How Apple, Not Government, Became Tech’s Biggest Regulator

(singing)

When you walk in a room, do you have sway?

nayeema raza

I’m not Kara Swisher, but you are listening to “Sway.” I’m Nayeema Raza, Sway’s showrunner. I have the fun job of getting Kara to do things and often having her tell me, I shall not. Like today, she told me she shall not be recording this intro because she’s sick and her voice is croaky, so here I am.

Our guest on today’s episode is U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna. He represents California’s 17th district, which, by the way, is one of the nation’s richest. It houses some of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies, including Apple and Intel, and I think it even used to house Yahoo back when that company was hot.

Khanna’s new book, “Dignity in a Digital Age,” tries to imagine a revolutionized tech economy, one that doesn’t just benefit C.E.O.s and software developers, but also privileges others who comprise so much value — warehouse workers, delivery drivers and many more service employees.

Dignity in a digital age sounds great and also a little lofty, so we wanted to press Khanna on whether it’s really possible, and we wanted to understand why it’s taken so long for Congress and the government to grapple with the power of tech and to regulate it in a real way at all.

Kara and Khanna taped this conversation in front of a live audience at the Great Hall in New York City’s Cooper Union. They recorded it in February back before Kara had lost her voice and before Putin had invaded Ukraine, so we don’t dig into that crisis in this episode. Here’s the conversation between Kara Swisher and Congressman Ro Khanna.

kara swisher

So I want to start talking about a lot of things that you and I have been talking about for years, so I’m going to actually ask you this question: Is there any dignity in digital at this point? It doesn’t seem that there’s much of it.

ro khanna

The reason I wrote the book is I feel like it’s lacking. It’s lacking for too many people who don’t have agency and participation in the modern economy. So there’s dignity for some. There are dignity for people who, the world’s their oyster who may have robotics garages in Cupertino and are in high school. But there’s not dignity for a lot of communities that have been totally left out, and there’s not enough dignity for people who are being screamed over on the internet and who don’t really feel like they have a voice.

kara swisher

One of the things you focused on in the book is how to spread the wealth of tech jobs across the country. I know you and I have had these conversations. You invited me when you went down. What state did you go to?

ro khanna

I’ve been to a number, but I think I invited you when we were going to Iowa and to Paintsville, Kentucky.

kara swisher

Right, and you said it was — I thihnk it was called Silicon Holler. There’s been attempts.

ro khanna

Yeah, exactly.

kara swisher

And I was like, they’re not bringing those jobs there. They’re not interested in it. And in fact, they’re interested in squeezing jobs.

ro khanna

Yeah.

kara swisher

Can you talk a little bit at what that means, spreading the wealth? Because it’s funny to hear the congressman from Silicon Valley encouraging people to leave your district. That’s actually what’s happened during the pandemic, but it’s just the wealthy people fleeing to nicer homes elsewhere.

ro khanna

Well, when you and I had the conversation, it was before Covid, and people thought this was crazy. They thought everyone has got to move to Sand Hill Road, and there’s no way you’re going to distribute the jobs.

Now, one of the venture capitalists who read my book and critiqued it said, oh, Ro, we’re already doing this. Why are you writing this? I said, no, you’re not already doing it, but the point is that it has been decentralized now.

A lot of it is just in Miami, Austin, New York. It hasn’t gone to rural communities. It hasn’t gone to Black and brown communities. So I don’t want to say that this is some kind of panacea, but we have to be intentional about this.

There are going to be 25 million digital jobs by 2025. That’s more than manufacturing and construction combined. They’re going to pay $80,000 a year. That’s double the median wage, and they’re not just go become a coder at Facebook. These are the new manufacturing jobs, the new construction jobs, Intel going to northern Ohio — 3,000 manufacturing jobs, 7,000 construction jobs.

The point is that we have to really think about how do we get these opportunities in places that have been left out and have a place-based focus on economic policy as opposed to just let the markets run, let the concentration of wealth happen wherever, and tell people to move.

kara swisher

But it hasn’t been that. It’s been a dispersion of wealthy people to states without taxes. Elon moved to Austin. A whole bunch of venture capitalists moved to Florida, so they don’t have to pay taxes and out of California where they now sort of insult it from afar.

ro khanna

There’s certainly been some of that, and that grabs the headlines. But one of the things I cited in the book was a study in Milken Institute, which says that it turns out that these communities you would never guess in Wisconsin and in Pennsylvania have started to see job growth and have started to see tech jobs going to those communities.

