Plain English with Derek Thompson - Curiosity Corner America’s Gun Dilemma, the Future of Corporate Politics, Relationship Advice, and More!

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What’s up, guys?

Rachel into here and I am teaming up with your favorite ringer podcasters to deliver the Bravo drama and news that you’ve been craving on morally corrupt, the show about all things, Bravo from the housewives, the summerhouse at everything in between.


We’ll be mentioning it all every week.

Check it out on Spotify and the

Hello, this is our first all mailbag episode a feature.

We are calling curiosity corner.


So the last few weeks we have been soliciting questions from you on anything you’re curious about in the world news analysis philosophy, life recommendations.

And the plan is to turn those questions into curiosity Corner episodes.

Once every few weeks.

I’ve been on vacation the last week plus, but the previous week, we did.


What I thought was a really great episode on housing issues with Jerusalem.

Dem says, that episode was inspired by the fact that a huge share of the questions you were asking were about housing.

So we pulled together an episode with I guess.

On housing, this is our first official curiosity Corner episode our first, all mailbag podcast, that means there is no guests or you are the guest.


These are your questions and then, you know, followed by my rambling, occasionally, coherent answers a couple ground rules here.

Number one, I’m only using first names.

I don’t want to get anybody in trouble.

I don’t want to cause embarrassment, but in the future, I think it’d be cool to say, not just Steve, but Steve from Portland, Sally, from Barcelona.


So maybe, Where you’re writing from.

I think that could be fun.

Second, these questions are sometimes slightly edited for brevity or Clarity.

You know, sometimes the emails have typos or they have long introductions, what you’re hearing here are mildly mildly mildly edited emails and that’s it.


Today’s curiosity is take us to a new way of looking at America’s gun problem.

Why American companies are becoming more political?

We’ve got marriage chips, questions about how the podcast is put together, and then finally, a brief comment on our Heard episode which got quite a lot of feedback and not exactly the nice kind.


As always.

If you have a question or comment, please send a note to plain English at

I’m Derek Thompson, and this is plain English.


All right, Devin.

Why don’t you kick us off with our first curiosity Corner email?

So our first question is from Jay.

He says, Derek.

I am a 53 year old white republican from the south just to establish my Bona fides.

I listened to the whole gun podcast without losing my temper.


Verso, a pretty balanced take by you.

I think we could shift the focus to the topic that no one wants to talk about absent fathers and the breakdown of the nuclear family, School shooters, invariably come from broken homes or have absentee fathers or at the very least, don’t have one that is a positive influence in their lives.


It should, at least be part of the conversation.

Not just the mental health of the shooter, Focus Less on changing gun culture and more on changing family culture.

It has the added benefit.

It’s affixing much much more than just school shootings best j.j.

Thank you for this message and also thank you for listening as a republican from the south.


I am not a republican nor am I from the South.

But one of my goals with this podcast has always been to produce a news show that people across the political Isles can listen to without tearing their hair out.

I know we don’t always succeed.

Sometimes hair is torn out but we try when I’m describing a point of view that I I would agree with I really want the people who I don’t agree with to hear that their position is reflected in my summary of it.


Does that make sense?

Like I want people who disagree with me to at least feel like their perspective, was given a fair trial.

And that, you know, it’s really, really hard to do.

There’s tens of thousands of people listening to the show.

It’s a lot of viewpoints.

I’m only one person I can only read into it so much, but I want people to know that that is my North Star.


I want people who disagree with My Views to listen to the show a lot.


Enough filibustering.

Do I agree that we should focus Less on gun culture and more on family culture.

It’s a good question.

The short answer is no.

The long answer is much longer.


The short answer is no because I don’t know how to change family culture.

I don’t know how to do it en masse.

I’m not saying it’s impossible.

It’s just I have no confident ideas about how to change something as murky and widespread is family culture.


Like, there’s a lot of policy ideas that I would love to sort of throw in the jambalaya.

I’d love the tax code to encourage, rather than penalize, marriage.

I would love the child tax credit, to permanently pay parents to have kids.

I would like more kids to grow up with two parents who are committed to one another.


I would like to build more housing in and near rich cities and Metro.

So that lower income families could have access to higher paying jobs, which would make family stability, more common.

