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S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest for August 6th, 2020, the Stop Counting Now edition. I am David Plotz of Business Insider from Washington, D.C. I’m joined from New York City, Manhattan by CBS’s 60 Minutes John Dickerson, author of The Hardest Job in the World. Hello, John Dickerson. Hello, David.
S3: And from not from New Haven, but from somewhere else that starts with a new and has a ha in it. Emily Bazelon of The New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School. Hello, Emily.
S1: It is a funny thing about going to New Hampshire for me. Hello. Yeah, going to New Hampshire doesn’t provide a lot of different alphabet, but it’s very lovely here and I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
S4: New Hampshire on today’s gabfest, can the school’s fiasco be averted? What about the coming vaccine shambles? We will talk to former Obama homeland security official Juliette Kayyem about whether we can do anything about these twin possible problems, twin disasters. Then the census will stop data collection in the field on September 30th, a full month earlier than they planned than they announced, even though 40 percent of households at the moment are uncounted. Is there any way this is not going to be a disaster? And then what is going on in the presidential campaign? And will Joe Biden’s strategy of not doing any door to door campaigning or having this people do any door campaigning actually work? Plus, we will have a cocktail chatter. The census is heading for disaster. This week, the Census Bureau announced it will cut short by a full month its field data collection. And to put it another way, they had planned for 10 weeks more a field data collection. And instead they announced kind of on the spur of the moment that they’re only going to do six weeks of field data collection. And in those six weeks, they have to collect information from about 60 million households that have not yet responded to the mailed survey. It is hard to see, Emily, how this is not going to be a disaster. But before you explain how it’s going to be disaster, talk about the change in timing and why why it is that we don’t have an extended census this year despite the pandemic and despite the fact that everyone who has looked at this thinks, wow, we need an extended census.
S5: Can I direct and can you raise the stakes for us before you answer those questions and explain why this matters?
S1: So the census determines political power for the ensuing decade and also how we allot our tax money. When Congress approves the census, it approves the mechanism for deciding where everybody lives for the purposes of apportionment. That means redistricting for both Congress and state legislatures. Huge deal. It also determines which communities get how much money based on population. So there’s billions of dollars at stake. And in some ways, you know, on the margins, control of state legislatures and of Congress, it’s did seem to everyone like we needed more time to complete the census this year. Obviously, the pandemic has been really disruptive, made it very difficult to do door knocking and also a lot of people have moved, which makes them harder to find. So the Census Bureau had asked for more time, had asked to report out the results in April twenty twenty one instead of at the end of this year. And census officials and various appearances in the last few months have made it clear that it is too late to finish the census in a complete and competent matter if they don’t have this extension until the end of October rather than the end of September. However, the Census Bureau has two recent up political appointees from the Trump administration. And I think what we’re seeing here is the increasing willingness and skill at using big federal agencies to do the bidding of political appointees in the Trump administration who want to bend these big tasks of government to particular ends. And what we’re seeing here is a real push not to count undocumented people in the census, even though we have always counted every person, not every citizen since the founding.
S4: Emily, you’ve already you’ve raised some of these issues. It seems to me they’re actually. A whole basket of issues, so there is the changing timing to which just gums up the data collection because they’re so far behind, there’s so much further behind where they were in 2010. There’s so much more to do when people are so disruptive and so everyone is going to get undercounted. Then there’s a second issue which is related. But I don’t think it’s quite the same, which is that the president tried to stick a census question in this census. The Supreme Court shot him down. But instead, what he’s now doing is he’s essentially ordered the Commerce Department to try to disaggregate immigrants from citizens and then within immigrants, disaggregate documented and undocumented immigrants and and seems to be planning to use this kludgy, unplanned separating mechanism to try to shape apportionment in twenty twenty one. Those two issues seem somewhat different. They I think they stem from the same thing you’re talking about, which which is this desire to use or this this plan to use the census to advance political ends in ways that it maybe hasn’t been used before. John, is that your read on it?
S5: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s part of it. I think also and this is this is maybe a weakness of mine. I just see it as a an election year turf fight, which is by which I mean this the president is doesn’t want to be talking about the three big challenges he faces on covid the economy and race relations. So he wants to keep getting in fights about immigration because that’s his strategy and that’s where he feels like he does better. And so this is just another way to get to initiate a fight about counting undocumented immigrants and try to wrap the, you know, public conversation in that for some period of time because he thinks that makes that works well for him and me and puts Democrats in a bad position of looking like they’re defending undocumented immigrants.
S1: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s true. It’s just that if the Census Bureau screws up the census, it causes such. And I know you’re not arguing that the outcome and the consequences don’t matter. You’re just pointing out this additional political aspect of it.
S5: Yeah, yeah. And I and but but but what you point out is right. And I always hate when people say, well, what? Here’s the positioning. But I but I mean, I think that is what’s at stake here. And yeah, it’s both.
S4: And what’s the what’s the reason to assume so. So according to estimates, are about 60 million households that have not been counted. And there’s now about six weeks to try to reach them with door knocking and other methods and big PR campaigns. What’s the reason to assume that that is politically beneficial to Republicans?
S1: Emily, I mean, it’s a mixed bag, actually. So we know that the people who are hardest to count tend to be disproportionately people of color, low income people, rural people. This happens to and in particular, we worry about immigrants and undocumented immigrants because they have lots of reasons not to trust the government and to worry about giving over their personal information, especially in a census where the Trump administration has been so clearly hostile to their interests. So that’s the part that makes you just worry about fairness. And these folks in particular. It’s also true, though, that states that will tend to lose representation from an apportionment that miscounts are doesn’t count immigrants are Texas and Florida as well as a state like California. So you have Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, saying, hey, wait a second, this is not necessarily an advantage to us.
S6: There’s another sort of wrinkle to this, which is that if the census gets to the end of September and they know they have a big undercount and they can see where households are, they do this thing called the station. Right. Are you.
S3: I want I want to talk about amputation. I’m so excited.