So I think that there’s room for hope. I’m not concerned.

People say, oh, what about Silicon Valley? Is there a mass exodus? $11 trillion of market cap in my district and the surrounding areas. I’m not concerned about some mass exodus of wealth. It’s gone up 40 percent in the pandemic. I’m concerned about the wealth generation, economic opportunities, in lots of other places in this country.

kara swisher

So all tech jobs are not good jobs, though, in some ways. There’s a lot of tech jobs. Amazon, for example, has I think the biggest employer now, closing in on Walmart as the biggest employer in the country.

But in Amazon, a backend engineer is treated differently from an Amazon warehouse worker. How do you look at the differences of those jobs? Because they are different jobs.

ro khanna

They’re different jobs and part of them is that they aren’t paid properly, or they don’t have what I would argue is sufficient dignity in what they’re doing. Look, 2/3 of the jobs in this country still don’t require a laptop. They’re jobs that require physical labor.

And if you’re looking at an Amazon warehouse worker, think about this — you win the lottery. You’re working for arguably one of the richest companies ever in human history, and you still are struggling to get by. You’re still — don’t have a wage that’s a living wage.

We pushed for a $15 wage at Amazon. They said they were going to automate everything if we pushed to $15. They pushed to $15, and as you said, they’re still hiring people.

kara swisher

Well that’s because people are going from the crappy restaurant industry, saying I’ve had enough of this, and it’s a better job. It is a better job.

ro khanna

It’s a better job, but it’s not the 30 bucks they were making in manufacturing. And so, you’ve had these towns where, yes, there’s an Amazon warehouse center. Yes, someone’s now working at 15 bucks, but it’s not the 30 bucks.

And, by the way, the only thing probably worse than having a human being for a boss is having an algorithm as a boss, and that’s what’s going on in a lot of places in these warehouses, and they have no say in a lot of their working conditions. So part of —

kara swisher

Though Amazon, to be fair, has won the union fight. The union did not— in the South, they weren’t able to do that. There’s been a fight here in New York close by that they may do better in, but they haven’t gotten any leverage, whatsoever over the company.

ro khanna

So why are they having that fight? You know how these things work, to put millions of dollars into these fights. It’s not a fair fight. But why, when you’re producing the most wealth, when you’re doing something that’s innovative — I mean, I get Amazon packages to my door. I shop on Amazon. Most people here probably shop on Amazon. Why is it that you wouldn’t want the workers to participate in the prosperity, to say yes we want people to have a middle class life? This is part of the reason you have a tech backlash. Because people feel that all of the wealth is being created by a few and it’s not being shared by everyone who’s actually participating in it. Amazon hasn’t come to that view. I just disagree with their policy and approach on it.

kara swisher

Perhaps, Ro, you shouldn’t shop there. Just a suggestion. Anyway, I just interviewed venture capitalist Keith Rabois, who’s one of the Miami evangelists. He constantly insults — it’s like I —

ro khanna

Did he insult me?

kara swisher

No, not you. The San Francisco Bay Area. He moved to Miami, he talks a lot about that. It’s almost like talking about your ex, Keith, it’s getting a little creepy. So what do you say to people like him? Goodbye, good luck, kind of thing? And you know he’s evangelizing for Miami. Obviously, Mayor Suarez there and other Florida officials, saying come to Miami. It’s nicer.

ro khanna

I mean good, good for him, it’s a free country. If he wants to move, great. We have Apple’s headquarters in my district. Intel, Cisco, LinkedIn. Anyone who thinks that there’s somehow the demise of Silicon Valley doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I mean they ought to come out and look at the innovation and the wealth generation.

My concern isn’t Keith Rabois going to Miami. My concern is where is the opportunities in rural communities? Where is the opportunity in our heartland? Where is the opportunity in Black and brown communities? You’ll never overcome the racial wealth gap without overcoming the racial wealth generation gap. And that should be the focus instead the press writes about, oh, Elon Musk is leaving, and someone’s going to Austin. That’s not the problem.

kara swisher

He is leaving. So they —

ro khanna

Tesla is still — most of it is still in the Bay Area.

kara swisher

But Rabois’ attitude was that cities and states should treat citizens like customers. Which is funny given that some of them don’t want to pay taxes, at all. But is that your view too, that citizens are the customers of states, as they vie for different technology jobs and things like that?

ro khanna

That citizens are customers of the state?

