S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Enjoy.
S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest for May 28, 2020. It’s not a lie. It’s a tweet edition. I am David Plotz, Business Insider. My ADIC is unbelievably hot. I am so sweaty and it’s really early morning, so just don’t even think about that. John Dickerson of CBS 60 Minutes is back in his tent. Hello, John Dickerson.
S3: And I am content in my tent producing content about which I am intent. That’s very good.
S4: Well, this is the tent. Tendentious, intentionally tendentious. It’s me at one of my favorite dad jokes.
S3: Guy goes into a psychiatrist and said, Doc, sometimes I’m a TDP, sometimes I’m a wigwam. He says, you got to relax. You’re too tense.
S4: Wow. That is Emily Bazelon. Chuckling No, that is not me. That is my deadline.
S5: Chuckling You chuckled. You chuckled. Emily Bazelon of The New York Times Magazine and Yale University from, again, her airy, not sweaty actual room. Hello, Emily.
S3: Hello. Hello. Is that 20-20 silver gavel award winning Emily Maslon David?
S5: Apparently so. We just learned you won a silver gavel, Emily.
S1: I did. I won a book award. That’s Archon Bar Association. Thank you. I’m very excited about that. Thanks for.
S6: You do have your silver gavel. Can you bang it on something while we’re talking?
S7: Not yet. There is a whole ceremony which, of course, this year will be a virtual strike. Yes, it will be mailed to me. I really hope it will be mailed to me.
S3: My mother won the Silver Gavel award and so. Yeah. I like well, you know, when you’re a little kid, that that’s how I can’t say it’s a hefty thing. So I say that. Yeah. Yeah. Now you can stop. You could stop intruders with that. With that silver gavel. So congratulations.
S7: All right. I look forward to hitting someone on the head with that.
S5: Well, thanks to the soft on crime policy that Emily’s book endorses. There are lots of intruder’s on today. Gabfest, President Trump’s assault on Twitter and now his assault on the law, an attempt to restrain social media platforms. Then the pandemic is hitting red America and blue America differently, or it has so far. What are the implications of that? And then U.S. China relations are at their lowest point in a generation. We’ll talk to China Chestnut Greitens, a scholar about totalitarianism and East Asia, about what America’s strategy towards China should be. And listeners, we have got some great news for you. We really miss our live shows. We must see you at our live shows. And of course, we know that given what’s happening in the world, we will probably not be doing any live shows with you for a while, but. We’ve got a reasonable alternative. The best alternative we can think of. I’m thrilled to announce that we’re going to a free live show online at seven thirty p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, June the 10th. That’s in two weeks. We’ll be streaming on Slate’s Facebook and YouTube pages. You can join us from the comfort of your home. You can ask us your own questions and you can get information about that by going to Slocomb Slash live. And you ask us why? Why now? Gabb festers. Are you doing a live show? There’s one big reason. Emily, what is it?
S8: John Dickerson is about to publish an excellent book which arrived at my house yesterday. And we’re going to talk about his excellent book, which is called The Hardest Job in the World and is about the American presidency.
S6: Yes. So please join us for this live show on Wednesday, June the 10th at seven thirty p.m. Eastern, Slocomb Fleshlight. For more information where we’re where, we’re going to talk about the news of the week. And we’re going to talk about John’s fantastic book. Can’t wait to see you there. As we tape on Thursday morning, there’s expectation the president will issue and sign an executive order that will attempt to rollback, attempt to change the interpretation of certain laws around free speech and social media platforms or free speech online. Particularly laws that allow platforms like Twitter and Facebook not to be held liable for offensive, indecent, untrue, malicious content that’s posted on their sites. Not really clear whether the executive order the president’s going to issue will hold up in court. It’s not clear what it would do, is not clear how it would affect these social media platforms as we’re taping. But what is clear is that there is a war that the president wishes to wage against the social media platforms because he perceived them to be biased against him. Or he certainly perceives that talking about their bias against him is going to benefit him. And conservatives in general seem to feel that talking about a bias from Facebook and Twitter and other platforms is going to help them. So we had the spectacle of President Trump. S. absolutely disgusting, indecent, vicious things about the death of a young woman many years ago and accusing the TV host Joe Scarborough essentially of having her murdered, despite the fact that that is not true and causing great distress to that young woman’s widower who asked Twitter to remove his president. Trump’s tweets, Twitter refused has so far refused to do so. Also, the president line about vote by mail, which calls Twitter to label his tweets as misleading and point people to different sources which had the truth about vote by mail. Emily. This feels like this whole episode. We’re in the midst of a of an absolutely catastrophic economic catastrophe. A public health catastrophe. We passed 100000 deaths from the cover 19 virus this week. Today, I think, and the president is engaged in a politics of distraction and division around social media. Yet it appears to be a pretty effective strategy if the goal is to gin up conservative anger and to get his base excited.
S8: Yeah. I mean, in some ways this feels very 20, 19. But it also shows how good Trump is at hacking the media to follow him off into the subject. He’d rather talk about even if he kind of goes up in flames in that subject because it’s his base comes with him and he has learned this over the years. So we just repeated these completely false, horrible set of facts related to the death of this young woman. And it all has to do with Trump’s anger at Joe Scarborough. And we’re just like helping to imprint this on people’s minds, like we, the media follow Trump because he is the president. And the same thing happens with these basically false allegations about vote by mail, which I’ve been watching just like agog since I just wrote about this topic. And as we discussed, I think endlessly a couple weeks ago, vote my bail doesn’t have a partisan history that just seems totally irrelevant to the smearing of it, which seems to be really catching on the Trump space. This whole notion that you see distrust in advance of the election by attacking a method that in the past has actually been quite good for Republicans. So all of that is happening. We’re talking about this. We’re repeating the lies even as we try to debunk them. And we also take our eye off the ball of corona virus and the kind of grim, you know, drudgery of coping with it, which Trump has zero interest in and sort of abdicated leadership in. And we turn this very fraught question of social media monitoring of speech into this partisan issue, which it really, really shouldn’t be. So I feel quite frustrated with all of that. I mean, the other thing that is bothering me is that what Twitter did in labeling a Trump tweet about vote by mail. It’s barely a fact check. Like, I had to squint at it to see the little blue line that they put in there. It just says, like, you might want to check out some other sources. It’s not at all clear that it’s really going to convey to people that this is a lie. And so for taking this quite small, even mincing STAP Twitter is now in this crossfire and we are have talk of like some executive order to police partisan bias against conservatives by the social media platforms, which is really not true. It’s not what they’re doing. And then the last thing I’ll say is then Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook shows up to say he would never do what Twitter and Jack Dorsey of Twitter just did. So you’re also just like to laugh like a Burk’s joke.
S5: I have to say, I would never try to get anything that’s true out on my platform. I would never try to stop people for being misled on my platform. Don’t you guys seem to be completely misled and guided towards falsity on my platform?
S8: Well, even though Facebook has supposed be doing some fact checking and also has rules against false speech about the election and the census anyway, I just this is so frustrating.
S5: John, you are the longest time Twitter user I know. I think you were, in fact, the first user on Twitter. You’re your Twitter number. If you tweeted the things that the president tweeted. Particularly particularly about about this young woman who who died. You would be banned. There’s no doubt you would get banned. Even you. Even John Dickerson will be banned. These Scarbro treats are so quick, crazy and wicked and evil, and it even reliable conservative media are disgusted by it. And yet he will not be banned for it. Should he be?
S8: Well, not even bad. They haven’t even deleted the posts.