S6: So first of all, the census has to count everybody. They’re not allowed to use statistical methods to estimate where people are. For the most part, that’s been like intensely litigated. You could argue it’s super inefficient and we shouldn’t do it this way. But that’s what the Constitution says. So the last time around, they use this method of imputing where people live and who they are to account for about one percent of the population. This time, it could be much higher. It could be five percent. It could be even higher than that. The problem with imputation is that it’s not necessarily accurate. So imagine you have a neighborhood and you figure that 50 percent of the people there are Latino. And it turns out actually it was like 80 percent. Well, then you’ve just really undercounted a group of people in a way that can matter a lot for the Voting Rights Act, which is another part of how we do apportionment. We take into account people’s race in this. For the purposes of making sure that we don’t dilute their power as voters in certain districts, they’re supposed to be able to elect their candidates of choice. And so, you know, you have this question, do you need it to be 55 percent of eligible voters to make sure that you are preserving some aspect of their political power? Or should it be 52 percent or 60 percent? These are these intensely fought battles over redistricting. If we’re just wrong about the number of people who are black or Latino in a certain place, then that throws off those calculations. And that could also be a problem for those groups of people’s representation.
S5: Yeah, it’s how many people are coming for dinner? Oh, I don’t know, three. And then it turns out 30 come. I mean, you just it’s the allocation of resources can be wildly off and then the ability to fight for more research resources will then equally be off because of the representation was determined by the original miscount.
S6: Exactly. And I think especially big cities like Houston, where you have you know, there’s billions of dollars at stake in these population counts. And so for local officials, this is like truly scary.
S3: I want to talk about this attempt to segregate people into categories. Citizen, documented, immigrant, undocumented immigrant, if you were undocumented. John or Emily, would you participate in the census? I would not I would not trust this government not to identify me by this information. Historically, census data has been pretty well protected, but not always. It was used during World War Two to identify Japanese Americans and to target them for four concentration camps. So I think if I were I think if I were an undocumented person living in this country, I would be very hesitant to participate. So that’s the first question, whether whether you guys think there’s undocumented people should feel safe participating.
S5: I’m with you. I mean, it wouldn’t even have to have an administration that has a particular animus towards them because it would just be, you know, what you’re doing is outside the law and information given to anyone, even to a credit card company, is going to come back and be public somehow. I mean, you know, in other words, there’s a leakiness of information in all public life. So I would think that would contribute to reluctance as well.
S1: So I just I find this, like, terrifying to listen to, because while you’re talking about something that’s a total reality, we really need to persuade undocumented people that it is safe to fill out the census. And you’re right about that breach during World War two. David, it’s also true that since the 1950s, it has been a crime to expose census data, to reveal it, to misuse it even within the government. And so we have really strong protections that should make people feel more confident about filling out these documents than either of you just said.
S3: Though, I think we have seen Emily, though, that things that were crimes in previous administrations, things that are currently crimes, are being done by the Trump administration and they are not being punished for it. So, like, I don’t I don’t know that I would that would reassure me. I think you’re of course, you’re right. And of course, as as as Americans and as people who wish undocumented people to to receive the services that they deserve, we should want undocumented people to participate in the census. I’m just saying that as a as a matter of like safety, personal safety at this time, it seems really of terribly hard case to make because of how malevolent the Trump administration has been.
S1: I mean, it’s also true that they’re taking a lot of steps to try to anonymize the data to make sure that you can’t track down individual people, not for reasons related to being undocumented, just generally. That’s an important value in the census. I mean, I think the other thing is, like so much else, this is at stake in this election. So, you know, it is possible that the census data will be reported to Congress before the new president or the continuing president takes office in January. It is also true that these questions of how census data will be used and interpreted could be up to a blind administration instead of the Trump administration.
S3: I want to hit one other question about this, which I think we’ve talked about before. And I feel like I have a different that I have a holda abhorrent view and I’m just trying to remember why my view is abhorrent. I don’t understand what is wrong intellectually with excluding undocumented from the apportionment count. I do not really don’t get that. I, I, it seems to me like that I understand that, you know, representatives have an obligation to, to serve the people in their district and those include citizens and non-citizens alike, but people who are living in the country in an undocumented way. It’s not clear to me why they are to be represented in Congress in the same way that tourists certainly shouldn’t be represented in Congress.
S6: Well, they’re not tourists. They live here. Right. I mean, this is one of those things where, like, we could have done it differently. The Constitution could have made this about citizens both for the census and for apportionment, and it didn’t. And when you look back historically, I mean, our notions of citizenship are so much more cemented and kind of legalized than there were. Right. Like they had all these people coming to the country. They weren’t there. It’s true that they started passing naturalization acts in 1790. So it’s not like they weren’t thinking about this at all, but it was just a much more fluid that were porous borders. Like it just wouldn’t have made sense. I think to make these clearly delineated differences based on citizenship between people was like just really important to have your hands around, like who is where now. We could have changed that sometime along the way. But I think that part of our commitment and our value of being a nation of immigrants has always kept these categories somewhat unbounded. And that’s been really to our advantage that we haven’t tried to set these like really strict lines between people on these bases. And I guess the last thing I’ll say is when you think about representation and. Do you want to make the argument that people are undocumented or, you know, they’re children because often, you know, children also can’t vote, but do you want to make the argument that people who can’t vote should never be able to go to their congressional or state legislative representative and ask for something like, aren’t they they’re still people, right? They still of need. So there are lots of undocumented immigrants who live in my city. And like I want them to feel like the people, the politicians in the city are also answerable to them because they’re here.
S5: And also given in addition to Amylase Value-Based Answer, given the tradition and the way it’s been done, given the reality on the ground, if you don’t if you don’t do that counting, then you then you have less representation in an area that needs resources and representation to manage a problem maybe everybody might agree is a problem, which is to say to have people undocumented rather than documented. But it’s nevertheless a thing that exists to so to shrink resources from that challenge. So would penalize border states for a condition that hasn’t been solved at the national level yet. I mean, that would be the effective result of this, I think, right, Emily?
S1: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. I mean, think about, like, the unemployment benefits for coronavirus.
S3: Well, I think that’s a well, good.
S1: Well, I just going to say, like, they’re not going to undocumented people. And so in a lot of communities that have undocumented people or people who aren’t eligible, there’s just more need. So then if you don’t allow those people to count for representation of the government, you have even less of a way to to make sure that they’re OK and that the social fabric that’s holding the community together, the food banks, the government dollars that support social services like that, they’re adequate.
