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S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest for January 21st, 2021, The End This Uncivil War edition.
S3: I am David Plotz of City Cast in Washington, D.C. I’m joined also in Washington, D.C. here on assignment by John Dickerson of CBS’s 60 Minutes. Hello, John Dickerson. Hello, David. Hello, Emily. And by Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School. Hello, Emily. Hey. Hey, David. Hey, John. On today’s gabfest, we will talk about Joe Biden, President Joe Biden’s inauguration. We will talk about President Joe Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., his agenda for his first hundred days. And then we will talk about former President Donald Trump’s pardons and the legal situation he might find himself in as well. Plus, we’ll have cocktail chatter. What excessive relief. Wow, so it’s been an incredible three Wednesdays in this country on January 6th. Wednesday, we had the capital invaded in an attempt to overturn the results of a free and fair election at the instigation of a wicked president on January 13th, that President Donald Trump was impeached for the second time by the House of Representatives for his role in that capital invasion. And then yesterday, January 20th, we had the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 44th president and Kamala Harris as the forty ninth vice president. John Dickerson, I’m sure you had that 46 49 fact at your fingertips. Pamela Harris being, of course, the first woman vice president, the first black American to be a vice president, the first Asian-American to be vice president. It was a deeply abnormal inauguration in the sense that there was practically no one there. The city is occupied by the U.S. military. You cannot move around in Washington, D.C., very well. And there were no people there or rather, the there were mostly dignitaries. Almost no one from the general public was allowed dignitaries and press because of both the fear of violence and also the pandemic. And yet it strove for as much peace and normality as possible. And the theme of it, of course, was a united America. So, Emily, I want to start with you. Did you find this ceremony, this day of ceremony, moving, unmoving? I mean, I think it’s not a secret that you like me and probably like John. We’re glad to see the back of Donald Trump. Did you find the ceremony a kind of a cleansing?
S1: I did find it moving. I liked the 200000 flags waving. I thought that having a sparsely attended ceremony was the right thing to do because of coronavirus, even absent the fears of violence which did not materialize. That was a huge relief. The city was peaceful. And, you know, we’re not a unified country right now. And Biden has a huge challenge to try to reassure Americans who didn’t vote for him that he really means to be their president, too. But he said a lot of stuff along those lines. I think like a lot of people, I found the poem by Amanda Gorman really uplifting. And that kind of carried me through the images that were pretty sober because they were showing people, you know, sitting relatively far apart from each other in recognition of the fact that we are still dealing with this terrible pandemic and will be for a while. So, you know, it was laced with Paphos because of the shadow of the fear of violence and because of this illness. But it also just felt like we were turning a page as a country. And at this point, I don’t even think that’s a partisan sentiment. Obviously, there are lots of people who support Donald Trump, but it was important that Vice President Pence was sitting there that former Republican President George W. Bush was there, that Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, the leaders of the Republican Party, were all there for the peaceful transfer of power. That seems really basic, but it was hugely significant. And I was like happy to hear it be emphasized and emphasized once again throughout the day.
S3: Yes. Although I do join with those who say peaceful transfer of power. My but I mean, it was not a peaceful transfer of power. There was an invasion of the capital. There was a transfer of power, but it took violence and and a kind of armed encampment to make it peaceful.
S1: And hadn’t asked a serious set of infractions, but we were already starting to move past it, and to me that was super reassuring.
S3: So, John, you think about right about have such a strong sense of these rituals of shared civic life, how valuable they are, what they mean. And this, of course, is the day where those are strongest, where it’s if we have a shared civic religion, it’s on this day where you speak a prayer together, the Pledge of Allegiance. You sing a, you know, a hymn together. You sing several hymns to the nation. Together you all gather together. It’s really moving. I mean, I don’t say that in any that’s not in a kind of ironic way, although I will say, can we have another hymn besides Amazing Grace? Can we just get a different one? Can we hire a different.
S4: Oh, it’s great.
S3: But I heard it four times yesterday in different circumstances. Oh, come on. It’s the day anyway, Grace. But is there any way this sentiment can be carried beyond this day into the actual work of. Governing the country and living together by these people who gathered on this this one day to be. To share in the ritual.
S4: Well, first of all, Amazing Grace, it feels like to me, is one of those songs that’s actually pretty hard to ruin by overplaying, but that’s maybe because it’s not over played like, you know, Beatles songs in elevators and and mildly overpriced sushi restaurants. But before we before before we throw cold water on the whole day, which which, you know, I think is warranted by the situation we’re in, or at least try to figure out how much cold water to throw on it. I was feeling yesterday like it was an exorcism of the Sixth, which is an exorcism of the day, not the forces necessarily that created the day of the sixth. And so for all those reasons, all every little postage stamp sized piece of ritual, the former presidents, the bonhomie among former enemies, looking at George W. Bush, having chuckles with the Democrats and and and crediting James Clyburn with basically saving the nation by helping Biden win South Carolina, you know, was the comforting kind of anesthetic that is required in politics, because politics, as we’ve talked a lot about on here, is not perfect. You often have to make deals with people you wouldn’t necessarily want to sit next to on a plane or who may hold views that you find repugnant. But that that this this bomb that happens and that these rituals try to enforce is important to keep us from basically ending up where where we did for a moment on the six. And so I felt like the ceremony and all of that was good in that in that respect. And the three presidents talking together and that sort of awkward video they did, you know, as all helpful in the real world. You know, it seems to me the two biggest challenges are the fact that the market that Donald Trump created in the Republican Party is still very much their people, even who are performing and participating in the rituals on Inauguration Day are still playing towards the base voters that Donald Trump invigorated and and who continue to hold all the same views. And I think also there is a different kind of pressure that will make the kind of bipartisanship and unity and and acknowledgment of a shared humanity, which was part of the center of Biden’s speech is there in his party, too. There are plenty of people who say, you know, bipartisanship is fine, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of inequities to fix. We don’t have a willing partner on the other side. So this talk of bipartisanship is tactically unwise and morally a failing. And those are huge hurdles for the centerpiece of the speech, which was to lower the temperature for the purposes of not having a or for ending the uncivil war.