S3: I mean, let’s just start with, like, you know, some small steps toward dealing with bullying and harassment, which Twitter has a rule about in which we should remember, as you mentioned earlier, David, the the widower of this young woman asked specifically Twitter to take this down because of the emotional pain he’s had it caused him. It feels like we have three things here. One is the president and his role. The second is the vote by mail, which is a live question that’s need that needs to be discussed in the public square. And then the third is whether and how you police this speech and whether it’s effective. Just on the first point, it really does bear stressing that we’re in the middle of a major national crisis where the president has basically stepped back from the traditional role, but really stepped back from the role he said he would play and that he boasted about playing when he was a candidate. But also, if there is one thing a president has done, it is to take the pain and anguish of a country and give it meaning in order to lessen it. What the president has done here is taken the specific pain and anguish of this husband and used it to his audience of 80 million people for his own personal use at a time when everything about his job and his role suggests he should be doing the exact opposite. It’s extra vile on the second point. You know what? What’s interesting to me about whether you can have a public policy conversation in the public square. There are studies that show that fact checking online has a can backfire in that if something isn’t fact checked people than assume it’s more true than they would if there was not a fact checking regime. And so if the president says something and it doesn’t get of Twitter or whatever, the new method, blue line thing. But we know it’s absurd or crazy or just all kinds of other ways that something can be wrong, but not technically wrong. Does that have an effect? And the other thing is going to Mark Zuckerberg. You know, we should mention that The Wall Street Journal had a very powerful story this week about how basically there was an internal effort at Facebook to look at what we all know, which is that the method of getting people to pay attention to Facebook feeds on and requires division to create distraction, to create engagement. And that that has a corrosive political effect, a corrosive effect that the Russians took advantage of, and that basically Facebook looked at it and then basically didn’t do much in terms of their own internal processes. So that’s a failure on their part. But there’s also I think there is an argument you can make for the chance that the natural human fact checking that should go on, which is to say you should doubt everything you read at trophy’s. If you rely. And this is not so much in this specific case, but it would be. But there is this way in which it can atrophy if you let other people do the fact checking for you.
S9: Well, there’s another sort of issue here, which is that we have these social media platforms that are profit driven and they have correctly figured out that the way you engage people the longest is to feed them content that appeals to their emotions. And so that’s underlying this finding in The Wall Street Journal report about Facebook, about why they’re helping to support polarization, why they’re feeding polarization and division. Right. And they have this profit driven, revenue seeking motive that feeds their search engines, what groups they recommend that you join, et cetera, while they’re also not treated as an editorial entity from the point of view of the law. You know, in any kind of media organization, Trump’s claims appear with fact checking right next to them. Right. Like, the media isn’t great at this, but it’s gotten better. We see Cairenes on TV. We see false. It’s right there. Twitter and Facebook say we’re not publishers. We don’t have to do that. And they don’t. Legally speaking. So we have this social media, these incredibly powerful engines of speech, and they’re just not governed by the usual rules for speech. And then we have this kind of pretend idea from the right that they’re anti conservative, which makes them incredibly nervous about doing even the the monitoring that their own rules call for.
S5: Right. I want to go into that anti conservative question, Emily, because it is such a. It’s such as clever and misleading ploy by some on the right. I think what you have is you have a bunch of companies that are run by lefties, like if you went to Silicon Valley, the overwhelming majority of people who work at places like Facebook and Google and Twitter are Democrats and are liberal Democrats like overwhelmingly, I think even probably Mark Zuckerberg would describe himself that way. Jack Dorsey would describe himself that way, I imagine. They certainly, you know, hold progressive views around social issues and they are concerned about inequality, not so much that they’re willing to, like, give all their money up, but that they’re concerned about inequality. And and it is absolutely the case that the people who work at these places are very, very left. And yet they have built machines that serve much more effectively, people on the right. And I am very or maybe it’s that people in the right have weaponized a much more effectively. And I’m interested, Emily, because I know you’ve thought about this a lot about how that happened. Like, what is it that is in the way the right is using these platforms that makes them so much more effective at ginning up the emotion and division? Is it just that the the issues that they are that people on the right currently let the kind of nationalist anti-immigration right that has become the dominant force in conservative politics under Trump is built on a division, whereas the left is not built on division, left is built on much less potent emotional calls. Or is it something else? Is it you know, dissent is a deception. Is it like that conservatives are more willing to to lie? Or is it just that that conservative politics by its nature right now, the issues are much more divisive and therefore they take root much more effectively on these platforms?
S1: Huh, that’s interesting. I mean, so first of all, I don’t really accept the label of left for Silicon Valley. I mean, we’re talking about in very broad strokes here. But what I think about like classic Silicon Valley political stances, there are liberal elements of them. But they’re really libertarian also. Right. And so what you see in the kind of.
S5: Can I interrupt? Just sorry to interrupt you. I’m what I’m saying is that if you polled the staff of Facebook, I’m not saying that the what they are what the company is doing is left. I’m not saying just that. I’m I’m saying that the overwhelming majority I know tons of people who work at Facebook and Google and a few at Twitter and they are all like to a person left. They all describe culture as being super left. That doesn’t mean that they are the affect of the companies is to be left.
S1: I just think it’s a very I mean, it just depends how you what you mean by that word.
S7: Like, the fact is they are in a world in which there is a ton of hypocrisy. Right. And like we all live in worlds of hypocrisy. But, you know, the inequality in the valley, in the Bay Area in general is just staggering. And the idea that free speech, that freedom is going to triumph and and trump every other value, that’s the ethos of Facebook and a lot of the social media platforms. Right. I mean, the whole birth of the Internet is about you want information to be free. And it’s been a long, long time to have any real reckoning with the consequences of that which are serious, because it turns out if you let everybody talk. You end up, in a sense, suppressing a lot of speech because people are crowded out by the kind of, you know, incredibly angry bullying, harassment that follows. Like that is what happens, you know, on any local comment page. If it’s open, we see the common stream devolve into people cursing at each other in a way that drives away other, more reasonable debate. It’s just more complicated than the usual left label.
S1: But to your point about why the right uses social media in the way it does. I mean, I think it’s complicated. Some of it is that some of the issues that drive the right are divisive and they’re about sowing hatred of other groups, like when you think about the anti-immigrant, xenophobic stances that some conservative groups embrace, and that’s how they get followers as being more and more polarizing in that direction. I also think conservatives have just done a really good job, like putting resources and into Internet presences and finding each other there and using it as a political organizing tool like they have been drawn into it. And maybe to some degree it’s because they feel shut out by some mainstream media outlets. Right. Like, there’s no question that there’s a lot of debate in the right on social media that you would not see in the pages of, you know, The New York Times or The Washington Post. Right. It would just feel too extreme and too full of hate. I think so. You do see some of that happening as well.
S3: Yeah. I mean, the as Brian Rosenwald has has written and talk radio’s America, the tradition of conservatives looking for an outlet around traditional media goes back to the. 60S because they always felt like they weren’t hearing their voice. So conservatives felt, you know, the mainstream media didn’t represent them. So they’ve always had to try to find a way around to communicate their values and beliefs through their own way. Talk radio was the first way of doing that, and the Internet is just a version of that. I’m not sure, obviously, if you view this from the right. I mean, because the right now is a bunch of different stuff because there are conservatives and then there are conservatives who support Donald Trump.
S10: There are because Donald Trump is not a conservative and lots of important ways the popular will, as the president expresses it and as he was applauded for expressing it by his supporters in the elite media. On the conservative side, the idea of the roaring crowds at the at the rallies was something that conservatives in the 50s were, I mean, would have been shocked at. They were arguing vehemently against the idea that the sort of mob should have indie influence over public policy and the direction of the country.