S3: Yeah, I mean, I guess I guess a portion of it seems to me like a real bank shot way to do it, because it’s not as though they may be apportioned to these districts. They’re not voting in the district. So they, in fact, are not can never be constituents to these their constituents, but they’re not voting constituents of any of these elected representatives.
S7: I mean, it’s the best thing we have, right.
S3: Because otherwise, you know, the best thing the best thing we have is to provide unemployment benefits to people who are living in the country. Like it’s much better to to to attack the problem directly than it is to say like, oh, well, this sort of second hand, third hand way of having them counted for the purposes of a census, for how many people are going to represent this particular area, even though they are not even going to get to vote in this particular election or any election is is a is the way to do it? I would say, like go at it directly, like provide tuition for people, make it easy for them to enroll in schools, like make Obamacare, cover them. That seems more important.
S1: Well, right. I mean, I agree with all of that. But I think that taking away any representation, even indirect vote, makes those things less and less likely and possible. Right. And so for now, like given all the barriers to what you suggested, this is like some kind of toehold that those people have in our system.
S5: Another thing that’s important about the timing change here is that is, aren’t we in the process of data collection on the census where you’re in a 10 yard race, where in the last yard, which is tends to be those people who are the door knocking is happening to get those people who haven’t filled out their census forms. So it’s the group that has been left to be counted, is particularly likely to be more sort of represented by and associated with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. Yeah.
S6: You know, I also want to point out that businesses rely intensely on census data. Census data is incredibly rich. It’s one of the best sources of information in the world. Like it just matters tremendously for how people decide where to open a restaurant or when to start a business and how to orient their company there. All these ways in which, like every group, Republican, Democrat, every kind of class is dependent on this data.
S1: And so if we make this data, we screw it up like it really matters in all these ways that aren’t necessarily just about, you know, making sure that, like, undocumented immigrants get counted.
S3: Yeah, hallelujah to that. I mean, I so agree with that. We it is amazing how valuable the census has been to the United States. It’s amazing how good the country has generally been a data collection and use of data and how how valuable that muscle that we have has been for the country. And watching that this administration in particular degrade it is painful because it’s also once you degrade it, it’s much harder to regain it. So a great way to finish this slate. Plus members. You get bonus segments on the Gap and other Slate podcasts, and it’s really fun to do these Slate plus segments and they’re really excellent bonus content. John, stop laughing. It is fun.
S5: Yeah, I know, but you said it with all the enthusiasm of someone rushing up to get there.
S3: Well, I was just thinking about that because my mind was elsewhere and I was thinking, you know, Slate plus segments are fun and Slate plus members, you get these great Slate plus segments when you become a Slate plus member. So I want to encourage you to join Slate Plus and get the bonus segments on the Gabfest and other Slate podcasts. Go to Slate Dotcom Slash Gabfests plus to become a member today. And we’re going to talk about work, friendships and work friendships in the time of covid. We all have a lot to say about work friendships because we are work friends. We will also have an update on my cats, one of whom just jumped on the table here to go to Slate dotcom gabfests, plus to become a member today. There’s an amazing statistic in Politico this week. According to the Trump campaign last week, they knocked on one million doors. The Biden campaign knocked on zero. That’s zero with one zero in it. The strategy of the Biden campaign, of course, is that Joe Biden is the candidate who takes the pandemic seriously. And you certainly don’t want to send strangers to Jerm all over your screen door by having them canvass somewhere. But it does raise interesting questions about the dynamics of what is a very weird campaign. We’re not going to have real conventions. Biden is not going to go to Milwaukee to accept the nomination. There are not rallies, at least not yet. The president is perhaps scheming to use the White House lawn to accept his nomination. The president is doing other very obvious things to gain political advantage with funding the Florida and Texas National Guard, but not other National Guards, perhaps warping postal delivery to alter mail in voting. So, John, you are a great scholar of this. What parts of this campaign seem quite normal to you and what feels very uncharted?
S5: Well, the whole thing feels uncharted. I mean, so one thing we have known is that in-person in-touch contacts can be very powerful in terms of locking in votes, in terms of educating people about mail in ballots, about there are lots of benefits to in-person doorknocking. But the question is, in this moment, you’ve got what you discussed, David, which is when somebody shows up at your house, what signal is that sending you about the candidate’s seriousness about covid? But also, if you’re a Trump voter and you and you answer the door, A, if the person is wearing a mask, am I going to be offended because they’ve made this personal freedom choice with which I occasionally bristle? We’ve seen that a lot of Trump voters think that mask wearing is a kind of capitulation to some kind of virtue signalling or nanny state. So if the person’s wearing a mask, am I going to be offended? And then if they’re not wearing a mask, am I going to be offended? So I’m not sure that the benefit of door knocking is what it once was. Secondly, the Obama campaign was the world’s greatest doorknocking canvassing operation, both in 08 and then in 12. Much of that operation was then given over to the and including lots of the same important people was given over to the Clinton campaign. And it obviously didn’t win the day, particularly with the base of the party, which is where door knocking can can really matter. So there are limits to how much door knocking can matter. The disparity that you just talk about, David, is a is a is a considerable one. But I just guess I wonder how much the utility of door knocking matters in this current moment where it is one of many things Biden just said. He’s not going to Milwaukee for his convention. The debates, what are they going to look like? Many things in this campaign that are vastly different than what we’re used to.
S3: Emily, the Biden campaign also did announce they’re going to spend two hundred eighty million dollars advertising in 15 key states, ten of which Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Most of that’s television. Some of it’s digital due to that’s just kind of normal. That’s just like normal. Does that feel? I don’t know if you’ve seen any of these Biden ads. They haven’t I guess they haven’t started running yet.
S7: But there’s I watched a car one yesterday. I don’t know if it’s TV or online, but it was like Biden does Clint Eastwood.
S3: Are you excited to see Biden roll out? And do you think it’s going to help him for him to roll himself out? Because he apparently is going to be the face of these ads and they’re going to be him talking to camera?
