it’s about undermining apotential source of a potential powersource that he doesn’t control so apotential power source that he doesn’tcontrol is the truth so by trying todefine everything as a matter of opinionhe undermines all of journalism and I
Transcript00:01thank you thank you so it’s such a00:08pleasure to be here with Andrea who is00:10my journalism hero and friend and I I’m00:17often asked if there’s what journalists00:20can do in this situation with this00:22administration we’re really I mean no00:26matter what we do we lose right it’s00:28always it’s always a net loss for00:29journalism00:30it is always in that loss for journalism00:32right weights the loss of access it’s00:33the loss of information it’s a loss of00:35sort of trust it’s sort of trust and but00:42but the one example that I can always00:44give of of a journalistic effort that00:47that I think is successful and that00:49actually finds the right approach to00:51this administration is trumping which is00:55amazing if you’re not already listening00:57to it you have to start now and now01:03there’s this book which is which is an01:07extraordinary accomplishment and I I01:09don’t understand how you did it while01:10also doing the podcast I was sort of01:13observing the process and then suddenly01:16it was done it was amazing for me too01:21but to start with I actually want to ask01:24you to read I know I know you have a01:26good radio voice so could you read from01:31the very beginning of the book at the01:33section called the wedding from page 701:39absolutely with an wedding has its own01:42internal alert the wedding this is the01:50wedding with Jared Kushner Nevada Trump01:51the wedding had its own alert internal01:54allure the world of the Celebrity01:56Apprentice was one of famous people who01:58had seen better days Dennis Rodman Gary02:00Busey Dionne Warwick Joan Rivers there02:03were actual movie stars at Jared and02:05Ivanka’s wedding Princess Padme Amidala02:08of the Star Wars movie franchise Natalie02:11Portman and Maximus02:13miss Meridius from gladiator Russell02:15Crowe among the old dynastic families of02:18New York real estate when asked about02:20Trump people said and still say Donald02:23Trump is not one of us they say they02:26never saw Donald Trump at the Real02:27Estate Board of New York or at the02:28partnership for the New York City or the02:31Alliance for a better New York they did02:33not see him at civic events they did not02:34see him at charity balls or the ballet02:36or the Opera with few exceptions for02:39example the US Open tennis tournament in02:41Queens he stayed in his own homes02:43frequented his own clubs and ate in the02:45restaurants in his own buildings02:47by contrast Ivanka Trump had found02:49acceptance in the Manhattan elite she02:51went to the Chapin school on the Upper02:53East Side and showed Rosemary Hall02:54boarding school in Connecticut and she02:56said School of American Ballet and02:59danced as a child extra in the03:00Nutcracker as an adult she was a03:03sought-after supporter for causes from03:05the World Wildlife Fund to the New York03:07City Police Foundation she was welcomed03:09to the Met Gala and Vanity Fair parties03:11and chatted about Opera with Leonard03:13low-paid on the public radio station03:14WNYC unlike her father and her husband03:18she had no hint of Queens or New Jersey03:20in her measured speech somehow through03:24her their accents were laundered Ivanka03:27and Jared’s wedding was Jewish in a03:29trumpian way as women arrived they were03:35given elegant shawls to guard against03:37the autumnal chill as the Sun slid down03:39the sky but also to cover their03:41shoulders Ivanka herself were a Vera03:44Wang wedding dress shoulders covered by03:46white lace sleeves extending down to her03:49elbows in some dances women were03:51separated from men in the Orthodox03:53tradition the food served in a separate03:56dinner tent also enormous was kosher a03:58rabbi had walked through the tent04:00koshering a caters caterers knife by04:02dipping it in water04:04there was pastrami corned beef turkey04:07sushi station and Peking Duck a 13 layer04:10cake that was almost as tall as the04:13bride and groom which is tall ringed04:15with cream-colored lisianthus roses04:18peonies lilies-of-the-valley and baby’s04:20breaths04:21Charles Kushner’s speech was a variant04:23of the one he gave at every family event04:25every simcha04:26Yiddish and Hebrew for joy a metonym for04:29joyous occasion about being the son of04:31Holocaust survivors about the miracle of04:33survival about Jews thriving and04:35prevailing about the values of family04:37and has said Hebrew for compassion or04:40grace and Torah he spoke about evanka04:43and how she had worked so hard to become04:45Jewish and how the family embraced her04:47now Donald Trump had been bewildered by04:50his daughter’s conversion but was04:52gracious at his daughter’s wedding04:53he spoke appreciatively and04:55uncharacteristically of his first wife04:57Ivana and all the work she’d done to05:00raise Ivanka acknowledging he hadn’t05:02always been an attentive parent the05:04guests who had come to the wedding with05:05a mix of curiosity and anticipation and05:08obligation and appreciation were greeted05:11warmly they felt for a fleeting instance05:14perhaps the gravitational pull of Donald05:16Trump’s personality that night as guests05:20left clutching their give away prayer05:22books and a pair of javi Anna flip-flops05:24that said jarred on one and Ivanka on05:27the other laced through with a string05:29calling them a great pair they were05:32forced to embrace Trump’s ostentatious05:34nests even as they participated in his05:36display to pay tribute to this marriage05:39of money and power to acknowledge the05:42authority of the patriarchs from the05:44vantage point of everything they had05:46built the families could say we’ve05:49arrived you are complicit in our power05:51we are a force to be reckoned with pay05:55respect to us foolishly the world did05:59not06:02so as as you can tell this is also06:10beautifully written book in addition to06:12being an incredibly research book but I06:16want to talk about the title for a06:18second mm-hmm06:19you call them American oligarchs so06:21let’s define the terms what’s what’s an06:23oligarch so Masha I think I asked you06:29that question when I was starting06:32writing this book or even before I had06:35started writing this book like many06:38people after the 2016 election which I06:40had covered I didn’t know what to do06:43next and I was trying to figure out what06:45to do next and we started on this Trump06:50business reporting project and I kept06:51running into Russian names so I asked06:55Masha would she have coffee for me and06:57explained what an oligarch was and so07:04that was maybe six months before I07:08started to write this book proposal and07:10I just hit on the title American07:11oligarch so what do I mean by American07:14oligarch I think what I’m what it is is07:20what we see in this Trump world and07:23especially in this real estate world of07:25New York and New Jersey but all over07:26this country we’re incredibly wealthy07:30people give the money to get the07:34government they want and one of the07:38things that I really wrestled with in07:39writing the book is that Trump and07:40Kushner’s are definitely okay so I don’t07:43really know how rich he is because I07:44haven’t seen his tax returns07:46but I don’t think Donald Trump or the07:49Kushner’s are the richest people in07:50America by far and they were not sort of07:54players in the political scene in the07:56way the Koch brothers were or the olan’s07:59or the devices or the princes or any of08:02those people who just really gave money08:04to break the campaign finance system but08:08the Trump family and the Kushner family08:10but especially the Trump family broken08:12in a different way and the way was that08:15Donald Trump in his