kara swisher

Yeah, customers of the government. That’s how he characterized it.

ro khanna

No, I think there’s more to being a citizen than just being a consumer. A citizen has the ability to influence the government and shape the government. I mean, we need to improve the customer service aspect but that is such an impoverished vision to just say that the citizens are customers. Citizens are the people who create, are the government. They are the folks who are going to be making the decisions and there has to be a thought beyond just consumerism and in what that entails. That entails tackling the climate and entails racial justice and entails equal rights and human rights.

kara swisher

So when you think about that, over the last 10 years, though, tech has been celebrated. And the tech titans have certainly gotten more attention from government in a positive way than average citizens. Would you agree with that?

ro khanna

Yes, because a lot of the things that have been good, right? I mean, the fact that we have the MeToo movement, I think a lot of that was because of social media. Some of the Arab Spring, the early celebration on that was on technology. The fact that people can talk to their grandkids while being in a different town, or that we can have so much information on the tip of our phones, all of that is good and tech is rightly celebrated for that.

I think that where they went wrong was a bravado of the thinking, well, we’re going to have mutual understanding and peace. Why did we need Madison and Jefferson and Lincoln? Democracy isn’t that simple. And they suddenly realized, wow you know, maybe it just doesn’t work out, maybe we’re not going to get peace and world peace as Dorsey and Zuckerberg proclaim. Maybe we’re going to get QAnon. Oh, no, that something has gone off. But it was the arrogance, I think, that upset people.

kara swisher

Do you think they understand the consequences? It’s one of the things I talk about is accountability and consequences of what has been created. You know, you’re talking about dignity, dignity is so far away from where we’ve gotten at the beginning of the internet. I call it the purge. Essentially what’s going on, almost constantly online, and every now and then you get a nice cat video or something. But we’re way away from the cat video era, I think we can all agree.

ro khanna

I don’t think they’ve grappled sufficiently. Look at January 6th, in the fact that Facebook knew that there were threats of violence with specific dates against lawmakers, against Republicans, Vice President Pence. And they chose to sit on that information, not share the information. They chose not to take that information down. The fact that they have studies, at Facebook, showing that their own product causes depression. This is actionable information, and I don’t think they’ve come to terms with it. And part of it is I think they’re so afraid to say that there are problems. But they’ve been — no, I don’t think they’ve come to terms with some of the deep problems that have been caused by social media running amok.

kara swisher

So when you think about that, let’s talk about tech regulation, which is something you and I have also talked a lot about. I’m going to start with the premise that you all in Congress haven’t done your jobs.

ro khanna

That’s fair.

kara swisher

How much legislation is there for tech companies right now, is it zero?

ro khanna

None that’s significant that’s passed.

kara swisher

Zero is the actual correct answer.

ro khanna

Zero, none, similar. Zero.

kara swisher

Less than zero because one of the laws that exists protects them, rather significantly. Section 230, which was passed at the beginning of the internet to give them immunity — broad immunity — a very important law, still, for those tech companies. So they don’t just have no laws, they have an extra, you know, booster seat compared to other industries.

ro khanna

Yeah and Amazon became Amazon because they didn’t have to pay sales tax for the longest time.

kara swisher

Again, the fault of government for not coming in and doing its job. So I’m going to start with that premise that you all haven’t done your job at all. So what’s the problem?

Sorry. I mean, we can go on and on — I don’t mean to be rude — well, I do mean to be slightly rude.

ro khanna

Finally got an applause.

kara swisher

For example, I just interviewed Elizabeth Warren and she was talking about Elon Musk and Texas. I was like this is the system he’s following. If you want him to not follow the system change the rules but don’t lecture him on following rules that exist for him. So you may not like him for doing it but he is following rules. The same thing with these tech companies, there are no — there is no regulation. There’s significant regulation in Europe, Australia. Why not here? Why not where these were born?

ro khanna

It’s a great question. I think the reason has been partly that the Congress has been unable to agree on what the framework should be, and it’s been co-opted by interests on different sides that don’t want to see a regulation. Part of it has been that we were a little bit slow getting up to speed on some of the details of technology. So you had hearings where Congress is about the only body that can make Mark Zuckerberg look sympathetic, because they were asking how Facebook makes money. And now we’re overcome some of that illiteracy, but we still have different interest groups at play.

