Jun 3 • 1HR 3M

Volts podcast: Chris Hayes on how his politics have changed since 2015

How to think about America's grim current trajectory.

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David Roberts
Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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I often reflect on a particular moment in the summer of 2015. It was not long after the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal across the nation in Obergefell v. Hodges. And America was in the middle of one of its regular fights over Confederate monuments and flags, which were being pulled down by progressives across the country.

One afternoon I ran across a cartoon — I think it was on Facebook? — showing a Confederate flag being lowered and the LGBTQ flag being raised in its stead.

Hot damn, I thought. Maybe we really do get it right eventually.

I now think back on that moment as the peak of my belief in what you might call the Obama creed, which the nation's first black president repeated in one way or another in virtually every speech: that the essence of America is its continuous struggle toward the egalitarian ideals of its founding. Again and again it delays and falls short and takes two steps back, but it never stops striving, improving, bit by hard-fought bit. The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

To a first approximation, everything that has happened since then has sucked. We fell into the ugly 2016 Democratic nomination fight, followed by the ugly presidential election, then four years of daily insults to dignity and compassion by Trump, then a plague that we bungled in countless ways and that has killed more than a million of us, and now, the Supreme Court is systematically dismantling the pillars of the modern administrative state while Biden and the Democrats fumble their way through a slow-motion catastrophe, setting up an openly seditious Republican Party to seize near-total power in the coming two elections.

To put it mildly, these developments have been rough on the Obama creed, at least for me and many people I know. Much of what Obama himself did was crushed or reversed by Trump, and Biden has barely begun rebuilding from the wreckage. More than that, America's reactionary minority seems ascendent. And its intentions are clear: to follow Viktor Orban's lead in Hungary. To whittle democracy down until it's entirely hollow, one-party rule in all but name. It finds echoes in similar reactionary backlashes currently rising in nations across the globe.

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Is America redeemable? Is white Christian patriarchy ready and willing to destroy the country before it gives up power? Is the arc of history bending, or is it merely flailing back and forth, with no larger purpose or pattern? Is modern multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy still a viable long-term project?

Chris Hayes (NBC)
Chris Hayes (NBC)

To help ponder these weighty questions, I've turned to the inimitable Chris Hayes, who, as they say, needs no introduction. You've seen his shows on MSNBC, you've listened to his podcast, you've read his essays and books, you know that he is one of the leading liberal voices of our time. He’s also a friend. We are part of the same generation of journalists, living through the same dumpster fires, seeing the same patterns, and our paths have crossed regularly over the years. I’ve also been on several of his shows! We go way back.

I’ve always felt that Chris and I share similar political and intellectual instincts — one of the few people at the commanding heights of US journalism and punditry about whom I can say that — so I’m curious to hear how his political outlook has changed since 2015, whether he still believes in the Obama creed, and what he thinks is coming in America’s near future.