father gave so much08:18money to the political bosses and also08:21had the system of compromise like they08:23would hire the people that would work08:27for the party bosses they hired their08:29lawyers and they just always figured out08:31the way in so they could use their money08:33to get the government they wanted along08:37with that was making sure that they08:40would never suffer legal consequences08:42which enabled them to do this and one of08:45the things I learned in writing the book08:46was that they broke it from within so I08:50didn’t really know what an American08:53oligarch was when I started writing the08:54book even though I had it in the title08:56but I think I understand it now and I08:58didn’t know everything that was going to09:00happen in the two years since I started09:02writing the book but what we see is a09:05system that where the very wealthy are09:10making money faster and faster and09:13thanks to the tax cuts and Jobs Act of09:152017 they’re making it even faster and09:17then they have more money to give to a09:18very transactional president who has09:21made it so clear I mean every day people09:25just pay this president which is like09:27the stunning to me is somebody who09:28covered political corruption because it09:31didn’t happen that way you know I spent09:32so much time looking through campaign09:34finance disclosures and lining them up09:36and lining up the check numbers and with09:37Trump it’s just out there in the open09:39people are booking rooms at his hotels09:41or golf course memberships are buying09:43condos and he is paying close attention09:46now I think that American oligarchs are09:51not quite what I understand is happening09:54in Russia with the oligarchs because09:57these are people who09:58as I understand it are so beholden to10:01Putin and their whole business model10:03relies on their sort of supporting his10:06government not crossing him and if they10:09do they will not make money or be killed10:11or sent to jail or exiled or maybe all10:14of those things which is something that10:17I learned from man without a face which10:19is also a book that Masha wrote so I10:23we’re not that’s not exactly where we10:26are however one of the things that10:29happened to me while I was covering Paul10:30mana for its trial that really shocked10:33me was that during the trial one of the10:38political consultants who had worked10:39with Paul Manafort said do you know who10:41paid you and he said oh yes very rich10:43people they call them oligarchs and I10:45thought wow that is crazy there was no I10:49mean there was no super PACs there was10:51no campaign finance system there was10:53nothing they just paid for the10:55consultant that was going to hire the10:56president that they wanted that was10:58going to enable them to keep making10:59money so we’re not quite there but that11:05is the direction we are heading11:06unfortunately so you talk about the11:11research for this book is starting six11:14well right after the election but11:16advance right right did the research11:18actually begin so I started I started11:22covering corruption in well I started11:25covering governments in New York in 199411:29which was the year Rudy Giuliani became11:31mayor and I covered politics election11:37government but really what I wanted to11:41do is understand how power worked and so11:45that is an endeavor that I’ve been doing11:49for 26 years now and one of the things11:55about I recently did a story for NPR11:58just sort of all this tape of Rudy12:00through the ages and NPR was like can12:03you do this story can you find the time12:05which was you know right around the time12:07this book was supposed to be finished12:09and they said look once you pulled the12:12tape12:12together you can use it for his obituary12:13and I was like oh my god I’ve been12:17covering Rudy Giuliani since he was12:18mayor and now apparently I’m going to12:20cover him until he dies not that he’s on12:22the verge of death but I’ll have the12:24tape together but talk a little bit more12:29but how I want you to talk about Wayne12:32Barrett a little bit yeah so while I so12:35I had before I was a journalist I worked12:38in New York City government in politics12:40and I was sort of a low-level official12:43and I read the book City for sale by12:47Jack Newfield and Wayne Barrett and I12:51thought to myself wow this is how power12:55works and all of these people that live12:57in this world around me that did things12:59I had no idea and I thought to myself13:01okay I want to be like that and many of13:04you know Wayne Barrett he was a13:06legendary muckraking reporter a friend13:10of mine he really dedicated a large13:13portion of his life to investigating13:15Donald Trump he was actually the first13:17person to think okay Donald Trump is13:19somebody worthy of a biography a serious13:21biography and he also wrote two13:23biographies of Rudy Giuliani Wayne died13:28on January 19th 2017 hours before Trump13:32was sworn in as president but has been a13:34daily source of inspiration to me13:36because he was the kind of muckraking13:40fact-based journalist who was willing to13:42connect the dots that has been a model13:44for my career and I actually think for13:46many journalists who are working today I13:50remember we met up I think in early 201713:55and and you sort of gestured around to14:01to lower Manhattan where we were and14:04said I think real estate holds the key14:07yeah I think we just look at real estate14:08we’re going to figure it all out what14:11made you think that well so real estate14:15in New York we don’t necessarily think14:17of it this way but it’s like it’s like14:19an energy or a mineral resource it is a14:22limited resource that is controlled by14:25the government and it is also thanks to14:31laws that began that Thomas Jefferson14:35encouraged of all people there began14:38this tradition in this country of14:39keeping very detailed land records so14:41even though Donald Trump has figured out14:45every way to not tell us things about14:47his holdings real estate records are14:52extremely detailed and you can find all14:54kinds of things about them one of the14:57first stories that we did was about Paul15:00man affords real estate deals and what15:03we had started doing is really okay15:04we’re going to look at Trump Tower and15:05figure out all the people that live15:07there15:08mostly with shell companies we tried to15:10figure out who the shell companies were15:11we got up to apartment 43 G and that was15:14Paul manna forts apartment and it was15:16such a strange financing pattern we15:20tried to sort it out and we wouldn’t we15:22asked a bunch of excerpts experts who15:24would finance their apartment in this15:26way and they said oh that looks like15:27money laundering so we wrote that story15:30it was money laundering and as a matter15:34of fact it was money laundered from the15:37oligarch couldn’t Ukraine that I15:38mentioned and Paul Manafort serving15:41prison time for it which is one of the15:45reasons that Donald Trump and Giuliani15:47went to Ukraine in the first place15:48because they wanted to undermine the15:52basis of that conviction even though it15:54was tested in two federal jurisdictions15:57they believe that if they could cast15:59doubt on Paul metaphores kindig16:00conviction then they would cast doubt on16:03the whole Muller report so shifting16:09gears a little bit16:10most of the protagonists of this book16:13are not people that you had access to16:16for various reasons some are dead hmm16:21and some wouldn’t talk to you yeah and16:24some I understand receives scores of16:26questions from you I mean let me just16:30sidebar this so many of you know that16:34masha after the 2016 election wrote i’ll16:39talk16:39rules for survival and one of the things16:41she said is expect there to be less and16:44less press access fewer and fewer press16:48briefings and for people who try to16:51report