S3: As the as the president put it, it was kind of sickening to see Ted Cruz, who’s now also in full Buddy Garrity mode. He’s got a Buddy Garrity from Friday Night Lights haircut going on to have him there with his long hair and his beard. But I guess it’s better to have it there. They’re not they’re like, oh, that hypocrisy, hypocrisy being the tribute vice pays to virtue. Right. So, like, better to have him there.
S1: Can I also say I mean, this may turn out to be so Pollyannish, but when I was watching the slightly awkward video of the three former presidents, I was thinking, like former President Trump blew it, like, here’s this very elite club. He loves elite clubs and he decided not to participate in it. And that’s going to be hard for the other folks in it to come back from. And he’s now off the stage without his Twitter microphone. Unclear what his next platform is. I feel like there is a kind of potential fading here. And John, I mean, you’re going to tell me I’m being naive because you’re right about the market he created. But I just wonder if he is actually going to be less dominant going forward than I think a lot of people feared.
S4: So I think it’s perfectly reasonable to to make a case that he will be less prominent. But I think the the the question is the battle in the Republican Party will be, will the forces of rationality, people who believe in a conservative set of ideas, who believe in facts and marshalling evidence in support of those ideas, and who care about using the government for conservative ends, not dismantling the government for chaos, and whether they win an argument in the in the Republican Party, then then both Donald Trump and the market he created go away. I just think when you have a majority of House members voting to not certify the election, even after a riot, and you have some of the noisiest members of the Republican Senate still doing that and still just saying insane things. Now, I just think that market is still the primary one in the Republican Party by a pretty good. Amount. I hope you’re right about and I guess my point is that market is distinct from Donald Trump.
S3: Biden has such a soulfulness to him. He genuinely he does want to bind up the nation’s wounds and divisions. He. It is really amazing to to encounter a person who comes into public life with such as such sincerity, such warmth, such a kind of corny. Sense of of of kind of I mean, such a emotional connection, I think when you remember when Bill Clinton was always feeling people’s pain and I think Bill Clinton, you know, probably did in some sense. But Bill Clinton, you you got the sense was a user of people and at the highest level, Joe Biden. I don’t get that sense, really. I mean, obviously, he’s been a politician for his whole life, so he knows how to manipulate people. It’s not I’m not pretending he doesn’t. But there is such a soulfulness in that guy, which is really appealing at this moment. Do you think, Emily, that it translates into anything substantive, anything? Not anything substantive. It’s already something substantive, anything that helps us towards this this kind of unity that he wants?
S1: Well, the question will be whether that message gets through to enough of the country. I mean, Fox News and the right wing media is not necessarily going to give him any chance to reach his audience. But that’s not there is a middle of the country that could still be accessible. And it seems like Biden should be the right messenger for people who supported Trump or have a lot of doubts about annoying liberals, but are kind of persuadable. I was struck by a memo he sent to his staff in which he told them to be nice to each other. And another memo in which he said that if you use a lot of acronyms and your mom can’t understand what you’re saying, like send it back, because I don’t want to have to read that. I so I loved that. That’s like something I try to beat into my writing. It’s I don’t know. Those are like pretty plain spoken, like appealing ways to begin.
S4: Yeah. I mean, when you hire somebody in a job where one of the key parts of the job is persuasion, both within your administration and out in the country when you hire them and their strongest attribute is insulting people. The New York Times finally printed the full list of President Trump’s insults, and it went on to the many thousands. You know, you’ve you’ve hired somebody to fundamentally unfit for a key quality of the job. And Biden has this other thing. Jen Psaki, his press secretary, was described by Ben Rhodes as instinctively kind. And what struck me about that is whether instinctive kindness is a good attribute in press secretaries. I think you can argue, but just instinctively kind is kind of what it feels like, the tone of that Biden was trying to set in his entire administration. His inaugural address was basically that, which is we are human beings. We are not enemies. And and this goes to your souls on this point, David, which for me came across in his line and his speech actually really bears rereading because there are lots of little lines that are jumping out to me upon doing that. And the next day, he said, because the here is the thing about life. There is no accounting for what fate will deal you. There are some days when we need a hand. There are other days when we are called on to lend one. And the problem with these speeches that they can sometimes feel like empty bromides. Although after four years, everybody is ready to tuck into a few empty bromides like Bromo Seltzer, Folbre Brigada with the pro buds. But but in this case, you know, when when President Biden says something like that, you know, it is hard won from the tragedies he’s faced. You know, when he says, here’s the thing about life. He’s experienced a lot of life, both because he’s our oldest president, but, of course, also because he’s had these searing tragedies. And part of the job in life and in the presidency is to see the long road ahead and recognize that what you do today will either bite you in the ass or hold you up in the future. And that’s essentially what he was trying to argue that the country needed to get back to. And I thought a second line that was powerful in that way is when he said, take a measure, my heart. And if you still disagree, so be it. That’s democracy. Trying to reset what a political disagreement is. In other words, don’t immediately think me evil. And if you don’t agree with my attempt to persuade you, then I won’t immediately think you’re evil either. Now, there are some people with whom we argue, who are arguing in bad faith and who are, if not evil, not good. Yes, right, exactly. They’re on deck to evil. But nevertheless, it shouldn’t be your your starting position with with people just because of the party they’re in. And I feel like all of that is hard won, not just from some political guidebook on how to sound like a politician, but somebody who has had to endure door, a life where sometimes he needed a hand and other days he was called to lend one.
