Considering the exhausting progression of news dumps from the turbulent White House, open and honest conversations about politics have rarely been more important or more difficult to find.
Even the work of the best journalists has to compete with infinite “hot takes” on social media and President Donald Trump’s most recent idiocy on Twitter. Perhaps no one understands this better than the former Obama administration aides responsible for Pod Save America, who promise exactly the “no-bullshit conversation about politics” that we need the most.
I was first aware of the genius of rotating co-hosts Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett about a millennium ago during the presidential primary season, when they started the podcast “Keepin’ it 1600.” Even though they assumed with blinders-on near-certainty that Hillary Clinton would win, their episode “The Day After” was one of the most sincere examinations that I have ever seen of where the Democratic party went wrong and how this outcome could have been anticipated. “We were wrong about a lot of things,” Favreau said at the time. “At times we were smug about it. And I’m sorry for that.” Considering that Favreau and his colleagues are Democratic party insiders, their acknowledgement of their own party’s mistakes and how it must change its calculus moving forward set “Keepin’ it 1600” apart.
Now, the biweekly episodes of Pod Save America — for which the average listenership is about 800,000 — answer the enduring question “What do we do now?” with in-depth discussions of the week’s news followed by interviews with politicians, journalists and activists who provide a level of analysis nearly comparable to NPR or the New York Times, The Daily. The coverage of this summer’s breaking news stories, such as the firing of James Comey, the ill-fated efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare and the white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, were remarkably informative and thought-provoking. Yet at the same time, the hosts provide a refreshing amalgamation of wisdom informed by years of experience and biting millennial humor. The caliber of their interview subjects, from Sen. Al Franken to former Vice-President Al Gore, is evidence that “Pod Save America” has become a serious presence in the podcasting world in only about nine months.
Almost every episode of “Pod Save America” involves a call to action or specific opportunities to oppose Trump’s retrograde agenda. For example, during the summer’s prolonged efforts to repeal Obamacare, “Pod Save America” worked with Indivisible to create a “Trumpcare Ten” website targeting the Republican senators in ten states with the most to lose if Obamacare was repealed. It provided, among other resources, the opportunity for constituents to submit their own amendments to be included in the Congressional record and advice for calling lawmakers. The hosts are also involved in activism themselves — for example, I heard Lovett speak at a March for Truth rally in Washington, D.C., in June.
In addition, as good as the Pod Save America hosts are at communicating the weekly news in a way that is accessible and entertaining, their commentary returns to the truth that Trump’s victory is symptomatic of the larger problems that have long been present in our political parties, democratic institutions and culture. The problems facing our country right now won’t go away when Trump leaves office, and with that in mind, spinoff podcasts Pod Save the People and Pod Save the World go in-depth about social justice and foreign policy issues, respectively. Both are a refreshing change of direction from the “all Trump, all the time” approach often taken by Pod Save America.
It’s a fair criticism that due to its unashamedly left-leaning perspective and irreverence, Pod Save America is unlikely to convince anyone to hop onto the anti-Trump train if they aren’t already on it. In their mission statement, its creators admit, “We’re not journalists, we’re not unbiased, we’re not always serious and we’re certainly not always right.” They are furious and profane, more often mocking than measured. But at a time when every day is a mix of the outrageous, confounding and heartbreaking, I need my fury and dismay matched as much as I need a low-temperature explanation of an infrastructure plan. Pod Save America does a great job tapping into the emotions of young Democrats, so it’s no surprise that it’s routinely one of the highest-ranking podcasts on the Apple podcast app.
Lovett, Favreau, Pfeiffer and Vietor don’t claim to be experts with all the answers — in fact, they acknowledge that experts with all the answers don’t exist, and no one has a magic plan to save us. However, at the same time, even as we’ve been proven wrong time and time again, they insist that “there’s one last assumption we’re not ready to jettison: that America can be decent and fair and hopeful and for everyone. And we can all play a role in making that true.” By providing a smart and sane political conversation for people who don’t want to give up just yet, Pod Save America is a great start.