S1: The following program may contain explicit language and.
S2: It’s Tuesday, November 17th, 2020, from Slate’s The Gist, I’m Mike Pesca. The New York Times story about Donald Trump contemplating an attack on an Iranian nuclear facility or supposed nuclear facility or what someone in the intelligence apparatus says is a facility ran today. The president was peeved, reportedly when told that the Iranian uranium stockpile was 12 times larger than permitted under the nuclear accord that he himself abandoned in 2018. How dare they not honor the agreement that we tore up? Trump accused the Iranians of cheating by hoarding an amount of uranium that exceeded the treaty’s limit. Obvious solution. If you get rid of the limits, there’s no way they can exceed the limits. Trump assured the Iranians would not violate the treaty and the only way he knew how by eliminating the treaty. Smart guy, one of the best brains, the New York Times headline and all this was Trump is said to have talked of Iranian attack. It’s a bit twee for what we know of the president’s thought process, what with the hamster’s and the sledgehammers and the mouse traps on this postprandial constitutional, a notion flitted across the president’s consciousness. Perchance I should contemplate an Iranian attack. He said to himself. I shall converse with my confidants forthwith. I know. Ridiculous, right? Constitutional. Trump, while said to have spoken of an attack, is also whispered to have abandoned said rumination of such bellicosity. But overall, what’s going on here with the administration maybe getting up to the worst business it could get up to in the last few days? It’s kind of a reverse Logan Act situation, right? Logan Act assures, although perhaps unconstitutionally, that there is only one president acting at a time and titular. Clearly, it is certainly this Trump fellow, but practically it’s Biden who had congratulatory phone calls with today leaders from South Africa, Chile, India, Modi of India, the world’s largest democracy, and the Israeli president, Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Now, those last two guys are certainly not looking forward to Trump acting rashly and Biden having to clean up the mess with an attack on Iran. It is quite clear what actions the Israelis do and don’t want to assist with their into targeted assassinations. It would seem they feel these are in Israel’s interest, full scale attack on Iranian facilities, not in their interest, not right now. It’s actually a scary time, isn’t it? Because as much as the life seems to be ebbing out of Trump as far as any real chance of a successful recount, who knows how much appetite he has not just for resetting the table, but yanking off the tablecloth to see how much he disturbs the place settings. Let’s hope that Trump just metaphorically drives by proposed bombing sites, gives the equivalent of a thumbs up and then goes golfing. That would be the most presidential thing possible on the show today. I should feel about Boris Johnson, the cured but quarantining with covid prime minister of the UK. But first from the British to the French. David French is an editor of the Dispatch and a conservative who loves his country and therefore loathes Trump. But even as Trump is deflating, there is still cause for alarm. We might not be able to fix this thing, or we might if we read and discuss David’s new book, Divided We Fall America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, up next. David French is a senior editor of The Dispatch, where he does a number of their podcasts, which I love to listen to. He is a well, he was an anti Trumper first. He was a never Trumper. Then you’re an anti Trumper because how could you be a never Trumper when there is Trump and now he’s I think, thank God there’s no longer Trumper. He’s out with a new book called Divided We Fall America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation. And also he is the subject of certain right wing jeremiads which have named a phenomenon called David French ism, which actually fits in with the theme of Divided We Fall, which is to say pluralism, a passion of mine. Hello, David, thanks for joining us or me on the gist.
S3: Well, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
S1: I want to ask about First Secessionism, which is the topic of your book, and I came into your book fairly doubtful it was a realistic threat. And I came out of your book either as doubtful or more doubtful. And I have to say part of the reason that I’m not convinced is because you provided very convincing arguments that we’re not really going to have a secessionist movement. One is just the geographic. The parts of our country that are at each other’s throats are not geographically contiguous. When the South seceded from the north, it was not the case that the big research cities or university cities within the south all sided with the north. So it doesn’t lend itself to secession. But the other thing was, as you note in your book, there is obviously no occupying force in American cities like the redcoats in Boston. And thankfully, there is not yet a critical mass of the American body politic that believes the threat from their political opponents to be so profound that it requires drastic actions. I agree that spoke to me. It’s not nothing, but it’s more owning the Libs and Frogh Meems than it is a means for secession. Now, I know you point out that even though that’s where it is now, it can get worse. But if you want to, I’ll give you the chance to talk me off my blasé attitude, saying, come on, it’s not really going to happen.