S3: I want to turn to Kamala Harris for a second. It is for first just to make an obvious point, which is that black America save the Democratic Party’s bacon, this campaign. But there was Jim Clyburn and the black voters in South Carolina or just black voters during the general election. And states like Georgia and Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania, who turned out in such overwhelming numbers to help the Democrats and president and Senate races, but to see a black vice president and a black woman and an Asian-American woman, it’s kind of amazing. It’s shocking that it took so long to get a woman in one of these roles. It just kind of incredible that we’ve had 46 presidents, 48 vice presidents. And it takes you know, this is number 90. What does that the 90 fifth person to occupy one of these offices and we finally get a woman.
S1: Yeah. And I mean, Kamala Harris is a complicated person and politician and will have many more mixed things to say about her. But I was just so happy like that. Just lifted me to see that. And it is both incredible that it took so long, but also like things don’t become normal until you have a first. And so I look forward to the moment where I can take for granted that there is a woman occupying that position. But for now, I really just wanted to revel in it.
S3: And lot of these things don’t become normal to have like a fifth.
S1: Well, at least we’re having a step along the way.
S4: You know, there’s a there’s a switch in administrations. There’s a lot of promises about reorienting American government in concert with its values. And then there’s what Emily’s talking about in you, David, as well, which is something that just on minute one is a reorientation, which is to say if America’s goal is to always increase opportunity and equity, having a black woman as vice president just does that immediately. You kind of can’t take that away from from an administration. Just boom. Right. Done. So for those who are looking for hope in an otherwise dark time, when Joe Biden talked about the winter of peril and promise, this would be in the promise category, which has nothing to do with whether Kamala Harris is supports good policies or will be a good vice president or is not full of those complexities that Emily alluded to.
S1: Can I say one more thing about the two of them together, which was that I was thinking yesterday, how I’m really glad that Biden’s old in the sense that this is a moment in which there are so many older Americans, older people around the world whose lives are threatened by the pandemic and they’re in this particularly vulnerable category. And so it’s really good to remember, like the value of elder wisdom. And I feel like the fact that Biden has been through all these tragedies in his own life will make him like this is the moment he should be president, even though he’s been thinking about it for 40 years. And then he did this and then he reached for the hand of Kamala Harris and like pulled her forward in the way that Barack Obama pulled him forward. And like, there’s something about that chain that was just it was just moving to me to see.
S3: All right, let’s leave the inauguration there. Although I will say that by far my favorite moment of the inauguration was Lady Gaga singing the national anthem, which I thought was amazing. John is making a face. Emily is nodding along. No, and also should get the Congressional Medal of Honor. Well, and the Presidential Award of Freedom, you know, is like Hunger Games, a hunger.
S4: It was a marketing, but. Well, you know, and it’s amazing. It had to be cleared by the Secret Service to be that close to the VIPs to the president elect. Are you serious? The I believe, you know, I was making a face not because it wasn’t amazing. It was amazing. Just the ordering of amazing things that happened that day. I was fascinated that you put it at number one. But for me, what struck me because it’s all about me is when she turned and said and the flag was still there. Right. Obviously, it seems to me a reference to the January six insurrection. But that line, written in August of 1814 during the War of 1812, was written when there was the last attack at the Capitol. And so there was that additional little historical echo.
S3: President Joe Biden arrives pens blazing. He is coming with executive orders, bills to send to the Senate. So much is underway already in this administration, as there always is with a new administration and at a moment of such national. Catastrophe, where we have a pandemic that is raging and an economy that is sputtering seems more important than ever that a president get their agenda off to a strong start. So, Emily, what is Joe Biden signaling with his first day priorities? And where do you think this these first 100 days are going? I also did it to resign.
S1: Yeah. Did he resign? No, he did not. Are you really think it has to be right this minute?
S3: Yeah, maybe it does.
S1: I have no comment about that. So I think that he signaled that he is going to use that pen to undo the kind of obvious moves that Trump made away from the priorities of Democrats in a way from like the sort of traditional world order. Right. So rejoining the Paris climate accord, huge first step undoing the travel ban, the so-called Muslim ban, also really important, saving various domestic agencies from the peril that they’re in. I notice that he revoked Trump’s order that was messing around with the U.S. Census. So there’s obvious moves like that to make. But I think the main thing is going to be spending money. That’s going to be what he is able to do because of the rules that allow Democrats to pass bills with spending implications through reconciliation, which means they don’t have to eliminate the filibuster. And because of the scale of the pandemic, he has really ambitious plans to give people relief, to help people, to help state and local governments, to kind of shore up the country. And I think he will have support to do that. I was also struck by how much he elevated climate as a priority. That just seems to be something that throughout the government they are going to really be talking and doing a lot about. And that also offers spending opportunities because you’re trying to redo our infrastructure to make it sustainable.
