Top 10 podcasts of 2020: ‘What the Hell Is Going On?’ with Danielle Pletka and Marc Thiessen

This blog post is part of AEI’s Best Podcasts of 2020 series. Click here to see other AEI podcast hosts’ favorite episodes of the year.

While there wasn’t much to celebrate in 2020, we continued to look forward to our weekly podcast recordings — and not just so that we could see someone outside of our families during quarantine. The COVID chaos and its political aftermath led to some of our most interesting interviews yet. We learned from doctors about the virus’s long-term effects and from economists about how the lockdown will affect our economy for years to come. We talked “deaths of despair” with a Nobel Prize winner and spoke with China experts on what the outbreak reveals about the threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Although we spent a significant amount of time
talking about COVID (thrice with AEI’s own Scott Gottlieb!), we also had the chance
to keep up with some of our favorite topics and regions, interviewing the
Israeli, Emirati, and Bahraini ambassadors after the historic Abraham Accords;
Secretary of State Pompeo on America’s national security challenges; General
Jack Keane on the Trump withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan; pollsters on the
2020 election; the whys and wherefores of the Electoral College; defunding the
police; and, yes, we even talked to the president of the United States. For a
long time.  

finally, because we are forever entrenched in kindergarten, we did an episode
on toilet paper. The only miracle is that we weren’t arrested, the puns were so

We hope you enjoyed listening to these
episodes as much as we enjoyed recording them. While it was difficult to pick
our top ten episodes this year, below are a few standouts:

1. WTH is going on with the Electoral College? Allen Guelzo on how it works, why it was created, and what abolishing the centuries-old system could mean for voters — Episode #83, December 14

On the day of the Electoral College vote, American historian
Dr. Allen Guelzo joined us to discuss why abolishing the centuries-old system
would be a disaster for US politics. He delved into the history of the
Electoral College and pointed out a number of reasons why alternatives would
fail. He also addressed claims that the Electoral College is racist, noting
that Abraham Lincoln never would have been elected president without it.

2. WTH is going on with the COVID vaccines? Dr. Scott Gottlieb with everything you need to know about the end of the COVID road — Episode #80, November 23

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb was our go-to for all things COVID related this year. He came on the show three times, discussing the virus before it became a pandemic in February, the lockdown in April, and the vaccine news this fall. He discussed vaccine distribution details, the development process, and whether US adversaries might weaponize viruses to target Americans in the future.

3. WTH is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan? Gen. Jack Keane on Trump’s troop drawdowns, his gift to Iran and the danger to Americans at home — Episode #79, November 19

We knew we had to have Gen. Jack Keane on the show after
hearing that President Trump planned to pull 2,500 troops from Iraq and
Afghanistan before leaving office. General Keane, one of the nation’s smartest
and most thoughtful generals, reminded us why the US went to Iraq and
Afghanistan in the first place and how the withdrawal will help American
adversaries in the region.

4. WTH is going on with the filibuster? Why Democrats’ threat to abolish the legislative filibuster is a danger to American democracy — Episode #69, September 22

President-elect Biden announced in July that he would support
eliminating the filibuster. On this episode, Martin Gold explained to us what
abolishing the legislative move could mean for US democracy. We were shocked to
learn that not only could Democrats pack the Supreme Court, but, absent the
filibuster, they could also pack the circuit courts and even alter the numbers
in the Electoral College. We left the episode terrified, but with renewed
respect for the filibuster’s role in maintaining American checks and balances.

5. WTH is going on with a COVID vaccine? Operation Warp Speed director Dr. Slaoui on the coronavirus endgame — Episode #66, August 6

In one of his first public interviews, Operation Warp Speed director
Dr. Moncef Slaoui walked us through the COVID vaccine development process and
the Trump administration’s unprecedented effort to produce the fastest vaccine
for a novel virus in human history. With the Pfizer vaccine being distributed
across the country now, revisit this episode to learn more about how we got to
where we are today.

6. WTH is going on with the chaos in American cities? Sen. Tim Scott on the politicization of violence and racial unrest — Episode #64, July 23

Amid widespread racial unrest and protests this summer, Sen. Tim
Scott joined the show to discuss the JUSTICE Act and partisan delays in
meaningful police reform. We were saddened to hear that despite Republicans’
offer to allow votes on as many amendments as Democrats wanted, Senate
Democrats voted to block the bill. Sen. Scott also discussed his conversation
on race with President Trump and the challenge of growing violence in America’s

7. WTH is going on with Edward Snowden? Discussing the greatest theft of US secrets in history with author and Snowden confidant Barton Gellman — Episode #57, June 8

Our episode with Barton Gellman was probably our most heated
episode of the year. Gellman, one of the journalists to whom Edward Snowden
leaked classified NSA documents, spoke to us about his relationship with
Snowden, which led to an intense and productive debate on his intelligence
leaks and the role of individual privacy in national security.

8. WTH are deaths of despair? Nobel Prize winner Sir Angus Deaton on the other epidemic — Episode #52, May 21

There were 158,000 “deaths of despair” in the US in 2018. Think of it as three fully-loaded Boeing 737 MAX jets falling out of the sky every day for a year. In their new book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton talk about the other epidemic decimating American communities. Sir Angus walked us through the book and discussed the coronavirus’ impact on communities already suffering from opioid abuse, unemployment, alcoholism, and suicide.

9. WTH is going on in Hong Kong? Joshua Wong on how Beijing is using the coronavirus to suppress pro-democracy protests — Episode #49, May 12

In the midst of Beijing’s crackdown against Hong Kong, we were lucky enough to be joined by protest leader Joshua Wong. He told us about Beijing’s increasingly aggressive measures to contain protests, how the government is taking advantage of the coronavirus, and what the US can do to help those fighting for freedom. He made it clear that it is more important than ever that the world stands with Hong Kong.

10. WTH is going on with the toilet paper shortage? You’ve got questions, and we’re flush with information — Episode #44, April 22

Remember the great toilet paper shortage of 2020? We sure
do. On one of our more enjoyable episodes, the Washington Post’s newly
enthroned toilet paper expert Marc Fisher joined the show to get to the bottom
of the shortage. Full of toilet paper and bathroom puns, we talked about
America’s history of toilet paper hoarding and the distribution challenges
facing toilet paper companies today.

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