S3: Yeah, I’m going to try to talk you out of the blasé attitude. And the reason why is the first third of the book essentially is making the argument that what we have is no important cultural, political, religious, social trend that is pulling us together more than it’s pushing us apart. And so the combination of the big sort where we’re grouping with like minded individuals, the combination of the law of group polarization, where when we group with like minded individuals, we tend to become more extreme in our thinking. How we then live in separate Overton Windows where we not only have our own political vernacular, but we often can’t even really, truly communicate with people. On the other side means that we do have these large, geographically contiguous areas that have a relatively common culture that they feel is under very real threat. I mean, this is why, for example, the Flight 93 language from the 2016 election resonated so strongly in conservative Americans. They thought these people, you know, people on the left want to destroy our faith. They want to destroy our families. I mean, this is the level of rhetoric, I mean, you and I know that it’s overblown, but it was deeply believed because there’s a difference between overblown. You can have overblown rhetoric and and still be deeply believed. And so you have this sort of sense of existential threat. And what I said was that if you look at previous American secession movements, whether it’s the 1776 secession from the British Empire or 1860, 1861 secession from the union, there was an additional ingredient. There was this additional ingredient that was this sense of mortal threat that lives were at stake. And we’re not there yet, thankfully. But I think what we saw through much of the summer of twenty twenty, which occurred after I put the book to bed, was we began to sort of head in that direction. I mean, you had the Boogaloo boys killing federal law enforcement officers. You had rioting and looting in cities. And believe me, that writing, looting in cities really impacted the attitudes of a lot of American Americans and red America. And it turned up the temperature. And my argument isn’t that something could break us now. No, I don’t think so. But we’re there’s nothing that is turning the temperature down and a lot that’s turning the temperature up. And you cannot just keep doing that at some point. It has to stop. Look at it this way. You’re putting down the kindling for a fire and you’re laying the wood down and you’re sort of putting the starter fuel underneath the wood. But there’s not a flame yet. But you just keep sort of building the bonfire, but there’s not a flame. And that’s what we’re doing, is we’re building the bonfire and we haven’t yet had the flame. And that’s why in the middle of the book, I do these two chapters where I imagine what it would look like and sort of a medium term future. If you combine flame with bumbling leadership, you could have a real crisis.
S2: Yeah, that’s collects it and takes it. I was waiting for Nebraska second visit, but that wasn’t in the offing. Nebraska to it to. Yes, you’re right. Omaha and environs exist now. I’m like doing the backward masking devil talk of a rock albums of the 80s. OK, do you think that the ideological sorting of the parties has been a bad thing for the sake of the country?