S4: I mean, one thing that strikes you first when looking at the hit the ground running is a this is the way the presidency works now, is that everybody works really hard to kind of figure out what are the first moves you can make in the administrative part of the executive branch that can undo what your predecessor did, that had started back with Reagan with a few things. But now basically there’s a whole pre take operation that that even Donald Trump did, in part because he didn’t really know what was going on. It was being done by by Republicans and conservatives in Washington. But you basically can come in and undo a flip, a lot of switches that you can flip. And Biden was doing that. But in so doing what you had, which we haven’t had for a long time, is a group of people who whose instincts and and passions are all in line with the jobs that they have. They’re not in they’re trying to dismantle something. They are in there trying to make the something work better. So instead of, you know, hauling in a fresh new box of wrenches to throw into the works, they are taking out the wrenches and trying to, you know, tighten the bolts and so forth. And that just realignment is just totally different. You also have transparency. And in an effort to get back to the primary goal of informing the public about what’s being done in its name, that was refreshing. And you also have people who have either had these jobs before or have been in public service and so know kind of how it works before. And Biden, despite all of the difficulties in the transition that were created by the outgoing Trump administration, he has twice the number of officials hired as low as Obama did when he came into office, which was the previous record. And he also has sent up more officials to be confirmed. So they have an operating tempo that is already. And the team he’s built is obviously full of both veterans of Biden world, but also new types. So if you were trying to say how would you design the beginnings of a of an operation, it would be hard to again, policy outcomes. Forget that for a moment.
S5: Be hard to argue with the way they’ve designed at least this machine, this organization that’s going to try and carry this stuff out, although it looks like the transition was even worse than it seemed from the outside, that they were stymied and given much less information and that the Trump folks had sabotaged and delayed and denied information and all kinds of cases that we weren’t even aware of. More lackies that were crammed into civil service jobs to the Biden people have to decide whether to keep on or to try to drive out in some kind of like the arduous process.
S3: I mean, I thought there was this disturbing little detail that came out of the Pentagon whereby questions were asked if the Pentagon was Michael Flynn’s brother, Charles Flynn, who was a general. Overseeing are helping to oversee the military response to the January 6th attack, and was that when when the Pentagon was called on to potentially help with Charles Flynn, one of the people who was making that decision, and the Army had denied it, they had said he was not in meetings, then it turns out, of course, that he was totally in meetings and was part of the response that the nonresponse that the military made to those attacks. So there’s a lot of stuff that’s going to have to be rooted out and cultural change. And a lot of, of course, people have been lost, a lot of intellectual, a lot of a lot of history, a lot of experience has been lost out of government in the last few years. You can’t simply just automatically get those people back. They’ve moved on with their lives and moved on to other jobs. That’s going to be hard work. I also think there’s something funny. I’m not the first person to observe this in the way that the Hyde Amendment and the Keystone Pipeline have taken on these totemic qualities that I feel like that in in the year like 20 to 64, we have colonies on Mars. We all have three limbs by now. Children are only born by, you know, born and born in laboratories that they’re still going to be the new president. The first thing the new president will do will be reverse the approval or disapproval of the Keystone pipeline. And we will the Keystone pipeline still not be built, but we will still be talking about it. Emily, I have a legal question for you, which is one of the things that I’m really interested in is, is the FBI, the Department of Justice and the investigation of domestic terror of the white nationalists, the far right groups that have been allowed to fester and rot the country and some of whom have committed acts on January 6th, those people committed clear federal crimes. But presumably there are other occasions where they didn’t commit clear federal crimes in a spectacular way. But were there just causing chaos to stress fear that the Biden Justice Department and the FBI can effectively investigate that without it becoming politically untenable?
S1: I think they can effectively investigate. I think it’s politically fraught. I also think that in some ways the January six events make it much easier to write. The case is obvious. I mean, we’ve had over 100 arrests around the country with more to come. You have investigations into groups like the Three Stars and the Oath Keepers, which are these like hyped up militarized bands. And I just think it’s going to happen. And the arrests are already going to be disrupting these networks. And that is in some ways like it’s very rare that I think a bad event actually has good consequences. But I do think that there’s an urgency that comes out of the out of January six that is going to be helpful to make the case with that regard. I also think it’s really important not to overestimate what percentage of conservatives this is, how big a fraction of the country. I got a little nervous in the inaugural address when Biden I was perfectly happy to have him call out white supremacist violence, but I wanted him to say this is a tiny, tiny group relative to everybody else. I mean, it depends how you define white supremacy, obviously. But I think what he is talking about to give him the benefit of the doubt is actually small and that we’re all scared right now because of this show of force on January six. But it’s important not to overestimate it. And also, you want to keep isolating those people and making everybody else feel like, no, you’re we’re not tarring you with this brush.
S4: I think that’s really and and I think you’re saying that not to protect the feelings of the people who might be adjacent to the white supremacist who who are charged in the insurrection but to not create. A kind of attractiveness by raising it up that we’ve seen in other kinds of extremist groups, you know, it just strikes me in the inaugural address two things that he had that President Biden had to include because of the events of just the last two months. His inaugural address was are going to be clotted with big, huge challenges for a new president. And he yet had to add two more. And one was about the white supremacists and the second was about the threat to truthtelling. Now, maybe you could argue the second threat should be it should have been included after the last four years, but probably wouldn’t have been. Yeah, but like, what a big exclamation point on it. And both of those things would have not been in there if Donald Trump had simply said, I concede how much of the time of the Senate.