S1: I mean, I think he has to do that. He has to define himself and give people an image to think about, even with all the negative sort of partisan countering of Trump. I think that’s crucial. And, you know, I think the gamble of doing these 15 states is both looking at the polls and seeing that, you know, he’s running neck and neck with Trump in places like Ohio. It’s also a way of trying to lift up the rest of the ticket, obviously. I mean, you have these Senate races in places like North Carolina. And Georgia and you know, other places, too, obviously, like Colorado and Maine, where it looks possible that the Democrats could pull off a victory and that would be it’s going to be so crucial if Biden is elected for the Democrats to have a majority in the Senate. I mean, that will just be of such enormous benefit to him as a president that I think spending money to try to make that happen and give himself coattails if he does win makes a lot of sense to me that they would try to do that. But, John, what do you think? I mean, I’m sure there’s going to be a counterargument. No, no, no. Go narrow. Put all your money into Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Make sure you can pull it out there.
S5: Yeah, don’t forget Florida. Well, you know, so. Yeah. So if you were just getting up to speed today, you would spend all your time focusing on Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. In terms of know, we’ll talk about this later in terms of election security. But you want to look at those four in terms of turnout, election security and advertising ads that you run in a kind of blanketed national fashion could in this covid election wash back to voters who are all watching their screens more now, either because they’re doing zoom calls or because they’re watching TV more because they’re just all stuck at home. Creating a national atmosphere might have effects in individual states that we don’t quite know about yet. So a blanket ad campaign that gets that gets covered as a blanket ad campaign and therefore gets into the news shows, as well as not just the advertisements might have some some message to it or might have some benefit to it. So and I’m also fascinated and interested in the in the message whether Biden really has to define himself or whether he just has to run a bunch of, you know, all the norms we loved before ads, which is just kind of what Newt Gingrich said about I guess it was that the two thousand and ten no sorry, the 2006 race, I think it was he said basically Democrats should run on the had enough campaign, which is basically have you had enough of this madness that’s going on in Washington that’s less about Biden defining himself and just saying there won’t be this madness, I’ll restore some norms in America and we’ll kind of settle back. So that’s less about defining him and just reorienting people with what they believed about America in the first place.
S3: I want to get before we leave this to your point about election security. I think all three of us believe that in some ways this election is much less about the ideas and beliefs and polls than it is about whether we can conduct a free and fair election that people will participate in. And there are different factors that went into that. There’s the pandemic, the lack of safety people feel about the pandemic, the possibility of foreign interference. I think, Frank, forded an amazing piece about the possibility of very serious Russian electoral hacking of state at the state electoral level. And then there’s what the president is doing, which is this real rhetorical assault on certain kinds of voting. So, Emily, what do you make of the the president’s effort to discredit mail in voting in states where he’s going to be in trouble and to credit it in states where it could help him?
S1: I mean, I just think it’s incoherent and like noise, and I’ve stopped listening to it. I mean, maybe that’s dumb and it’s having some impact, but I don’t understand how you can say, like, go vote by mail in Florida. It’s great. No, you can’t vote by mail in Nevada. It’s terrible. Like, it just I don’t think it makes any sense. I am much more concerned about two things. One is the post office. The post office has now a Trump appointee in full control who’s pulling back on services because the post office is running out of money. Whose fault is that is the fault of Congress. And having delayed shaky postal services with an election that’s going to rely more on vote by mail is just causing complete disaster. It just like makes my hair stand on end to imagine that we can we can we pause for a second?
S3: Because did you follow the New York case, New York, the New York Democrats, just like so much the mail is.
S1: Yeah, I mean, from what I understand, part of the problem was that a lot of ballots weren’t postmarked New York, tried to send absentee ballots with prepaid postage envelopes, and for some reason, those envelopes didn’t have postmarks. And so now and then thousands of them got thrown out because they appeared to be late, even if they weren’t necessarily so. That’s like its own terrible headache. And it could be repeated in other places. And you can imagine lots of other problems with the post office if it has insufficient funding. And there are parts of the country already where there’s been a huge slowdown in the mail. So that really, really keeps me up at night related to that. Are some lawsuits going on that are in the weeds, but I think are going to be really important in swing states. So in Wisconsin, Democrats and progressive groups are suing to try to extend the deadline for returning your mail in ballot again, related to potential problems with the mail or just trying to give people a little more time to return the ballots. And then in Pennsylvania, Republicans are suing on the other side to prevent the state from setting up more secure drop off boxes so that people don’t have to use the post office because drop off boxes are a great workaround. Like, you just go and you put your ballot in the box. You don’t have to worry about the post office. It’s almost as good as just turning it in at the polling place. It could even be at the polling place. But Republicans are trying to stop the state from implementing their new voting law by increasing access.
S6: And so what you see here are these kind of nitty gritty questions about the scope of enfranchisement. And they could matter a great deal in terms of who votes and how these votes get counted. And I haven’t even mentioned signature verification, which I think we’ve talked about on the show before. But it’s like, oh, my God. I mean, that was another problem in New York. And it’s been a problem in other states like Kentucky, where people make minor errors on their ballots and then again, they don’t get counted.
S5: Emily in Wisconsin is what they’re trying to do is extend the period as long as you’re postmarked by Election Day, it extends the period that basically they can receive the ballots. Is that right? That’s the.
S6: Well, it’s pretty much right, except weirdly, in Wisconsin, there’s no postmark mentioned in the law.
S1: So it’s just like, yes, basically, conceptually, what you said was correct. But in Wisconsin, it wouldn’t actually turn on the postmark, although it’s very confusing because in the Supreme Court opinion about the April primary, they actually talked about the postmark date as if it were in the law because it’s in a lot of other laws anyway. Basically, this is about whether you have extra time after Election Day so that instead of having the date be either a postmark or returning it on Election Day, which some states do have, either of those requirements, you would just say as long as it’s received within six days, say, of Election Day, it still gets counted.
S5: One of the things that seems to me is somebody has to change the dynamic of a delay being a signal of fraud, which the president is trying to make it and make the case that delay is actually, in many cases, rooting out fraud, checking signatures, making sure doing the due diligence necessary to make sure that the vote is solid. But that takes time.