in the administration to be16:52retaliate in a way that makes it16:54impossible to do their job that was a16:58fairly benign description of our current17:01situation we not only have we not seen17:05the president’s tax returns or know who17:07his business partners are or who to whom17:10he owes money there are no visitor17:13records at mar-a-lago or at the White17:15House there it’s much harder to get17:18disclosures they simply do not give us17:20information I mean I think we see in17:22this impeachment trial the way they have17:23stonewalled Congress but that is also17:25what it’s like to be a journalist we17:26just get nothing and so I think that17:33covering this administration has really17:37I mean and the other thing also of17:40course is that Donald Trump just you17:41know bullies people especially17:43journalists he calls journalists the17:45enemies of the people the enemy of the17:47people which is as you know not an17:50accident it’s about undermining a17:52potential source of a potential power17:56source that he doesn’t control so apotential power source that he doesn’tcontrol is the truth so by trying todefine everything as a matter of opinionhe undermines all of journalism and Ithink that that is one of the thingsthat I both tried to do in the book andtry to do in the in the trumping podcastis to sort of by doing it say yesactually there is truth there is analternate power center to the answer ofaccess I mean one of the things thatturns out to be incredibly interesting18:32is that um a lot of people in New York18:37City and New Jersey know a trump or a18:40Kushner it’s amazing to me particularly18:42and if anybody hears from Livingston New18:45Jersey but at almost every event that18:47I’ve been to including on the west coast18:48somebody has come to me and said I’m18:50from Livingston New Jersey which is18:51where the Kushner family is from18:53population 28,000 right so it has been18:57you know I feel that I am blessed by the19:00generosity of my sources who have spoken19:03to me under you know a conditions of a19:06lot of fear and many of them have19:07already suffered repercussions and other19:09ones were afraid that they would I sent19:13separate questions to Jared Kushner19:16Ivanka Trump Charles Kushner and Donald19:19Trump the Trump’s just ignored me the19:22Kushner’s basically ignored all of my19:23questions and there did answer a few19:28fact-checking confirm or correct type of19:31questions so I had a little bit of that19:35but that’s all that I got from them so19:39two follow-ups to that first of all did19:40they answer those truthfully well so far19:48as I could tell yes but one of the19:52questions to Jared Kushner was you19:54graduated from Harvard and the class of19:572003 correct and he and the answer was20:03with honors so it’s like okay I’m gonna20:06put that in the book because I was sort20:07of tough on Jared Kushner and he got20:10into Harvard after his father gave a20:12huge contribution his father did not go20:13to Harvard but them shout out to my20:18excellent fact-checker Fergus McIntosh20:19she found out that 91 percent of the20:21people in the class of 2003 had20:23graduated with honors so I didn’t put it20:25in the book so it’s true right but but20:32did you feel like it was and I’m and I’m20:35asking this actually because i i’ve20:37written some about people that i also20:39didn’t have access to and sometimes it20:41feels like an advantage because you’re20:42not beholden to somebody yeah I mean I I20:47think that it is harder when I mean it’s20:51hard when somebody gives you a lot of20:53access because I mean I feel an20:55incredible sense of responsibility to to20:58everybody that’s in the book to all the21:00people that spoke to me and to everybody21:02that’s in it to really really try and21:05get it21:07but I think that knowing how these21:11families work the people that work with21:13them they give up so much of themselves21:16and it’s one of the major themes of the21:18book is everybody gets close to them21:21compromises themselves in some way and21:23then can’t go back not a journalist but21:26an example of this is Michael Cohen who21:30talks in some testimony that I have in21:33the book about how Trump kept asking him21:35to cross lines and every time he crossed21:36a line he would ask them to cross21:38another line and then he was so far over21:40he could never go back and then when21:42Michael Cohen testified to Congress and21:44they were attacking him and defending21:46Trump he said I was you don’t do what I21:48did because then you will find yourself21:50in the position that I’m in which is21:53serving three years in prison right now21:56right so you’re saying that’s the21:59advantage is that you saying that right22:01I mean with with especially with Donald22:03Trump like the whole history of his22:05relationship with journalists is that he22:10beguiles journalists and there’s a lot22:12of examples in the story about how he22:13like gave sports tickets to people and22:15then they couldn’t cover him anymore and22:17he would do things to bring people close22:19to him I mean he can treat journalists22:21any differently from the way he did22:23anybody else and then if people if he22:25didn’t like the stories he would22:27threaten to sue them and this goes back22:28forever and did sue them so I want to22:35talk about trumping for a minute because22:37what I what I most appreciate about it22:40is that it has I mean first of all it’s22:42an open-ended you call yourself an open22:44and an investigation which i think is22:47brilliant and your project is very22:49clearly to describe trumpism as a system22:51yeah and I just want to make it clear22:55just how different it is from the normal22:57of journalistic project how did you I23:00mean how different is it and and how did23:02you come up with this idea so we came up23:08with the idea so this is something so23:09right after Trump was elected it became23:12very clear that we were gonna have to23:14work with a lot of other journalists23:15because the23:18system was so complicated and there was23:21how I mean you could spend a year23:23investigating one shell company that23:26gave to the Trump inaugural so it became23:28clear that we were gonna have to23:29cooperate in a way that we were not used23:32to cooperating I mean we didn’t have to23:34but it would be better to do that23:35because there was so much material to go23:37through we would just be wasting our23:38time if we would be competing with each23:40other over diving into these business23:42records so we started to reach out to a23:46lot of journalists and we created this23:49partnership with ProPublica and we did23:51some stories about one of the first23:53stories we did was how Don Junior Ivanka23:56and Donald Trump was still on the Trump23:57Soho liquor license while they were in23:59the White House which meant if a high24:01school student bought a drink at the bar24:03that Trump Soho the president the United24:05States would be liable for that so but24:09we started to do a number of stories24:11with them and then we did this story24:14about the Trump Soho this was another24:17meeting that I had with mascha because I24:19wanted to know how to pronounce all the24:20Russian names and I wanted to understand24:23why the emigrates who lived in Brighton24:25Beach we’re doing business back when24:27Russia and the story ended up being24:31nothing to do with that and totally in24:34my old haunting grounds which was the24:35New York City Board of Elections records24:37because what had happened is that the24:41Trump there were there was an email24:43chain showing that the Trump adult24:45children had lied about the number of24:46units sold at the Trump Soho and did it24:51knowingly and which is a violation of24:54various laws in New York felony laws so24:56they were being investigated by the24:57Manhattan da and Trump’s white-collar25:00team well-connected I should