S3: The House and the this administration should it will be spent on investigating the past. There will be a Senate impeachment trial. I assume unless something weird happens, there’ll be some form of impeachment trial. There’s all kinds of things that Democrats wanted to investigate and they were effectively stopped from investigating by an administration that refused to cooperate. Will they then go back and revisit and sort of try to determine here’s what happened here, things that happened during the Trump administration that we were unable to gather documents on or force people to testify about that we’re now going to do and and should they spend that time?
S4: John, politically, Democrats have to make a choice since they’re in control now between getting stuff done and being able to run again on having gotten stuff done. And then the other part is doing all those investigations which are important to the good operation of government and also, you know, some in the base might care about. But it takes away from from the hours you can spend working on productive things, by which I mean legislate legislation. But also it you know, it maybe makes the public square consumed with investigation instead of, you know, changing things that are going to actually affect people’s lives.
S3: OK, just to bring this topic to a close and sort of one quick piece to you, John, and then a and then a larger piece to you, Emily, the quick piece to you is, is it reasonable to expect that Biden can get a big spending bill through the Senate with the 50 votes that he needs for reconciliation? Is that a reasonable expectation? Then the second question to you and why is it looks like Biden is focusing on immigration with some executive orders, but there may actually bring it. He may actually bring a bill up around immigration, which seems to me like a weird not that it’s not critically important. And you know, that we are we’ve treated immigrants this country appallingly in the last four years. But is that really the right moment to push a bill around that I’ll try and be fast?
S4: The the the covid relief bill is there. He has to make a tactical decision first, which is to do a big, large bipartisan bill or move quickly. And so he’s going to have to decide whether he does it through reconciliation or whether he tries to do the kind of old fashioned Senate unifying approach that he talked about in the inauguration. They’ll have to work that out. You know, if he goes through reconciliation, you might be able to get the 51 votes with the vice president, but you’re going to you’re going to set a tone that might be difficult to do. All the other things you want to do. A realist might look at it and say, guess what? You’re never going to get the support from Republicans anyway, so why bother? Let’s move quickly, because people are hurting. There’s also another theory in the house, which is let’s do a tiny little something that gets some money out the door and then leave the rest of the leftovers over sirens. As you’re hearing of all the official people going through Washington, the House version is basically get some money out the door and help people and worry about the other things later. Immigration. It’ll be fascinating to see how much of that it was coalition management and how much is actual real piece of legislation. There’s also talk about an early infrastructure bill. So, of course, what’s vastly different from the last administration is how involved the White House will be in the actual legislation and how much the president will be on the phone. And we’ll watch. And one interesting thing to look at at the Senate before I shot up is the common sense coalition of Murkowski, Collins, Manchin, maybe some others, probably Romney, who may have a kind of power center in the Senate that might be really interesting to watch.
S1: So I read the immigration bill, which is about a path to citizenship for 11 million people as a statement that that is the goal. And you don’t give up on the goal even if you’re not going to get it this month or in this quarter, because you have to show that the goalposts remain there. And that is the long term set of achievements that you want and that you are standing by the community of people and advocates who push for that for a long time. That is a clear message I’ve heard from immigration rights advocates. I also want to point out that H1N1, the first bill, is a giant voting rights bill with all kinds of if you’re a voting rights person, great stuff in it, 15 days of early voting across the country and voting by mail and automatic voter registration. I mean, I like it warmed the cockles of my heart from a pro democratic participation point of view. And that’s really interesting because I don’t see how there are 60 votes in the Senate for that, but they’re going with it first. So is that and it’s also something that you can’t do through reconciliation. So I’m just curious about how that plays out will not pass one other little thing.
S4: We should be or we should remind ourselves about about reconciliation is it ain’t perfect. You want I mean, it’s not perfect for the political reasons, but also just as a mechanism for transmitting policy. It’s not great. So there are reasons, policy reasons not to do reconciliation that go beyond simply trying to leave room for bipartisanship.
S3: Slate plus members, you get bonus segments on the gabfest, other Slate podcasts, you get to support the journalism that Slate does. Our bonus topic this week from a listener question. We’re going to talk about what class we would want to teach if we were qualified to teach anything, which I certainly am not. But John and Emily certainly are. Emily already teaches. So she has she has true lessons to convey. As expected, there’s a flurry of Trump pardons on the way out the door. Steve Bannon, Eliot Broider, two scheming allies from 2016 who committed crimes or may have committed crimes. Also, various other corrupt politicians got clemency. Duke Cunningham, Kwame Kilpatrick. There was an old pal of Jared Kushner who got cleared of something, some nonviolent drug offenders as well. President Trump did not preemptively pardon himself or his kids or Rudy Giuliani. Emily, why do you think he didn’t preemptively pardon himself?
S1: I I bet you. You know, a few weeks ago we heard tell of Trump like trying to offer pardons to people in administration who didn’t want them because they didn’t think they had committed any crimes. So I imagine he wanted to have this like pardons for everyone. And then it would look normal to be pardoning himself and his adult children. But I think other people in the administration were not willing to go along with that. And so then it starts to look like, you know, you are hiding. If you’re going to go, pardon yourself. Plus, I’m sure his White House counsel said this is of dubious constitutionality and it’s going to kind of mire you in legal trouble if you do it. It doesn’t it’s not worth it enough, but it does leave him interestingly vulnerable. Now, I will say, I think the major threat he faces is from state level investigations in New York that he didn’t have the power to pardon himself from. And maybe if that had been a federal investigation, he would have made a different decision. But it does change the legal picture going forward. And I was also wondering whether he was going to preemptively pardon anyone relating to January 6th. And he didn’t do that either. And I’m not just talking about the people inside the Capitol, but we still don’t know anything much about the planning of that, whether it involved any members of Congress in a way that could expose them to liability. And so I’m interested that all of that is still on the table.
