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55 Voices for Democracy – The Podcast
Thomas Mann House
How can democracy be renewed and defended today? A collaboration of the Thomas Mann House, the Goethe Institute, Wunderbar Together, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.
4 hours ago
Birte Meier on Equal Pay
What can Germany learn from California in terms of Equal Pay? Award-winning journalist Birte Meier explored this question during her Fellowship at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles. In this episode of 55 Voices for Democracy, she talks about how California's Equal Pay Act effectively protects against discrimination by, for example, allowing workers to speak openly about their salaries. Meier has worked as a ZDF editor, doing investigative business stories and in-depth political reports since 2007.
Jan 6, 2022
Sonia Faleiro on Political Oppression in India
In this episode, award-winning journalist Sonia Faleiro talks about dangerous developments in Indian democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The repression of the Muslim minority and restrictions on the democratic public sphere have taken on dramatic proportions, she says. Faleiro believes that only a democracy movement on the scale of India's freedom struggle can bring real change. Sonia Faleiro grew up in India and lives in London. Her most recent book The Good Girls (Penguin, 2021), has been called "a riveting, sometimes astonishing work of forensic journalism" by the Wall Street Journal.
Dec 16, 2021
Daniel Ziblatt on Resilient Democracies | A Collaboration with the German American Conference at Harvard
In this collaboration with the German American Conference at Harvard, Dr. Daniel Ziblatt talks about the decline of democracies. Ziblatt encourages us not to "be afraid to reform our constitution and our institutions." In conversation with hosts Anne McElvoy and Tom Zoellner, he argues that vibrant civil societies, a robust media, and strong opposition are key to resilient democracies. Daniel Ziblatt is professor of government at Harvard University and director of Transformations of Democracy at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. He recently published, with Steve Levitsky, the best-selling book How Democracies Die.
Dec 2, 2021
Tobias Boes on Thomas Mann’s War
How did Thomas Mann use the then still young medium of radio in his fight against fascism? How did he channel repressed energies into political activism? Literary scholar Tobias Boes, author of the book Thomas Mann’s War: Literature, Politics, and the World Republic of Letters (Cornell University Press, 2019), discusses Thomas Mann’s role as a political figure in the United States and how he addressed political issues through the eyes of a novelist. In his book, Boes traces how the acclaimed and bestselling author became one of America’s most prominent anti-fascists. In this episode, we learn more about Mann’s speeches, how he used radio as a political medium and what we can learn from Thomas Mann’s political engagement today. Tobias Boes is a Professor and department chair in German and Russian Languages and Literature at the University of Notre Dame.
Nov 18, 2021
Anniversary Episode: One Year of "55 Voices for Democracy"
The 55 Voices for Democracy podcast celebrates it's first birthday this month! Time to look back on the first 25 episodes and reflect on what happened so far: Hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad discuss the highlights and their favorite moments of the podcast against the backdrop of their own biographies. How do their individual political and professional backgrounds shape the way they approach the podcast and interview the guests? What can we learn from having a German and a U.S. standpoint on the podcast, and how can these different political systems be helpful to get a deeper understanding of democracy? Who would Tom’s dream guest be and how did Aida first get interested in Thomas Mann and his work? In this episode, they take the time to reflect on these and other issues and give us the opportunity to learn more about the hosts of 55 Voices.
Nov 4, 2021
Emilia Roig on Intersectionality
"We have to think of the entire fabric of our society, and we have to be courageous!“ French political scientist Emilia Roig talks about the intersection and simultaneity of different categories of discrimination against certain minorities. Underlying societal hierarchies play an important role in maintaining these injustices. Emilia Roig is the founder of the Berlin-based organization Center for Intersectional Justice. In 2021, she published the best-selling book Why We Matter - The End of Oppression (Aufbau Verlag).
Oct 21, 2021
Timothy Snyder on Resisting Authoritarianism
"The problem is ourselves." Timothy Snyder describes why the challenges of our democracies are not so much political figures like Trump, but ourselves as citizens. Snyder says it's about breaking down social barriers while addressing structural political problems like voter suppression and the manipulation of the electoral college. "A failed coup attempt is a rehearsal for a later coup." Timothy Snyder teaches history at Yale University. His book, "On Tyranny," has been translated into more than 40 languages and sold nearly half a million copies in the U.S. alone. It was published in 2021 by Ten Speed Press in an edition illustrated by Nora Krug.