S1: Yeah, yeah. I mean, we spend very little time thinking about what happens after elections because we’re not used to having these massive mail and balloting campaigns. But there are states where you’re not allowed to start counting the ballots until after Election Day. And the idea is that’s to prevent fraud. But that causes a delay. And I actually think this is really up to us, the media. And we’ve started talking about it like Ben Smith had a great piece for The New York Times about this. I’ve been hearing people on television like we have to prepare the country. We’re not going to have election night necessarily the way we’re used to having it. We really are going to have like election week or even month. And that’s OK as long as what we’re doing is just tabulating ballots.
S3: Yet, John, you should tell your bosses at CBS like, don’t just cancel the election night coverage. You just go to some kind of random stream that people can check in over the course.
S5: You all. No, I mean, I talked to Ben for that piece and I’ll say what I told him, which is we should have learned that lesson ages ago. I mean, in many of the campaigns that I’ve covered in 1996, 2000, twenty, sixteen, even twenty four, we didn’t know on election night, there’s plenty of recent history that should make us incredibly humble about what we’re actually going to know. In addition to the massive challenges that are part of this campaign.
S3: This week, Chicago canceled its hybrid public schools. They’re going to go all online in the fall. At the moment, New York City is the only big urban system that is committed to opening with in-person classes. But that seems like it won’t work.
S7: We don’t. It’s all right. It seems like it’s going to work. It’s going to work. Yeah. Keep going. It seems like it’s going to work.
S3: Joined by an indignant Emily Bazelon and also by Juliette Kayyem, who is a professor, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the faculty chair of the Homeland Security Project and the Security and Global Health Project at Harvard. She was also a Homeland Security assistant secretary under President Obama. So, Juliette, let me just read something that you wrote. The Department of Homeland Security identifies six infrastructure areas as so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety. Those sectors include agriculture, communications, electricity, financial services, health care, transportation systems. Water and even dams, this official list guides how local, state and federal homeland security experts spend their time and resources. Bars are not on the list of sectors, but neither are schools. Yeah, there was. Why did we miss that? Why did people not realize? Why did you not realize those belonged up there with water systems and financial services?
S8: I know it’s I mean, that was a little bit of a confession that we we knew that schools would have to close and pandemic response. And people like me plan for the bad thing. There’s lots of bad things that can happen in this country. And pandemic was one that there was planning for. And the failure to execute on those plans is what we’re seeing now by this administration. But regardless of who was in charge, if, you know, you have to shut down schools, there was no plan for national supervision of reopening them. I wrote that piece about four weeks ago when it was just clear that everyone was waking up to the fact that September follows August and we had no plan for schools. And so it should be a critical infrastructure. We now realize a society cannot function much like it cannot function. If the water is out, the electricity is out, the food supply chain is out. The if if the schools are closed and it’s not just I mean, it’s it’s literally not not just about the parents and inconveniences and stresses or the kids and what they should learn. It is about the economy. You are now looking at an economy that cannot even try to get back to life if parents have kids at home. And the data is now suggesting also for for obvious but not not happy reasons, that impact is is falling on working mothers who are Goldman Sachs had had a report this week are more likely than not to, in large numbers, entirely leave the workforce for this year.
S5: It’s just too hard to Julianne, given your experience inside an administration. So, OK, it doesn’t make the list. But once once things start going badly, isn’t there a system? Don’t people who are dealing with emergency response. Yes, you have to deal with with what’s in front of you. But isn’t there because you’ve done it before a moment where you say, gee, in a couple of months, some other stuff might happen. We might want to prepare for now because we are neck deep in something that we wouldn’t be neck deep in if we’d thought about it accurately beforehand. Like, why didn’t that kick in?
S8: Right, exactly. And because the entire process didn’t kick in, I’ll get a little wonky for a second. How it should have worked is you would have you would have a White House instead of having this crazy task force that we are forced to watch every day, would have simply, as I say, simple in the sense not to denigrate how hard this is and the devastation is. I want to say that there were processes in place that would have made it better. You would have a proper response, would have invoked what’s called a national incident command. You’d have a national incident commander on the federal level. That person would be responding, dealing with logistics, looking at the supply chain, figuring out what plans and policies were necessary, where is money, what do we have, what do we need? How do I fill that gap? And now they’re part of an incident command is something called the planning division, which is what do I need to be worried about in the future? You have a group of people who aren’t in the scrum of response. So you have a group of people that are truly like delivering ventilators en masse to a state. And you have a group of people who are what should we be worried about next? So you be thinking about schools and you’d be thinking about voting. Right. So this is a healthy voting is going to be the new school reopening debate. And so that’s how it should work that process. And I don’t once again, process doesn’t solve any everything. But without process, you’ve got this you’ve got chaos. That failure to invoke to have this 50 state response that we’re seeing that I called the Articles of Confederation response is the beginning is is the there was many original sins, but from a planning perspective, it’s the original sin. So that’s how it should have worked when school districts have been thinking about this. But is the federal government going to have policies in place? How will funding work? What are the laws and rules around this? And so you’re seeing a lot of creativity. I have to say there is some interesting things like my school district in Cambridge is likely to do K through three, which I do think the data is clear that that if you lose kids K through three in terms of reading and stuff, you’re never really going to get them back dispersed amongst all the schools. And then kids with who who need services of the school, who need food, who need to just get out of their house, the high school will be open for that. And so I think that’s actually creative. It means my kids will be home by high school, boys will be home, and that will be true for at least some period of time. We can play with the calendar, but. Right. Now, most jurisdictions are not ready. Massachusetts is in great shape and look at the decision made.
S1: Yeah, I so I’m as listeners know, just like so wrenched about this because I feel like kids have been paying such a price. And I you know, now I look out at the country, there are lots of places where it seems like school should not reopen given the infection rate. We’re seeing them reopen any way. We’re seeing them having to quarantine or close that sending a message to even the safe places like this is really shaky and and may not work. And I feel like what’s so important about the points you are making about planning is that there is the lost actual process and then there’s the lost trust. So in the small number of states where it seems like reopening could be safely done, you still have to persuade the teachers and the parents that it’s safe to to to be there. And we’ve spent a lot of time telling people to go home. And some of the hardest hit communities in cities, you know, especially with the disproportionate impact on people of color, are like the hardest to persuade. And it’s really hard to get people, I think, when they see all of this national lack of leadership and chaos to trust even in their local leadership. And yet again, it’s like the cost is being borne by the kids. And I don’t mean to suggest at all that, like, we should open cavalierly. It just seems like there are places where it’s possible where people are super, super risk averse. Yeah.