I would like a new build.

The promoted.

Abundance in therapy by, for example, increasing reimbursement, rates for therapy.


Making it easier for psychology phds, and psychiatrists, and MSW is masters in social work to practice virtual therapy become therapists faster.

I think all that would be great.

But the truth is, I don’t have a lot of confidence that those changes would Achieves.


Something as dramatic as change family culture in a way that cashes out is automatically reducing mass shootings, like maybe they would, I just don’t know.

So a good reason to focus Less on gun culture and More in family culture, might be that changing gun culture is basically is practically impossible, but it’s my view that changing family culture with public policy is really, really, really, really, really, really hard.


So that leads to the longer answer in the last few weeks.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to read and listen to people that I don’t agree with about guns.

I wanted to get a better understanding of how they see the world and it’s led me to a new synthesis about guns in America that I’m going to debut here.


Sort of take out of the garage for little bit of a test drive.

I’m calling it.

The two American exceptions, that gun violence in America is exceptional.

In two ways and depending on the exception that is most Salient to you.


That is how you think about guns in America.

So, on the left, we focus on the fact that gun violence in America is an exception to the rule that rich countries.

Don’t fucking do this, and that’s entirely true.


The US has more gun violence than any other country in the oecd and it’s not even close.

Like, does anybody really think that our Family culture is 9 times worse than grease, that our absentee.

Father issue is 20 times worse than Poland did that are broken.


Home crisis, is 50 times worse than Great Britain.

No way.

No way.

So from this perspective, what’s clear to me is that it’s really, really hard to eradicate the phenomenon of absentee dads in this world, but for some reason in this world among similarly rich countries, only in America does the phenomenon of bad?


Cash out in AR-15s, killing dozens of children in elementary schools, right?

So that’s the exceptionalism that as a liberal.

I’m focused on America is exceptional because we have too many damn guns but I want to mention a second kind of in exceptionalism and I think this one matters more to conservatives more accurately describes the way, the conservative see this issue.


Conservative, maybe like our Republican friend, Jay and that is that most people with guns, don’t kill people.

Most people with guns, don’t kill anybody.

And that means that gun.

Violence is an exception to the rule of gun ownership mass.


Shootings are an exception to the rule of gun ownership.

So the vast majority of gun owners are thinking, we really enjoy our guns.

We enjoy firing our guns, or the very least, enjoy the security that having a gun provides.

We enjoy these things safely and all my friends.


Enjoy these things.

Safely, why should I give up this thing that I love because some people are fucking crazy and evil.

So when people like me, who don’t like guns, who don’t own guns, when we confront guns, it is always in the context of people using guns to kill people, right?


Like they think about that if you’re a liberal who dislikes guns, do you read a bunch of articles about how fun it is to go fire off rounds?

You read about like new products, New Gear.


As a liberal dislikes guns, I confront the existence of guns, almost exclusively through the news that someone was just killed by a gun.


Like, I don’t know if this is a totally obvious point, but I think it’s kind of profound to me.

So I’m just going to make it as clearly as possible one more time.

Gun violence and mass shootings account for almost. 100% of my experience of reading about guns.

But if you really love guns, mass shootings account for less than 1% of your time, thinking about and interacting with guns to me, mass shootings seem too, common to people who love guns mass, shootings are an exception to the rule of gun ownership.


I think that distinction goes a long way to explaining why it’s so hard to get citizens to see eye-to-eye on this issue because we are focused on opposite exceptions.


So I’m thinking out loud here, when I tell you about my two exceptions theory of gun violence.

I don’t know where it goes.

I would love these two sides to come together and say, let’s pass some laws.


That make it a little bit harder for young men who account for a vast majority of mass shootings for young men to quickly and easily, acquire weapons of mass shooting.

And on the other hand, let’s put some policies in this bill that move the ball forward.


And family culture that answer the conservative question of, how do we fix family culture, and not just punish gun owners.

Maybe there’s some kind of compromise there.

But as we said in the last episode, I am optimistic about so many things about America, but I’m not optimistic about the future of guns.



So this next submission is from Matthew.

He says Dear Derek plain.

English is literally the only non sports podcast.

