In today’s political climate, there appears to be nothing that people can agree on. Finding common ground can, at times, seems to be next to impossible; it feels like facts that we once took for granted are now up for serious debate. The only thing that we’re able to come to a consensus about is that the times we live in have lately been tumultuous. At moments like these, people tend to turn to the media, not only as a source of comfort or validation for their feelings, but to help them understand how we got to where we are. WNYC’s podcast, The United States of Anxiety, provides a way to understand a world which can appear daunting and scary.
Hosted by Kai Wright, The United States of Anxiety deals with several contemporary issues facing American society (i.e. racism and sexism). The United States of Anxiety is a fairly new podcast, beginning as a reaction to the 2016 election. During season one, the podcast focused on a Long Island suburb as a microcosm for the social issues facing America during the election. Despite looking at the lives of specific individuals and their experiences, The United States of Anxiety seamlessly wove in larger social issues to their storytelling. In an age where we tend to live in bubbles, it is only through hearing our own opinions and viewpoints echoed back to us by our peers that The United States of Anxiety provided a way to connect with alternative points of view and humanized those who hold them.
Season Two of The United States of Anxiety differs from its predecessor. However it proves as equally engaging. In season two, Wright looks at clashes of American culture from a historical perspective with the goal of helping shed some light on how we got to our current political/cultural state. Interrogating issues such as climate change denial, the involvement of religion in politics, and observations of radical (left and right) groups of the political spectrum, Wright provides much needed clarity in a confusing time.
Two of season two’s episodes that stood out to me are the programs that closely examined the radical political beliefs from the far right and left groups. Looking at the growth of the alt right movement by tracking its path from radical internet chat rooms to mainstream American Politics, Wright makes sense of a movement which seemingly came out of nowhere; listeners are able to walk away with the message: once you understand something, you can fight it. In another episode, an interview with a former member of the leftist terrorist group, the Weathermen, showed the slow and steady descent into political radicalization, giving a nuanced looking into political radicalism in America.
Wright is a fair host who acknowledges that, just like us, he has his own biases and difficulties with the subject matter, but still believes in the importance of engagement. While The United States of Anxiety mainly focuses on the importance of trying to understand those with different beliefs than us and understanding of our current political moment, it also shows those who are fighting for political and cultural change. By profiling current activists fighting for what they believe is right, this podcast doesn’t just highlight issues, it shows current grassroots solutions, forcing us to ask ourselves, what are we willing to fight for?