S3: Wouldn’t he have had to have it? You can’t pardon generically. You have to pardon for specific things. You have to pardon for particular things. We would have had to say I pardoned myself for these things. And that’s an acknowledgement of some kind of crime or some kind of thing that other people might think was a crime. Who wants to do that?
S1: Yeah, I mean, he could have written it pretty broadly, probably.
S4: But also and this is a this is an even hotter take than all my normal ones. But also, in so doing, wouldn’t that be counter to his normal? I do nothing wrong. Everything’s correct. Appropriate, correct. And and always leaving himself a back door. So that would if you admit the thing that gets you off the hook, you are you have done a big thing that it’s hard to say then you didn’t do. I mean, I guess, you know, he’s he finds ways to explain his way out of everything, but.
S1: Well, you say it’s going to be a witch hunt. I guess your base told you is like.
S4: Sure. Sure. Oh, yeah. Well, no. Yes. I mean, the true believers are prone to believe anything, but. Yeah, OK.
S3: Anyway, that was I have to say that of all the abuses committed by Trump in justice and his pursuit of injustice throughout his presidency and including all the other pardons and commutations and clemencies of various sorts he’s offered during his administration, this last spurt actually felt pretty minor. It felt it was grotesque. It was like grotesque in the way that almost everything Trump does, it’s grotesque. But by Trump standards, it was like not that grotesque. It was just kind of like, oh, yeah, OK, Banin serrefine expected.
S1: Eliot Broider. Yeah, it’s total corruption. The politicians are so hard to prosecute anyway now because the Supreme Court has gone too far in making it hard and like they are the people who should the most serve set of competent defense counsel.
S4: Like I yeah, I feel like it was. You know, you’re in the rental car lot, you’ve already gotten your bags out of the trunk, you’re starting to make your way to the airport and then you run back in, open the ashtray, dump it out on the floor, and then run to pick up your bag and go back to the airplane. I mean, it was the one last insult of not only in its specificity with who he pardoned, but also one last mangling of the tools and prerogatives of the job for personal over public interest.
S1: And don’t forget about the Republican politicians like Devin Nunes and Chris Collins, who he already pardoned. So there belong in this pile. The fact that these pardons all were so many of them were people who were connected to him or his cronies. And the sullying of the pardon power, like the pardon power, should be used much, much more to commute or give the clemency to people who are serving really long sentences in federal prison and have stellar records. So like the good note of yesterday, which Fordham Law Professor John Fouth pointed out on Twitter, was that I think five people who committed serious violent crimes a long, long time ago and have stellar records in prison, they received pardons and that and we should like all the people who were sentenced to long terms for crack offenses, that if they had been powder cocaine, would have been much shorter. Like all those people. That’s what we should use the pardon power for. And instead, we’re talking about like dumping out ashtrays.
S3: Given that, Emily, it sounds like you don’t think the pardon power should be limited.
S1: The only thing I want to limit is using it for obstruction of justice in a clear way like it. I think it is illegal for the president to use it to try to shut up witnesses who could get him in trouble. And that has come up as a question with Steve Bannon and Elliot Brighty. But I think that should be explicitly stated in a statute other than that. No, I think it’s really important to keep it broad.
S3: Do you think I mean, this is a somewhat different topic and maybe we’ll handle it on a different day. But I just a very quick. Question, do you guys think we’re going to be having a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or are we going to be having some of these Trump people who were not pardoned, prosecuted? Are we just not going to investigate them at all? We’re just going to try to forget what happened. If you had to guess which of those things is going to happen. I just don’t see a Truth and Reconciliation Commission being reasonable. But I do think there probably will be prosecutions, maybe Trump children of of Trump himself for different kinds of corrupt acts that were committed while president in various jurisdictions.
S4: But I don’t think there will be a big commission. I think there does need to be a 30000 word, 15000 word take out on the specific strands that led to the 6th. And there’s one big strand, which is Donald Trump. But there are other crucial strands that unless they are articulated cleanly and then the people who are pointed at by the strands, if a strand can point at, you have to answer for that because otherwise we’re screwed. I totally agree.
S3: So commission on the 6th, but not maybe on the in the Trump years.
S1: Yes. I also want to add and I’m sure you meant to include this, John, not just the events that led to January six, but also the delay in the federal response. I remain very, very interested in what was going on in those 90 minutes.
S3: Yep, OK, let’s go to cocktail chatter. When you are waiting for commission to decide. To make judgments about your life and you’re having a cocktail as you wait for the judgment of that commission, what will you be chattering about, John Dickerson?
S4: I hope I haven’t chattered about this before, but that’s almost certainly a sign of. Well, but we’ll find out and sometime we should do for Slate plus or something. What what audiobooks if you have them give you comfort that you like just having in the background of your life and that you continually return to if that, in fact is part of your practice. Anyway, for me, if you like P.G. Wodehouse, you know, some people might find it a little sugary. I happen to like P.G. Woodhouse. I like to read P.G. Woodhouse. I like to watch Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry in their amazing version of it. But Jonathan Sessile does the audiobooks of this and his past. So but but his he’s just amazing. So if you like p.g, what has or you even might find it amusing, you should listen to the audio. Any anything Jonathan Sessile narrates his voice is is just so perfect. It’s a delight and it doesn’t stretch the brain at all. It just is comforting. And off you go.