But some of these things are not complicated. I mean, to have a law saying you shouldn’t have your data taken without your consent, that should be a no brainer. So there are good proposals. Those proposals are introduced, they’re stuck in committee, they’re not coming to the floor. Of course, we could have a much broader conversation about why Congress doesn’t get enough done, and this is just one subset of it.

kara swisher

I get that you can’t agree on lunch there. I understand the situation. But the top 10 richest people in the world are largely tech billionaires and Congress can’t get around to regulating the industry. I understand the illiteracy part, although you do regulate cars, and planes, and pharmacies, and banks, and everything else, which are probably more complex in some ways. Again, we can’t agree or we don’t know doesn’t seem to be good enough anymore. So where is the momentum and where is the thing that’s in your way?

ro khanna

I think first people don’t understand fully the dangers yet, maybe after January 6th, they did. Tech companies still poll, other than Facebook, very positively. So pharmaceuticals don’t poll as well because people really don’t want to pay a lot for their medicines. Tech companies, most people like the services. They like Amazon. I mean, I bash Amazon’s worker wages all the time but Amazon’s polling is 70 percent. Congress is about 15 percent.

So you have tech companies coming that are popular, and you have Congress that’s unpopular. And then some of these regulations require nuance. You can’t just take, in my view, a brick bat and say, OK, here is regulation that’s going to make the consumer experience worse. It actually requires a nuanced approach, and then you need the leadership to say, yes, this is going to be a priority in regulating it. I think it should be a priority, obviously, I’ve been calling for it for two years.

kara swisher

But Europe is getting things done. They’re close to passing the Digital Markets Act, which is preventing self preferencing, which is like Amazon having the marketplace and also a platform. The Digital Services Act, clarifying how platforms should keep illegal content off their sites. They’ve passed a very stringent privacy bill. Some, especially the privacy bill, seems particularly easy. Again, what did the prospects of ever passing a privacy — at this point — passing a simple privacy bill about your consumer data?

ro khanna

First of all the Europe, the tech companies — and you know this — run circles around the European regulators. And the reality is the fines are so small the interns at some of these companies wouldn’t notice them.

I know Brussels has this view, well, we can innovate in policy and you innovate in technology. Let me tell you, it’s not working. And I know, representing the Valley, America has to lead. And if we don’t regulate these tech companies, it’s a lot of lip service.

What we need is teeth in an F.T.C. that has technologists. And with some of these data privacy but — I’m a big fan of the president, I’m a big fan of the leadership, but you need them to say, yes this is something we’ve got to do, right? I mean, that’s what moves things in Congress is if you get Senator Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, President Biden, saying, this is a priority. And maybe they’ll listen to this podcast and they’ll say this time —

kara swisher

No, I’m guessing no. I had just interviewed Lina Khan, who’s the head of the F.T.C. Now, they have put people into place, Tim Wu at the White House, Lina Khan, Jon Kantor at the Justice Department, who have been critics of tech. Texas tried to have them silenced, I would say, or tried to have them recused, I think that’s the word they’re using, because they’ve been critical of tech. They haven’t moved the needle yet. And Commissioner Khan was saying that one of the issues is they can’t even pass more money for these agencies, which are being outspent and outgunned by tech companies. Or it’s very difficult. If you make the wrong move, you only have one, and so you have to be very careful about what you go against.

ro khanna

She’s in a tough place. I respect her. Yes, she needs more money, but she needs a change in the case law, which is Congress, right? The same day the president is appointing Lina Khan around the same thing, a judge is dismissing one of the suits against Facebook, right saying basically the case law says that Facebook has the business discretion to do whatever they want. And so if that’s the law, as being interpreted by the judges, how can Lina Khan do anything different? She can bring a case. It’ll be dismissed by the courts.

kara swisher

She got it passed. Now it’s moving forward, because they went back and did their homework and resubmitted it.

ro khanna

Sure, but my guess is for that to really have teeth we need some change in the law. And one of the things is we need a nuanced approach to antitrust. I think that that approach means that companies shouldn’t be able to discriminate against vendors. But, if they can show that it is consistent with their values or in the consumer welfare, that may be a balance that allows them to do that.

