S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, this episode of The Gabfest contains explicit language. Enjoy.
S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate political gabfest for November nineteen twenty twenty, the covid Tsunami Edition. I’m David Plotz of City Cast.
S3: We’ve had an exciting pre show morning here here at the Gabfest. John Dickerson of CBS’s 60 Minutes is wearing the most astonishing, amazing sweater, which I hope we capture screengrab of.
S4: It’s like the coat of many colors, really. And we learned that it is a sweater that Bob Dylan once wore, but not I think I think that the exact sweater, you know, it’s not it’s not the exact sweater that it is a design based on a sweater that Bob Dylan once wore. How about that?
S3: But I would think that Dickerson would be a lot lighter than you and you you’re just broader than him. So you’d probably bust any sweater of his in the shoulders.
S4: You just said Dickerson instead of Dylan, I think. Sorry, I really want to get that joke in there. You got to get those. That’s all right. Well, just leave it as it is.
S3: And that’s Emily Bazelon of the New York Times magazine and Yale University, who’s herself been rather coy and and withholding this morning.
S1: But OK, so rare I never withhold.
S4: I’m usually the first to blurt out anything. Yes.
S3: On today’s gabfest, we will have a show which will have nothing to do with sweaters or whatever Emily is refusing to talk about. We will talk about how covid is swamping the country. We have a Category five hurricane of covid. We have schools closing, conservative governors mandating masks, and we’re all holding our breath for a vaccine. There was so much good vaccine news to this week. Then Republicans, huh? Yeah, Republicans, I guess we can say, continue to attempt to undermine electoral democracy in grotesque service to the pathetic president who will burn America down to solve his own fragile ego, Part 78. We will talk about that then. Tannhäuser Coates joins us to talk about the new HBO adaptation of Between the World and Me, his magnificent book and many other things, including the results of the 2020 election. Plus, of course, we will have cocktail chatter. It has been the best and the worst week of the pandemic. The second wave or whatever you want to call this entirely anticipated fall surge of covid has arrived. Americans have been spending more and more times indoors. They have been gathered, often massless in workplaces and restaurants and gyms. And the infection rates are astonishing. One in 10 residents of Maricopa County, the largest county in Arizona, have had the virus at some point. And in Chicago, one in 15 Chicagoans is infected. New York City schools announced peremptorily on Wednesday that they are closing as of this morning, Thursday morning. Meanwhile, there’s the great news about vaccines. Moderna and Pfizer have both announced superb results from their large scale vaccine trials and are both going to seek and presumably get fast track FDA approval for distribution of their vaccines. So, Emily, are you more or less cheerful about the state of this pandemic than you were a week ago?
S5: Short term, very bleak. And that matters a lot because I think a lot of people are going to die in the interim and then spring and summer with the timing somewhat uncertain, maybe not really until summer or fall season, much, much better. So I guess the two key things to me are, can we break this insane impasse in which the Biden transition team is not allowed to meet with the top health officials like Dr. Fauci? Because we really, really need to get going on a plan to actually distribute this vaccine like that is a big undertaking. And then my second question is about testing. The FDA granted its first emergency authorization, use permission for an at home covid test. And I still think that in these months between us and, you know, real vaccine coverage, we need a lot more testing so that people’s lives can free up and we can move about somewhat more safely. And I feel like those tracks need to be parallel. They all should depend on much more centralized national planning than we have had. And I personally am desperate for the incoming Biden administration to be able to get started.
S3: Well, I’m sure you’re desperate, Emily, but it is apparent whether it is will last that this Trump administration, even if they concede defeat in the election, are going to be bad actors, uncooperative with anything that Biden and incoming Biden administration wants to do. So it feels to me like this is a lost cause until January 20th. And then there’s some time that they need to ramp up. John, am I kidding myself? There’s nothing. Does it feel like anything could happen between now and January 20th? It will. That will mitigate what’s happening here, at least from a federal level.
S6: Yeah, no. Well, I mean, it’s there’s reason for despair for a couple of reasons. One, as you as we’ve all read in our favorite book, transitions are really hard. Under the best of circumstances. You have to hire 4000 new people, do all the background checks, get fifteen hundred people confirmed by the Senate and get your arms around a two trillion dollar organization, even though the Biden team has lots and lots of people with experience and the man himself has experience. And one of the most important things he has experience in is knowing how to use staff. That’s his whole life. He’s been staffed. And so he can he can overcome some of the hurdles. But we have extraordinary hurdles facing the transition team broadly, all the ones that are in place under normal circumstances, then they have to go in and do reclamation in the various agencies to figure out all the things that were left unattended to or broken during the Trump administration. That’s just to say hello, Nevitt not even to get to your question, which is to use the power of the federal government to do. And everybody remembers when Zeke Emanuel was on here talking about all the complexity of getting these vaccines to people. I mean, all of that, including the temperature. I think it’s the Pfizer one that has to be called to such an extraordinary temperature that there may not be enough dry ice to do it then to get all the the sanitized glass that’s necessary to move this vaccine, these vaccines around, then to get the number of nurses to do it, the needles and so forth and so on, let alone figuring out who gets it and how. And all of that logistics needs to be done, you know, even in the best of circumstances. And the only way I could see it moving is if there were some political pressure to blow through the president’s recalcitrance. There is none. There is not even none. There is enabling behavior of people who even though this week we set a record for two hundred and fifty thousand people being dead, there is no speed about getting money to people or doing any of these things that I’ve talked about. It’s so you have every reason for despair.