S3: The other thing is that the adhesion within the Trump online community seems much more sticky than on the left, where you can have somebody equally, you know, two different people who are delighting in bashing the president and in bashing Republicans who then can be violently opposed on whether it’s Joe Biden versus Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or whatever, that there’s there’s more atomisation within the within the left. So that might be a way to think of distinguishing distinguishing it. The the idea of information wanting to be free. OK, fine. But then when your entire platform is designed to take certain information and gig people so that they keep being addicted to it, information isn’t being free at all. You’re acting as a kind of most pernicious ed imaginable and not letting people think you’re hijacking their reason by appealing to their most automatic emotions. And you go study which emotions overwhelm their reason. And it seems to me you’re working directly against the idea of a place where information is free and everybody gets to figure it out on their own. And the final thing informed by Joe Porter’s book, These Truths, is that when Gallup first came on the scene and political wire pullers were engaged in trying to control politics, there was there were a wonderful group of political scientists who said, wait, stop. This idea that everybody’s opinion matters and should be heard is antithetical to the original design of democracy. And secondly, it’s not a replica of the New England town hall in the New England town hall. Everybody got together and debated and discussed and there was interaction and there was you know, you had to look somebody in the eye. What happens online now is not that at all. And so when it’s used to pretend that it’s that that it’s that original kind of debate and oh, by the way, the public debate that went on in the original conception was not something leaders were supposed to then just follow. They were supposedly informed by it, but the whole job was to go against the public will when it was telling you something that you in your heart disagreed with. So we’ve gotten completely on the wrong end of understanding that, too.
S7: That’s a good point, John. And it reminds me that. So John, Stuart Mill is often invoked as a kind of absolutist on free speech. But in fact, if you read the rest of the passage in which he’s talking about that, he expresses real concern about this kind of completely unfettered notion of everyone basically screaming at each other. And also he was talking very much about this sort of gentlemanly debate of his particular social class, a time in England, like not something that necessarily translates to the pandemonium of the Internet in which people lack a kind of common sense of understanding of each other or some sense of the common good.
S5: I want to touch a little bit as we close here on Twitter. And the particular way I think Facebook is the place where emotions are heightened, where group identities are formed, whether there’s a real kind of groupie intensity and an emotional and emotional bonding that happens on Facebook.
S11: I think Twitter, there’s this phenomenon of recent years, which is the. Am I joking? I’m kind of joking. I’m sort of joking. The Twitter is so good at and what Twitter has allowed is for people to put out in the world much more effectively, not any other platform things which are which they can say, oh, I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding around. I’m just joking. And then you can then retweeted and you’re re tweet, which is a you can just say, oh, I wasn’t you know, that’s not me saying it’s just me like, oh, you know, just sort of noting this joke exists. It’s a it’s a kind of deniability about ideas and it deniability which allows disgusting, wrong-headed, vicious ideas to move from being disgusting, vicious and wrongheaded to being kind of like, oh, they’ve accepted. They’ve been the. Been injected into the mainstream in this in this deceptive way and this way, where they’re they’re they’re they’re put out there just as a joke, just on the side, then retweeted by someone with more power than it’s no longer than it stops being a joke.
S7: And we say this is the left as well as the right, like 100 percent. This, like, awful disclaiming of irony. And then, like, promoting terrible content.
S3: Yeah. Just one other little piece of context. We are in a moment again where clarity and clear information coming from somewhere is vital, like it’s life and death. And so when the public square is super messy and the public officials that are contributing to that messiness, it’s this isn’t just some abstract debate. It’s vital at the moment.
S5: Slate plus members. We really appreciate your support at this time. The bonus segment we’re doing today is going to be about the post covered office. How should we build post covered workplaces? Red and blue America have so far experienced the pandemic differently for. Red America, let me say, for blue America, broadly speaking, this has been a public health catastrophe and an economic catastrophe for red America has been much more simply an economic catastrophe and much less a public health catastrophe. That’s the conclusion of an amazing New York Times data project that came out this week, which revealed that the infection rates are twice as high in counties won by Hillary Clinton as in counties won by Donald Trump and 2016 that only 21 percent of pandemic deaths have occurred in counties won by Donald Trump.
S6: Now, we should note a few things. One, they’re really interesting and important reasons for this, that for the most part, deaths have been heavily weighted towards minority communities and poor communities, which are if you look at areas that tend to vote Democratic. That the disease seems much more dangerous in dense areas, which again, tend to be areas that tend to vote Democratic. This is perhaps not going to persist because in recent weeks, the infection rates in red parts of the country have been growing much faster than in blue parts of the country. But the implications of this seem really dramatic to me. And and so we want to discuss it. John, what do you think are the consequences of this divide? The fact that that that it’s a pandemic and an economic depression in parts of the country and Maryland are largely an economic depression in other parts of the country?
S10: Well, it just drives a, you know, shining spike into a huge crack in America, which is at a time of, you know, major division both in inequality and in partisanship. It reveals it and it exacerbates it. And it seems to me is test to set the table for the next election. And even just watch how you take a handle of this question seems to me to be the threshold question for the next election. If you look at these numbers and you say turn the page and move on, which might be one response, you know, let’s get back to where we were and don’t see any inequity brought to the fore by this or anything that you desperately need to fix, then that’s a problem. Or if you look at it and say there are a whole bunch of challenges to America that are revealed by this, and this is basically what FDR did and then dedicated his second inaugural address to fixing and creating a new kind of America out of the Great Depression. That’s what the two presidential candidates have to figure out. It’s also just goes at the heart of the of President Trump’s approach to his office, which has been singular, which is to basically look at the nation not as a unified nation, but as his people. And to the extent that he has not shown excessive empathy for for the hundred thousand dead or for the blue states who are suffering on this more. It echoes something he’s done before, which is basically not to give a whole lot of concern to those people who are not in his base or his constituency, which is obviously antithetical to the entire job. You’re president of the entire nation. The question is what’s teed up by these numbers? That can be the subject for new debate and new conversation about public policy. And I don’t know exactly what those answers are, but I’d love to hear them.
S6: Emily, do you can imagine this pandemic hitting a different way? You can imagine it being like every state east of the Mississippi River got slammed and every state west of the Mississippi River was untouched for whatever reason. And that you can you can imagine that the political implications of that would be very different. The fact that this the way it’s hitting us is hitting us also at the place we are already weak, where we’re already divided. It seems really catastrophic, as John was pointing out a minute ago.
S7: Yeah. I mean, it’s just so incredibly unfortunate. That would have this political balance on top of all the other terrible things that it’s doing to people’s lives, to their health, to the economy. I do think it helps explain some of the political response to it and why there are parts of the country in which the response seems overblown or the economic damage seems so incredibly apparent and upsetting and you just can’t see the virus around you. Look, we’re having this, as we’ve talked about in previous weeks, we are having different responses in different parts of the country.
S1: You could imagine more an America that had a different leader in which everyone was coming together, where you could still allow for different levels of economic activity and adherence to all the strict rules of preventing the spread of coronavirus. But it felt like we were doing that together as a common enterprise. Right.
S3: And yeah, sorry. Exactly right. I mean, you had general leaders saying we’re going to let people who have not who are in areas that are not been affected be that can canary in the coal mine, are the first people trying out to get back to a more normal life. And good luck. To them. But when you’re trying to get back to your normal life. Don’t forget our brothers and sisters in these more hard hit areas. Don’t forget them because they’re your fellow Americans. But also don’t forget the lesson of how quickly this can turn. And so, you know, a sense that everybody is playing a different role. There’s load sharing here in this as opposed to using it as a way to say, yeah, well, these people are right and these people are wrong.
