the various people, the various groups, the various actors on what he perceives. To be the. Whom he’s going to put in their place and deliver a comeuppance to, you know, so he got he plotted against and and and tried to kind of hurt Disney as bad as he could. The tamper prosecutor who dared to say that he supported abortion rights. He went after him and it was almost if you kind of looked at. What DeSantis trained the most attention on what he sought the most attention for it was like he was going through the various people whom he and his tribe were supposed to dislike and hate, and he was making sure they suffered and they were tortured. Plane loads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, which just so happens to be where the Obamas spends significant time, plain loads of migrants to Sacramento, which just so happens to be the seat of the government run by Gavin Newsom, his political nemesis. And on and on. There is all this energy spent on on vengeance. Revenge. And boy is that destructive to having a country that can be governed, that can find any sort of calmness or common ground. It’s.

    Krys Boyd:

    So there are some ways in which both the right and the left is united. We have cultivated this sense of grievance on the world stage. You remind us here that China’s economy still lags behind our own most Americans surveyed don’t believe this. How did our? Extraordinary economic growth in the very unique geopolitical climate of the mid 20th century. Set us up to shift from broad optimism to broad pessimism in the. Sense of grievance.

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, I I think. We nurtured, we had periods of such prosperity and such growth that I think it raised expectations in a way that’s wonderful. I mean part of. Part of what fascinates me and and and what I what I think we all need to remember, is the things that make this country so great, and this is a great country. Let us never lose sight of that, and people still, you know, want in. They come here wanting in because they they see. How, in the broadest context, and in historical sense, we have something very special and blessed here. But what makes us great also makes this a very difficult ad difficult kind of country as well. We tell people you can dream as big as you want to dream, you can be whoever you want to be. And that is kind of part of the exhilaration and magic of being in this country, but it also means that when things don’t work out, as they often don’t in. If when you don’t get everything you’ve dreamed of when you don’t rise as many rungs on the ladder as you were led to believe, you could, you can feel very embittered and shortchanged and be looking for reasons for why that is so. When when you look at studies of happiness around the world that which which people. Which nations are are most content and at what moments in time? One of the themes you notice is it’s not about who’s the richest. It’s not even about who’s known the most durable and expansive peace. It’s about whose lives are not falling that far short of what they expected. Unhappiness, bitterness, frustration and sometimes grievance thrive when your life is at odds with your expectations for it. And we happen to live in a country where the expectations are are huge, and that’s what again makes us great. It’s it’s why we’re strivers. It’s why this. It’s it’s, it’s part and parcel of the land of opportunity, but in that are also the seeds of frustration and even despair.

    Krys Boyd:

    We’ve actually had conversations on this show about the millennial generation sense that it is vastly worse off economically than previous generations and unlikely to ever catch up. You’ve looked at the. Data on this, and they don’t necessarily support quite so much gloom and doom.

    Frank Bruni:

    No, it’s a really complicated picture. They, in certain senses, yes, there is data that shows them dealing with economic realities and frustrations that previous generations didn’t. They’re in a worse position than previous generations when it comes to buying. Being a house, you know, because of the housing market, because of the ability to save, they’re in a worse position than many previous generations when it comes to the amount of student debt they’ve been saddled with. But if you just look at sort of job opportunities and incomes, especially now, there was a period when this was was different and then they kind of caught up. They are still in a historical sense they are. Certainly still in a global sense, in a charmed country and a charmed moment in time. I I I want to mention something that I think got too quickly forgotten and is so so important and it’s something that President Obama said in the final year of his presidency. In fact, it was in the final six or seven months of his presidency, and that’s very important because he wasn’t campaigning for anything. He wasn’t worried about creating a certain. He wasn’t worried about creating a narrative that would guarantee his political future, because, in fact, he was at the end of his time in the White House and he went and he gave a speech in Hanover, Germany. And again, because it was toward the end of his presidency, I think he was feeling even more reflective and soulful than usual. And he was a very reflective and he is a very reflective and soulful man. And he said, you know, for all of our frustrations kind of for all of our political battles, some of them so very nasty. If you had to choose any moment and. Time to be alive. You would choose right now and if you had to choose any country to be in, to be a resident of a citizen of at this moment in time, you would choose the United States of America. And if one looks at in a historical sense in the broader sense, if one looks at, you know, how many people have enough to. How many? You know, the lack of a draft for many decades at that point, you could I could go on and on. He was absolutely right. And that isn’t reflected in the nastiness of our politics. And it isn’t reflected in the way we treat one another. And the way we view our own lives and part of what has happened here in terms of why we have such a grievance culture and are living in an age of grievance, part of what’s happened is we have lost sense of our blessings and we have lost sense of where we really stand in terms of history and in terms of what. People have dealt with in the distant and even recent past.