add one of25:02them was the brother-in-law of the25:05former DEA and one was a law partner of25:07the DEA our former law partner of the25:11DEA but they couldn’t make the case go25:12away so they brought in Trump’s personal25:14attorney mark Kazu ‘its who up and also25:17happened to be one of the largest donors25:19to the Manhattan da and the case was25:24closed over the objection25:27the prosecutors so we did this story25:31with ProPublica in The New Yorker and25:33then afterwards we sat down and we25:34thought okay we should follow up so we25:35put on a big whiteboard all of these25:37questions and we were looking like what25:39are we gonna do we want to understand25:40this deal we want to understand that25:41deal we won’t understand India and then25:44we realized actually the question is the25:46story and that is what Trump Inc came25:49out of it’s a set it’s an open25:51investigation which has turned out to be25:53I mean people love the idea of an25:56investigation one of the stories that we25:58have not yet solved26:00partly because Trump has sued to block26:03the subpoenas that might have shed light26:04is what was happening with his26:07connections with Deutsche Bank in the26:09period prior to the election and we did26:13an episode saying well we don’t know26:15what happened literally we don’t know26:18what happened we don’t know if there was26:19money laundering but we are gonna tell26:21you all of the strange things that have26:23happened with Deutsche Bank they were at26:25the time that they were doing business26:27with Trump26:28they were sanctioned by New York26:29regulators for doing hundreds of26:31millions for laundering hundreds of26:32millions of dollars from Moscow to26:34London in New York so all of this was26:37going on at the same time they had no26:38money laundering controls and when we26:42when I started the Edit the episode and26:45we have a very intensive editing process26:47and one of the editors said I think you26:49need to tell people that you don’t know26:51what the end of the story is so that is26:54sort of thematically what Trump is is we26:56don’t know what the end is but we are26:58involved in this process of unravelling27:02and documenting and bringing people in27:05to help us solve it many people that27:08have we have reported on have been27:11indicted or gone to prison after we27:14wrote about them sometimes it seems to27:16be happening so fast that we can’t keep27:20up so I mean we wrote about live par na27:23San Diego Fuhrman and then the next27:24thing we know they were indicted in the27:25Southern District of New York I want to27:31ask you to read somewhere yes so this27:35section is called dirt27:37and it’s the end of the section story I27:39feel like I need to explain something27:42before I read this so Jerrod kutner’s27:48grandmother was a survivor of the27:50Holocaust and she lived in a town called27:54novogrudok in Northeast Poland where she27:57had been middle to upper-middle class28:00and there was a pretty thriving Jewish28:01community there and her family was28:07subject to all kinds of brutality mass28:10murders shootings there were tens of28:14thousands of Jews in the area by the28:15summer of 1943 there were hundreds and28:19one of the things that I found28:22remarkable from reading Jared Kushner’s28:24grandmother’s testimony because she had28:25left this testimony as part of this28:28movement where people felt we need to28:29document what happened in the Holocaust28:33so that it wouldn’t happen again28:35and one of the things that I found so28:39striking was how she kept talking about28:42whatever happened they were like this is28:45the worst thing that can happen so the28:47worst thing that could happen is that28:49the Soviet Union could take over and28:51then the next worst thing that could28:52happen was the Nazis could take over and28:54make them wear yellow stars and walk in28:57the middle of the street but surely it28:59couldn’t get worse than that and it just29:02kept getting worse and worse and worse29:04so from tens of thousands of Jews to29:06three hundred Jews they finally came to29:08the realization that they were going to29:10die that they had not been chosen by God29:12to live the Nazis were going to kill29:16them as soon as they were done with them29:17so they dug a tunnel they used spoons or29:23whatever they could find Forks and they29:25dug out bags of dirt and they hid it in29:28the wall so the Nazis would know that29:30they were building the tunnel and one29:34night on the eve of the Jewish High29:36Holidays they all crawled out to29:39foot-wide tunnel and they crawled out29:43maybe the length of three football29:44fields which is there probably a good29:47metaphor for tonight and they got under29:50the barbed wire and everybody29:51got out you know some of the people29:52including Jared Kushner’s grandmother’s29:54brother ran in the wrong direction29:58and were killed by the Nazis so all of30:00that is important for you to know before30:02I read this part this part is about30:05Jared Kushner right after the election30:09at this time it wasn’t even clear to30:12many Americans that Jared Kushner would30:14be joining the administration but the30:15Russians had figured out that Jared had30:17rare influence over his father-in-law30:19Putin kept opening fronts and his30:22maneuvers to reach Jared in addition to30:24oven and Dimitri owed to oligarchs he30:26sent his ambassador Sergei kiss-kiss30:29black know now Masha is making me say30:33all the Russian names out loud kiss lack30:35to create a third channel Kirchner30:38agreed to meet even though after the30:40election he said he couldn’t remember a30:41kiss Lex name Kushner has offered this30:44as evidence he couldn’t have colluded30:45with Russia during the campaign on30:47November 30th kiss lack Kushner and30:50Michael Flynn the incoming National30:51Security Advisor met at Trump Tower30:53Flynn it later had merged had secretly30:56accepted $600,000 from a firm linked to30:58the Turkish government for lobbying work31:00that coincided with the campaign31:02I asked ambassador kis lack if he would31:04identify the best person whether the31:06Ambassador or someone else with wimped31:09with whom to have direct discussions and31:11who had contact with his president31:12Kushner later said this luck did have31:15someone he wanted to speak with Kushner31:17his generals he asked Kushner if there31:19was a secure communications line they31:21could use Kushner came up with a31:22suggestion how about if they use the31:24communications equipment at the Russian31:26embassy this was a shocking suggestion31:29shocking suggestion to kiss lack that31:31the incoming American administration31:33albiet a friendly one could get access31:35to Russia’s most secret methods of31:37communications its inner sanctum31:39alarmed he said no he transmitted his31:41alarm to Moscow these communications31:44were monitored and recorded by US31:46intelligence agencies that’s how they31:48found out the president-elect son in31:50law’s talks with the Russian ambassador31:53kiss lack pursue Jared for yet another31:56meeting Jared was by now impatient he31:58decided that kiss lack didn’t really32:00have enough juice with Moscow but kiss32:02lack was persistent and set up a meeting32:04with Jared’s assist32:05at that meeting kiss left asked for yet32:07another appointment with Jared this time32:10is Kushner put it with a person named32:11Sergei Gorka who said he was a banker32:14the head of Venetian home bank or VEB32:16the Russian state-owned Development Bank32:18Gourcuff Kushner was told had a direct32:21line to the Russian president who could32:23give insight into how Putin was voting32:25the new administration and best ways to32:27work together so they met I agreed to32:31meet mr. Gourcuff Jared later wrote32:33because the Ambassador had been so32:35insistent said he had a direct32:36relationship with the president and32:38because