Let me explain. Apple, basically, you should be able to have sell on the App Store. But if you’re Parler, and Apple thinks it violates your fundamental values, they probably shouldn’t be forced to have Parler on their App Store. And again, these are nuanced issues. Some of the problem is that the bills that have been crafted in Congress really need the nuance because they’re making a fundamental shift in antitrust law. But unless we have a fundamental shift —

kara swisher

A rewriting of antitrust law.

ro khanna

Rewriting it. We shouldn’t go from consumer welfare is the only thing that matters to consumer welfare doesn’t matter. There has to be a balance.

kara swisher

But I’m just curious what you think is going to move the needle. Because right now the top regulator for Facebook is Apple. So you have Tim Cook is the regulator for Apple in terms of passing privacy.

ro khanna

Boy, he would love that you said that I’m going to —

kara swisher

But he is. He shaved $10 billion off their sales because he’s getting consumers to ask if they want to have their information stolen or not.

ro khanna

He has been very, very strong on privacy.

kara swisher

Is that a good thing? I think he’s a very nice man but I don’t want him to be the top regulator of tech.

ro khanna

We don’t want Apple to be. And Apple has — we want to make sure that they face well-crafted regulations, as well. They’re not perfect, in terms of the commissions on app stores. So yes, I mean right now, the regulation that they imposed, on making sure that people have to opt in, basically, to consent to get data, is effective. But there’s no reason that we can’t have those principles help inform privacy legislation.

And you’ve basically stuck in energy and commerce in the committees, and it needs 60 senators to vote for it, and 218 house members, and even when the president and the Senate Majority and speaker get behind something, it often doesn’t move, as we saw with voting rights. So, what do we need? We need people around the country saying, I care about this, I need this regulator.

kara swisher

Do you think Frances Haugen moved the needle? This is the Facebook whistleblower, who released a lot of internal information from Facebook.

ro khanna

I think she did, but I don’t get calls into my office saying, pass privacy legislation. I get calls into my office saying, pass Build Back Better or pass voting rights. And I think there hasn’t been that mobilization or that urgency that people feel on democracy. Maybe after January 6th it could have happened but that’s what’s missing.

kara swisher

Is it too late though, because these companies are so big? Is it impossible to push them back? The country did push back big the trains, the oil, all the different steel.

ro khanna

They did, you’re saying?

kara swisher

Yeah.

ro khanna

No, I don’t think it’s too late. I mean I think it’s just starting — the realization that’s happening now, and if there’s one thing I want from the book, is that tech issues aren’t fringe niche issues that only techies should care about. And that’s how it was viewed, until I think a few years ago.

And for these monumental pieces of legislation to pass, people have to say, this is not about tech, this is about our democracy. This is about our economy. And if we get to that point, then we will start to see the reform. But, what we’re missing, is that kind of urgency and mobilization. Usually takes a moment — I think there was a huge missed opportunity after January 6th — to do it. There was a missed opportunity after Cambridge Analytica to do it. Hopefully, we can have a moment that this passes.

kara swisher

What would you imagine being worse than January 6th?

ro khanna

I don’t want to go down that road. January 6th was pretty bad. But the point is, after January 6th, I think the response should have been, OK, part of the cause of January 6th were the social media companies. Let’s make sure that never happens again. We are going to pass legislation to target that.

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nayeema raza

We’ll be back in a minute. If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like our chat with venture capitalist and Miami hype man Keith Rabois. And you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Congressman Khanna after the break.

kara swisher

So let’s move on to antitrust bills, then. There’s a surprising bipartisan agreement on the need for this. Ken Buck and David Cicilline agreeing seems to be a very unusual thing. This is a Congressman from out West with David Cicilline, who’s from Rhode Island, couldn’t be more different, as people. They do agree on this, these changes. Amy Klobuchar and Charles Grassley agreeing on this. There is a lot of commonality of something needs to be done, but the motivations are slightly different. Republicans keep crying bias censorship even though there isn’t any evidence. Is that argument just the bitter pill Democrats won’t have to swallow to pass regulation?

ro khanna

Well, first of all, just look at the top 10 sites on Facebook. I wish they were biased. But nine of the top 10 sites are Republican sites, it’s Donald Trump, Ben Shapiro, Sean Hannity, Fox News. We get totally out campaigned on social media. So we shouldn’t just accept arguments that are just factually false.