    Krys Boyd:

    Frank, if we have entered this era of hypersensitivity to grievance and insensitivity. To the suffering of others, it’s reasonable to ask why now? Is it all about digital media?

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, part of it digital media is a a big part of it and I’ll come to that in one second. But part of it is this turn toward pessimism is the fact that and we know we’re just talking about it used to be the case that if you asked Americans, do you think your children will be better off than you than you are? It was a no brainer. It was. It was inevitable that you got 50% or more Americans saying yes. I believe that to be true. That’s no longer the case. People have lost confidence in the future. And they’ve lost the sense that America is tomorrow is going to be brighter than it’s today. An illustration of that that blows my mind is for decades now since the 70s, I believe. And I I have the details correct in the book, Gallup several times a year has been asking Americans the same question, you know, so that they. Have a yardstick that’s consistent through time. They’ve been saying. Are you generally satisfied with life with your life in this country, with life in this country and up until 2004? Routinely they would get 50% or more of Americans saying yes, they would get more than 60% of Americans saying yes. The kind of the results went up and down. But they went up and down frequently, going up above 50% from 2004 to now, and we’re now 2024. So we’re talking 20 years. They have not had a moment asking that question several times a year where 50% or more Americans have said yes, we’re generally satisfied for 20 straight years. Not we can’t get to a majority of Americans professing satisfaction with life in this country. That is an enormous problem, because when you are not confident about the future, when you think things are going to get worse, when growth no longer feels to you like a given, you have a much different attitude toward and relationship with the people around you. It’s suddenly competitive versus collaborative. If the pie isn’t expanding. You’re feeling much more possessive of and pettier about your piece of it you’re feeling. If somebody else is advancing, it must mean that you might be regressing because it’s a 0 sum game, and that’s not. I mean, that’s new. In the last 20 years and it’s gotten especially intense in the last 10 years. Now when you add social media to that. And we we constantly have glimpses of how other people are living, and yet they’re false glimpses right when you go on Instagram. Everybody seemingly, is always at a wedding in the tropics. Clinking. Yeah, they’re clinking champagne glasses in front of a setting sun, right. And you think? Holy crap, that’s not my life. Why isn’t that my life? Of course that’s a complete illusion. And if we really Instagrammed and Tik toked, you know what we were doing?

    Krys Boyd:

    They’re all on vacation, yeah.

    Frank Bruni:

    Those moments, you know, many of us would be in bed with the popcorn strewn around us. You know, a couple of tissues watered up because we’ve been crying because we had such a hard day at work or we just lost a relationship. You don’t see that on social media. Meanwhile, social media prioritizes privileges, makes go viral. Express. Options. They’re unnuanced expressions of anger, stuff that pits US against one another as opposed to stuff that unites us and and that’s another big problem. I also think something we do not recognize as much as we should is how crazy our service economy has become. About creating echelons and. Years, so that almost every service in our lives now comes in like 20 different sizes. Size is not being the exact right word, where depending on exactly how much you can afford. Depending on exactly how much convenience and indulgence you can buy, you ascend and descend and ascend and you look around you and you have this. Unbelievably granular sense of exactly who’s above you, who’s below you and what you do and don’t have. And it’s a kind of keeping up with the Joneses thing on steroids and that I think has been another very, very sharp and potent tool for division and for grievance.