S8: And I think I mean, that’s the irony is the jurisdictions that were most risk averse closed early or stayed close longer, flattened the curve are also risk averse about opening schools. So the very places where we can try to experiment, I mean, for political reasons and all sorts of reasons, the ones that were most cavalier are just like, OK, let’s open them up, like those pictures from Georgia. I sometimes wonder if if President Trump had just remained silent on this on the on the school issue, we probably have more kids in school. I think that loss of trust is because, you know, the president has a tendency to do this is to make every really difficult issue binary. Right. So it’s like open schools don’t open schools. Right. Or he did this with with with reopening the economy or you know, or you don’t care about working working people. It’s just it’s just it’s absurd. Nothing about this is binary. We’re going to figure out how we get through it. The president talks about like we’re going back. We’re not going back. We’re people. We’re not going back. This is a long time. And there’s going to be variations throughout jurisdictions. And one of the things you know from so I advise school districts, I mean, I do. So here is a way to think about it. Right. In terms of the. Yes. No, it’s not binary. It’s managing three. I guess it’s like three legs of a stool. So what is safe reopening mean to me as someone? So I want to do three things simultaneously. And if I can’t do them, I’m not reopening. So one is I want to minimize contact intensity. So there are so you can think about coming back to school, but there’s going to be no sports, there’s going to be no chorus, there’s going to be no cafeteria. I know the virus well enough. Now I know what to do. This is why. Why the hell are bars open? They exist for contact intensity. Why honestly, are some religious places open? They exist for contact intensity. The second I’m trying to do is manage the number of contacts because it’s just a numbers game. Right. And this is what we’re all doing at home. Right? It’s like if I’m around five people, that’s safer than if I’m around fifty or five hundred, even social engagements that we’re willing to do. Now, I haven’t been around more people than six at a time that aren’t my family members. And then the third quickly is just you want to maximize the personal mitigation rules for the individuals there. So you you require masking you. You have rules around social distancing you. You people wash their hands. You you protect teachers with maybe masking all those things, those three things. They’re hard, but they’re noble. And I think what the president and the White House and the secretary of education just put it as this binary thing. And so between yes and no, I’m no, I’m in no. I mean, if that’s my options. Right. And so that’s the problem. It’s very hard to communicate in the political space. That’s what we’re that’s what we’re trying to do. Those of us out here who are doing the management of it.
S1: What do you make of the fact that there are places and this is become a big fight in Montgomery County in Maryland, where the private schools are going to open, some of them are doing the sort of creative, more resource intensive experimenting? You know, I it makes me, like, ill to imagine that now money determines not the quality of your education, but whether you go to school or not. But I also wonder if, like, they’re going to be example. In some cities like, yes, it is possible for kids to go to school safely or people just going to dismiss that because like, oh, those are rich private schools, they don’t have anything to do with us.
S8: Well, I think we can get transmission data, which I do think will be helpful for the public schools. But you’ve heard me say enough, unfortunately, a crisis since the nation as it is, not as we want it to be. All the things that are crappy about this nation, access to health care, income inequality, access to good education get exacerbated. And the and the hope is we are looking at the mirror and we hate what we’re seeing. And so then we can fix it.
S5: Julianne, this is a little off topic, but I remember talking to you during the BP oil spill, the BP oil spill came out of nowhere. It was not a surprise for which the previous two administrations had plans in place to handle. And yet I remember rather acute pressure on the president to solve that problem, a problem for which he had no previous expertise. Use that like reflecting back on that moment of a surprise thing that happened and the fact that it was called Obama’s Katrina and his competency was called into question.
S8: Its reflect on that with respect to the current evaluation of the incumbent president has a way of terrifying staff without being terrible. And I think President Trump hasn’t learned the last part. It was abundantly clear. So there was a a team brought in once it was clear that that that the White House needed to get involved. So that was me and Thad Allen that just started. And the famous line that he that is well known is close the damn well. He knew what the end game was, everything before the end game was executed. Just just go big or stay home. And that is and that is what we did. And it was horrible and it was miserable and everyone was mad at us. And there were two different nights I thought we were all going to get fired. It was horrible. But the measure of success when a president is confronted with something horrible isn’t whether you can deny the horrible you can’t deny it. It is whether it is less horrible because of the effort of the federal government or any government for that matter. So the measure of success is not whether oil hits shore. It was going to hit shore. It was whether less oil hit shore because of our efforts and that I feel very confident in. The second is obviously the politics of it. The president was there were five governors, all Republican, young, Democratic, White House. Three of them were going to run against the president and the re-elected. They knew it. We knew it. We knew the overlay of politics. None of them played it during the BP oil spill, not like this. And so you have a president who’s distributing resources based on it. The newest story that’s coming out today is he is depriving National Guard members of what’s called title thirty two funds, which is the the feds pay the National Guard rather than the governor when they’re deployed for federal federal mission in the homeland, except for for two states. Guess which two? Those are Florida and Texas. I mean, you’ve just like it’s like I it’s sort of mind boggling and slightly genius in some way. So those are the two things. And then just the long term nature of this. I mean, I just think if you follow me on Twitter or whatever, I just I’m in for the long haul people. I mean, cancel twenty twenty and start to cancel twenty, twenty one unless we see numbers that are better. This is the consequence. It’s our duty to cancel because we are spread. And so we just we just have to individually do what we need to do because the federal government’s not doing it. There’s an election, of course, in between our.
S3: Julia, let’s let’s close on one other issue, which is the vaccine. So I know in addition to looking at schools, you you think about the vaccine, talk about what you think the state of the vaccine is, and also how do we build the trust that Emily was talking about earlier in the vaccine? I think there’s a lot of skepticism about vaccines in this country and there’s a lot of skepticism about federal public health advice. And the president has created a lot of ambiguity. And this vaccine is going to come out quickly. What what should we be doing to create trust?