Oct 7, 2021
Samuel Moyn on the idea of humane wars
In this episode, legal historian Samuel Moyn critically reflects on the pursuit of 'humane wars.' "We fight war crimes, but we have forgotten the crime of war," Moyn says. Thus, he says, the wars of recent decades have led to a fixation on the means of war, rather than a discussion of how to end them sustainably. Samuel Moyn is professor of law at Yale Law School and professor of history at Yale University. He is the author of "Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World" and "Humane. How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War.“
Sep 16, 2021
Stephanie Kelton on Democracy and the Deficit Myth
Professor Stephanie Kelton explains how deficits can strengthen economies and be healthy for democracies. She argues that there are no budgetary constraints on government spending and makes the case for challenging our view of public debt. Stephanie Kelton is a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University and a former Chief Economist on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. She was named by POLITICO as one of the 50 people most influencing the policy debate in America. Dr. Stephanie Kelton advises policymakers and consults with investment banks, and portfolio managers across the globe. She is a regular commentator on national radio and broadcast television. Her highly-anticipated book, The Deficit Myth, became an instant New York Times bestseller.
Aug 19, 2021
Susan Bernofsky on Translation and the Plurality of Language
Susan Bernofsky's new translation of Thomas Mann's novel "The Magic Mountain" is eagerly awaited. In conversation with Tom Zoellner, Bernofsky talks about Thomas Mann's multiculturalism and the challenges of translating between languages and cultures. In this episode, the renowned translator also shares her personal experiences as a Jewish American in Europe and talks about the rise of the global, increasingly plural English language. Susan Bernofsky is the prizewinning translator of seven works of fiction by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, as well as novels and poetry by Yoko Tawada, Jenny Erpenbeck, Uljana Wolf, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, and others. Her biography of Walser, "Clairvoyant of the Small", appeared in 2021. A Guggenheim, Cullman, and Berlin Prize fellow, she teaches literary translation at the Columbia University School of the Arts.
Jul 15, 2021
Mithu Sanyal on 'Transracialism' and Identity
As more and more Americans self-identify as multiracial, transgressing categories of race still raise questions. Most prominently in the case of Rachel Dolezal, a former college professor and activist who identified as Black despite being born to white parents. Dolezal's story inspired German author, journalist and cultural critic Mithu Sanyal to write Identitti, a novel about the powerful role of internet culture in discourses of sexuality and race. In today's episode, Sanyal discusses her novel and the current political debates about identity.
Jul 1, 2021
David Himbara on Threatening Developments in Rwanda
While his government has long been a promise for reconciliation and development, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame is facing increasing international criticism. Human Rights Watch and other institutions accuse his government of mistreating opposition members or making them disappear. At the center of the criticism is, among other things, the kidnapping of Paul Rusesabagina, a central figure in the film Hotel Rwanda and recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. In this episode, hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad talk with David Himbara, a Rwandan political scientist and economist, about the threatening developments in Rwanda and the human rights situation in his country.
Jun 17, 2021
Colm Toíbín on Thomas Mann & Democracy
Irish novelist, journalist and scholar Colm Toíbín talks about Thomas Mann’s formation as a democrat and the historic circumstances that formed his political thinking. Toíbín’s highly anticipated upcoming novel "The Magician“ (Simon & Schuster, 2021) tells the life of Thomas Mann, an epic family saga set across a half-century spanning World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II, and the Cold War. Toíbín discusses Mann’s relationship to the United States, his admiration for Franklin D. Roosevelt and how Mann turned from a "nonpolitical man" into an important advocate of social democracy. Tóibín is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester and Chancellor of the University of Liverpool.
Jun 3, 2021
Joyce Marie Mushaben on Post-Merkel Germany
What is a post-Merkel Germany going to look like? How did Germany change in the 16 years of Merkel’s administration and should Germans be afraid of a political backlash? Political scientist Joyce Marie Mushaben discusses ongoing disparities between former East and West Germany, issues of gender equality, and the rise of a new right in Germany. Mushaben is an Affiliated Faculty member in the BMW Center for German & European Studies at Georgetown University and works with the European feminist think tank Gender5 Plus. Her research focuses on new social movements, German national identity and generational change. Mushaben recently published the book Becoming Madam Chancellor: Angela Merkel and the Berlin Republic.
May 20, 2021
Max Czollek on Diversity and the New German Nationalist Culture
Poet and writer Max Czollek talks about why German remembrance culture seems staged to him, and what a radically diverse society might look like. Czollek's recent books "Gegenwartsbewältigung“ (Coping with the Present) and "Desintigriert Euch!“ (De-Integrate Yourselves!) have been widely discussed in Germany. Through his books and daily tweets, Max Czollek has become one of Germany's most important voices on issues such as contemporary Jewish identity in Germany, racism and integration. Czollek completed his dissertation at the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University Berlin.
