The pontificate of Pope Francis, which just reached its tenth year, has brought a greater willingness to engage with modern issues. Francis has addressed Catholics on the climate emergency, arguing a religious position against consumerism and irresponsible development. Without changing the Church’s doctrines, he struck a very different tone than his predecessors Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the inclusion of gay people and the involvement of women in Church leadership. The traditionalist reaction against Francis has also been unprecedented, with prominent figures in the Church openly seeking to discredit him. The New Yorker contributor Paul Elie, who recently wrote about this decade of Francis’s leadership, explores how tensions in the Church were overtaken by an American-style culture war. Elie speaks with Bishop Frank Caggiano, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and M. Cathleen Kaveny, a prominent law professor and theologian at Boston College. “For John Paul,” Kaveny says, “the main challenge that the faith faced was moral relativism. The conservatives . . . are worried that [moral relativism] is not appreciated by Pope Francis.”
What if the Supreme Court Ends Affirmative Action?
In Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appears likely to strike down affirmative action, in a decision expected by this summer. The practice of considering race as a tool to counteract discrimination has been in place at many colleges and universities, and in some workplaces, since the civil-rights era. But a long-running legal campaign has threatened the practice for decades. David Remnick talks with two academics who have had a front-row seat in this fight. Ruth Simmons tells him, “For me, it’s quite simply the question of what will become of us as a nation if we go into our separate enclaves without the opportunity to interact and to learn from each other.” Simmons was the Ivy League’s first Black president, and more recently led Prairie View A. & M., in Texas. Lee Bollinger, while leading the University of Michigan, was the defendant in Grutter v. Bollinger, a landmark case twenty years ago in which the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action. The Court’s current conservative majority is likely to overturn that precedent.
Remnick also speaks with Femi Ogundele, the dean of undergraduate admissions at the University of California,Berkeley. Consideration of race in admissions at California state schools has been banned for nearly thirty years. “A lot of us are being kind of tapped on the shoulder and asked, ‘How are you doing what you’re doing in this new reality?’ ” he says. “I want to be very clear: I do not think there is any race-neutral alternative to creating diversity on a college campus,” Ogundele tells Remnick. “However, I do think we can do better than what we’ve done.”
Trans Activist Janet Mock Finds Her Voice
Janet Mock first heard the word “māhū,” a Native Hawaiian word for people who exist outside the male-female binary, when she was twelve. She had just moved back to Oahu, where she was born, from Texas, and, by that point, Mock knew that the gender she presented as didn’t feel right. “I don’t like to say the word ‘trapped,’ ” Mock tells The New Yorker’s Hilton Als. “But I was feeling very, very tightly contained in my body.”
Eventually, Mock left Hawaii for New York, where she worked as an editor for People magazine. “[Everyone was] bigger and louder and smarter and bolder than me,” she tells Als. “So, in that sense, I could kind of blend in.” After working at People for five years, she came out publicly as trans; since then, she has emerged as a leading voice on trans issues. She’s written two books, produced a documentary, and signed a deal with Netflix. In 2018, she became the first trans woman of color to be hired as a writer on a TV series—Ryan Murphy’s FX series “Pose,” which just concluded its final season.
This story originally aired January 4, 2019
Masha Gessen on the Battle Over Trans Rights
Many culture-war politicians are attacking the rights of trans people, and making a regressive view of gender as biology the key to their platforms. In this episode, David Remnick talks to two people who’ve found themselves at the center of the battle over transgender rights. In Nebraska, a state senator has committed to filibustering every piece of legislation to ward off a vote on a Republican-sponsored bill that would ban gender-affirming care for trans people under age nineteen. Then Masha Gessen—who fled Russia years ago as an L.G.B.T. person targeted by government repression—explains why anti-trans messaging has been effective for the right, and why discussions of trans issues can be fraught even for those who support them.
Introducing: “In The Dark”
“In The Dark,” the acclaimed investigative podcast from American Public Media, is joining The New Yorker and Condé Nast Entertainment. In its first two seasons, “In The Dark,” hosted by the reporter Madeleine Baran, has taken a close look at the criminal-justice system in America. The first season examined the abduction and murder, in 1989, of eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling, and exposed devastating failures on the part of law enforcement. The second season focussed on Curtis Flowers, a Black man from Winona, Mississippi, who was tried six times for the same crime. When the show’s reporters began looking into the case, Flowers was on death row. After their reporting, the Supreme Court reversed Flowers’s conviction. Today, he is a free man.
A third season of “In The Dark,” which will be the show’s most ambitious one yet, is on its way. David Remnick recently sat down with Baran and the show’s managing producer, Samara Freemark, to talk about the remarkable first two seasons of the show, and what to expect in the future. To listen to the entirety of the “In The Dark” catalogue, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.