S1: And like, these people are screwed. And like, we’re just the rest of us don’t. Are the rest of us are going to protest some of the measures that are actually supposed to be preventing the spread of the virus. And for me, this is most apparent in the what’s become this division over masks, wearing masks, very visual symbol. You either are doing it or you’re not doing it. There are elevating properties to masks. When you look at images of people are you’re talking to people wearing masks. It’s different than talking to people or you can see their whole face. On the other hand, it is such a necessary public health measure. And the notion that we have a president who is mocking people who wear a mask, who’s refusing to do it, who is making it seem like some silly and even like craven wimpy thing to do is crazy. And then this week, we learned that there were Republican members of the Pennsylvania legislature who were infected with Corona virus and not telling colleagues with whom they were sitting on committees like Democratic colleagues, not Democratic colleagues. They gather Republican colleagues, people with whom they were sitting on committees and potentially exposing. That is such a bizarre and kind of unthinkable manifestation of this political division. I was looking at a bunch of photos today in China and everybody is wearing a mask like every public official on the stage. That’s like the patriotic, sensible thing to do. Nobody is deviating from it. There is a real advantage to tackling a threat like this as a united community and polity. And we are just completely wishing on it.
S5: We are completely whiffing on it. But I want to spare a moment for the parts of the country which have not been hit hit hard by the virus. I do think if you lived somewhere that was not hit hard by the virus and yet you saw your entire economy crater, your business collapse, it would it’s very hard. It’s a very hard thing to feel a sense of full connection with it, with people who are, unlike you, living in a different place, who are experiencing something very different than you are. And the job of the president and the job of our national leaders. And I think we’ve seen this done brilliantly by some by Mike DeWine. It seems like this governor in North Dakota is to make people feel that sense of connection, to make people understand that sense of connection. But it is not intrinsic like it is. You can understand why people are not immediately sympathetic. They are suffering themselves a consequence, this huge economic consequence. And they don’t even like they’re not even sick. There’s no sickness around them. And so you can understand why people are frustrated. I actually had a thought and this is kind of a thought experiment which I went to post you guys, because I don’t really know where it goes. I was thinking like, well, is there some comparable other kind of crisis that we’ve seen that really has just hit red America, primarily hit red America? That the response has been similarly divided. And I remembered like just two years ago, just three years ago, oh, there was a huge amount of talk of the opiate crisis, largely a crisis of poor white America and a Trump America. And there were and I don’t even know what the numbers are today because I’ve stopped paying attention. But 65000 people a year dying from opiate overdoses. The fact that the mortality rate for white men, middle aged white men, had gone so high out of diseases of despair. And again, I don’t know that a lot of people sitting in cities, rich, rich people sitting in cities who vote Democratic, spent huge amounts of time being stressed out about the opiate crisis. Does that crisis, the way we responded to that crisis, have anything to teach us about why we’re responding in disparate ways to this crisis?
S7: Well, in all fairness, I mean, Democratic candidates for president like Elizabeth Warren and Democratic politicians put out like very robust policies about addressing. Yeah, that’s true. Right. Like, they do not treat it as like, oh, those bad sick people over there. Like, let’s, you know, let’s not have sympathy for them. So there’s that. I think also that there was a recognition that this crisis, as opposed to the crack epidemic in the 80s, which affected so many African-Americans, that the opioid crisis was a public health crisis and we didn’t adequately address that. But I would argue that’s mostly because of at least from the point of view of Washington, that was a choice the Republican Party was making.
S1: So I don’t think it divides in the same way. And also, obviously, like pandemics are different. I mean, the problem with the pandemic is that presumably if you don’t help prevent its. Fred, it’s going to eventually come in some way to your county, too. Now it may come less like it may be the density plays this roles. It’s just traditionally been true about infectious disease. They spread more when a lot of people are crowded together. Right. So it may never hit rural America in the same way, but it is starting to be on the upswing, as you said in the beginning. And you don’t want obviously I mean, nobody wants people to get sick as a way of distributing the cost of this illness. I feel like the world over and over again seems to have to learn the lesson. Like this disease really likes to spread.
S10: The crack epidemic in the 1980s was was framed as a human personal failing for for African-Americans in American cities, as opposed to the opioid epidemic, which was framed much more as a health issue, which was an improvement in the overall way of approaching addiction. But nevertheless, there was a huge disparity in the way it was framed when it was a problem striking a white community rather than an African-American community.
S7: Yeah. And we put lots of black people in prison. Right. And we have done that less this time, which I’m glad about. But that history remains the butt.
S5: But is the answer there is that is the conclusion there. Because, as you say, Emily, Democrats, Democratic politicians were more willing to tackle the opiate crisis than Republican politicians, even though it was disproportionately affecting Republican areas. Well, this is a does a Trump Trump counties were heavily affected by opiate addiction. Is that does that mean that in general it’s that Democrats are Democrats are willing to use government to tackle big epidemic problems and Republicans aren’t? And it doesn’t really matter where it’s where they’re hitting.
S10: Well, Rob Portman is a Republican senator who is all over opiate addiction long before he was even on the front pages. So it’s not just.
S5: But that’s that’s a single example, John. That’s not like the party. Well, I mean, Mike DeWine is all over KOVA 19.
S3: Yeah. But I’m just saying, you were saying that you were making out. I mean, you’re making a sweeping claim about the parties and if one of the leading people trying to deal with it was a Republican. And yet, Scott, it’s not unimportant information relative to that broad brush claim. The other thing about the opioid addiction is no.
S10: Nobody on the left said, oh, this isn’t happening or this isn’t serious or tried to undermine the claims in the way that you see a campaign of essentially trying to undermine the seriousness of the people warning about the Cauvin 19 challenge. So that’s another way in which it’s it’s informed.
S3: We also have this weird definition of liberty, which I was reading back during the Second World War. There were these debates as well, where some people are defining liberty basically as doing whatever the hell you want to do, as opposed to recognizing that with the rights you’re giving and given in the American system, there are also some responsibilities. And so we see that now in a lot of the way with the mask wearing question and in the revolt’s question. But we’ve been there before. But again, it’s somewhere where a leader could say, explain this and help people work through this about the relationship between rights and responsibilities. And then the final thing is, remember, the president in his inaugural address talked about the forgotten men and women. A lot of the people being hit by Cauvin 19 are would fit in that category. Now, the rebuttal from the president’s critics would be, well, except for one thing, that a lot of people are people of color and they are the forgotten men and women. But they were not the ones that he was talking about and therefore don’t get the attention from him that that he made such a big deal about in his inaugural address.
S7: Yeah, no kidding. On the mask, wearing this really freaked me out. Pew did a survey and Democrats say they’re wearing masks all or most of the time in the high 80 percentile independence. It’s like 72 percent. And for Republicans, it was 58 percent. Now, maybe that reflects where you live. Like I get it. If you’re, you know, out in the country and there’s no crowd of virus and your social distancing from people anyway, maybe you don’t feel like you need to wear a mask. But that just seemed unsettling.
S6: It’s a really depressing subject. I think the main message is that we don’t feel all in it together. There was a brief, brief, brief, brief moment when I think we all felt in it together and now it stopped. We’ve stopped feeling all in it together. And I don’t know how we we will get back together. Not optimistic myself.
