Gladstone's Book Answers The Question: What Ails Our Democracy? NPR's Lulu Garcia Navarro talks to Brooke Gladstone, co-host of On The Media, about her new book, The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time.
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Gladstone's Book Answers The Question: What Ails Our Democracy?

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Gladstone's Book Answers The Question: What Ails Our Democracy?

Gladstone's Book Answers The Question: What Ails Our Democracy?

Gladstone's Book Answers The Question: What Ails Our Democracy?

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NPR's Lulu Garcia Navarro talks to Brooke Gladstone, co-host of On The Media, about her new book, The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Our next guest looks at the media and its role for a living, and she's written a book about what she thinks ails our democracy right now.

BROOKE GLADSTONE, BYLINE: (Reading) Perhaps, you picked up this book because an icy hand grips your viscera, sometimes squeezing, sometimes easing, always present.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Brooke Gladstone reading from her new book "The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination On Moral Panic In Our Time."

GLADSTONE: (Reading) After reading this, perhaps, that terrible pressure will begin to ebb, but it'll never leave you. Having watched history unspool in a direction you never believed it could go, now you question reality. And it's likely you always will because reality is more slippery than a pocketful of pudding.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brooke Gladstone is, of course, the co-host of WNYC show On The Media, and she joins me from New York. Hey, Brooke.

GLADSTONE: Hi, thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's great to have you. So I guess it's an obvious question, but what did you want to do with this book? Why did you want to write this book now?

GLADSTONE: OK, it's the sense of anxiety that a lot of people on the coasts and in cities and, you know, the more than half the country that didn't vote for Trump felt that something was going on that was way worse than many of them had experienced in their lifetime or not even worse so much as deeply unsettling - the kind of thing that just sends you, you know, sitting up - bolt upright in the middle of the night wondering what the hell is going on.

So what I was trying to do with this book was to - it was kind of a two-week fever dream, really. I just ran down a lot of blind alleys and rabbit holes trying to figure out why this goes beyond just political disgruntlement into a kind of existential anxiety and how we got there. And finally, if our realities are in fact shattered, how do we paste them back together?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So take us through your central premise of the book, if you will.

GLADSTONE: I believe - I know that facts are real. I don't think that they're relative. But truth, that is to say the world that we make out of those facts, that's a terribly subjective thing. And my central argument is that the foundational notions that got shattered in the last few months was that democracy works along certain principles. One of which is that information shared among a lot of people will enable us to negotiate and to compromise.

Negotiation is the engine of democracy. But if you can't dig in to a common pool of information, that opens the door to complete denial and then swings open the floodgates essentially to authoritarianism. And I think that - the sense of that is at the heart of many people's distress, including many of us in the media.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In your book, you call for reaching outside the bubble beyond like-minded allies, as you put it. Do you think your book, though, sort of reinforces elite liberals own media bubble? You know, you quote authors like Hannah Arendt and - you know, who wrote books like "The Origins Of Totalitarianism." Is this going to appeal just to a certain group of people?

GLADSTONE: It may. I have to say, it's a very personal book. I think that there are many historians and even conservatives who are concerned about the rhetorical methods of Donald Trump. I mean, I go through lots of points in history, not just Hannah Arendt writing in the '50s or a postman writing in the '80s, but also Walter Lippmann writing in the '20s. I even point to the kinds of tunnel vision that's described in "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift centuries ago.

These historical resonances I found quite soothing. And it also gave me a perspective on our moment, which, yeah, was written from a liberal point of view to be sure, but I still think it would be quite interesting for anybody even though it might make some people mad.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brooke Gladstone is co-host of WNYC's On The Media. Her new book is "The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination On Moral Panic In Our Time." Thanks so much.

GLADSTONE: Thank you, Lulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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