I listened to, and I forced many in my life to listen as well.

You asked about subjects.

We’d like to hear more about this past week and at risk of sounding ironic.


I’d really enjoy one about podcasting and interviewing more specifically as listeners.

We hear the finished product, but I’d love to hear about the preparation process as well as components.

Like, what happens when you mess up.

Do you generally get through things in one take and probably more importantly, how do you interview well, what does interview preparation look like?


I know plain English isn’t exactly wikiHow but I’d really enjoy hearing the inside a breakdown of interviews and podcasting.

And as probably a really odd final note, you seem like a great hang.

I’m a government.

PhD candidate at Georgetown.


So I’d love to grab a drink and DC if you ever get the chance, hope all is well, cheers.



Thank you for asking.

Let’s do it in this order.

What does your interview preparation look like then what happens when I mess up and then tips on interviewing?


What is the interview preparation process look like?

The short answer is total chaos.

The process looks like chaos.

It looks like opening up a gazillion tabs with no Rhyme or Reason and toggling between them like a crazy person over and over again until I have some level of certainty that I can put together a good show.


And then at that point, I start to take notes.

I open up a new Doc, a new page in the Apple notes app and I start to write out some questions right out my open and think about guiding the conversation, but then I also want to be prepared to throw out that outline.


If things are going well in a positive direction or if they’re just going catastrophe catastrophically in another Direction.

Hamlet said, the Readiness is all and Mike Tyson said something similar when he said everybody has.

Has a plan until they get punched in the mouth Hamlet.


Mike Tyson were dead-on.

You have to be ready to audible.

If the guest is being interesting and surprising way or being not interesting in any kind of way, question 2, it was, do you generally get through things in one take and sir?

No way.

And what happens when you mess up short answer?


Devin saves my ass longer answer.

We do a lot of editing in post-production.

I want these episodes to feel are tight.

If you like long introductions, if you like, hey, how’s it going?

What’s your bio?


Where’d you go to school?

Did you?

Like stranger things?

You have a good weekend?


Nice pilsner.

It’s fine.

If that’s you want from a podcast.

That’s great.

I have no judgment.

There are a lot of really really good podcast that are super casual just like flapping.

The couch turn on a mic and vibe.

That is not the show.


I want to make.

I want to pull an espresso shot of news short.


No bullshit.

And that kind of Simplicity is hard.

Simplicity is hard in every kind of endeavor.

And so, in this respect, I do some transcript editing.


We sometimes do Rush transcript orders and I sort of look through the transcript and I sort of, you know, edit the episode to make sure it flows in a really clear way.

Devon Works her magic on that end.

Sometimes I’ll re-record a question if I really, really screwed it up during the interview.

But yeah, we really want to type product, you know, not as tight as you may like the daily, the New York Times Daily podcast.


I mean that requires so many different.

Serious music sound Engineers, but I don’t know.

I kind of want to show that’s a little bit like the daily after 1 beer.

You know that I think that’s how I’d like people to think about the show The Daily after one quarter Hefeweizen.


Whatever you want to drink.

Last one was how do you interview?

Well, I would challenge the premise.

I don’t think I interview that well, it is probably the place I have the most room for improvement to be honest.

Interviewing is It’s a really subtle art.


I remember when I started doing podcasts.

I thought back to when I would watch TV with my parents, or listen to the radio with my parents, and listen to interviewers that they they held in great esteem and think what makes this person such a good interviewer.


These are like really boring questions is really.

We did the really basic questions.

Why do great?

Interviewers ask such basic seeming questions, but now I think that sneaky subtle Our, what interviewing is all about?

And I’m not there yet.

I’m too much of a writer still.


I’ve got like the writer stink on me and when I sit down in this chair, I think I still, you know, have this habit of trying to be too specific about what I’m asking but great interviewers like to try on a soccer metaphor for a second.



Interviewers aren’t skilled with like accurate shots on goal.

They’re not about like information dense specificity like a Good question.

That’s super dense with information and then an off ramp for the guests.

There about passing the ball into the empty space, where they want the play to evolve to.


And if you’re like me, someone you know has been firing on goal for 14 years at the Atlantic, it takes a while to learn how to pass it takes a while to learn how to pass into the open space and you know, let the teammate that the other person you know run ahead and set up the play because most of these podcasts are a majority the map from the majority of the podcast is them speaking.