S5: According to many experts. Relations between the United States and China are at their low ebb. Since the 1970s or maybe before the 1970s, there are a number of sources of tension. China’s push to reduce Hong Kong’s autonomy, the repression and surveillance of workers, and Shen Jiang, which I probably mispronounced. China’s incredibly successful and aggressive expansions in trade, especially in in Africa and in the rest of Asia and into Eurasia. The charge that China hid the scope of the Corona virus outbreak, allowing it to spread to the world. Chinese success in building technology and in building and. Feeling American intellectual property and other people’s intellectual property. All these reasons are a source of tension. We’re going to talk about them with Sheena Chestnut Greitens. Sheena is an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at University of Texas at Austin. Hook them horns and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. And she focuses on East Asia and American national security and authoritarian politics and foreign policy, especially in China, North Korea. So that is the heart of all of it. Sheena, thank you for joining us.
S12: Thanks so much for having me today.
S5: So this week we have China essentially declaring. Well, you’ll explain this better, but but saying that it is going to significantly control the autonomy that Hong Kong has, has had over the past twenty, twenty three years. And the United States Secretary of State Mike Mike Pompeo, declaring that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China. So what is China doing and what does it mean that we would we would say that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous?
S12: First of all, you know, China has been growing incredibly quickly since you mentioned, you know, this is a really dangerous time, maybe one of the most tenser or difficult times in U.S. China relations since the 1970s. And Chinese power has really grown exponentially since the country started to reform its economy and open up to the outside world in the 70s. I mean, with that has come a the growth of trade power, of military power and of political power. And so now what we’re seeing is that China is starting to push on an international order that’s really been dominated by the United States since the end of the Cold War. And it’s doing it now for the first time in sort of recent memory of Chinese foreign policy in multiple places at once. So you have what’s going on in Hong Kong, where the government in Beijing appears to have decided that the Hong Kong government simply can’t control the unrest and the protests that we’ve seen for the last year, year and a half, and has decided to step in and impose a national security law that violates this this promise that Hong Kong could have civil liberties, the right of assembly, free speech, et cetera. But you also have confrontations in where China is pushing to expand its reach and in particular, its military presence in the South China Sea, which has been happening since 2015. And as of last week, along the border with India, which is disputed, there at least some pretty consistent claims from the Indian side that China has crossed not only the line of agreed control, the sort of a de facto boundary, but that the line of territory that China actually claims as its own, which would be unusually aggressive even for China. So we’re just we’re seeing different behavior from China as it’s become more powerful. And that’s raised a lot of concern in in Washington.
S13: So it looks from afar and in my case and ignorant to far, that China is using the distraction of the virus and the fact that the United States has kind of checked out of really sticking up for human rights in a lot of parts of the world to try to crack down on Hong Kong to pass this bill that would allow for much more Chinese policing of protests in Hong Kong and really try to squelch the pro democratic movement on Hong Kong. So Hong Kong has this incredibly important status as a financial capital in that part of the world. Does China want Hong Kong to maintain that status? But just be sort of quiet and docile and not have protesters yell anti Chinese anti-communist slogans in the street. And if the U.S. was going to perform some helpful role here, what would that be?
S14: There’s both a global and a local peace to what we’re seeing in Hong Kong. And the local peace actually started first since last year. Hong Kong has had significant protests and actually going back to the umbrella movement about five years ago. We’ve seen significant pushback in Hong Kong against the Hong Kong government, where the Hong Kong government, which has a chief executive who’s basically indirectly appointed by Beijing last year, it was about an extradition bill. The idea that you could you could have suspects who could be extradited to mainland China. And that was before the pandemic. But then we also see, you know, even as China has been consumed internally with dealing with the Koven 19 crisis itself, its foreign policy apparatus has also continued to push where it sees opportunities to expand or consolidate its its global reach.
S15: And Hong Kong is a major global financial center. But the reality is, if you think about it, it’s also important to China, in part because it’s territory that was taken by the British during what the Chinese call the CCP calls the century of humiliation this century that started with the Opium Wars and ended in. 1949, with the rise of the Chinese Communist Party to power. And during that century, foreign powers took advantage of took over Chinese territory and exploited the Chinese territory and people. And so the CCP has framed the return of Hong Kong as sort of a a restoration or restitution as part of making. Right. This century of humiliation. So it played a really important role, not just financially, but to the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. And as the Chinese economy has grown, arguably Hong Kong’s importance, it’s not as important to the PRC as it used to be. But there’s no question that I think the PRC is at least running some risk that this will downgrade or damage Hong Kong’s international financial standing.
S3: Sina, there’s been so much an American relationship with China that’s been about prestige and and kind of the Cold War struggle in in thinking about U.S. interests with respect to China. What is real? What are core U.S. national security interests with respect to all the things China is doing and what is more? That’s kind of theatrical in the sort of prestige category, which is not as important as it once was in U.S. foreign policy.
S15: If you think about core interests, the ability to have a free Indo-Pacific is really important. That’s been important to American involvement in the Asia-Pacific throughout kind of America’s time, being involved in in Asia and also the ability of countries to sort of choose how they want to run their own foreign policy and not be coerced or pressured by by anyone.
S14: The United States hasn’t maybe always lived up to this, but at least aspires to have a free and open Indo-Pacific.
S15: Is the concept that we’re using these days and the ability of democratic societies to, you know, run their own affairs as they see fit? And that’s also one of the things that’s under threat in Hong Kong. But under this one country, two systems model and the basic declaration, Hong Kong got to have protests to have the bookshops and the free speech and the debates, that you don’t see that in Beijing. So I think it’s being seen as kind of a bellwether of how China will treat areas as its power increases. And right now, the pressure being placed on Hong Kong is is making a lot of areas pretty nervous.
S5: So, Sina, sometimes when I think about where we are today, I hearken back to the end of World War One, when the United States, having financed the war, was able to sweep in and suddenly become the world economic, start to become the world economic superpower at the expense of an exhausted and disorganized and indebted United Kingdom that could no longer handle all of its commitments. And I am wondering whether are we the United Kingdom and is China the United States, is China emerging? To the kind of position that United States had in mostly after World War Two, but that began after World War One. Or is it going to be much more multipolar bipolar world where we maintain a huge amount of influence? And in fact, remain the dominant power in the world. And it’s just a kind of jockeying between us. Or is it likely that China really becomes dominant?
S16: There’s no question that China’s power is rising. What I think is less certain is what’s going to happen to the United States. And if I was thinking about how to respond effectively to this trend that we are seeing in a way that protects American interests and democratic interests worldwide, I would really want to see the United States putting a ton of energy into an effective response to Cauvin 19. We know that there is a democratic proof of concept that democracies can deal with this well. We’ve seen that in South Korea. We’ve seen that in Taiwan, ways of handling the pandemic that are compatible with civil liberties and democratic freedoms. I would like to see the United States have a really coherent strategy and come out of this looking like it’s handled the pandemic well.
S8: I would like a pony show. We’re past. I feel like that that barn that the horse left that barn.
S16: I think there’s probably more on this story to be written. But certainly the United States has not been as quick out of the gate as as I wish we would have been. And we can talk about transparency issues from. From China and what it is that’s going on in the back and forth there, if you want. But but certainly, you know, the United States shouldn’t have a national security strategy that requires China to be transparent. The Chinese political system is not built for transparency. It is built to have lower level officials withhold information from upper level officials. And for the leaders at the top of the political system to treat a lot of information as politically sensitive. That normally, you know, we would a lot of other countries would be comfortable releasing to the outside world. So there’s this internal and external transparency problem. Our national security cannot depend on China changing the way that its political system works. That’s that’s just not a good strategy to protect ourselves.