mr. cork Cove was only in New32:40York for a couple days32:41I made ruin my schedule for the meeting32:43that occurred the next day on December32:4513th Kushner saw no conflict for the32:48son-in-law of the incoming American32:49president a real estate developer with a32:51billion dollar debt coming due to meet32:54with a banker for the Russian state to32:56talk about foreign policy the meeting32:59took place not in Trump Tower33:00but at Tom barracks colony capital33:03building in Manhattan at the time of the33:05meeting the EB was and remained the33:07subject of US sanctions imposed in the33:09wake of the Crimea invasion Gourcuff33:12told Kushner a little about his bank in33:14the Russian economy he said it was33:16friendly with President Putin Kushner33:18said an expressed disappointment with US33:20Russia relationships under President33:22Obama and hopes for a better33:23relationship in the future there were no33:25discussions about sanctions Kushner said33:27or about my company’s business33:29transactions real estate projects loans33:31banking arrangements or any private33:32businesses of any kind VB disputed this33:36characterization telling The Washington33:38Post that the session was held as a part33:41of a new business strategy and was33:43conducted with Kushner and his role as33:44the head of his family’s real estate33:46business when questioned by Muller’s33:49investigators Jared Kushner wanted to33:52make sure they understood how little he33:54thought of this meeting to advance his33:55argument that he couldn’t have been33:57conspiring with Russian state actors he33:59said he did not engage in any34:00preparation for the meeting and that no34:02one on the transition team even did a34:05Google search for Gore Cobbs name but34:09Gourcuff another of putin’s wealthy and34:12powerful emissaries had done his34:14research Gourcuff carried with him two34:17gifts34:18gifts that showed a careful and34:20deliberate investigation into the person34:23he was meeting with one was a piece of34:26art from novogrudok the village where my34:27grandparents were from in Belarus and34:30the other was a bag of dirt from that34:33same village as Jared Kushner later34:35explained during the campaign dirt on34:39Hillary Clinton had when the currency34:41Russians had tried to trade now the34:44Russians were giving Jared Kushner a34:46literal bag of dirt reminiscent of the34:49bags of dirt that Rhea Kushner and her34:51family had dug from the earth and hidden34:53in the walls of the novogrudok ghetto so34:55the Nazis wouldn’t know they had dug a34:57tunnel to safety had it not been for35:00those bags of dirt Ray would have never35:02made it out of the ghetto to the forest35:04to the refugee camp or to New York where35:07she had four children including one35:09named after her brother who died during35:11the escape and whose own son Jared Corey35:15Kushner was now one of the most powerful35:17people in a new and uncertain world35:20slinking again towards darkness35:32so like I said it’s it’s an incredibly35:35written book and you know it’s such an35:39interesting thing to bring that kind of35:41melancholy writing to an investigative35:44project but I wonder what it felt like35:47to research and write35:49yeah what’s really hard I mean it was35:52really hard35:53the hardwood there were a couple of35:55things that were really hard one of the35:57really hardest parts was I didn’t really36:01know that much about the Holocaust in36:03Poland and I had known about Jared36:07Kushner his grandmother’s testimony and36:08I was speaking to a friend of mine who36:10knows more about Holocaust Studies than36:12I do and he said well is it true and I36:14said wait what it wouldn’t be true and36:16he said no and I realized okay I have to36:19I have to report this the way I would36:21report anything else so I did I listened36:28to her sisters testimony I went to the36:30Holocaust Research Center I asked them36:32for every testimony from everybody else36:34who had survived and gotten out through36:36the tunnel and I read all the36:37testimonies largely I mean the stories36:44matched up and Jared Krishna’s36:46grandmother story largely was true there36:48was a places where people sort of36:49disagreed about numbers but I mean who36:50could know did something happen to 2036:52people did something happen to 50 people36:54the essential facts everybody told the36:57same story so I said okay that is that36:59is true but it was hard hard to listen37:03to that and especially Rhea Kushner37:08describing her growing dread for example37:11she talked about how when she was a37:13teenager they heard stories about37:15Germans coming into southern Poland and37:18killing Jews and their response was that37:20can’t be happening37:22who would do that so it was hard really37:26getting deep into the details of this37:28and watching what is going on now which37:32is not the Holocaust I want to be clear37:34but many of the initial conditions for37:39the Holocaust to happen like the assault37:41on truth like an assent37:43sort of set of or a sense of moral37:47relativism that there’s no right there’s37:49no wrong that anything goes so long as37:51you have the majority of people saying37:52that it goes sir seeing that on two37:55tracks was was difficult it’s I mean now38:00that the book is out in public and every38:01and I have been able to share the story38:02it’s it feels easier and easier to tell38:05it because it was much harder to sort of38:08be alone in that world of listening to38:10all of those testimonies and so so deep38:12in and it never it never got easier this38:17month we did an episode of our podcast38:20Trump Inc in which we had tape from38:23Jared Kushner as grandmothers various38:25testimonies and I had to stop in the38:30middle of tracking and go outside and38:32take a walk because it was so intense38:33and difficult to listen to the story of38:35what happened to them so that’s I mean38:40that’s a that’s a really difficult38:43challenge for a writer to you know to38:46and to inhabit that world right of38:49tragedy and then there’s a different38:52challenge which is to inhabit the world38:54of extremely unlikable people yeah but38:57like these extremely likeable people38:59have this tragic backstory yeah and I39:02don’t even understand how you wrap your39:04mind I mean I think so39:09American oligarchs is a story in five39:12acts and I think that one of the things39:16I’ve learned from other stories that are39:19in five acts is that people are39:20incredibly complicated and there’s no39:24simple sense of somebody is sort of good39:26forever and their ancestors are good39:28forever or because this horrible thing39:29happened to somebody they are a good39:31person39:32and I wanted to tell all of the moral39:37complexities in this story and I mean39:40you know standard journalistic practice39:43of wanting to know what is what is the39:45good in these people and in their39:48background so39:53and then I also think I mean the other39:55thing is is that it’s a story about39:56democracy which i think is so important40:00because it’s a story about the decisions40:02that have been made as a country by a40:04bipartisan group of elected officials40:06that have eroded our system and eroded40:09our system and each time there was a40:10body blow to the system I mean you know40:14when I started covering campaign finance40:16and corruption was so easy because you40:17would go and you’d look up a campaign40:19contribution and then you’d look what40:21happened to you know what could that40:22have possibly 75 thousand dollar40:24contribution but and then you would find40:26something like oh yes it was the scoping40:31study for the east side access project40:33for the MTA and there’s always some it40:35wasn’t hard it was like shooting fish in40:36a barrel once you sort of figured out40:37the system it is so hard now because the40:40systems have been so broken down and40:43each