S3: I do think that has been a bad thing for a lot of reasons. Let me just give you a good example here. Close to home. I live in a very red district. My representative, Mark Green, one district away, is a representative named Scott de Sharlet. And I don’t know if you know anything about Scott de Charlotte, but he doesn’t make headlines. But wow, he comes from a pro-life, very religiously conservative district. He has been disciplined for giving patients drugs. He is allegedly responsible for maybe two or three abortions, was caught on tape pressuring a mistress into an abortion. I mean, we’re talking a guy with a really controversial checkered past that he has been evasive of. And he’s, you know, not somebody that the the GOP, an honorable political party, would want representing its ideas. Is this guy. Now, I know. Look, look, I know the House of Representatives has crazies here and there, but the reason I bring him up is that he beat a Democrat named Lincoln Davis and Lincoln Davis was a pro-life conservative Democrat. And he he beat Lincoln Davis. Not so much because there was anything wrong with Lincoln Davis’s record on the issues that matter to the constituents. But because Scott had the R by his name. And so what ends up happening is the R in an atmosphere of negative polarization, the R trumps everything. That identity, if he’s on my side, on my team trumps everything. It trumps integrity. It trumps often legality. It trumps ethics, it trumps everything when political parties are sort of cross coalitional, you can actually have a place for somebody who they might be a little bit to the left of DesJarlais on some things, but they’re not fundamentally different from them. And therefore, voters who have in a district that’s overwhelmingly sort of religious and conservative have something more along the lines of a real choice other than in the primary. And so I think from the standpoint of American pluralism, American unity, I think it was better for America when the parties contain broader ideological coalitions. A lot of people forget this. But when Ronald Reagan won the presidency, even though he didn’t have the house for a while, he kind of had a working majority by putting together and compromising with these different party coalitions. In the absence of that and the pushing of everyone who’s pro-life and a team red and everyone is pro-choice and a team blue or everyone who’s going to be prioritizing religious liberty and a team red and those who critique it into Team Blue, what it does is it it really results in what we’ve seen in the Trump era, where a person with that many flaws that are brazenly obvious is going to be selected and voted for by tens of millions of people, because that’s the only way that those folks that wear the red jersey feel that they can accomplish anything that’s meaningful in public policy.
S2: By the way, Lincoln Davis sounds like a man at war with himself.
S3: Isn’t that the truth?
S2: Yeah. OK, so does it bother you does it concern you that even though in your book you write about gun ownership and secularism versus being churched as a great divide in the country, that perhaps the greatest divide is the college educated versus the college educated, the college not educated? Is that a concerning divide?
S3: We need to know more. I think of the exit polls haven’t been reweighted. I’m seeing all of this data about is the Republican Party a working class party now? Well, I don’t know. I don’t actually think so. I think it’s still if you’re if the best data is to be to believe the Republican Party is still a party of people who make one hundred thousand or over voters still went for the GOP more than the Democratic Party. A lot of these class based realignments, I think I need to see more data. And also a lot of what we’re seeing might be concentrated within the white population, more than, say, Hispanic or African-American. So I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that, honestly. But any political entity is going to have divisions and those divisions are going to fall down along some sort of identity lines, often or typically. And so the existence of a class based division, the existence of at least not an extreme race based divisions or ethnicity based divisions are all manageable. That’s manageable. That’s sort of normal. What is not manageable is when those identities become extreme and hardened to such a degree that you begin to sort of have a catastrophic view of the world if a person of an opposing identity takes power.
S1: So I heard you talking about the election before the election and you, like a lot of people, thought that it could be a big Biden blowout. The chances were as good as that for that as what happened, which was a narrow Biden win. And you projected that the effect on the Republican Party would be essentially to regard Trump as the Democrats did. Jimmy Carter, just one term presidents don’t have a lasting influence. But now that the election has been so close, are you rethinking that assessment?
S3: I’ve been immersed in research about how deeply divided we are as a country and how closely divided we are as a country and how deep and cemented these divisions are. Everything that I’ve been looking at, everything that I’ve been immersing myself in for the last couple of years and working on this book would say this is going to be an intense and a bitter and a closely divided election. And then I look at the five thirty eight polling average and I was like, oh, shiny object and data numbers and numbers and data. And I wouldn’t say that I would I was deeply committed to the idea that the five thirty eight average, it was going to be true and our deep polarization was going to recede a little bit. I thought it might be the case. And in fact, the longer it went and the longer this 538 polling average persisted, I thought, yeah, maybe for this election. And my my argument has always been that there were sort of three tiers of possibility. Tier one is Trump wins, in which case he would be cemented to the GOP base, unlike anybody ever that that it would be a level of devotion and a level of commitment. From a politician to a base that we have not seen in our lifetimes, scenario three was a blowout loss like Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush. And in that circumstance, people would would be kind of fleeing from Trump pretty quickly. Well, number two is what occurred, which was this very close Trump loss. And in that circumstance, I thought that the major narrative going forward would be looking for the culprits who stabbed us in the back, who betrayed us, and that the fault would lie not with Donald Trump, but the fault would lie with the betrayers. You know, whether it’s the never Trump or Cruz or whether it’s the media and their, quote unquote, suppression polls. And that’s what we’re seeing play out right now. Now, it remains to be seen whether 18 months from now when Trump doesn’t have the trappings of the Oval Office around him, when he’s maybe trying to compete with Fox News rather than Fox News sort of feeding off of the Trump phenomenon, whether people are as receptive to his antics and his tweets, that that remains to be seen. Part of me is somewhat optimistic that they won’t be. But in the short term, even though his defeat is very clear, there is no sign of decay in his core base, no sign at all. And I think that that’s something that is going to be it’s troubling in the short run. And we got to keep a watch on it on the medium to long run, because if there continues to be such commitment to him, we may not have seen the last of Donald Trump running for president of the United States.