S13: That’s a good Segway to my next question, which is when you look at the early signs of the virus in December, I don’t think it was sequenced yet. But there was like some evidence in China of some Xu NorTech, something happening. And then in January, we start to see a more clear identification in China of this virus. But there are some amount of time that elapses before there’s really an alert to the world. Is that moment of hiding information reflective of the system in China creates an incentive to withhold information? Or is this just like something that any country could have screwed up because we just had no idea at that point what the virus really was?
S17: Well, it isn’t a novel coronavirus and there was a lack of transparency. But there are two different stories we’re seeing. China tends to emphasize one in the United States, tends to emphasize something slightly different. So in China, we know that lower level officials don’t accurately report things like protest statistics, complaints about corruption, even economic growth. All of that stuff gets distorted as it gets reported upwards because that’s how officials are considered for promotion. So that’s the the problem China’s tended to emphasize is that look. Well, we fired the local police. We removed the party secretary and the mayor in Wuhan. We hold people accountable. And whereas the you know, the United States has taken the position, you didn’t communicate enough to the outside world quickly enough and you’ve withheld some key information. That debate’s ongoing. I’m not sure I have a clear readout on exactly what all was transmitted when I’m not sure anybody does yet. You know, what the administration has also said is, hey, you are responsible for a political system where, you know, there are these transparency problems because it’s not democratic and you’re responsible for not having a democratic system. And now the world is paying for it. So in some ways, it’s holding China responsible fundamentally for the lack of democracy and and the entire way that the system is set up. But the problem is it’s also not going to change. And it’s the job of policymakers to take whatever warning signs they have early. And we did have some warnings in in January to me as a China watcher. Anytime you see an entire city being locked down, that should be a red alert.
S3: Chief, let me ask you, when you were saying that that America needs to to have a robust and successful response to Cauvin 19. Is that because it’s an act of democratic? Proof of concept in what is now and a global ideological battle that the Chinese will be able to exploit the failure of the democratic system to response to Cauvin 19 and say, hey, the system and model we’re selling is more attractive because look at what this democracy was completely incapable of doing. Is that why it’s important? Obviously, there are plenty of health reasons. It’s important. But is that why it’s important in terms of the global competition with China?
S17: Is, though, the moral obligation of a democracy and a strategic imperative that the United States get the Koven 19 thing as right as possible? We’ve already seen sort of test messages or messaging out of China and actually a fairly aggressive propaganda push to say, look, you know, we got this under control. Our system did everything we could. We’ve been responsible. And now, look, we’re sending masks and PPE and gear all over the world. And the United States is still a mess. That’s the Chinese narrative.
S18: And and I think that’s going to we’re going to continue to see that that propaganda battle play out. And we should we should give it as little, you know, the propagandists as little to work with as possible.
S3: We’re about to or we are in the middle of a presidential campaign in which it’s now to the president’s advantage to turn China into a villain on this. Rightly or wrongly, how should people sought? What are the really important priority questions with respect to China in terms of who’s going to be the leader of the free world for the next four years?
S18: What I would be looking for in the presidential campaign is, you know, what is the plan for an effective response to Koven 19 internally and in terms of, you know, thinking about how to cooperate with the world on a trans national issue. Right. We and viruses cross borders. They they don’t stop at border control. And so I would also be looking for, you know, what is the plan for economic engagement in Asia to to try to protect that economic openness that is really important for the American economy and the world economy. How are we going to coordinate with allies? In some ways, allied coordination goes well if it’s boring and it’s not in the news. That’s a good sign that it’s going smoothly. And then, you know, the last thing is I would really like to see the United States, a plan for the United States to be a as a leader in setting standards on things like surveillance technology. And this is something I’ve been working a lot on lately. But right now, Chinese tech companies are the ones who are submitting policy suggestions to the U.N.. There’s a U.N. agency that’s involved in, for example, setting global guidelines for facial recognition. And Chinese companies have submitted almost the only I think, in fact, as of about six months ago, it was the only submissions that that U.N. body had gotten on what global standard should be were coming from Chinese tech companies. And about half of those have already been adopted. So if we’re not comfortable, you know, we’re having a debate in the United States about whether we should let Facebook and Twitter and some of these big tech companies set as many global rules as they have. Well, right now, if we’re not paying attention, it’s not going to be Facebook and Twitter that are writing those rules. That’s going to be Chinese tech companies. And I would like to see the United States play a much more active role in promoting standards and working with allies in Europe and in Asia to make sure that we have standards that are compatible with democracy and civil liberties, because this stuff is all over the world and we need to make sure that the United States plays a leadership role.
S11: Sina Chesnut Greitens is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin Sina. Thank you so much for joining us. Come back to the gabfest.
S18: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
S5: Let us go to cocktail chatter when you are having some kind of some kind of al fresco cocktail, I hope. John Dickerson. Where are you gonna be chattering about?
S3: I’m gonna be chatting about something I found on Laughing Squid, which is a consistent source of amusement, entertainment and enlightenment in life. And it is a timeline of the most popular TV shows from 1951 to 2019. This may sound familiar because I think I chatted before about a similar timeline that was done of brands. And I found it captivating to watch over time what brands were popular in the American mind as a way of thinking about the changes in American culture and data. Brose has put together this animated visual timeline. And it is just I don’t know. I found it so fascinating to watch it and to see the changing tastes in America and particularly and I’ll try not to ruin this, but you don’t have to go. Just watch what happens in the mid 50s. After I Love Lucy goes off, I guess it goes off the air. Watch what goes in, replaces it. And it’s just so interesting to watch the way choices are made and the way cultural swerves take place.
S5: Just tell what replaces it. Just tell us.
S3: Don’t leave a thing in Westerns like they first. It’s Gunsmoke. But then, like a whole host of Westerns come, they just come rocketing up. And and the top three shows in America are all Westerns by the mid 50s that reach. This is when we became. So it’s Bonanza Wagon Train, Gunsmoke. They just it’s. And you watch it happen and it just feels so. I don’t know. It’s just amazing. America. Then just suddenly gets. Have gun will travel. Just zoom zooms up. Right. Between sort of the mid 50s all the way in the 1960s. And so then to think about why was it that basically America got addicted to Westerns at that period of time, what were we going through? Why did this story of the, you know, rugged individual across the plains, why was that a big deal in there? Was that about the time of conformity in the 50s? Was it. I don’t know. I don’t know what. And I don’t know enough about those shows to be able to to draw, you know, anyway. But it just that alone was to me, it seemed interesting.
S11: Emily, what is your chatter?
S9: My chatter is an excellent Q&A that Willa Paskin, one of my favorite writers, did for Slate with the show runner for Mrs. America. The show runner is Davi Waller.
S13: And this show. I don’t think I’ve talked about it somehow, but I’ve been so interested in the show, which, of course, puts Phyllis Schlafly at the center of the mini series about the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment starting in the 60s and moving into the 70s, and shows how she Larfleeze A.R.T. forces were so effective in preventing the passage of the array. I just really admire, first of all, the choice that Wahler made to put Schlafly at the center of the narrative. I mean, part of it’s that Kate Planchet is such an amazing performer in this show, but it just makes it so much more interesting to have this antifeminist as the kind of, I guess, antihero of the series. And then there are all these quite layered portrayals of various famous feminist Gloria Steinem, Betty, for Dan Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, I feel like I learned a ton from this show. And it’s made me think differently about the sorrow for feminists and losing the NRA and also just about the different personalities involved.
S8: So I recommend the show, which the finale ran last night. But also I just thought this was such a great exploration of it that, well, it did with Darby Waller.
S11: This is Betty Ford and your cousin Emily.