time the systems have been broken40:44down people have said on a bipartisan40:47level okay we’ll figure out a way to40:49weather this but no I mean I think that40:53the answer is you know this is the 10th40:55anniversary of Citizens United decision40:56and our democracy really has not40:59weathered that decision so it’s not like41:03it’s a story with a happy ending41:06but it’s a story that I felt compelled41:09to tell the other thing was is I got41:10sort of obsessed with the Broadway show41:12Hades town which is a story where you41:17know you know basically from the first41:18minute that it’s gonna have a terrible41:19outcome and you read it believing that41:22actually Morpheus is not going to look41:26back and it’s all gonna be good and41:28they’re gonna get out and then he41:30doesn’t because that’s the Greek myth41:32it’s not really a spoiler alert then41:34they tell it again and I felt like41:36that’s the sort of place that I felt41:38like I just have to tell this story41:40because what else can I do41:42and one of the many things I appreciate41:44about the book is that you keep41:48reminding the reader that you actually41:50have to think about you know how we41:52think about democracy how we think about41:54taxes how we think about wealth how we41:56think about social equality and that and41:58the Trump is not in that sense42:00an aberration totally not we’ve been on42:03this road for a long time42:06what I know a lot of questions remain42:09open for you at the end of the book but42:11give us a couple that you really want to42:13get answers to well I would like to see42:22Trump’s tax returns and I would really42:24really like to understand his business42:27[Applause]42:30you know there are so many I mean one of42:36the things and I understand this is a42:37very very emotional week for for a lot42:41of people I mean it’s one thing to know42:42that this Senate is going to acquit the42:45president it’s another to see them doing42:47it and and have that actually experience42:50but this is not we’re not yet at the end42:55of the of consequences but we’re sort of42:58hanging you know it’s kind of like one43:00of those movies where somebody is like43:02hanging over a cliff and somebody’s43:03holding on to them by one arm and that43:05they’re about to fall out like that’s43:06sort of where we are because three cases43:09are going to the Supreme Court including43:11the one where Trump’s lawyer is arguing43:14that he can shoot somebody on Fifth43:16Avenue and not even be investigated so43:19long as he’s president I was in the43:20courtroom when Trump’s lawyer said that43:22and I went and I wrote a story and I43:25went on the radio and I was like Trump’s43:27lawyer said he could shoot somebody on43:29Fifth Avenue and not be investigated and43:31then I got off the air and I was like43:32could what I have said to six million43:35people43:35be true can that be right is that what43:38they said so I had to go back and like43:39listen to the whole thing to make sure I43:41hadn’t gotten wrong no I hadn’t gotten43:42it wrong so Trump lost that case the43:46Second Circuit ruled no that is not the43:48case that is you know it is repugnant to43:51our constitutional system and you know43:54there was another decision another case43:55where a judge said the president is not43:57King so these were not ambiguous lower43:59court decisions federal court decisions44:02Circuit Court decisions and the Supreme44:05Court took them anyway so they’re44:08hearing them on March 20th they’ll rule44:11at the end of this term and for me I44:15think like that is the biggest remaining44:17question is what happens because44:21if the Supreme Court rules that the44:25president cannot even be investigated44:27I just don’t know I mean I think the44:30judicial bans has been really good there44:33have been a lot of really good lower44:34court decisions that have helped us get44:36out information and release facts but if44:39the Supreme Court rules that I think we44:40will be in even worse trouble than we’re44:43in now and I have a scarier question for44:48you before before we go to audience44:53questions one last one so couldn’t be44:57scary to you mosh how you wrote a story44:58book about totalitarian totalitarian45:02totalitarianism reclaiming Russia it’s45:04certainly well actually it’s awesome a45:07great book45:09I mean you decided to look at this and45:15the coming together of the Kushner’s and45:17the trumps mm-hmm which is not actually45:19what produced our current president yeah45:22and I have to ask I mean are you45:26thinking that that’s the future I yeah45:31but just to sort of walk through the45:34logic I mean I will say this I don’t so45:36I got out of the prediction game45:38November 9th 2016 and I covered you know45:42six national presidential elections so45:44going back to the 90s and so many other45:46elections and when you carve our45:48elections the basic thing that people45:49want you to know want to know is who’s45:51gonna win so every story you do has to45:54sort of somehow feel like people are45:57getting an answer to that question and45:58that is what happens in campaign46:00coverage I don’t know who’s gonna win46:04but I do think that Trump has taken over46:10the Republican Party has commandeered46:13mechanisms of democracy with help from a46:17lot of you know wealthy people who46:18believe in gerrymandering and who you46:23know believe in voter suppression etc46:26etc so I think we’re I mean I think that46:31the answer to all the darkies always46:32more46:33see so I think that you know I don’t46:36feel hopeless about that but I think46:40people should take it very very46:41seriously46:42I also think that since implied in your46:45question is what about Ivanka Trump I as46:49I mean I read all of Monica Trump’s46:53social media feeds and watched someone46:56how to watched so many episodes of The47:00Apprentice so many and one of the things47:07that I’ve noticed about Ivanka Trump is47:09you know she speaks like someone who47:11believes like she could run for office47:12someday and she’s very careful in what47:15she says you will notice that Ivanka47:17Trump almost she’s not like Don junior47:20who by the way Don junior okay just have47:23to say Don jr. had $94,000 bulk-buy from47:27the RNC of his book so he would be a47:29best-seller which is like the most47:31trumpian story ever because it’s like47:33manufactured success being presented as47:37actual success which is supposed to47:39generate more success so I only have you47:43all not 94 thousand dollars from the RNC47:45so please buy a lot of books tonight and47:47buy if you have one buy one for your47:49friends okay so that’s the end of the47:50commercial but Don jr. is a very when he47:53speaks he’s very dark very very dark47:56Ivanka Trump is not Ivanka Trump talks47:59in this upbeat way about the economy is48:01going great the Trump tax cuts have been48:04great for working-class people she talks48:07it in in an empathic way there was a48:10study about people who had a four48:12hundred dollar bill it would destroy48:14them economically but she presents as if48:18the Trump economic plans were somehow a48:23solution to these problems and she talks48:26about I mean she went to Africa and she48:29poses with children and she went to48:34India and talked about all that her48:35administration had done for women in48:37minorities and so she acts like somebody48:41who is preserving her options48:46that I can say okay so we have audience48:51questions one is do you have any insight48:53into why so many Americans being hurt by48:56Trump budget continue to support him48:59yeah I mean I think it’s really49:03complicated because I mean I think a49:05whole huge big theme of this book is49:08immigration and refugees and I think49:13what has happened is that there’s a49:15transferring of blame which is so people49:19think if there’s something is going49:21badly it’s because of immigrants