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Editor’s Choice: The Best Interviews of 2019

(David Butow—Redux for TIME)

As is tradition at Merion West, here are the editor’s choices for our favorite Merion West interviews of 2019.

5. Nicholas Christakis on His Latest Book 

Nicholas Christakis, the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University, joined Merion West in June to discuss his recently published third book Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. In the interview, Christakis comments on how he sees his book in the context of other recent works aiming to understand aspects of the “human condition” through empirical works of science. Christakis walks through a number of the examples and thought experiments used in his book, alongside his general comments on the book’s aims to examine how natural selection has resulted in humans possessing a number of virtues, which offset their more frequently written about vices.

4. Rep. Jeff Van Drew on Getting the Two Parties to Work Together

Speaking with Merion West in September, just two short months before being thrust into the national spotlight for being among the lone Democrats to oppose the impeachment of President Donald Trump, Rep. Jeff Van Drew discusses representing a district nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. He also describes possible strategies for promoting bipartisanship in a highly polarized Congress. Recognition of the problem, he believes, is the place to start.

3.  Vice President Mondale Comments on Today’s Democratic Party

Former Vice President and 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale joined Merion West in April to look back on his career and to offer his advice and words of counsel to the Democratic Party of today. Presciently anticipating some of the priorities the new Democratic House of Representatives would undertake, Vice President Mondale cautioned them: “We can’t be seen just as being negative on Trump, although we should. We need to be talking positively about what we can do. ” Vice President Mondale, the first presidential nominee of a major party to select a woman as his running mate, also reflected on the increasing number of women taking leading roles in federal politics.

2. Jonathan Haidt on What Underlies Polarization in America

Speaking in January, Professor Jonathan Haidt looked back on his 2012 book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion in light of ever-increasing partisan animosity and division in the United States. In addition, Haidt discussed his own journey from being a liberal Democrat to becoming more open to a range of perspectives and worldviews, including aspects of conservatism. Later in the interview, Haidt commented on the risks of becoming locked in one’s own individual worldview: “There’s the apocryphal story about the British tabloid with the headline ‘Fog in Channel, Continent Cut Off.’ If you have an insular view and you define yourself as the center of the world, you see others as strange or distant.”

1. Former Rep. Tom Davis: Can Earmarks Fix Congress? 

In this April interview, former Virginia congressman Tom Davis, joined Merion West  to discuss his widely covered 2008 decision to leave elected politics, particularly given the degree to which he had been touted as a rising star of the Republican Party. Frustrated with gridlock and inaction on the part of the federal government, Rep. Davis chose to leave Congress in favor of a private sector job and more in the way of free time. As he put it in the interview, “And I didn’t realize it until I left and figured out that I could take a day and walk my dog instead of sitting in a suit with a bunch of lobbyists making small talk.” Rep. Davis also provocatively suggests that perhaps the most effective way to ease a climate of polarization and division on Capitol Hill is to re-introduce earmarks, once an essential bargaining chip for building voting coalitions in Congress.

Erich J. Prince is the editor at Merion West. Erich has contributed to a variety of publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Hartford Courant, The News & Observer, the Orlando Sentinel, and The Hill. His opinion writing has been honored with two awards from the Columbia University School of Journalism. He studied political science at Yale, completing his thesis on the history of polarization in the United States Congress.

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