That said, if the Republicans want protections to make sure that you don’t have viewpoint censorship, I’m fine with that. I mean, I don’t think that these platforms should be engaged in discrimination based on viewpoint, and if that’s part of a bargain in legislation, fine. But the issue of it is not getting the Republican-Democratic compromise. The issue is prioritizing it with the leadership. And I think for this to move, you literally need the president, the White House, the leadership of the House and Senate, saying get this done.

kara swisher

So when you’re thinking about that, let’s move on to the politics right now. Oh, by the way, did you try to sign up for Trump social? Or True Social, excuse me.

ro khanna

I have not. Have you?

kara swisher

Yes, I have, and it doesn’t work.

ro khanna

What do you mean it doesn’t work? Isn’t the point, like, he gives you his messages, his take of how he loves Vladimir Putin, and everyone gets it?

kara swisher

No, I don’t think that’s on there because I’m not on it because it doesn’t work.

ro khanna

Oh, it literally doesn’t work.

kara swisher

It literally doesn’t work.

ro khanna

It’s like the health care problem when they rolled it out.

kara swisher

Your old colleague Devin Nunes is the C.E.O.

ro khanna

Well —

kara swisher

The well-known tech expert, Devin Nunes.

ro khanna

Look, I think that Trump, like any citizen, has the right to start social media. I’ve argued that we need more plurality of social media forums and it would be great to have a public social media forum as well. So I’m not going to deny anyone the right to do it.

But. again — I just come back to the fact that he’s actually still in absentia dominating the conversation on a lot of these traditional social media forums. So no one should think that, somehow, his voice is being marginalized.

kara swisher

No, but it’s quieter, for sure, on these things.

There are many, many. There are. There’s Gettr. There’s Rumble. You have MeWe. There’s a lot of them. And then there’s also — they’ve been building out infrastructure because of getting tossed off by the big tech companies, which is interesting. So that’s a great thing, you think?

ro khanna

Well, I don’t think it’s a great thing. I think it’s defensible under the First Amendment to be able to have forums for participation. I do think, though, the danger when you get some of the hate speech on places like Facebook and Twitter, and you have no standards, is that it starts to affect people who are susceptible to it, who could be productive citizens, and you start to have the mainstreaming of that.

And so if they’re located in niche sites, I think that’s much better than having the propaganda and the misinformation being on mainstream sites. And that’s why I think these social media companies, beyond regulation, have an ethical responsibility to have some standards against blatant hate speech and against blatant misinformation. But I think, what about constructing positive alternatives, as well, in terms of a public forum for internet public conversation, in terms of —

kara swisher

Do you think there should be a real public square?

ro khanna

I think there should be a PBS of the internet, both nationally and locally in communities, where there’s constructive conversation. Part of what motivates social media now, it’s almost a cry of desperation of utter cynicism. The only thing we can do as a citizen, is retweet. Or the only thing we can do is make some snarky comment online, that it just won’t matter if we show up at a Town Hall, it just won’t matter if we talk to our congressperson.

And it is this utter cynicism that has led to social media being the forum, almost, of expression, and somehow we need to fix that. And one of the things that people say, well, how? Have a public option. Have public architecture that creates things like this Town Hall in the public sphere.

kara swisher

Who decides what’s acceptable?

ro khanna

Well, and that you need to have reasonable time, place restrictions but not viewpoint restrictions. If we were having town hall here, someone can’t just come up and yell and take my mic, and they probably can’t curse, but —

kara swisher

Have you been to a school board meeting lately?

ro khanna

The rules are changing, yeah.

kara swisher

They can.

ro khanna

They can now, maybe. But the point is that we don’t discriminate based on viewpoints and it shouldn’t be the only forum, right? Anger sometimes is important. And this is where I say, I defend the right of Facebook to exist. Sometimes you need anger. Look at some of the Black Lives Matter protests and the language. Some of that will never be allowed on a public forum with proper time, place restrictions.

But that anger was justified, when you saw George Floyd, and some of the times you do need forums which are messy, and where people can act out in the voice of protest. But it has to be balanced with other forums that give people productive agency. And I just don’t think that there’s enough of imagining what the productive digital spheres can be of our democracy.

kara swisher

All right speaking of a noisy chaotic place, I want to move on to the future of the Democratic Party and politics, in general. You fall on the progressive side of the spectrum, you co-chaired Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign. How do you assess the progressive wing of the party these days? It seems like, not so good. People are pushing back, but perhaps you have a different thought.

ro khanna

I think the progressive side won the ideological debate of 2020. I mean, I’m pleased with President Biden, but look at what he has proposed. He said working class Americans have gotten the raw end of the deal, that we have to have place based policies that focus on jobs, that everyone needs health care in this country, that we need universal education in this country.

So all of these arguments, I think, progressives are winning and have won. And they’ve made a proper case that just unregulated markets is not the way to go in a modern economy. So I don’t understand when people push back. I think, you know, what they push back on, it’s a sense of doom or a sense of pessimism. If you hear Democrats’ speeches, and just turn on the T.V. next time, and how many times are they talking about everything that is wrong about the country?