    Krys Boyd:

    Frank, you do have. Many suggestions in the book for solutions, and we’re going to get to those in. Just a minute. But first I want. To talk about old guard media or older, you know, everybody knows that there is 24 hour news now you note that it’s just not possible to have 24 hours of brand new substantive. Stories just covering what happens. So these news networks fill the gap with analysis, which in your experience requires. Not just an opinion, but a certain kind of opinion. Will you talk about what happened when you were invited by MSNBC to discuss something Mitt Romney had been accused of back in 2012?

    Frank Bruni:

    Yeah, sure. So in 2020, in 2012 during Mitt Romney’s campaign against Barack Obama, there was a story in the Washington Post by Jason Horowitz, who now works for the Times, terrific journalist and a friend as well. And he had gone back and interviewed people at the Cranbrook Academy in the suburbs of. Detroit, who had been high school classmates of Mitt Romney’s many many decades ago, and several of them remembered that there were a group of students, including Mitt Romney, who had mercilessly teased, even bullied, one of their classmates. Who, well, you wouldn’t have used this language at the time. Was, was probably gay, you know, I mean, then he was effeminate. He was seen as effeminate. He drew attention that way and again, although you didn’t call people gay or understand what gay was. In the same way, then that was probably what was drawing the ridicule and the bullying. And the story got a lot of attention. It did not. You know it, it was not a good look for Mitt Romney because he had treated someone very, very cruelly. And so, I was called. I was an opinion columnist at the Times. At the time. I was the times, this first openly gay opinion columnist wrote a lot about gay rights, about gay marriage, that sort of thing. And they called me and said, or they emailed me and said would you be free to join a panel tomorrow to talk about the Mitt Romney story? And I said, yeah, I looked at my schedule. Sure, tomorrow I have some time. I. To do that. And then as sometimes happens, somebody circled around later in the day in a kind of pro formal way, and so just so we can give the anchor the host the right notes, what do you think you might be saying about this? And I said, well, I would say it’s a very disturbing, upsetting story because, you know, there was this young man who suffered unjustly and needlessly. But I would also say that we that we need to recognize. As we criticize Mitt Romney for this, we need to recognize that a lot of people change overtime. This is more than four decades ago. I don’t assume Mitt Romney is the same person now who he was for decades ago, and especially I don’t assume that because four decades ago this was a much more ignorant and unenlightened. Country and world in terms of the respect we owed gay people in terms of even understanding what gay meant. And so we need to kind of also see this in the context of the time. I got an e-mail subsequently saying that as it turns out, my services were not needed for the panel and when I tuned in the next day, I sure enough saw like a lineup of people taking the position that this was just awful, irredeemable blah blah blah. Like discussing this without much nuance. I had deviated from what was understood to be my brand. I was supposed to, you know, and.

    Krys Boyd:

    Hmm.

    Frank Bruni:

    I tell that story in the book because one of the things that has happened with mainstream media, legacy media, media, other than social media. One of the things that’s happened is with this profusion of channels and websites and blogs, there’s a great incentive for a given writer, especially if they’re a writer. Opinion and opinion have been the part of journalism that has grown the most and the fastest. There’s an incentive to have a given lens through which you see and evaluate everything in the world, and to stick to it because people come to you wanting to see and hear that they come to you for affirmation of a certain perspective or a certain anger or whatever. And I had deviated from that in a way that actually if I had wanted TV time very badly, and as it turned out, I really didn’t care one way or the other, I had hurt myself. There’s a larger moral to that story that has a bearing on what kind of media. We get on how so many of the commentators and the writers again, when we look when we leave the realm of news and go to the realm of commentary and opinion, how many of them give an unwavering and unvarying take on the world? That unfortunately reinforces tribalism rather than encouraging. A view of the world that accommodate shades of Gray and accommodates new ones.