And not me and I am still trying to learn that skill.

Had an interview better and how to ask those sneaky basic questions.

So thank you.

Matthew Devon who we got next?

So this one is from somebody named Jack.


They say hello Derek.

My question is, can you do a podcast exploring the ethics of employees and companies taking a public stance on political and cultural issues?

Like the don’t say gay, Bill, and gun control.

On one hand, I don’t think companies should get involved in politics or cultural issues on the other hand.


If an issue such as gun control has broad popular support, and the political system is rigged against the average voter, then how can one person have an impact?

Also, I wonder why companies only speak out about some political issues but not others.

If Disney employees are going to force the company to take a stance on the, don’t say gay bill, then why don’t they or other employees of large companies?


Is the company to take a stand on certain issues with broad support, IE gun control?

What I Envision is employees saying we will refuse to work until you publicly state that you will refuse to donate money to any politician who takes money from the NRA, and, or is against any gun control or something along those lines.


I hope you can explore this issue on an episode of plain English or in an Atlantic article, Jack.

Thank you for this question.

I am obsessed with this idea.

The Anon employees.

Urging a company to take a stance on political and cultural issues that are a little bit outside of their main business.


And by the way, you want to hear more about this, I would encourage you to listen back to an episode that I did with Matt Bell.

Any of the ringer, podcast the town, we did that maybe two months ago about the showdown between Disney to Santa’s.

So, rather than do a cheap like this is good.

This is bad.

Kind of thing.

I want to tell you why, I think this is happening.


Like three reasons why it seems like companies are playing a more Central role in American politics and the To so reason number one, is that employees I think are correctly.

Seeing the Congress doesn’t do shit anymore and it doesn’t in the last few years, we’ve seen record high numbers of filibusters.


We’ve seen record low numbers of bills passed and in that context if you’re a liberal activist or screw activist, if you’re a liberal who wants stuff to get done, you’re surrounded by Broken fences and Congress isn’t empty toolbox.

So what do you do?


You look for other tools and large powerful?

American corporations can be a really useful tool when they weigh in on issues like environmentalism or gun control or transgender rights.

Number 2, I think a lot of companies are correctly, observing that today’s college-educated, Millennials are very, very liberal their more liberal than other Generations that exist today.


And there also are liberal than previous generations of young people.

And in part, I think this is because they grew up in the social media age, the age of Instagram, and Twitter activism.

This is a generation of college educated people who are not shy at all about saying, how they feel about voting rights and gay rights, and women’s rights, and Trump, and Ukraine, and the environment.


So if you’re a company that is looking to attract and retain talent, I think there’s a pressure to signal to your current and future Workforce.

Hey, we care about stuff to we’re not just about one bottom line, cash flow, we’re about the double bottom line of cash flow plus, environmentalism nowhere about the triple bottom line of cash flow plus, environmentalism plus social justice and so on and so forth.


You get companies trying to attract and retain Talent by being critical.

And then takes us to the Disney versus de Santa Showdown that.

That’s why you get Disney.

Making a statement about a education bill in Florida.

That’s why you get the ndaa threatening to pull their business out of North Carolina because of that Infamous bathroom Bill a few years ago.


It’s why you get dozens and dozens and dozens of tech companies, rallying around black lives matter in 2020 and embracing positions on policing that look love them or hate them were objectively to the left of the typical American.

So that’s why this is happening, but it’s important to look at.


What is this causing?

What is the rise of of corporate activism doing to American politics?

And I think one really interesting effect that it’s had is that it’s turned the Republican Party against companies or at least against the employees of companies.


Like historically doesn’t make any sense Republicans have for decades been the party of corporate tax cuts deregulation.

They’ve been the Corporatist party, the pro Corporation party, but now Republicans are the party of institutional loathing there.


The party of hating institutions, according to polls a majority of Republicans.

Now, say they disapprove of colleges disapprove of the entertainment industry disapprove of the tech industry.

Disapprove of big companies.

Basically every American establishment that does not employ cops priests or soldiers Republicans hate it right now.