S1: Yeah, and I’ll just offer you an out a psychological out. I’ve talked to a lot of biographers who enjoy it during the tumultuous modern times. They live in retreating into the world of, you know, Ron Chernow talking about whatever world he retreated to, Rockefeller or or Hamilton or Grant. Jake Tapper wrote this book about the 1950s, which seemed to be a more ethical political situation than our own. And he talked about how much he liked dwelling in that world as opposed to the current. So maybe there you were writing this book about division and what 538 was doing was offering a possibility of a more utopian future. So that is one reason psychologically why you cling to it.
S3: I think I think you’re actually right. I mean, to me, what was what we were looking at with a close Trump loss and especially a close Trump win was going to be continued and increasing paranoia and rage and fear and polarization. And I’d really don’t want that before the election. We’re on a podcast and one of our a live podcast, one of our listeners asked, what are you hoping for out of the twenty twenty election? And my colleague Steve Hayes said, clarity. And I thought, yeah, I wanted a clearer repudiation of Donald Trump. I wanted a clear repudiation of Donald Trump. Then let’s have the fight over constitutional and ideological values after that. But I wanted Donald Trump, this man who is malicious and cruel and incompetent, so destructive to the American body politic. I wanted him repudiated. He is defeated. He is defeated. But the repudiation that doesn’t seem to be in the immediate offing.
S4: And we shall continue the conversation with David French tomorrow. The idea and dare I say ideal of pluralism shall be discussed. We all said we like it, but do we live it? That is tomorrow on the Gist.
S2: And now the spiel. Another world leader said to be cut from Trumpy in cloth, but I actually don’t think so. Has been felled not by his hubris or reveries of Iranian uranium, but by the virus. Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, is quarantining for 14 days. But wait almost die of coronavirus months ago. Meaning doesn’t he have antibodies? I don’t understand how to explain it to me as Boris Johnson.
S5: Doesn’t matter that I’ve had the disease and I’m bursting with antibodies. We’ve got to interrupt the spread of the disease. And one of the ways we can do that now is by self isolating for 14 days when you get contacted by NHS tests increase and I did with a heart full of optimism and confidence.
S2: So Johnson is quarantining just to model good behaviour. I got to say, I’m impressed. He even went on to talk about the true boxing gloves. Society has to wallop the virus. One is testing, the other an impending vaccination.
S5: And he left with a rousing call to arms, ending with his familiar catchphrase, well, well-loved by all Englishmen and an NHS to increase contact you and say you’ve got to somehow isolate, then follow the rules. That’s what I’m going to do. And I have plenty more to say in the course of the next few days. But for now, I will say by Zoome Barsoum.
S2: Yes. I assume indeed, that is like, I suppose, the hussar of jolly old England. Wait, I’m being told he actually said by Zoome he will speak to us by Zoome. OK, I suppose there are elements of the English vernacular that confuse me, but some I roll with, like this phrase that Boris Johnson used.
S5: Doesn’t matter that I’m good as much. Don’t feel great.