S8: Yeah, so it’s it’s great because every time I even hear it in the school thing where parents will tell me I’m not going back, I’m not sending my kid back to a vaccine, that’s a long time of home schooling. I’m very wary of putting too much confidence that a vaccine is going to save us all. So between now and a vaccine and my arm is stretching very far out. The good news is we’re learning there’s lots of good stuff coming on board. There’s treatments we’re learning about social behavior that that protects us. We’re getting better at ID. None of it is ideal. A lot of it sucks, but it will it’s getting better. So so if you if the vaccine is far off, don’t think. We’re going to we’re going to we’re getting smarter, we’re going to start about social distancing. All we really need to do is respect the virus, which we have failed to do in the past. The vaccine, though, even if ID is right, everything you read from the science, it may be only 60 percent effective. And the thing I think is the trust issue is not just is there a vaccine, but how are we going to distribute it? This is what I, I, I was part of the H1N1 response. We had to distribute a vaccine that was new. Who is first is obvious, first responders, health care workers, military second, third, fourth and last with a rolling vaccine, assuming you can get your manufacturing and distribution right. That is really complicated logistics. And if you fail in logistics on this, you fail on trust. So we have to be thinking not just about the smart people who are getting the vaccine, but about about the distribution, because I think more people will be confident if they feel like the decisions were made, that they’re transparent and that it’s competently distributed. At the same time, you know, you have you have responsible people talking about why they trust the vaccine if they do, and fighting what’s what’s a Russian disinformation campaign and a crazy ladies who are anti vaccines campaign that are going after this. This is you know, this is one area where new leadership could take control of this and start it now, but isn’t secon older people and high risk people and then teachers like.
S6: So how about that?
S8: Yeah, I mean, it might be you just want a process. There’s there’s another once you get the most vulnerable would be sort of anyone over 60. But there is also well do you do urban areas first. Right. Because it’s just sweeping through urban areas. There’s a school of thought. I don’t agree with it, but it’s not crazy people who think younger people because they’re spreaders. And so these 40 and younger who also are active members of the workforce are spending money. I’m not I don’t agree with I’m just saying these are not irrational decisions smart people are thinking about. This is just once again, it’s not for want of plans. It’s just execution by by this White House.
S3: Juliette Kayyem, Juliette, thanks for joining us. Come back any time.
S8: Thank you. I’ll talk to you later.
S3: Let’s go to cocktail chatter. John, when you are back from a hard day of canvassing, actually, that would never happen because you’re a nonpartisan journalist. You would never be out for her day canvassing. But supposing you were a different person who is back from her day of canvassing, you settled down with a frosty cocktail. What would you chatter about to the little Dickersons?
S5: I would chatter about Isabel Wilkerson’s new book, Cast The Origin of our Discontents, the origins, I should say, of our discontents. It’s like the warmth of other suns, which she wrote over years and years and years. This is the product of long work, but it feels so vital and written in the moment. Dwight Garner said that it changes the weather of the person who reads it. And once you read it, it just gives you a frame for looking at the questions of race that are that’s just smarter and deeper and more provocative. And so I would really recommend it to people. And it’s fascinating because it doesn’t just look at the hierarchy and the ordering in the United States, but looks at India, the caste system in India and also in Nazi Germany as a way to break open patterns of thinking in the way we look at our own society. So I’ve I’ve enjoyed reading it and think it would be useful to people.
S3: That sounds great. I was just listening to a podcast about this TV, this Netflix show, Indian matchmaking. Have you heard about the show, such a show about an Indian matchmaker and to whose clients are some American, American Indian and some Indians in India and just their huge issues around class and color, skin color that are fascinating. And there was a really good podcast about it. So that’s the book. I saw that Wilkerson book and I’ve been excited to read it. My chatter is about a superb podcast I heard this week. It was Episode six 40 of This Week in Virology, and it is a podcast about virology, but in particular it was about testing of four covid and it had as a guest, Michael Mina, who’s a Harvard epidemiologist. And it’s a fascinating discussion of why we’re testing wrong and how rather than the testing regimen we’re using, what we need are really cheap, very inaccurate tests that cheap and largely accurate test would change the trajectory of this pandemic in a. In a minute, and it was just an utterly fascinating case, I’m hoping we’re going to have Mina come on the gabfest because that the 40 minutes of this week in virology at the beginning is so good. So check that out. Also, just a quick second, Chatur, there’s a such a great story. And if you guys saw this, about three men who got marooned in Micronesia when their boat went off course and they were marooned on a deserted island. And so what did they do? They wrote S.O.S. on the sand and they were seen by a rescue plane. And at work it was like a New Yorker cartoon come to life. And apparently this actually happens not infrequently. This was not the only example of someone writing songs on the sand and being rescued. Such a great story. Emily, what’s your chatter?
S1: My chatter is about a new podcast called Deep Cover The Drug Wars. It’s from Pushkin, which was started by our former colleague, Jacob Weisberg. But the podcast, which is super entertaining, is by my friend Jake Halpern. And it’s just this really great yarn about an FBI agent who’s trying to unravel a huge drug smuggling ring. It’s about his personal travails as he’s going all over the world trying to do this. And it just has this excellent character. So if you’re looking for a good distraction from the current state of our world and you want to go back into the nineteen eighties world of FBI agents chasing down drug smugglers, I really recommend this. Again, it’s called Deep Cover the Drug Wars listeners.
S3: You have also sent us a really good chatter’s this week. As you have so many weeks, you’ve tweeted them to us at Slate Gabfest.
S4: And this week’s chatter comes from Carol Palmer, whose Twitter handle is at Agneta Anderson. And it is about Trek bikes. And she points us to an article by Larry Kantor in Media about Trek bikes, which is expected when what covid hit for its business to collapse and all their projections were, oh, business is going to drop 50 percent just because our supply chain will be screwed, because people are going to be locked inside, no one can be able to do anything. And instead, they found an absolute record demand for bikes, as have all bike manufacturers. And it’s about what happens when you have a sudden, unexpected demand for your product and how you adapt. And it’s a great business story. It’s a great story about a mode of transportation that I love and that I’m so glad to see more people using.