    Krys Boyd:

    Right. What’s interesting to me about that account, Frank, is that, you know, people may agree or disagree with your position on things, but there was no chance for someone out in the viewing audience. And to see if they had a more nuanced view as you do to see themselves and their thinking reflected, there was a right way and a wrong way.

    Frank Bruni:

    Right, exactly. And again, very black and white, small letter B, small letter W about that. It feels to me if we if we had a healthier journalistic environment. We would most often not all the time because some things are uncomplicated. There’s nothing complicated about white supremacist marching and demanding whatever it is they’re demanding. 1 doesn’t need to say. Well, let’s consider their viewpoint in a more nuanced way than we than we have. Like. I mean, there are certain things that are that are pretty morally. Mark, there’s a whole lot else, though, that I think the most constructive, the most intelligent, the most interesting response to it is what are the layers here? What are the wrinkles here? What are the nuances here? And I think the healthiest kind of journalism would say, let me introduce you to. A whole bunch of questions we can ask about the situation that may go beyond the questions that you’ve asked so far. Let me introduce to you bits of context and bits of historical reference. That provide all the shadings that can provide be provided and then figure out what you believe, then figure out to the extent that there are different positions that can be taken or different policy prescriptions that can be written, figure out what you think the right Rd. is. The right response based. On the most nuanced, complicated and complete set of information and picture possible not on a bunch of people with predetermined very narrow lenses screeching at each other to see who can be the loudest and who can use the most hyperbolic language.

    Krys Boyd:

    There are many causes for where we find ourselves today, but you also think there are multiple potential solutions, none of which is a silver bullet. How, for example, can we fix Congress so that partisan conflict, for its own sake, is less politically rewarding?

    Frank Bruni:

    We have a range of options, and we need to explore all of them at once, because if you put only if you put them together do I think you can maybe come out with a meaningful change. I think we want to look at political reforms that would change primary. Systems we too often get the most extreme candidates because we have a primary system that in too many States and the states run, run the way congressional primaries are done that in too many states, the way the primaries are set up, they reward, they reward the candidate who might be most to the left if it’s the Democratic Party. Who might be most to the right? If it’s the Republican Party, then you get to the. General election and. Many voters who might otherwise be poised. To choose someone who wasn’t so far to the left or so far to the right doesn’t have that choice. Their choice is basically D or R as graduated by the primaries, and there you have it. So we could look at more open primaries. We could look at more nonpartisan primaries. We need to look at. We need, we need to. Fight much, much more vigorously and intelligently and in much more persistent to fashion against gerrymandering than. Too. And you know I’m. I’m. I’m talking to you from North Carolina, where we have over recent decades had such terrible gerrymandering that 2/3 or more of our congressional delegation will be Republican. Although the state is a absolutely purple state where registration Democrat, Republican runs just about even. It’s almost it’s pretty much a third Democrat, Republican, independent. It hasn’t been reflected in our recent congressional delegations. The current. What it is, but we’re about to revert to a gerrymander because Republicans have all the levers of power in the state Senate and in the in both chambers of the state legislature. So we need to look at the gerrymander. We need to look at primaries. If we did that, I think that would help enormously and and. And we’re not fighting as hard for that as we can. There is a wonderful story. About six weeks ago, I think in the New York Times about how citizens, groups and citizen initiatives had taken Michigan, which had become somewhat of a minority rule state, and had brought the political representation in Michigan much more closely in in line with what voters said in polls and with where they were. And the moral of that story was, if you’re really smart about it, if citizens are deeply engaged, and if they press really hard, they can make the sorts of changes that too often we throw our hands up about and say, oh, well, this is the way it is and it stinks. But it’s what we’re left with.

    Krys Boyd:

    You suggest we need to put much better civics education into our schools and ensure that media literacy is part of civics education. Explain what that would look like.