S2: I’m fit as a butcher’s dog. I think I get that certainly by context, especially when he adds I feel great. Yet The New York Times went on to note while quoting that phrase, Mr Johnson’s well-worn description of himself as fit as a butcher’s dog refers to a robust creature well-fed on scraps from his masters cutting board, though etymologists note that such a dog can easily become overweight. We need the etymology for that. Well, butcher from the middle English, the English Norman French variant of Bouchet, also a dog that eats a lot, can get fat. I know I am an entomologist. I do think Johnson deserves credit. As I said, he hasn’t handled the virus exceedingly well. But that doesn’t mean every step, including the latest is a slip on the banana peel. Which etymologist note is as likely to end in damaging the pelvic girdle and the Kocsis as it is in hilarity? You know what else I would give credit to? I mean, some credit, if I’m being fair, extremely fair, as fair as a man like me can be, I give some credit to the Trump administration because there are two vaccines for the coronavirus. And the latest one from Moderna was funded by Operation Warp Speed. So I think we have to at least ask, does this mean Operation Warp Speed worked? Well, to find out, let’s hear this description of Operation Warp Speed from HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
S6: President Trump has launched Operation Warp Speed.
S2: OK, I know you’re out.
S6: He lost you on President Trump, but let’s just hear the guy out building on work that the Department of Health and Human Services, the Defense Department and all of our colleagues across the United States government and an industry have been doing since January, working day and night. He’s launching Operation Warp Speed, which is going to compress and wring out every inefficiency in the process, take away every unused day, and also scale up at the same time manufacturing so that as we get vaccines, that work will be able to actually distribute them right away because we’re manufacturing at the same time. So President Trump is setting, as he always does, ambitious goals, but he’s got the right team in place to make this happen.
S2: OK, so every subjective statement in there is not to be trusted. And all those exaggerations about Trump wringing out inefficiencies, they’re laughable. And if you could just see Azar’s hand motions, you’d think he was selling a miracle Shamy on late night TV. But strip away all of that and some credit is due. Let me read from Science magazine. Moderna has been one of the pioneers of MRI and a technology. Its messenger RNA attracting enormous investment for its quest to deliver RNA is that make therapeutic molecules or proteins that elicit a protective immune response. Since April, operation warp speed. The US government effort to develop a portfolio of covid-19 vaccines and rapidly move them into efficacy trials has invested a billion dollars in medicine. Is covid-19 vaccine in R&D. Months later, warp speed committed another one and a half billion to Moderna to purchase 100 million doses of its candidate and one point nine billion to Pfizer for the same amount of its product. That’s billion with a B. Although the doses is million with an M a public private partnership, it set records for vaccine development seems to have worked and that seems to hold the key to the solution of our society’s biggest problem. Now, you might ask, would any, you know, halfway competent government have done that? Yes, I do think so. But in this case, it must be noted that that halfway competent government was ours. USA, that’s good. Trump muddled the response, stepped on the messaging and exacerbated the suffering before we got the cure, which isn’t certain, by the way, and maybe further screwed up if Trump still in charge of vaccine rollout. But let’s be honest and give credit where credit is due, even thanks in the hope that positive reinforcement might convince leaders that actual leadership and expertise is the smartest course as opposed to picking fights and dishonestly dealing with critics. That is the way of a mature, functional government whose fitness deserves to be likened to a butcher’s dog rather than a shit house rat. And that’s it for Today Show, Margaret Kelly produces the gist, she’s not worried about stores of Iranian uranium as much as the Canadian germanium, not geraniums, though their flowers germanium. Daniel Shrader produces the gist. He’s looking out for that Argentine bromide or depending on your A.M. stands, the Argentinean selenium. Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts. She has her eyes on the tightly clustered areas of Micronesia. In fact, she’s taken an island hopper to document in proper copper the largest. You know what? Don’t sleep on domestic elemental threats. An Iowan with niacin always cause for concern, you know, as is annual moron with access to boron superduper to Peru. And thanks for listening.