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Marilynne Robinson on writing, metaphysics, and the Donald Trump dilemma

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Marilynne Robinson is one of the greatest American novelists alive today. She’s the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead — one of my favorite books ever — as well as Housekeeping, Home, Lila, and her latest, Jack. She’s also produced four brilliant collections of nonfiction essays.

But Robinson is not simply a beautiful writer; her work is inextricably bound up with the most important issues of our time — race, religion, education, geography, democracy — so much so that in 2015, Barack Obama chose to interview her on the state of the country while he was still the sitting president. This conversation on The Ezra Klein Show was a joy to have right now, and it covers vast amounts of ground, including:

• Robinson’s obsession with the doctrine of predestination

• What we know — and all we don’t know — about the nature of reality

• The power of loneliness

• How, for all the talk of polarization, there are certain ideas that Americans widely, quietly share

• How the logic of efficiency and growth has come to invade every aspect of our lives

• The differences between writing fiction and nonfiction

• How to train yourself to notice the world around you

• The sobering purpose of studying history

• What it will take to keep American democracy alive and well

• The particular problem that Donald Trump poses

• The baseline assumptions and practices a democracy demands we share

And much more. I found this conversation a tonic to have in this moment. I hope it’s the same for you.

My conversation with Robinson can be heard on The Ezra Klein Show.

Subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.


Help keep Vox free for all

Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.

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Libya: UN condemns arrest of media authority chief

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UN Support Mission in Libya denounces ‘unlawful arrest’ of Mohammed Baayou after he spoke out against Islamist groups in Tripoli.

The United Nations on Thursday condemned the “unlawful arrest” of the head of Libya’s government media authority demanding “his immediate and unconditional release”.

Mohammed Baayou, a journalist and prominent media official under the leadership of deposed ruler Muammar Gaddafi, has spoken out strongly against Islamist groups as well as the many armed forces vying for control of swaths of Libya.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said Baayou, head of the Libyan Media Corporation, was arrested on Tuesday in the capital, Tripoli.

His two sons and a journalist at Libya’s al-Wataniya TV channel, Hind Ammar, were also arrested but they have since been released, it added.

Libya has been racked by violence since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew and killed veteran leader Gaddafi.

Since then, the North African country has been dominated by armed groups, riven by local conflicts, and divided between two bitterly opposed administrations: the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, and a rival administration in the east affiliated with renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.

‘Arbitrary arrests’

Photographs posted on social media purport to show Baayou being held inside the headquarters of a powerful armed group, the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, which is allied to the GNA.

The Tripoli administration has yet to comment on the arrest.

“This latest round of arbitrary arrests highlights the personal risks journalists take to promote the right to freedom of expression in Libya,” the UN statement said.

“Media freedom is critical to Libya’s democratic transition,” it added.

The US embassy in Tripoli also condemned “the unlawful detention” of Baayou and said it “reaffirms American support for the rule of law in Libya and the protection of journalists and all Libyans in their right to freedom of expression”.

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Trumpism never existed. It was always just Trump.

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In 2016, Julius Krein was one of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters. In Trump’s critiques of the existing Republican and Democratic establishments, Krein saw the contours of a heterodox ideology he believed could reshape American politics for the better. So he established a pro-Trump blog and, later, a policy journal called American Affairs, which his critics claimed was an attempt to “understand Trump better than he understands himself.”

Today, Krein finds himself in an unusual position. Upon realizing Trump was not committed to any governing vision at all (but was as racist as his critics suggested), Krein disavowed the president in 2017. But as the editor of American Affairs, he’s still committed to building an intellectual superstructure around the ideas that were threaded through Trump’s 2016 campaign.

This conversation on The Ezra Klein Show is about the distance between Trump and the ideology so many tried to brand as Trumpism. We also discuss Krein’s view that the US has always functionally been a one-party system, the disconnect between Republican elites and voters, what a new bipartisan economic consensus could look like, whether Joe Biden and the Democrats take Trump’s ideas more seriously than Trump does, which direction the GOP will go if Trump loses in a landslide in November, why Republicans lost interest in governance, whether media coverage is the true aim of right-wing populists, why Krein thinks the true power lies with the technocrats, and more.

My conversation with Krein can be heard on The Ezra Klein Show.

Subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Julius Krein’s book recommendations:

Innovation in Real Places by Dan Breznitz

History Has Begun by Bruno Maçães

The Hall of Uselessness by Simon Leys


Help keep Vox free for all

Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.

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Rights group condemns Egypt’s mass executions

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Human Rights Watch calls Egypt’s killing of 49 prisoners in 10 days ‘outrageous’.

Egypt executed 49 prisoners in just 10 days in October, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday, calling on authorities to immediately halt carrying out death sentences.

“Egypt’s mass executions of scores of people in a matter of days is outrageous,” HRW’s Joe Stork said.

The rights group said it compiled the executions between October 3 and 13 from reports in pro-government newspapers as these killings are not typically announced – or even the prisoner’s family informed, the group said.

“The systematic absence of fair trials in Egypt, especially in political cases, makes every death sentence a violation of the right to life,” Stork added.

Two women were among the executed. Of the 49 killed, 15 were convicted of alleged involvement in political violence following the military overthrow in July 2013 of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

Morsi hailed from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s oldest Islamist group. Since his removal, authorities banned the group and rounded up most of its leaders, including the ex-president.

Morsi collapsed in a court last year – a death that human rights activists said was evidence of the “inhumane living conditions” in Egyptian prisons.

Some executed were found guilty in three separate cases including 10 prisoners accused of carrying out attacks in 2014 for the armed group Ajnad Masrm (Soldiers of Egypt).

Another three were executed for their alleged involvement in a 2013 attack on a police station in the Kerdassa suburb of Cairo, and two others for a violent demonstration in Alexandria in 2013.

Prison attack

The New York-based rights group said 13 of this month’s executions took place in Cairo’s notorious supermax facility known as Scorpion following clashes last month inside the death row ward that left four policemen and four inmates dead.

At the time, authorities said the four prisoners, who had been sentenced to death in separate terrorism-related cases, were killed during an escape attempt.

However, the Human Rights Watch statement cited an anonymous human rights lawyer who challenged the government’s account after having spoken with relatives of two of the inmates. The lawyer said the four prisoners ambushed and fatally stabbed the guards during a routine inspection. Other inmates later saw security forces enter the cell and gunshots were heard.

“Egypt has had a pattern of judicial and suspicious extrajudicial killings following attacks on security forces or civilians in recent years,” the HRW statement said.

Other prisoners put to death had been sentenced for crimes including murder and rape.

An Egyptian government media officer could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.

HRW estimates since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was elected in 2014, Egypt has become one of the top 10 countries in the world carrying out death sentences.

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