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, let’s take immediate the media literacy part, because that that is I think easier for me to explain as both a member of the media and. As someone who brings that up a lot in my classes here, so I’m a contributing writer for the times. Also, a professor at Duke University for the last three years, and I teach media oriented and journalism classes in the School of Public Policy. And I have found because this comes up in class after class, I have found that when I ask my students to kind of look at their social media feed and I’m probably not even using the right terminology. Because I’m a 59 year old codger so I apologize for my bad use of social media words. But when I asked them to look at like what gets. You know what their TikTok shows them what their Instagram shows them, if they’re on another, you know, Facebook, whatever. Another platform, what it shows them, who they’re following, etcetera. They did not set up their social media universe in an extraordinarily kind of deliberative and thoughtful way. And I’m not saying this is a criticism. I think this is actually kind of what. Happens with most people you know, they sort of started following XY and then something else got spat at them and the algorithms kicked in and so on and so forth. And if you ask them. To take a moment to take a close look and then if you say is your social media informant, is your information universe, which is basically their social media universe? Is that what you intended it to be? Is it aligned with what you think is a sensible, balanced media diet and is it aligned with your kind of values and your intent? Almost to a person they they’ll either say no not at all, or no. Not exactly, but too few people have ever asked them to take a look at that and have ever encouraged them to make an adjustment. I would submit if we started talking to people well before the college age, well before they reach the point that they’re at when they’re in a Duke class of mine. If we start talking to young people about how important it is to make certain sorts of choices when they are following people and organizations on social media when they’re sharing or retweeting again retweeting, I’m using in a more. Sense if we make them more conscious of how their social media and information universe ends up a certain way of what it can then do to their worldview about what it does to our sort of civic engagement, civic discourse, and our democracy at large, I think you can get young people who are the voters of tomorrow. To make different and smarter. Decisions and to end up making decisions that are much more conducive to our democracy and to making progress and to common ground and to having a common narrative. But I don’t think we’re doing that.

    Krys Boyd:

    Is there a way to influence activists for whatever cause they might be activating for, to acknowledge progress to not only dwell on the worst of the injustices they are hoping to correct? Is that counterproductive?

    Frank Bruni:

    Well, that’s and that’s a great, great question. Slash observation. I think that’s a real tough one because as it stands now, human psychology is such that when you say this is horrible, this is apocalyptic. We’re going off a Cliff. It tends to be a better fundraising mechanism than saying, hey, you know, we’ve made some really important progress. But there’s a distance yet to travel, so I don’t know that we can reasonably expect activists to do that. But you know what? I think we can expect. I think we can reasonably ask our public officials, our politicians, our leaders, to do that, because I think you can ask people in leaders. To to behave in ways and they should behave in ways that are more high minded. That’s what they’re there for. And I think there’s an appetite for that. I mean, if you go back to the 2020 Democratic primaries and you look there and that initially there initially was a very large cast of people vying for and vying. Against Joe Biden for that nomination and Joe Biden. In fact, when the crowd was at its largest, he stood out for being one of the people in it, taking a more measured tone, taking a more measured approach. Etcetera. And he ended up getting that nomination now part of that was strategic people thought, well, we think he’s the best bet against Trump, but part of it was also there there. There are voters who recognize that bomb throwing, flame throwing, etcetera are doing great damage to the country and who want to turn down the volume. Who want to turn down the temperature and will respond to a politician if that politician can get through the. Queries will respond to a politician who is asking for those same things and modeling that behavior.

    Krys Boyd:

    Frank Bruni is a journalist and contributing opinion writer at the New York Times. His newest book Is the Age of Grievance, Frank. It’s always nice to speak with you. Thank you for making time.

    Frank Bruni:

    Thanks for having me.

    Krys Boyd:

    You can find us on Facebook and Instagram and subscribe to our podcast wherever you get your podcast by searching for KERA think or you can listen at our website, think.kera.org. Again, I’m Krys Boyd. Thanks for listening. Have a great day.