We need the Democratic Party to be more aspirational, hopeful, empowering, about what we’re going to do for America to succeed. And I was talking to a politician overseas and he said when you are on a plane you want the pilot to be optimistic about the mission. I think we want our politicians to be hopeful and optimistic about the direction of the country.

kara swisher

So Democrats are a bummer?

ro khanna

Democrats, we need to up our game, say — Donald Trump has told a dystopian story about America, but it is a vivid story, and it is a story, as an entertainer, that has captured a lot of people. And we have to tell a positive story. It’s always harder to be positive.

kara swisher

So the idea of moderates taking over, you think the progressives still have, given you’re a representative of, that wing of the party?

ro khanna

I think that the ideas are winning. But where, I think, that the progressives need to do a better job — And I believe in free markets, I believe in economic growth. I believe in creation of economic opportunity, and I believe America is still the greatest experiment of democracy in the world, that we’re an extraordinary country. And if we can frame progressive ideals in that way, then I think we can attract independents and moderates to that vision. So I reject this kind of division between moderates and progressives. I think what we ought to talk about is these policies that are progressive, but in terms that can build a broad enough coalition to win over moderates and independents.

kara swisher

All right, are you worried about the Democrats in the midterms right now?

ro khanna

Sure, I mean, there’s no one who wouldn’t look at the numbers, wouldn’t say I’m concerned. Obviously I’m concerned. It’s hard to win when your president’s in power. It’s hard when the numbers are where they are. They’re upset with the inflation, that’s real. So we have our work cut out for us. Do I think we have a path to win? I do, but we should be clear that it’s uphill.

kara swisher

What’s the most important thing in the path to win?

ro khanna

The most important thing, I think, is for the president to be out there as much as possible, giving people a clear sense of, yes, I believe we could turn this thing around, yes, I believe we’re going to be able to create economic opportunity for people, and here’s the plan and we’re going to deliver on it. And I think that we have to get behind him.

kara swisher

What about the future of the G.O.P.? They’re sort of wrestling with each other now?

ro khanna

You mean the future of Trump?

kara swisher

Yes, the future of Trump, I guess. They’re wrestling with Trump. How do you think he fits into the party? And what do you think will happen with him, besides his lovely social media network?

ro khanna

It’s shocking to me to see that the G.O.P. is more loyal to Trump today than they were during his presidency. I mean, I came in with Liz Cheney. We were in the same class. And to see Liz Cheney now basically, totally kicked out, ostracized of the Republican Party is shocking.

When Vice President Cheney was on the House floor — he was someone I have campaigned against, in every speech, as has every Democrat — and to see only the Democrats going to greet him, I mean, it is shocking to me, the hold that Donald Trump has on that party. And I think unless there are people willing to speak out against him and not try to be carbon copies of him, we’re not going to have a functioning Republican Party.

kara swisher

You see Cheney. You see —

ro khanna

And one of these folks may — Ben Sasse, I mean—

kara swisher

McConnell every now and then says something.

ro khanna

You know, one of the things I just think in American politics — I could be wrong, but Americans, we don’t like a carbon copy. We love originals. Trump, as terrible as he was, was an original. Bernie Sanders is an original Barack Obama is an original. So I don’t get DeSantis and Hawley. Why try to be like the lesser version of Trump? Be your own self that gives you your best shot of actually leading. And yet we don’t have — I mean, Liz Cheney, I think, is someone who I disagree with but who has said, here’s what I believe. And we need more of that in the Republican Party for there to become a party that’s independent of Trump. But right now, I would certainly not underestimate Donald Trump. He has still, in my view, the best shot at winning the nomination, and he still has the largest hold on the Republican Party.

kara swisher

So you just said you thought Trump was going to run for reelection in 2024, what about President Biden? There’s a lot of speculation of what happens if he doesn’t.

ro khanna

I think he runs, I think he runs. I think he still — he can resonate in places like Pennsylvania, and Michigan, Ohio. I think we need him out there more. Let him talk about the values he grew up with in Scranton and his vision for the country and his decency and his commitment to the working class. I think he’s still our best bet to lead the party.

kara swisher

What about you? You have another plan beyond being the representative from District 17?

ro khanna

I really think I have one of the most important jobs in the country and the world.

kara swisher

I know they always say that.