S13: Yes, Betty was my grandmother’s cousin. So and, you know, Betty Darby well are actually made this great comment in the Q&A with Willa that everybody they talked to about Betty said, oh, she was so impossible. She was so impossible to work with. And you can totally see that in the show. But they also really by the end, Betty’s humanity really comes through, I think. And Walter says that one I think she want to convey was that Betty had a close and really good relationship with her three kids. And that’s important to me because I know those three grown up kids. And Betty was in a lot of ways really close with her family, with her grandchildren. So anyway, that was a nice detail, my chatter.
S5: Is I I tuned in yesterday to watch the launch of Kru Dragon, the manned spaceflight that Elan Musk was going to launch. By the time you’re listening, maybe this will have gone up. I hope it will have gone up. They scrubbed the launch 17 minutes before it was going to go because of weather. But it would been the first time that the U.S. had launch anyone from U.S. soil in almost 10 years.
S11: And it’s an amazing human achievement. Amazing. It is so it is so inspiring. The space program is so inspiring. And to watch these two people strapped to the top of a missile are gonna be hurled into the terrifying blackness of space. The engineering that is required to build such a rocket. The mathematics that is required to have this this ship rendezvous. Exactly. Get Hogsett exactly into the path of the International Space Station. It is dazzling. It’s exhilarating. And it’s like human ingenuity and courage at the highest order. And yet I am. Like crude spaceflight just seems totally misbegotten to me at this point. Obviously, being in space is wonderful. And the the the telescopes we’ve sent up have shown us the edges of the universe. And these satellites are giving us G.P.S. and and telecommunications, which have made our lives so much better and certainly are sending probes out to see Uranus and the moons of Saturn and so forth are fantastic. But were sixty three years into the space era, we’re about 60 years into human spaceflight and we can’t do anything. It’s incredibly dangerous. It’s unbelievably expensive.
S3: You want to do it by Zoome call.
S11: Yeah. I wanted to. I want to send probes. I want to send unscrewed probes into into space. And because the crude stuff is like we have this huge rust bucket. Not even huge is this rat maze rust bucket of the ISIS floating up there. Which doesn’t basically the job of being on the ISIS is simply to maintain the ISIS. It’s an unbelievably expensive white elephant thing which sits up there. Maybe we’ll go back to the moon, but we’ve only been there. And it turns out the moon is is simply completely too dangerous to be on that the dust is so dangerous to humans that we can’t spend any amount of time there. Mars is the next closest thing, and yet it’s way too far away. There’s no it’s unrealistic to think that in the next 200 years that there’s going to be reasonable efforts on Mars. It’s just too far and too hard to get to. And yet it is so inspiring to see human humans go into space. We need to find some other thing that will inspire us to find some other way to be inspired that isn’t sending humans to space because we just can’t do very much in space. It’s too dangerous. It’s too inhospitable. It’s unwelcoming. It is impossible to settle there. It’s gonna be impossible to terraform Mars or the moon. And so let’s find something else. Let’s fix some problems here on Earth. Even though I just love it, I do I. I was so on the edge of my seat waiting for that launch yesterday. So adeno. Listeners, thank you for tweeting, great listener Chatter’s to us at Slate Gabfests. You are sending us excellent things for us to look at. I’m going to cheat this week because our listener chatter comes from our producer, Joslyn Frank, Joslyn said. My favorite thing she sent it is listener chatter and it is fantastic. It is a link to a YouTube video from a guy named Mark Rober, who I think is a YouTube personality with lots and lots and lots of followers.
S5: And it’s called Building the perfect squirrel proof bird feeder. And I Joslin’s sent this and I was looking at I was like, oh, you know, I spent a minute looking at this. It’s a twenty two minute long video. It’s unbelievably delightful. It is so delightful. This guy builds a Rube Goldberg contraption to try to prevent squirrels from getting to his bird feeder. It’s so, so charming. It is. You will just take pleasure in it. Give yourself over to it. It’s 22 minutes of pure joy. It’s really, really fun to check that out. Building the perfect squirrel proof bird feeder.
S2: Thanks for letting the gavitt please subscribe to the show. You’ll get new episodes the second they they’re published. We are produced by Jocelyn Frank, who is also the source of our listener chatter. Josslyn can do two jobs at once where other people can only do like a third of a job. A researcher is Bridget Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate podcast. June Thomas is managing producer. And we welcome Alicia Montgomery, who is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. Now for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson. David Plotz, thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week.
S19: Hello, Slate plus. How are you? So.
S5: For reopening whatever that means. But all of us are still working out of home. But one day, maybe when there’s a vaccine or maybe before there’s a vaccine, people will go back to work in offices. Already, some people have had to go back to work and manufacturing plants. People are going to work and in lots of workplaces already. But there’s this question about all the white collar workers who are going to go back to work in offices. And what should those offices look like in the post covert era or in the Kofod era? And we are going to talk about what those should be, how to make those better. John, you want to talk about this?
S3: Do you want to lead us off? Sure. I mean, this this conversation started because I was talking to my brother, who’s the one who does productive work in the world and in the in the private sector.
S20: And we were just talking about companies and teams and and the necessity of some meetings, the benefits of not having some meetings, as I’ve been talking to people who were college professors about going back to school. There are a lot of ways in which Zoome classrooms are actually more useful and effective in terms of sharing work and also getting to know your students who are all there with their names in front of you in a way that they wouldn’t be in a lecture hall. So there are advantages to be had. But telecommuting has been a a traditionally or long time difficult in a lot of white collar work. You know, in some computer industries, it’s been easier, although famously the CEO of Yahoo! Some number of years ago put out a memo and said, we must all work together. We can’t work from home. It’s that’s not going to work. So which which seems since it was coming from that from Silicon Valley, that it was Marissa Mayer was the CEO, it was take me a minute to find her name that it seemed like. Well, even in a place where it’s easiest because everybody just works on their screens. Even there, they recognize it can’t be done. But there are some ways in which people are finding efficiencies from working at home. It’s obviously late leads to a great deal more flexibility for people in their lives. If we start to go back, it would allow for the kinds of fast responses to outbreaks that we think might happen as there are hotspots. In other words, people might need to be able to retreat back to or spend or live a kind of more hybrid life in the future. And as companies have to plan for going back, they need to make decisions about, you know, office space and harassment around charge and obviously their savings to be found. The big downside, of course, is that this would require the rewiring of a whole host of human behaviors. And for those of us who who benefit from a human interaction and recognize how much faster and more can be communicated in a face to face situation, we recognize it. And the difference between our live shows and when we are all remote, there are huge hurdles to replicating. What’s great about the serendipitous in-person environment of work, however, surely people can find a way to at least find a work around. And so the question is, what is the work around and can it be found? And if you can’t find the perfect workaround. Are there other ways in which you can take advantage of remote work that would actually be worth wanting to have more of it, not treating it just as an inconvenience of the moment?
S8: So I have two feelings about this. So I’ve worked mostly remotely for like a lot of years.
S9: And I think one fear I have about it is that it only works for a few people to do that in a kind of satellite way. If most people are in the office that basically like you are a parasite and they’re they’re all there together and that’s allowing you to do it. And it it doesn’t mean it’s always great for you to not be there. But I do have this sometimes guilty feeling about that, that like it depends what kind of enterprise you’re part of. But if you’re in an office where there are some amount of group brainstorming and just like informal interaction that goes into people’s productivity and I think a lot of offices are like that, if everybody’s not there, then I think that is a genuine problem for telecommuting. One thing I’ve been wondering in light of the pandemic and there is going to need to be more spacing out of people and offices until we have a vaccine. And I wonder if in some offices that are built quite densely, if you can have a kind of more intentional, staggering of shifts. So you have certain teams that really do need to see each other and work together, are coming in on certain days and other teams on other days. There will be bad things about that because cross pollinating are not among different groups can also be helpful. But I think that’s one thing we could try and that a lot of people might like. I mean, my own. Feeling about telecommuting, meaning all these years, is that I really like going into an office like once or twice a week. That being home or, you know, at a coffee shop, wherever, every day is pretty wearing even on the telecommuter. But on the other hand, not having to go in some days, the week is pretty great. Like, you save a ton of time. And so you could imagine a world in which some idealized world in which we kind of take turns and shifts. And maybe that actually produces a lot more information about company, a lot more information that then companies, organizations could use to be more intentional about office space. Because you can also see that especially in expensive real estate markets, like companies are excited about the idea of not having to rent such big offices.