S1: There’s lots of chatter, so do you guys remember the moment in Michigan where the state board of canvassers had to certify the Michigan election amid all the false accusations of voting fraud? And there were two Republicans and two Democrats on this board and one of the Republicans, a kind of young guy named Erin Van Gavelled, who was deputy legal counsel for the state House Republicans in Michigan. He voted to certify and that saved Michigan from a big mess there, kicking him off the canvassing board, the Republicans in Michigan. And that is just like a distressing signal about people who came through for the kind of integrity of the process and stood up to other Republicans who were demanding fealty to President Trump. I just think it’s too bad for Erin Van Langfield and a bad sign. And there are other signs like that bubbling up among the states. There is an effort in Georgia to stop no excuse absentee balloting, which I should say that Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, who has emerged as praised in many ways, he is part of this effort to stop no excuse absentee balloting. The Pennsylvania Republicans are mounting the second of a two year effort to change the way that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices are elected in a way that would favor rural voters who tend to vote Republican. That is a court that’s been really important for voting rights in Pennsylvania. So there’s just state level and nefarious voting, right. Actions to worry about.
S4: This is part of the market that I’m talking about that gets got created and that are people playing to that market are still out there.
S3: I was just going to say, Emily, I feel like this is your life’s work for the next 10 years. Is this set of subjects?
S1: Thank you. I accept, though I feel bad to having like a downer of a chatur on a week in which they’re supposed to be optimism in the eye on the prize.
S3: Emily. Exactly. My is an amazing Twitter thread from Chris Wade, who’s a former Slate colleague of ours. I wonder if you remember Chris, but he on Twitter has compiled I guess he’s been collecting the weirdest photos of the Trump era. He put them all out there as a single thread. And it’s like an acid flashback because one of the things I mean, obviously, like the Trump era was so unsettling and disturbing a lot of thing ways, but it was also just weird. And there’s so many weird photos. It is so much fun. So there’s the orb. Do you guys have you guys looked at a photo of the orb recently? It’s just crazy how weird it is that like the president and the king of Saudi Arabia and I don’t remember who else are there holding this glowing ball. It’s crazy. There’s the Malani is Christmas trees, which are like a dark fantasy from a bad Disney movie, like a true Wicked Witch, like the Wicked Witch Christmas or the Wicked Stepmother Christmas, like, came up with these trees or the boy mowing the lawn. He trump hugging flags. It’s just. Gaga, anyway, great threat, which we will link to listeners also, you have outdone yourselves, as always, with your listener chatters, which filled with delight, interest, variety. You’ve tweeted them to us at at Slate Gabfest. This one comes from Clay Jeffries at at Clay Jeffries. And it’s an article in the Atlantic about the first global vaccine distribution. It’s a it’s about it’s an article by Sam Keene. And it’s about how the smallpox vaccine was brought across the Atlantic Ocean and it involved this chain of transmission on the boat because the problem with it basically had to in order to transmit this vaccine, you had to do it with living people on the pus from a living person. Small reaction to it had to be then gathered, given to somebody else. And it was about these 22 orphans who were put on a boat. And slowly, gradually infected one to another, so that by the time they arrived in the New World, by the time they arrived in Venezuela, there was still one, one who had not yet who was still capable of transmitting the vaccine. And from this chain of transmission, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people in the new world and the Spanish New World were vaccinated. Incredible story. Such a great story.
S1: Can we also say thank you for the poultice recipes we received? That was excellent. I read them all with a great appreciation.
S3: Have you. Have you done. I need to I need to focus in on them. I saw that we got a lot of them. And then I was like, when do I need a poultice? Soon, but I don’t need it.
S1: Well, you can scroll through them and then you can decide which one have it in the back of your mind, depending on the remedy you need.
S3: That is our show for today. Gaffer’s is produced by Jocelyn Frank, our researchers, Richard Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate Audio, June Thomas as managing producer.
S2: And Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. Please follow us on Twitter at at Slate Gabfest and tweet your listener chatter to us there. Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson and David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We will talk to you next week.
S3: Hello, Slate, plus, how are you? We have a slate plus question from listener Ryan Cummings. And Ryan asks, Knowing how popular great courses and master class videos are today, the three of you were given an opportunity and freedom to organize it to your liking. What master class would you most want to teach? And if the answers are obvious, what topic would it be outside the expertise you’re most known for? I’m not known for an expertise because and it’s also Ryan points out that it’s not necessarily what you’re equipped to teach, just what you would want to teach and what you would want to teach.
S4: What a great question. In fact, what is just a fantastic question. And also, I would add another thing is, is there some but is it a Buddhist thing? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just scrawled on a piece of plywood on the street. But what we want to learn, we teach. So there is the incredible benefit of, as Thomas Merton put it, having you put this junk out all the time, which is to say, having to teach something embedded in your head about what you really believe about it’s, you know, Joan Didion’s I right to know what I think. So then there’s that. It does isn’t does that create a different category anyway, now that I’ve said all that? What’s your answer, Emily?
S1: Well, I teach a writing course, which I love teaching because I love my students. My favorite parts of teaching, which will surprise no one, are when you kind of get the subject matter to lead students into having a deep conversation, it can be more about personal reflection. I like that. I also like it when they are thinking about a set of problems in the world. And so I, I really love teaching about ethics. I used to teach a class that was like a legal seminar about ethics because law schools have to check the box of providing courses about ethics for really for the American Bar Association. But it’s sort of like an understanding part of the legal profession. But I really enjoy thinking about that. I would be happy to go back to teaching that. But if I got to just pick something to teach about and this is something I couldn’t do for one second, but I have a really good friend, James Sturm, who runs a cartooning school in Vermont. And when he talks about teaching cartooning, it’s like the best parts of my classes because it’s all about like the psychology of the students and what there’s like the most important thing to them, the problems that are trying to work out on the page. I think that would just be really fascinating.