and49:22refugees and if something is going well49:25it’s because of Trump and then I also49:27think it’s because of you know this49:28constant stream of spin about how much49:33better things are so I think that people49:36have a sense of hanging on to something49:40which is which is not their experience49:43but wanting so badly to believe it49:45because Trump hasn’t done such a good49:46job of selling that he is the person who49:50is their Savior49:53what is the role of privatization and49:56deregulation in trumpism yeah well I49:59mean I do think that is everything to do50:01with oligarchy and oh by the way I feel50:04like I need to say the last word of my50:07book is hope and it’s not I mean I I50:12really tried to make that hope earned50:15like I didn’t just say okay here’s 40050:18pages of darkness and now have hope so50:23so you’ll have to read to the end of the50:25book to find out how I I get to that50:27argument I’m sorry what was the question50:32right so I know why I thought about that50:35because in my epilogue I talked a lot50:37about sort of oligarchy and sort of50:41nativism being two heads of a Hydra and50:46what is going on with from with the50:50destruction of government is that he is50:53increasingly turning over the power and50:56the money which for him are so50:58intertwined50:59to a group of private businessman so the51:03insiders can stay on the inside and51:05everybody else is on the outside and51:07that is the model of the Trump51:10presidency so everything that he does to51:13privatize to deregulate is all about51:17giving the favors to the very very51:19wealthy who are then in turn going to51:21come back and do things for him and I51:24mean I think we already see this we see51:27this with some of the people who control51:28the biggest companies in America51:30Facebook Apple they are not confronting51:34Trump Google there they’re just not and51:38as and that is sort of how we are seeing51:42the system play out the privatization51:44deregulation they can roll up their51:46wealth even faster and faster and it’s51:50totally related to the destruction of51:52government because the tax bill dropped51:55the tax cuts and job act of 2017 has is51:58going to create a trillion dollar52:00deficit this year and so there is sort52:03of no money to run the government and52:05then everything becomes you know in the52:08hands of private business people who do52:12you think funded and inserted para nós52:15and Thurman into Trump’s orders and why52:17uh so we have I don’t know the answer52:20but we have an episode of our podcast52:22called The Diplomat the mockers and the52:25oligarchs which shows yeah it’s good it52:31has it has even a song from Fiddler on52:35the Roof in it you’ll see and you I mean52:41almost certainly there are I mean we52:43know that there are financial interests52:44involved now from what para nós has said52:46from the deals that he was doing and we52:48heard him talk to the president about it52:50I don’t know how many people listen to52:52that tape but it was extraordinary52:54so Trump is at a super PAC which he’s52:57not actually supposed to be really52:58coordinating with but all these rich53:00people come and they’re like we want53:01this we want that in part us was talking53:03about I want to do these energy deals in53:05Ukraine so we already know that there53:07were financial interests we know that53:10Parnassus was working for ukrainian53:12oligarch name53:13Demitri fear Tash who has been indicted53:15in the United States for violating the53:18Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and has53:20been fighting extradition extradition53:22since 2015 in Vienna and who seizes his53:26personal enemy Joe Biden because he53:28believes that Joe Biden is responsible53:31for his prosecution so there’s at the53:35very least a coincidence of interests53:38between fear Tash Parnassus Rudy53:41Giuliani and Donald Trump last audience53:46question can you talk about trust and53:48who these two families tend to trust53:52often to their own and our detriment53:56well I mean Trump trusts himself first54:02he trusts his family trusts you know his54:05son-in-law I mean I think one of the54:06reasons that Jared Kushner is sort of54:08this enormous ly powerful person is54:10because he comes from a family where54:13loyalty is valued and he that and he is54:18extremely faithful to his father-in-law54:22also one of the things that we’ve54:25learned disturbingly is that a lot of54:29the information and the narrative that54:30Trump is discussing about Ukraine he got54:32directly from Putin or Viktor Orban we54:36just that is actually fact now which is54:39kind of startling and and he told people54:41in his government where’d you learn this54:43oh I learned it from Viktor Orban or I54:45learned it from Vladimir Putin so I54:47think that you’ve read any of Marcia’s54:50books I think you’ll know that Vladimir54:52Putin is not a trust trustworthy source54:54and yet that does seem to be who is54:57informing our president at this moment54:59and disturbingly I mean one of the55:03things that’s very disturbing about this55:05impeachment trial so I mean it was sort55:06of a fascinating and disturbing thing55:08because there was all of this testimony55:10from all of these US government55:11officials and I’ve never seen anything55:12like it I’d never really understood how55:14the mechanisms of government worked and55:17how diplomacy was done and Fiona Hill55:22John Bolton’s chief of staff which is55:24like such historically so hard for me to55:26get my head around55:27but she said this is Russian propaganda55:29don’t believe it and people just simply55:34rejected that they were sort of like I55:36don’t want to hear anyone here and that55:37was sort of the way that Congress has55:40reacted so I think it is a really good55:44question to ask where President Trump55:45gets his information and I think it is55:47why it is so important to and I don’t55:52think I’m alone in this I think there’s55:53a lot of journalists that are trying to55:55document what’s going on but the Fourth55:57Estate is in the Constitution and I55:59think that you know I feel an obligation56:02to keep doing the kinds of things that I56:05do because it creates the possibility of56:10a future where truth will be embraced56:13once again56:17[Applause]
A short clip of Agnes Callard discussing her take on Socrates from an interview by “Into The Coast” which can be found here: https://www.intothecoast.com/agnes-callard.
William James framed 2 problems:
Believing the Truth
Socrates’ method allows for the achievement of both by assigning roles to two different people
Over on the home page, J.J. McCullough has penned a piece urging a “compromise on transgenderism,” but as I read it, this proposed compromise looks a lot like capitulation. While J.J. rightly notes that the Left has overreached in its “effort to strong-arm sweeping social change as a flex of their power,” he asks conservatives to essentially abandon their central argument and accept the radical left’s premise that a man can be a woman or a woman can be a man. This paragraph stands out:
Though transgenderism is a far rarer phenomenon than homosexuality, I think most adults could admit it does seem like a rather persistent aspect of humanity. Most can probably recall a transgender person making at least some minor appearance in their life. If we concede that transgenderism is not going away, and is not something anyone intends to exert effort toward ending, then Americans, especially conservative ones, should reflect on our culture’s honest and fair attitude toward homosexuality and acknowledge that the most sensible path out of the present acrimony will probably require similar compromise. Some degree of cultural ceasefire and consensus seems the only path for both sides to maintain a degree of pride while avoiding a more radical, disruptive societal transformation. (Emphasis added.)
