8 Podcasts to Help Make Sense of Post-Trump America
In the wake of a most untraditional presidency, these shows will keep you up-to-date on what’s happening in Washington and our politically polarized country.,
A couple of years after Serial sped up podcasting’s move into the mainstream, Donald J. Trump’s election as president changed the game in a different way. It spawned a plethora of audio shows that promised to help Americans process an unexpected and unsettling time. And though Trump is now out of office, there’s still no shortage of political news to try and make sense of: the repercussions of the attack on the Capitol, the continued polarization of the electorate, and the new and ongoing challenges facing his successor, President Biden.
These eight shows will keep you up-to-date on what’s happening in Washington, provide context for current events and (maybe) keep you sane along the way.
This Washington Post show was one of the countless podcasts born in the early days of the Trump presidency, when civilians and political experts were regularly stunned by the audacity of the administration’s conduct. As its title suggests, the show’s original remit was digging into the legality of the 45th president’s actions while in office. But in the four years since its debut, the show has evolved into a broader exploration of the executive branch, and how its powers both shape, and are shaped by, the divided electorate of modern America. Since Trump left office, the host, Allison Michaels, and her guests have tackled specific topics like the latest stimulus bill, while also exploring bigger questions — for instance, whether gun reform is actually within the president’s power, or what responsibilities the president has during a national crisis.
Starter episode: “The Duty of a President During Crisis”
‘U.T.R.’ (Not Its Real Name)
If you like your political commentary cynical but not embittered, this relatively new podcast may hit the spot. Beginning in the run-up to the 2020 election, “Unf*cking the Republic” delivers audio essays that are consistently compelling and educational, aiming to challenge conventional wisdom and upend the historical narratives that we’re taught in school. The host, a “quasi-anonymous political writer,” according to the podcast’s synopsis, approaches the show with a playful and often coarse tone that never undermines the rigorous, serious content of its episodes. A recent episode, titled “The American Holocaust,” offered an unflinching discussion of America’s sins against Indigenous nations, or “the most horrific acts the U.S. has ever perpetrated on a people — which is saying a lot.” If the show is sometimes uncomfortable listening, that’s the point.
Starter episode: “Culture Cancel: The American Holocaust”
A beloved mainstay for many podcast fans, Slate’s weekly conversational show is roughly the same age as the format itself, having been going strong since 2005. The hosts, Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson and David Plotz, break down the latest announcements, leaks and scandals from Washington in an approachable style that feels less like a news report and more like eavesdropping on a smart conversation between friends (all of whom happen to be veteran D.C. reporters). The show’s format has barely changed over its 16-year run, and that comforting consistency has made it an anchor through especially turbulent times.
Starter episode: “Midnight Train From Georgia”
It’s become common to lament how polarized our political climate has become, and despite President Biden’s professed desire for bipartisanship, the divisions seem as deep as ever in 2021. They’re so deep that any attempt to reach across the aisle is often derided as either naive or disingenuous, but the hosts of “Pantsuit Politics” are determined to prove that genuine conversations between the left and the right are still possible. Sarah Stewart Holland (on the left) and Beth Silvers (on the right) are Kentucky-based friends who hail from opposite ends of the political spectrum, co-wrote a book entitled “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening),” and now share down-to-earth conversations on this twice-a-week podcast. Though the hosts’ views are often more similar than this premise suggests, it’s compelling and thoughtful listening.
Starter episode: “We’re All Strange Combinations of Things”
Playfully inverting a well-worn adage (“don’t get lost in the weeds”), this Vox staple thrives on delving into the nitty-gritty of policy and the processes through which it’s created. Hosted by Matthew Yglesias and Dara Lind, alongside a revolving cast of other Vox staffers, “The Weeds” offers a twice-a-week examination of what’s happening in the corridors of power. The main feed sometimes includes limited spinoffs, like “The Next Four Years,” a three-month primer on the new administration’s cabinet appointments and policy plans. More recently, the show has offered detailed but accessible explainers on what the Biden era means for housing, voting rights and immigration policy.
Starter episode: “It’s Time for Class Warfare”
Though its scathing tone might sound like a product of the Trump years, this salty-mouthed political comedy has actually been running since 2015. Its hosts — Noah Lugeons, Heath Enwright, and Eli Bosnick — are perhaps better known for their long-running podcast “The Scathing Atheist,” an unapologetically savage and derisive discussion about religion. Here they take a similarly irreverent approach to politics, spotlighting hypocrisy, corruption and incompetence in government while also taking joy in purely ludicrous moments like Rudy Giuliani’s melting face.
Starter episode: “Jewish Space Laser Edition”
Perhaps the podcast that best defines Trump-era resistance podcasting, “Pod Save America” is the flagship show of Crooked Media, a left-wing podcast empire founded in 2017 by four former Obama staffers, Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeiffer. In twice-weekly episodes, the hosts riff on the latest political news and offer anecdotes and insights from their own time in Washington. Throughout the Trump years, the show was a mix of righteous anger and gallows humor, while also becoming a powerhouse for grass roots activism and fund-raising. The show also features plenty of big-fish guests, like Joe Biden, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Barack Obama, who memorably recorded an interview on the eve of Trump’s inauguration.
Starter episode: “Are We Infrastructure?”
Finding a truly centrist political podcast is hard, and this polarization makes it easy for listeners to stay in their echo chambers. Though it’s been on the air since 1996, KCRW’s “Left, Right & Center” is a timely antidote to this dilemma. Each episode of the show spotlights a “civilized yet provocative” conversation about current events between liberal and conservative commentators. The host, Josh Barro, affably represents the center, alongside a cast of regular panelists that include senators, policy experts and journalists (recently including The New York Times’s Jamelle Bouie). Depending on the rapport between guests, the show can err on the dry side, but it’s a reliable balm in a polarized age.
Starter episode: “Carrots Over Sticks”