May 6, 2021
Andreas Reckwitz on the COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Effect on Late Modern Societies
How can societies and states reinvent themselves after the pandemic? Andreas Reckwitz, sociologist, cultural theorist and one of Germany’s most eminent contemporary scholars, talks about what the COVID-19 pandemic means for late modern society from a sociological point of view. While the pandemic highlighted structural problems such as inequality, can it also bear hope for societal transformation? With our hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad, he discusses the emergence of a new middle class and the meaning of the terms "left" and "right" today. Reckwitz is the author of Society of Singularities (2017) and The End of Illusions (2019), and will be a fellow at the Thomas Mann House in 2022.
Apr 22, 2021
Nora Krug on Notions of Belonging and Historical Memory
In this episode, illustrator and author Nora Krug talks about notions of belonging, nationalism, and the power of images. In conversation with our hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad, she reflects on issues of historical memory and responsibility, and how they can be tackled in the form of a graphic novel. Krug's graphic novel "Belonging: A German Reckons With History and Home" was honored with a 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award. It investigates her own family's WWII history in image and text.
Apr 8, 2021
Keisha N. Blain on African American History and Selective Memory
Historian Keisha N. Blain, Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and President of the African American Intellectual History Society, recently co-edited the acclaimed book Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019 with her colleague Ibram X. Kendi. In this episode, Blain talks about how to commemorate the 400 year anniversary of the pivotal moment in 1619, when the first group of twenty African captives arrived on "The White Lion" in Jamestown, Virginia. In her conversation with hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad, Blain reflects on the history of Black America and issues of racism, voting rights, and social justice today. Blain's articles have appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic and the Washington Post.
Mar 29, 2021
55 Voices for Democracy – Trailer
55 Voices for Democracy is modeled after the BBC radio speeches, through which Thomas Mann in the mid 1940s pleaded to thousands of listeners to resist the Nazi regime. In this podcast series, intellectuals, artists, and activists engage in conversations about how to renew democracy today.
Mar 25, 2021
Luisa Neubauer on Dreaming as a Tool for Change
The societal state as a crisis of imagination? German climate activist Luisa Neubauer is one of the main organizers of Fridays for Future in Germany, an international student movement demanding political action against climate change. In this episode, Neubauer talks about her activism and the momentum of the movement, climate awareness in the U.S. and Germany, and dreaming as a tool for change. "On the one side, we have to accept the catastrophes that are going to unravel. But on the other, we need to allow ourselves to dream big." Neubauer is the co-author of the book Vom Ende der Klimakrise – Eine Geschichte unserer Zukunft (On the End of the Climate Crisis - A History of Our Future).
Mar 11, 2021
Deborah Feldman on Religion, Integration and Political Participation
In this episode, U.S.-German writer Deborah Feldman engages in a conversation with hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad about contemporary Jewish culture in Berlin, political participation by religious communities and the meaning of trust in democracies: “We need to establish the kind of personal trust we have as individuals with each other in the public sphere.” Feldman is the author of Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots (2012), in which she tells the story of her escape from an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, New York. The book was the basis of the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox (2020).
Mar 4, 2021
John S. Adams on Donations as Threats for Democracies (Special Episode)
In this special episode of our podcast, the award-winning investigative and political reporter John S. Adams talks about money, politics and its effect on democracy. While there was always "money in politics," the practice of political donations has become a substantial threat to liberal democracies. "In the last several years, the flood gates have really opened," states Adams in his conversation with hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad. What are the real motivations behind these donations and what are the differences between political donations in Germany and the United States? Adams was the former Capital Bureau Chief of the Great Falls Tribune and a correspondent for USA TODAY. He is the founder and editor of the Montana Free Press, a digital news watchdog. His work on the subject of politics and money was featured in the 2019 PBS documentary Dark Money.
Feb 25, 2021
Brad Smith on the Role of Digital Technology in the World of Politics
We have to step up and accept our responsibility for all of the implications that technology has created.” Brad Smith, President of Microsoft and author of the book Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age (2019), makes a strong argument for the political and moral accountability of big tech companies. Smith discusses “the role of digital technology in the world of politics” and draws attention to how and why “technology inequality” has become a source of social injustice.