I can acknowledge that gender dysphoria is a “persistent aspect of humanity,” but I will not concede that gender dysphoria trumps biology, and I don’t think our culture should cease efforts towards “ending” the dangerous notion that men or women should amputate healthy organs in the quest to sculpt their bodies to become something they’re not. Gender dysphoria may not “go away,” but transgenderism is something else entirely. Our culture is in the midst of a live and important dispute over the very nature of biological reality — and over the psychological and spiritual health of hundreds of thousands of precious souls — and now is not the time to abandon the field.
J.J. says that “part one of the compromise will be borne by cultural conservatives and traditionalists.” And what does this compromise require?
It asks for broad tolerance for the reality that transgender men and women exist, and are entitled to basic human dignity, just like everyone else. This does not mean having to morally endorse behavior many may believe runs contrary to God’s plan for a just and healthy society, but it does imply that acts like ostentatiously calling people by pronouns they don’t want, or belittling their personal struggle, are boorish and petty. It means acknowledging that arbitrary discrimination against transgender people is a cruel bigotry like any other.
Wait just a moment. While I’m utterly opposed to boorish behavior, the use of a pronoun isn’t a matter of mere manners. It’s a declaration of a fact. I won’t call Chelsea Manning “she” for a very simple reason. He’s a man. If a person legally changes his name, I’ll use his legal name. But I will not use my words to endorse a falsehood. I simply won’t. We’re on a dangerous road if we imply that treating a person with “basic human dignity” requires acquiescing to claims we know to be false.
I don’t know any serious social conservative who doesn’t believe that a transgender man or woman is entitled to “basic human dignity.” No one is claiming that they should be excluded from the blessings of American liberty or deprived of a single privilege or immunity of citizenship. Any effort to strip a transgender person of their constitutional liberty should be met with the utmost resistance. But that’s not the contemporary legal controversy. Current legal battles revolve around the state’s effort to force private and public entities to recognize and accommodate transgender identities. The justification for this coercive effort is often the state’s alleged interest in preventing so-called “dignitary” harm. Thus, men are granted rights to enter a woman’s restroom, even when gender-neutral options are available. Thus, private citizens are forced to use false pronouns. Girls are forced to allow a boy to stay in their room on an overnight school trip, or they’re forced to compete against boys in athletic competition.
But once you grant the premise that a man is, in fact, a woman, don’t all these consequences flow directly from that concession? After all, existing nondiscrimination statutes are quite clear in their scope. And judicial precedents are increasingly aligning with this new fiction. To “compromise” on identity (including on pronouns) is to end the dispute.
In his own response to J.J.’s piece, Michael Brendan Dougherty asks a key question, “[A]re we allowed to tell the truth?” Increasingly, the answer is no. J.J. compares the modern dispute over transgenderism to current and recent fights over homosexuality. The comparison is instructive, but not in the way that he hopes. There has been no “compromise” over homosexuality. Instead, we’re locked in brutal legal fights over whether Christian bakers and florists can be compelled to use their artistic talents to celebrate gay weddings. Christian colleges have had to fend off challenges to their accreditation and funding (and the Obama administration raised the possibility of challenging their tax exemptions) for simply upholding basic standards of Christian sexual morality. And in California, the new sexual orthodoxy now threatens even the sale of books that deliver a disfavored message not just on sexual orientation but also on sexual conduct.
I understand the desire for social peace. Truly I do. The culture wars are exhausting and divisive. But treating every single human being with dignity and respect means not just defending their constitutional liberties and showing them basic human kindness, it also means telling the truth — even when the truth is hard. Any compromise that requires conservatives to grant the other side’s false and harmful premise is no compromise at all.
The cultural roots of our political problems.
It’s become clear in the interim that things are not in good shape, that our problems are societal. The whole country is going through some sort of spiritual and emotional crisis.
College mental health facilities are swamped, suicide rates are spiking, the president’s repulsive behavior is tolerated or even celebrated by tens of millions of Americans. At the root of it all is the following problem: We’ve created a culture based on lies.
Here are some of them:
Career success is fulfilling. This is the lie we foist on the young. In their tender years we put the most privileged of them inside a college admissions process that puts achievement and status anxiety at the center of their lives. That begins advertising’s lifelong mantra — if you make it, life will be good.
Everybody who has actually tasted success can tell you that’s not true. I remember when the editor of my first book called to tell me it had made the best-seller list. It felt like … nothing. It was external to me.
The truth is, success spares you from the shame you might experience if you feel yourself a failure, but career success alone does not provide positive peace or fulfillment. If you build your life around it, your ambitions will always race out in front of what you’ve achieved, leaving you anxious and dissatisfied.
I can make myself happy. This is the lie of self-sufficiency. This is the lie that happiness is an individual accomplishment. If I can have just one more victory, lose 15 pounds or get better at meditation, then I will be happy.
But people looking back on their lives from their deathbeds tell us that happiness is found amid thick and loving relationships. It is found by defeating self-sufficiency for a state of mutual dependence. It is found in the giving and receiving of care.
It’s easy to say you live for relationships, but it’s very hard to do. It’s hard to see other people in all their complexity. It’s hard to communicate from your depths, not your shallows. It’s hard to stop performing! No one teaches us these skills.
Life is an individual journey. This is the lie books like Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” tell. In adulthood, each person goes on a personal trip and racks up a bunch of experiences, and whoever has the most experiences wins. This lie encourages people to believe freedom is the absence of restraint. Be unattached. Stay on the move. Keep your options open.
In reality, the people who live best tie themselves down. They don’t ask: What cool thing can I do next? They ask: What is my responsibility here? They respond to some problem or get called out of themselves by a deep love.
By planting themselves in one neighborhood, one organization or one mission, they earn trust. They have the freedom to make a lasting difference. It’s the chains we choose that set us free.
You have to find your own truth. This is the privatization of meaning. It’s not up to the schools to teach a coherent set of moral values, or a society. Everybody chooses his or her own values. Come up with your own answers to life’s ultimate questions! You do you!
The problem is that unless your name is Aristotle, you probably can’t do it. Most of us wind up with a few vague moral feelings but no moral clarity or sense of purpose.
The reality is that values are created and passed down by strong, self-confident communities and institutions. People absorb their values by submitting to communities and institutions and taking part in the conversations that take place within them. It’s a group process.