And I think what a republican would say is these institutions have turned against us.

They turned against us.

They’ve been they’ve been taken over by liberal professional managerial Elites.

And so we need people like Ron DeSantis to go crush them.

And then that actually that blowback creates a counter blowback because then Liberals are saying wait Republicans want to destroy social progress that we’ve made, which is why we need to push companies, even further to become political activist and so on and so forth.


I think this is a really critical.

Really critical like double helix of American politics.

Today, this showdown between The professional managerial Elite within companies and I guess we could call the anti woke, Republican activist Wing.


So I just think this is one of the most important and interesting things that’s happening in economics today.

Or and in politics today, that Republicans freaked out by what they see is cultural.

Disempowerment are trying to pull politics, to the right, to the far.


And then Democrats freaked out by what they see as political this empowerment or trying to pull.


He’s left trying to pull institutions left and I’m not trying to both sides.

This I’m simply trying to tell you, this is what is happening.

This is what I’m seeing.

What I’m seeing is that corporate activism has become a really, really important tool for the left to do politics and for the right to make voters feel like their country is slipping away from them.


This is really complicated and really, really interesting.

And you bet we’re going to do more podcasts about it.

So thank you very, very much Jack for asking Devon what’s our next question?

Okay, so no specific question here but we got a ton of emails and comments about our Amber Heard episode.


Most of them were pretty angry.

So do you want to say anything about the Amber Heard episode here?



So I don’t want to do more than like 60 seconds on this.

The Amber Heard episode that we did a couple weeks ago, was pretty clearly the lowest approval rating of any episode we’ve done.


And I think the biggest reason, why is That I messed up.

I messed up in a very specific way.

I failed to meet the standard that I’ve tried to set on this show the standard that I outlined the top of this very episode.

I want people who disagree with me to feel like their perspective was taken seriously.


And in this episode, I don’t think I really did that.

Now look, my personal opinion about the Amber.

Heard versus Johnny Depp cases.

This, I think the marriage between heard and Depp was terrible.

I think there are mutually abusive.

I also think the internet creates outrage Cascade.

Ed’s right, mob, dynamics, that can attach itself to certain issues and I think the level of really vitriolic rage that descended on Amber Heard partly came from, let me put this delicately partly came from a certain eagerness to correct.


The perceived overreach of the me to movement.

Okay, I still believe that.

But but, the full truth is, I did not do a very good job laying out the other side.

I did not do a very good job of pointing to the In two reasons why a lot of people found Amber hoods testimony and Amber herds point of view, in this case to be not credible on its face.


So, you know, I was interested in Amber, Heard Amber Heard hatred as an internet phenomenon, but I think I failed to provide the ultimate view that lots of people were mad at Amber Heard, because they sincerely found her to be lying.

They sincerely were watching Court TV and thought that it was just one false claim.


After another and it is a fact that false claims of abuse aren’t good for any cause.

So the case is over we’re not revisiting on this podcast, but I think it’s a good reminder to meet.

Always try to clearly see the other point of view and to think what if I’m wrong right?


What if I’m wrong, that’s a good lesson to carry forward, okay?

Devon last question.

So our last question is from Rachel and it’s a little bit different than the others, but here we go.

She says Hi Derek, my name is Rachel, and I’m 25 years old.


I currently live in New York City.

The fact that you just introduced curiosity Corner, feels like fate.

And I’ll share why I’ve been listening to plain English since its Inception and I haven’t missed an episode.

I’d like to take credit for discovering these 30 60 Minute long bright spots in my week, but I cannot, however, my fiancé Andrew.


Surely can Andrew, is a DT.

That’s their nickname for you.

Superfan, Andrew and I are getting married in two weeks.

And I was recently thinking that a congratulatory video message from you would mean the world to him.

Any marriage advice /, insights from you would be the perfect contact.


Thank you so much for your consideration.

I can assure you.

That Andrew will cherish this wedding gift more than any other Rachel.

So to be totally cringy and uncool about this.

This was my favorite curiosity, Corner question that I got and only partly because of my profound and pathological need for Verbal, affirmation, Rachel.


And Andrew are now by the way.

Married their wedding photos were very beautiful.

