Theory of Change podcast

Theory of Change podcast

Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? History is filled with stories of people and institutions that spent big to effect change but have little to show for it. By contrast, many societal developments have happened without forethought from anyone. And of course, change can be negative as well as positive. In each episode of this weekly program, Theory of Change host Matthew Sheffield delves deep with guests to discuss larger trends in politics, religion, media, and technology--and how they intersect. Other topics include disinformation, extremism, and polarization.

Episodes

September 25, 2022 50 min
Alex Jones, the far right talk radio host who pioneered the art of making money from internet conspiracy theories, is facing the worst moment of his career. It is quite possibly the apocalypse of Jones. After making up thousands of lies over a career spending decades, Jones is now starting to face consequences. In August, a jury in Austin, Texas, returned a damages verdict against Jones for defaming the parents of a child who was ...
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Since the 1964 presidential election, Americans of African ancestry have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic presidential candidates. Republicans usually get in the single digits in presidential races, according to decades of opinion surveys. On the surface, it may seem like Black Americans have an undying loyalty to the Democratic party. But taking a closer look reveals a much more complicated situation. And that’s because Black ...
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While radicalization of American evangelicalism has attracted at least some journalistic and scholarly attention, it’s important to note that there is something very similar happening among some Roman Catholics in this country, primarily due to a TV channel called Eternal Word Television Network. Many people outside EWTN’s elderly demographic have never heard of it, but the network’s influence on Catholicism, in America and aroun...
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The far-right U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning the right to abortion at the federal level was leaked to the public on May 3, but it wasn’t until July 7th that President Joe Biden unveiled any sort of meaningful action to protect access to federally approved abortion medications and to prohibit states from banning people from traveling across state lines to seek the procedure. The judicial activist writing was on the wall lon...
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American democracy is in crisis, much of it the direct product of Donald Trump, a petty scammer who managed to talk his way into the White House who was willing to overthrow our government after he lost in 2020. But the crisis of the present moment is larger than Trump himself. It’s also larger than the extremist political movement that calls itself “conservatism” in the United States. The political left is also in crisis, a crisi...
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On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ignored decades of settled precedent about abortion access and women’s health care in a sweeping decision that rolled back the court’s 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. The new ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the culmination of decades of anti-abortion activism. Clarence Thomas, one of the reactionary justices who joined in the new 6-3 ruling, signaled in a concurring opi...
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It’s been almost 30 years since Mosaic, the first popular web browser was released in 1993. So much has changed since that time, both technologically and socially. But what has the web wrought? In its earliest days, the internet was seen as a new tool that would democratize information and greatly expand our ability to share knowledge and expressions. That certainly has happened to some degree, but humanity’s power structures seem...
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Politics in the United States have been so incredibly erratic since 2015 when Donald Trump began his political career in earnest. His Much has been written and spoken about how Trump has transformed the Republican Party by empowering its large extremist faction, but it’s also the case that Donald Trump transformed the complex and large advocacy media apparatus that the American right has been building for itself since the 1940s. I...
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We certainly have our problems, but humans have come a long way since we emerged as a distinct species roughly 300,000 years ago. Most recently, the key to our progress has been the idea that you gain more knowledge by questioning what you know to begin with. Socrates’s idea of “questioning everything” was a great one. And it led to a lot more great ideas, chief among them? The scientific method of developing hypotheses and then t...
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Like beauty, humor is in the eye of the beholder. That’s especially true in regards to political humor, where many on the left and the right seem to think that the opposition is literally incapable of being funny. Right wingers say liberals are too caught up in diversity and inclusion to take a joke. And left-wingers say that reactionaries are so enthralled with stupid ideas that they can’t really make fun of others. The truth, ho...
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Big businesses and organizations are obsessed with branding—the idea of associating themselves in the public’s mind with a particular thing. But the most prominent branding operation in recent decades wasn’t in the commercial realm, it was in the religious realm where well-funded activists succeeded at convincing millions of Americans that to be a Christian meant you have to be on the far-right. We’ve talked a lot on “Theory of C...
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We've talked a lot on Theory of Change about the political manifestations of fundamentalist Christian viewpoints in American politics, but the religious origins of these ideas are also important to understand. And right now there is no bigger force within American Christian fundamentalism than Pentecostalism, a movement of unaffiliated churches that together represent the fastest growing Christian sect in the world. But Pentec...
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As we head into the 2022 mid-term elections and further on into the 2024 presidential election, one of the hottest topics in political strategy is where will Latino voters fit into the equation. Historically, Democrats have done better among Latinos, but in 2020, former president Donald Trump improved his share among the group by 8 percent—a development that ought to signal to political observers that Latino voters are a complicat...
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It's well-known by now that disinformation media played a significant role in enabling the political rise of Donald Trump. But the truth is that far-right media has been misinforming Americans for many decades. Fake news was a thing before Facebook in other words. A lot of times, it's hard for people who aren't familiar with the topic to understand it in the broad sense, in terms of facts and figures and statistics. T...
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As America barrels toward the 2022 midterm elections, polls have been indicating that Democrats could be in for some very bad news in November. Party strategists now are openly contemplating the likelihood of losing both the House and the Senate, which could lead to all sorts of other consequences. As many people know, the president's party has historically done worse in off year elections, but it's worth considering the p...
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Contrary to the predictions of political consultants and commentators, both of America's two major parties have continued to be politically relevant since the GOP broke a decades-long congressional losing streak in the 1994 midterm elections. The American government has been closely divided, with each party taking trifecta control of the government only a very few number of times. But even when they did have the trifecta-- that...
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It’s a bit hard to believe that one year ago, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. A lot has happened during that timespan but a lot has also *not* happened. As of this week, Biden and the Democratic majority in the Senate have confirmed 41 federal judges, the most ever for a president’s first year in office. He also led a successful effort to make vaccines against Covid-19 freely available everywh...
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Every podcast has its “lost episodes.” Or at least that’s what podcasters tell themselves. But booking, producing, and hosting a podcast all by yourself is a lot of work--and technical issues can make that especially difficult. I started “Theory of Change” in 2019 but suspended it for about a year and a half due to some problems with my recording and editing setup. In 2021, I brought the show back with a live video setup to help ...
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It’s now been a full year since a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol with the intent of overthrowing the 2020 election so that then-president Donald Trump could illegally remain in office against the wishes of the American people. During the intervening 12 months, while hundreds of people have been indicted and convicted for their role in the events, almost nothing has emerged from the law enforcement investigations as to what T...
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Polling over the decades has shown that most Republican voters are heavily motivated by white Christian identity politics. But Republican elites— politicians, writers, and many donors— were more interested in cutting spending and giving tax cuts to job creators, or rich people in other words. Over the past 60 years or so, GOP politics has been an imbalance where the base of voters wanted an agenda that promoted Christian nationali...
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