S20: Use the word intentional a couple of times, which is, it seems to me, is the absolute key, which is that basically a lot of the kind of corporate gambits or even, well, just gambits in business and receive a fair amount of eye rolling because, you know, people basically don’t buy into things unless until they’ve experienced it. So a lot of the intentional efforts to make things better, although some have broken through stand up meetings, no meaning that goes longer than 15 minutes or whatever, but a lot of them have a tough time breaking through because people aren’t intentional about them because they don’t really buy in. I wonder if this moment now that everybody has to will kind of get us over the intentionality hurdle. I have a friend of mine who is very intentional about friendship and who who says, you know, you’re you know, you’re going on a drive. Give me a call so we can check in one on one. Like, I love that because it is a buddy. But some people might think, oh, but these relationships are supposed to be sort of goofy and serendipitous and we. But but intentionality might like small things.
S6: Well, intentionality tells people things when you know people. But one of the things that has to happen for offices to work, for workplaces to work is for people to know and have social trust in each other. And this show that we’re doing hasn’t been able to thrive during this terrible time because we know each other and we trust each other and we know how to work together. But it’s very hard to start relationships like that if you never are in person with people, if you never have built that foundation of of informality and and trust with somebody. We are humans need that. So I think there’s this there’s a we’re living a collective delusion right now because we’re all working remotely, because basically almost everyone who’s a white collar workers working remotely. We’re all on equal footing. And that means that meets means certain things feel okay because we’re all but there’s no real choice in it. It feels fair. Nobody’s getting any advantage. I think almost any company that starts to bring people back to work is going to find itself in a tiered class system. And that if some people are working in it in an office and some people are not, the people who are working the office are going to build networks, clicks in jokes, informality that other people who are outside of it are not. And that’s going to for some people who work outside of it’s fine. I think as Emily talked about being the parasite, I don’t think you’re a parasite, Emily, but that the people who who don’t necessarily care about rising in the corporate ladder don’t necessarily care about being in every important meeting or making decisions and who are doing most creative work. I think those people can find it easier to stand outside of a of an office structure. But for people who who are involved in the decision making or want to be involved in kind of deeply involved in the day to day activities of an operation, if you are the, you know, one third of people who are not in that physical space, you are just going to feel alienated and outside of it. And I think it’s gonna be a huge pressure, a huge pressure for once offices start bringing some people back. Obviously, some people are gonna be like, oh, this is great. I like being external. I like being more with my family. I like not having to commute. But many, many, many, many, many people are going to really want it because they also know their career and their career growth and and opportunity depends on physical space. I just think, like we are humans are such social creatures. We are such creatures of being physically present with others looking people in the eye, touching people that we can maintain this for a certain amount of time and necessities are going to require us to maintain it. And we’re going to you know, we’re going to be working not directly across from people in cubicles or not not directly across open deaths from people, but like we’re kidding ourselves if we think that really that the destination of white collar work is all of us working remotely.
S7: It’s not my staggering idea.
S5: Does that. Yeah. No, I think you’re staggering. I think that’s right. I think you’re Staiger idea that that’s the kind of thing places are going to come up with, a ways that that people are going to be able to spend a couple of days a week in the physical space together and then. But not all of it. Yeah, I think that’s. But but I don’t think it’s a situation where. Where.
S21: We’re gonna say everyone’s going to you know, we’re oh, we no longer need to have our staff in Silicon Valley as Facebook is saying, that they can work in in other places and and never physically go.
S7: Yeah. Doesn’t imagine like a far flung now.
S20: Yeah. It has to be it has to be staggered to pick up on your point, David. There was some poll I saw that that said in quarantine, despite people’s efforts to have greater equality and the sharing of household roles, that that naturally the load sharing has slipped and that women essentially have to deal with more stuff in an Cauvin life world than men. And just before I call you David, is David’s gesticulating furiously that what you describe, David? A situation in which there are those networking and and benefits to being physically there in person? You could imagine this world falling. If women have to stay home and to do those roles, then they are shut out of the beneficial aspects of personal interaction that we’re talking about. You interrupt, David.
S6: Yes. Well, also, this goes to the point that Emily and I have made persistently on the show, which is like there is no return to work until there’s a return to school. Like, you just can’t have it. But that was not the point I was gonna make. Emily and John, did you see that horrifying story about the woman who ran? She was the founder of a of a startup 30, had 13 employees, and she had a three year old kid. Her husband was not working.
S9: So I hadn’t handled the childcare companies that folded her company.
S5: She folded her up. She cut her husband after like two days of having to be the primary caregiver on their child. I was like, I can’t do this even though he had no other job. Like, I can’t do it. She frickin quits her company, folds the company to take care of her child full time. It’s like, what the hell? I mean, I.
S20: OK. So, Nick, don’t you have nightmares? But let me two quick things. A worth. Two quick things to the issues you rage. One is that on that shortening the distance of trust, I was. Who knows if you can do it. But you what you raise is, of course, one of the major hurdles. I was struck with an interview I did with Marshall Goldsmith, the executive coach I was interviewing for my book, and I was barreling down the road train. I going to do the interview. And before we got before we started, he said, no, let’s introduce each other. Let’s introduce ourselves to each other. So he then riffed for like five minutes about who he was and where he came from and what he did and what his dreams in life were and his religious views and just kind of gave it wasn’t the his resumé. It was, you know, who he thought he was, which revealed all kinds of things which really shortened the distance. And then I caught somewhat unawares, had to do the same, which wasn’t it, which which, you know, I took my cues from his level of revelation. So that was interesting. And I when I talked about being intentional, that’s like now most people that most people or many people would hear that and say, jeez, before I do this meeting, I’m not going to tell you about the fact that I like gardening and I have a fondness for cracking walnuts at eleven thirty while watching reruns of Johnny Carson, but which, by the way, had just totally made up. I don’t know if anybody actually does that, but nevertheless, that was a way to be intentional about shortening the trust distance and then physically the same deal. So everybody works from home, but we all meet on in staggered ways at these. You know, you can imagine somebody creating a wee work that was actually successful where you went. And it’s physical construction facilitated a lot of the things that were not available through the post. You covered Zoome life. But but but had been thought through an intentional about creating. And those interactions that you rightly said, David, are so important.
S7: I’m amazed, John, that in your interviews, everyone’s giving these sunny views of doom because I’ve also been working on a higher story and what you’re going to say.
S3: Well, I don’t want to overstate it. I don’t overstate it. I just I guess what I was trying to do is rebalance from the general perceptions, certainly from, you know, that it is the world’s worst awful thing.
S13: I was talking to a grad student, though, who I thought did such a good job at explaining what it doesn’t do, which is that like immunises more particular to school than work. But you know that the whole his conception of his education is that you go to a seminar. Why am I talking about this? Nothing to do it. I’d have it.
S4: I’m just gonna step nicely. No, it’s good.