ro khanna

No, no but I do. But they all don’t represent Silicon Valley.

kara swisher

What would you like to do next? I change my jobs every five minutes. So, what?

ro khanna

You have every job, Kara. You have like an empire.

kara swisher

That’s right. I work for everybody. I’m quite a promiscuous journalist but that’s besides the point. If you had to pick, governor? Would you run for governor of California?

ro khanna

I mean I love Gavin Newsom but that’s a thankless job. I’d rather be the congressperson from Silicon Valley.

kara swisher

What about a higher office like vice president? Would you like to do that?

ro khanna

That’s a random one.

kara swisher

You can’t not want to do anything. Your parents would be so disappointed in you.

ro khanna

I don’t know if I could overcome that, their disappointment, I’d say. I think I’m happy right now having an impact. And now, maybe you know, in the future, who knows? But for the next four or five years, I’m very happy.

kara swisher

Probably you do know and you’re not saying. But OK, let me try it another way and then I have one final question. If you could do anything else, like take away your congressional pin, whatever — you can’t be that — what would you be doing right now?

ro khanna

And it can’t be like Kara Swisher.

kara swisher

No you’re not talented enough.

ro khanna

That’s true. That’s true.

kara swisher

Fair.

ro khanna

That’s true. That’s fair. What would I be — what would I be doing if I couldn’t do that? I’d probably be starting a non-profit organization on convening people to get these jobs into communities across the country and I really believe in that. So if I wasn’t in Congress, I’d probably do that and try to get people to mobilize around us.

kara swisher

I thought you’d say astronaut on Elon Musk’s rocket ship to Mars, but OK.

ro khanna

Elon Musk would never let me ride with him.

kara swisher

He might.

ro khanna

I don’t know — I’d have to go back through my tweets and see.

kara swisher

Yeah, he told me once that he wanted to die on Mars, but not on landing.

Yeah, get it? He’s a funny guy. Anyway, last question. We’ve talked about dignity and tech, what about dignity in Washington? Politics is one of the few professions where dignity feels like an impediment — you can’t campaign or fundraise without losing some of it. How do you think about dignity and how much have you lost since entering public office?

Sorry, not really. But it is, it’s now noisy. You have people tweeting at each other.

ro khanna

I’ll tell you something. You know, I’m not going to defend, obviously, Washington. And there’s a lot of influence of money in politics, and there’s influence of people’s egos. But I don’t think that the problem in Washington is fundamentally a problem just of the people that are there. Honestly, when I talk to people there, you get a sense that most people there, you know, they memorized Kennedy speeches or Reagan speeches and they all got there because they wanted to make some kind of a difference. The vast majority of them, they believed in the country.

So why are we so polarized? I believe it is that we’re trying to do something remarkable. When my parents came to the United States, the Immigration and Naturalization Act had just passed. Before that, they didn’t let Indians basically come to America. Immigration was 90 percent European. Today it’s about 15 percent European. We’re a country that is 60 percent white non-Hispanic. We’re trying to become the first multiracial, multiethnic superpower in the world. And you’re telling me that was going to be some linear line from Obama onwards? Give me a break. It is hard, what we’re doing.

So we’re polarized because we’re fighting about different ways of life. We’re fighting about different cultures. What should America be? And it’s a tough time, and it’s time we’re with stress with economic dislocation, with jobs going offshore.

But I believe that we will achieve it, and it will be an extraordinary achievement. And I walk every day in the United States Congress with extraordinary pride in what this country represents, in the extraordinary honor to be part of that process. And to the young people, particularly, go into politics. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t just look at the tweets and the cynicism. It is still the greatest democracy, and we will ultimately triumph.

kara swisher

All right, let’s end on that.

ro khanna

Thank you. Thank you, Kara

[MUSIC PLAYING]

nayeema raza

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Daphne Chen, Caitlin O’Keefe, and Wyatt Orme, with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Sonia Herrero and Carole Saboraud, and fact checking by Kate Sinclair and Mary Marge Locker. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin, Kristina Samulewski, and Kim Newman, Tim Marback and the team at the Great Hall at the Cooper Union. The senior editor of “Sway” is Nayeema Raza, and the executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Irene Noguchi.

If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to get your podcasts, so follow this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered to you, along with a one way ticket to Mars where you may find Kara and her missing voice, download any podcast app, then search for “Sway” and follow the show. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening Kara will be back reading her own intros and credits on Thursday.

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