And this prompt gave me a really lovely opportunity to think about marriage and what I’ve learned about marriage and relationships.

So I want Ryan to say hello to.


I’m not coming for his trademark life advice territory.


I consider that plot of land very well settled but if I’m being honest I kind of like the idea of answering the occasional question about life and happiness because, you know, as a living person, who wants to be happy.

I spend a lot of Of time thinking about those things.

So I thought of three comments to make about marriage and relationships.


Three pieces of advice from someone who having been married for only about almost two years.

As still an amateur.

In this particular category.

Number one, good relationships with other people.

Start with good relationships with yourself.

You are responsible for yourself.


You’re responsible for your words.

You’re responsible for your actions, and that might seem like Obvious problem.

But sometimes the obvious stuff.

That’s the most important to remember.

You are responsible for yourself.

Now, why is that marriage advice?


Well, bad things are going to happen to you.

Okay, bad things are going to happen and every long-term relationships puts you in very close proximity with someone who will always be there.

Whenever bad things do happen.

It’s very easy to blame the nearest person to you when something goes wrong, you know, to take whatever negative energy is coming your way and sort of funnel it toward your partner, you know.


Took an extra 15 minutes to look for parking.

Today is, you’ll walk in the door.

Just ready to be prickly.

I’m not talking about terrible Behavior here.

I’m talking about life, but this is not where you want to be.

You don’t want to be in a position where marriage is like this ancient word.

That means always having someone to blame that is not a good place to end up.


What you want is to bring your best self to the marriage every day, and that requires a lot of self-discipline.

And that’s why you are responsible for yourself.

You can’t expect to have a solid marriage.

I think if you have no Mastery over your own thoughts and feelings, and words and actions, good relationships with other people.


Start with good relationships, with yourself.

Number two, if you win an argument, you lose the argument.

If you win an argument, you lose the argument, a great deal of life.

Either is zero sum or feel zero-sum.


So politics is zero sum in politics.

Winning is winning their 100 Senate seats.

You gotta beat someone to be in the Senate and work.

There are often only so many promotions, certain gear.

You have to beat someone to get a job.

Somebody somewhere will lose out on that new job.

But in life in life especially with the people you love almost.


Nothing is zero.

Sum almost nothing.

There winds are your There’s sorrow.

Is your sorrow, Your Capacity to make the other person?

Happy becomes your own happiness, and it’s really important to remember that in the moments when it seems hardest, remember it?

That is in fights or in serious conversations.


And I think it’s really important to remember that don’t fight to win, unlearn the scale of fighting to win in relationships.

Try to unlearn it completely.

If you fight fight to understand, fight to be understood because most of the time, when you’re fighting with someone that you love and they lose you also lose.



Because when that person, who you love feels defeated, your relationship has been defeated and I think making a life with someone requires all sorts of compromise.

And if you learn to resolve arguments rather than win them, ironically you will actually win every serious discussion you have Number three is the joy of Randomness.


Hopefully, your marriage is long.

Hopefully your marriage is life and most of life is made up of moments that are designed to be repeated you wake up in the same bed.

Under the same roof with the same partner or no partner.

The same breakfast, commute jobs, friends, fears, gossip, anxiety, all of it, will happen again.


So, you want to choose your habits wisely because what is repeated ends up becoming most of your life.

But also, I found that there is very little replacement for the beauty of small moments of unexpected tenderness, right?


Like surprise flowers.

It wasn’t your day to walk the dog or do the dishes or vacuum?

The kitchen, but I did it anyway.

So if you can add to all of your habits, the ritual of planned Randomness, bit of a paradox, but like, every once in a while, make sure you’re finding mildly.


A surprising ways to show the other person that you love them.

So, all together, number one, take responsibility for yourself, good relationships, with other people.

Start with good relationships, with yourself number to remember that.


You should not fight to win.

If you win an argument with your beloved, you in a larger sense lose that argument.

And number three recognize that it is precisely because life is made up of habits and that, which is designed to Repeated that one off moments of Unexpected.


Love and Tenderness are so special.

That’s all.

I got Rachel and Andrew.

I hope you have a wonderful marriage.

Thank you, all for your curiosity Corner questions.

Everybody else will be back this Friday and thank you very much for listening.