Jan 12, 2021
Igor Levit on Music and Politics
Pianist Igor Levit talks with our hosts about the persistence of the arts in the face of political threats and why Europeans should work against their feelings of cultural superiority. While Igor Levit’s music focuses on the works of Bach, Beethoven and Liszt, he is also known for being a politically engaged artist: he has publicly spoken out several times against issues such antisemitism and racism. In this conversation, Levit appeals to music’s ability to make us remember and understand. He is Professor at the Hanover University of Music, Drama & Media. His book Hauskonzert will be published by Hanser Verlag in April.
Dec 22, 2020
Chantal Mouffe on Conflict as a Political Good
In this episode, Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe reflects on the question of why democracy has to be turbulent and how to foster a democratic ethos of equality and social justice. In her conversation with Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad, she discovers surprising potentials, especially in artistic practices. Chantal Mouffe is best known for her books For a Left Populism (2018), Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically (2013) and The Democratic Paradox (2000). She holds a professorship at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster.
Dec 8, 2020
Daniel Kehlmann on Politics, Power, and Populism
The German-Austrian novelist and playwright Daniel Kehlmann talks with host Tom Zoellner and co-host Aida Baghernejad about the reasons for the rise of populist politicians and "literature as the ultimate school of empathy." What perspective do contemporary German literary authors have on the rise of populism around the world? His book Measuring the World (2006) is one of the world's best-selling German-language books of the 21st century. Tyll, the latest novel of Kehlmann, who currently lives in New York City and Berlin, was published in the U.S. this year, three years after it became a bestseller in Germany.
Nov 24, 2020
Wolfgang Ischinger on Trust, Truth, and Transparency
The former German Ambassador to the U.S. and Chairman of the Munich Security Conference speaks about Europe's position in international politics. In the interview with host Tom Zoellner and co-host Aida Baghernejad, the author of World in Danger: Germany and Europe in an Uncertain Time explains how shared values such as "truth, trust and transparency" can be strengthened again and what it means to revitalize transatlantic relations in turbulent times.
Nov 17, 2020
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Franak Viačorka and the Crisis in Belarus
The guests in this episode are the Belarusian opposition politicians Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Franak Viačorka. Tsikhanouskaya, who ran for president in the 2020 elections, is currently in exile in Lithuania. She is considered to be one the most important voices of the democratic opposition in Belarus. Viačorka is journalist, blogger and an activist in the Belarusian struggle for democracy and personal freedom. The two talk to host Tom Zoellner and co-host Aida Baghernejad about the situation in Belarus and their experiences in the election year.
Nov 10, 2020
Dipayan Ghosh on Digital Democracy
How should democracies deal with the increasing power of tech companies? This episode features Dipayan Ghosh, a former technology and economic policy advisor in the Obama White House. Ghosh conducts research on digital piracy, artificial intelligence and civil rights at the Harvard Kennedy School. His recently published and critically acclaimed report "Utilities for Democracy – Why and How the Algorithmic Infrastructure of Facebook and Google must be regulated“ serves as a starting point for a conversation with host Tom Zoellner.
Nov 2, 2020
Conny McCormack on Election Mechanics
Conny McCormack has served as an international observer of fair elections in Albania, Ecuador, Finland, Panama, Zambia and other countries. She had been the Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk for Los Angeles County from 1995 to 2008 and was in similar positions in San Diego and Dallas counties. In this episode, McCormack talks to host Tom Zoellner about what she calls "the frontline of democracy:" the day-to-day work of making an election happen, the inevitability of human error in the process and the well-established lack of fraud in American elections over the last century.
Oct 27, 2020
David Shimer on the Vulnerability of the Electoral Process
David Shimer is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and an Associate Fellow at Yale University. His reporting and analysis have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker and the Washington Post. He is pursuing a doctorate in international relations at the University of Oxford. In this episode, Shimer discusses his book Rigged: America, Russia, and 100 Years of Electoral Interference with Tom Zoellner and talks about what foreign meddling means for the future of democracy in the digital age.
Oct 16, 2020
Rebecca Solnit on Hope in Politically Dark Times
Polymath author of twenty books, writer, historian, essayist, urban geographer and activist Rebecca Solnit is our inaugural guest on 55 Voices for Democracy. The author of, among other books, Men Explain Things to Me, Savage Dreams, Infinite City, A Paradise Built in Hell, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Hope in the Dark, Recollections of My Nonexistence, and her recent The Mother of All Questions, she is a thinker dedicated to furthering radical equality and economic justice, for whom “a commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.” She is interviewed by Tom Zoellner and co-host Amal Khaled (Project Director of Wunderbar Together).