S3: And it’s a band about a particular entrepreneur who’s being really energetic and creative about how to meet the demand for bikes. So check that out. That’s our show for today. The Gav’s is produced by Jocelyn Frank, our researchers at Dunlap.
S2: Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate podcast. John Thomas is managing producer. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson.
S9: I’m David Plotz. We will talk to you next week.
S3: Hello, Slate, plus, how are you? Nice to see you. A quick update, Slate plus listeners on the cats. The cats now have had a week here in my new apartment. They’re good. They are doing well. They are. You know, they’re making it home that one of them is lying on the bed behind me. Other one was wandering around. One of them was pawing at the microphone earlier. So they are eating using the litter box. How a firm disruptions. It’s been good. And and all the all the advice that I got from listeners was, oh, bring the cats, by all means. Bring the cats, bring the cats.
S1: Because I heard you took the narrative tension out of that Slate plus segment by announcing that you had already brought them at the beginning.
S3: Yes. Well, between the time I planned the Slate plus segment and the time we recorded it, I was just like, you know what, I’m just going to get the cats, so I’m glad to have it. All right. But that’s not what our Slate plus our Slate plus segment today is about work, friendships and the decline of work friendships in an age of pandemic. So many of them, certainly my closest friends, including the two of you, are work friends, people I’ve met through work. And I think work friendships are undergoing a huge transition and I feel like it’s a big loss. So, Emily, any any any thoughts on the loss of of work friendships? Are the alteration of them that any good news on the horizon?
S1: So I think what’s hardest about this is that part of what I love about going to work and my colleagues and I mean, I never went to my office at the Times magazine every day, but going there sometimes or just seeing people being out and about for work, it’s just all the accidental serendipitous contacts and conversations you have. Like you can’t plan them. They’re not phone calls that you’d make. They’re not even zoo meetings. They’re just like you bump into someone and have some moment of connection with them that actually like really brightens their matters in your day. And that’s kind of irreplaceable. I find myself checking social media more, and I think it’s just out of some desperation of wanting some sense of collegiality. But in my brain, it is totally the wrong move. It makes me feel like irritated or left out or something. I mean, once in a while, like, yes, someone says something amazingly funny and it’s a perfect gem, but mostly it’s either a waste of time or kind of depressing. And I don’t really have a good solution for this.
S6: Like, you know, you can intentionally make sure to try to talk to people. You have enough of a relationship with where that makes sense.
S5: But again, like work generates fruitful contacts in the process of work, not because, like, you decide to have a zoom cocktail hour, I mean, of replacing human contact with social media is just like I mean, just why would I ever have imagined that that would mean to the extent that Twitter is the therapeutic evacuation of the mental bowels, it is just the most awful replacement for human interaction. I I have found it to be so much more poisonous than when when we have when we were back in the real world that I try to almost basically a day that I’ve checked Twitter more than twice is a failure. What you say, Emily, about the serendipity of workplace run ins is exactly right, although that feels more in the kind of interim space between friendship and work, because it ends up mostly being about news and stories and that kind of thing, which is wonderful. It’s why we all do what we do. And those hallway conversations are so fruitful for thinking about the world. I actually have found because of active efforts to connect with friends during the pandemic, a closer relationship with the daily operations of people’s lives, because friends that you saw in the previous world, you wouldn’t necessarily talk about what you did that day, what you your kids are making it. I mean, you would. But but when when this was in its early throes, this is thin some. But conversations with friends were were about just the basic steps through the day, which might not rise to the level of conversation under normal times. So it was a different window into friendships, which I appreciate it.
S3: I’ve been thinking about work, friendships and why I have treasured them so much. And obviously family is great. But friends that you but your family, you don’t lose them and they they have all your bad habits plus all the bad habits of your relatives, your bad qualities, I should say. And I think having relationships that are based on your shared interests and your shared talents and your shared curiosity is great. And all of a sudden we’ve been put in relationships that are based on. Blood and proximity like these are the people who are in your orbit. It’s a bummer to not have people who, you know, turn up, who inspire the kind of work aspects of yourself. And the the ways you can do it remotely are totally unsatisfying. It is just not the same. I mean, we get we get a Similac gram of it because we know each other really well. And we we’ve done this remotely with each other for so long. And we’ve worked at a distance from each other for so long. I feel like the three of us actually are able to maintain a lot of the aspects of our friendship because we have big habits. But a lot of people I’ve worked with it just like it’s it’s slipped away. And so I don’t have the same conversations that I would have had. And that feels to me really, really, really sad. And like, as much as I love my family and I love them a lot, and as much as I love the people nearby me who who I see more often in this time, it doesn’t replace what I think the work friendship does. And I’m really bummed about it.
S1: I am starting to plan teaching my writing seminar at Yale Law School in the fall and I’m hoping to do a section of eight students in person. And I realize that I love teaching in the classroom, but I’m especially excited for it this year.
S7: And I’m going to have to make sure I don’t like try to make these poor students be friends with me when they don’t want to be just because I’m so eager to talk to new people and sort of not work setting, but like at least not in my house.
S10: I’m surprised. Actually, there’s been maybe I just have missed it, but that there has not been a more creative response to what you’ve identified. David, maybe it’s impossible in these little boxes, but I feel like they’re there has yet to be the great national discovery of block parties or victory gardens or whatever it is that would sprout up in this moment of national crisis. I mean, there was the clapping in New York at seven o’clock, which created a sense of community. But that’s just a sliver of what you’re talking about. And I’m sort of surprised it hasn’t happened that we’re not having, like, random national zoom calls where you just, like, join. And I guess that would be maybe kind of gross.
S5: But anyway, I don’t know. I feel like there should be some great solution. Maybe people should write in with what great thing they’re doing. One thing I did read about or better the better said and read about and I’m now stealing is because parent grandparents are stuck at home basically having grandkids quiz them about their lives in an intentional way that gets them thinking and talking a lot about things that you wouldn’t normally talk about. And that actually seems useful for both parties.
S3: All right. Plus, we will talk to you next week. Tell us what ways you have found to maintain friendships, work, friendships or otherwise. You can tweet that to us at athlete gabfests or email us at depths of late dotcom. I guess that’s better. Bye bye.
S1: I love the idea of a listener set of recommendations about this.