S4: That’s awesome. What about you, John? I think I would try. I’ve always wanted to try to teach writing as a way to figure out exactly what I think about it, and the problem for me has always been where you are in your writing life. Elevates the primacy of certain examples and I wonder whether that ban is universal to people who were at an earlier place in their writing life, then secondary thing is that I can say more about that. Sorry. What do you mean? Well, I guess so. So for me, you know, when I was writing every day at Slate, I had other I had challenges that were that I did. They’re different than the ones I have now because I had like I had a muscle memory for certain parts of the process that was just in constant use. And so I was better I was better at it. And now that I don’t write as much, I find myself going back and going like, wait, OK, all right. This is my process where I do this and this. And so I kind of I kind of wonder if you’re early in your writing process. So, for example, it wasn’t until you and David and Jacob, too, that I really. Got billboard paragraphs into my brain in a way that had I knew I knew before that they had to exist, but I used to think I had done it. And then and then they then editors would have to keep writing it. And then when I got to Slate, I kind of learned a better way to basically make that instinctive rather than basically having you and David and Jacob always just write the billboard paragraph for me. Some of my editors at The Atlantic have to brush up the billboard paragraph. But I guess my point is that that was an evolution and I didn’t really understand the evolution until I had failed a bunch of times to really learn the benefit of the evolution and the problems that solved me later in the piece. I guess what if if I got to somebody at the beginning of the process, I wouldn’t know what’s the most important thing to teach them about that is most useful to them where they are in their process? So that’s what I’m stumbling through. But anyway, my class would be on question asking both in an interview context, but also in a life context, you know, based on Einstein’s idea that 90 percent of your time should be spent setting the question and 10 percent of it answering it.
S1: John, I. I prophecy that that would be a super popular course that like thousands of people would take.
S4: Oh, I would love it, because I’ve spent so much time when I’ve been translating from Evernote to one note and going back. I have all my old notes since I’ve been keeping them digitally since 2011. And I have so many memos and things I’ve written to myself about question asking over the years. So yeah, that would be fun.
S3: Would that 90 percent of the class be you asking questions?
S4: Yes, it would just be me looking into this into the screen saying asking questions. Exactly.
S3: I. Well, Brian Cummings, I’m a terrible teacher. I taught a class once and at my old high school.
S1: I don’t believe you at all. It was terrible. What a good teacher.
S3: I was a terrible teacher. So I am not I’m a very impatient person and I don’t think you can be a very impatient person and be you totally are able to corral your own impatience.
S1: You are an excellent boss. And that is also why I am completely convinced you would be an excellent teacher.
S3: OK, that’s nice of you to say that. True. But I think the only things I don’t there’s nothing I feel qualified to teach. And like you guys, you guys really know things. There’s nothing I really know a lot about. I would like to manage stuff. I think I could teach a good class on how to change your job. I gave a real I have a real sort of sense about what are the steps that you need to take about how to shift a career and think about it, like how to go through that process.
S4: So I think you should not just write that book and you will have a second home in the place of your choice by tomorrow. I mean, there’s so many people who are looking for and you do have actual theory. You should do that, do that. Somebody who’s listening, send him a book. That book.
S3: OK, all right. OK, that’s nice of you guys. All right. I’ll leave it there. My other other point is, which I don’t know how I would apply this, but I’ve always felt about myself as a cook. You know how Mencken used to say of himself, No one who writes better writes faster and no one who writes faster writes better. I thought they said that about Liebling or maybe the Lieblein, maybe Cleveland. That’s right. That’s right.
S4: It Lieblein Erbakan in my writing class.
S3: I bet you write it in your writing class at Lieblein. It would be Lieblein that makes either it could have been either one, but it’s more Lieblein has that kind of funny. It could be leveland anyway, I feel that way about my cooking is that I am a I’m a really good cook, but mostly I’m a really fast cook. And I would like to like I think I think there’s a certain kind of efficiency of cooking that I’m very good at, which makes for adequate meals and good speed.
S4: Ah, you would teach that. Are you a destructive cook in the sense that if you’re done there are 97 pans out.
S3: No. Oh I am. I like clean on the way.
S1: Oh me too. But I want to take a lesson from your I bet you have some tips that I haven’t thought of.
S3: Well, just involves just not accepting things aren’t going to be as good as they could be.
S6: Oh, I’m done. But you can do that. Yeah, you’re like Emily.
S3: The thing I love about you, John, you’re not like this. Emily, you and I are satisfied. Acers We are both satisfied.
S4: Not perfect. John, you’re not a excellence. Yeah. Oh, yeah. It’s like that. It’s just like, OK, it’s fine enough. It’s like my old colleague Matt Cooper used to say when we were, you know, and one of us was on deadline. And he would say, well, the fastest way to get done is just lower your standards. When I offered to cook, it’s both a source of wonder to my family, but it also is a duck and cover drill because there there are a lot of I need a lot of pans. I need a lot of things to end up getting dirty. And basically that my wife looks at me with pity. Because they a very efficient cook, you have to clean up all the pans and an amazing cook. I do, but, you know, I’m very busy and I’ve got a lot of things to do.
S6: That’s great.
S5: But that is it by Slate plus.