S3: Yeah, I mean, I, I think there’s a there’s a credible case that some people in this administration, it’s got Atlus in particular, should actually literally be prosecuted for taking actions to undermine and cause the death of people to the failure to act in ways that are to protect the public health. They’re exposing people to disease and death. We’re in this terrible situation where we we don’t have anything like herd immunity, but we have communities spread that is rampant. It’s uncontrolled community spread. It’s it is the worst position we could possibly be in right now. And this administration has has absolutely chosen this. They have chosen it and they have been abetted by by bad public health behavior, by governors and officials in the states as well. And and it’s a tragedy. And as you said, John, it’s two hundred and fifty thousand people, which is that twice the number of people who died in World War Two, twice the number of Americans, five times as many as in Vietnam, almost a 911. It’s just it’s sickening.
S6: Can I just throw in one other thing? That was an incredibly dark assessment on my point. And but I don’t see how because of the logistical challenges in front of us and because of the totally supine and enabling posture of those who will not step in and identify what the president is doing, which is denying this transition to go forward. Celine Gounder, who’s an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital, did an interview in The New Yorker and said one of the great things about these vaccines is that it she said hope is an empowering emotion. And that’s one of the great things about these vaccines, is that it gives us the promise that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. And so maybe people will do the things that need to be done in the next few months in order to get to that vaccine period. And so this behavior that’s not allowing the transition to go forward is stealing hope, which which means even the bright news in the news cycle gets soiled by what’s happening.
S5: I find this upsetting. I can’t give up on it like I rationally accept what you’re saying, but it’s just too disturbing. Is there any chance that some Republican governors like Mike DeWine in Ohio, who seems like he is on Planet Reality, maybe Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas, everyone except Kristi Noem, I mean, Larry Hogan in Maryland, could they help create some pressure? I mean, I the denial list posture of people like Scott Atlus make this seem totally impossible. But, you know, Tony Fauci is still there and the government speaking some truth to someone. And all the administration needs to do is sort of get out of the way so that the Biden team and the people souce has working on this and the people at the FDA can do their jobs and prepare for the Biden administration to come in like that. Seems like it could make a big difference. Just you want to have everything ramping up, right?
S6: Right. Yeah. I mean, I’m going to now take the opposite end of the of the doom scrolling, which is to take sustenance from the piece you wrote in the Times magazine about how amazingly the voting process, the vote counting process worked despite the extraordinary challenges thrown at it and all of the resilience that came from the local behavior, which I thought was a great piece and a great thing to cling to. And in a time of where you can you don’t want to fall into despair. So your point is right, Emily, that people might if somehow this blockage breaks, you do have governors who are trying to, but they need federal help. They need money and they need coordination. But but there could be a kind of sense of the panic makes everybody work that much harder the way it did with the election. And so perhaps all of the ugliness that I tried to outline there actually spurs people once that blockage. And you can have the coordination and the money come through, maybe that maybe there is a way everybody can rally and create an amazing bucket brigade.
S5: But right now they know this is probably a hopeless thing to say. But the irony of this is that the vaccine was the big Trump play, like this was the only thing the administration and that he put any personal investment our attention in that we could see. And now it’s coming to fruition. And he could set it up so that it’s like this big accomplishment and victory over coronavirus that he helped accomplish. He could go out the door in a much more sort of heroic state. And instead, he’s constantly tweeting about his insane theory that, you know, the election was stolen from him, like literally all the times. That’s what he’s tweeting.
S3: That is a great point. And it’s and it gets to something which I fixate on whenever we talk about the word vaccine, I have this the phrase in my head, which I think I’ve said on the show 50 times, that vaccines don’t work, vaccination works and we can have a vaccine. But if you don’t have the logistics to get the vaccine made at scale, you don’t have the logistics to distribute the vaccine store and distribute the vaccine. You don’t have a kind of a method for deciding who’s getting the vaccine and what order. You don’t have record keeping about who’s gotten the vaccine. And most importantly, if you don’t have public trust in taking the vaccine and people being like, yes, I’m going to do it, you don’t have a successful vaccine. And so all of the things that that go into that those things I just named are things that can be worked on now and that the president and his allies could could help with and could. And as you say, Emily, could be. That’s such a great point. They could take so much credit, give them credit, let them let them have, you know, let the president vaccinate Joe Biden at the inauguration like that. Could be the that could be the ceremonial passing of the torch. Is that an official vaccination while Biden has his hand on the Bible? And and yet it’s just and yet the selfishness and narcissism and stupidity is like literally hurting us and will make the vaccination program less successful when it finally does come to meet us.
S6: And people know this who are in positions of power and they’re doing nothing.
S3: Yeah, whatever money we spent on it would be paid back 10, 20, 50 times because you’d get the vaccine done faster and better and then therefore the country back to itself faster and better. And and that is worth literally billions and billions of dollars. And it’s just bizarre that Congress isn’t saying, oh, yeah, let’s throw 50 billion dollars at the supply chain issues and we’re going to give Amazon and Walmart whatever they want to make sure that this this they they can get this stuff done.
S4: It’s confounding. John, why are people behaving now?
S6: It is confounding because because you as a politician, it just seems so. You want to marshal the country towards hope. And so all the things you’re talking about, David, the money you could spend, the kind of getting everybody involved in finding the way to distribute this, it is the first, you know, durable good news that has come from this. When we’ve been fed a diet of phony good news, it’s going to turn the corner. Mike Pence in June writes in an op ed in The Wall Street Journal saying, hey, it’s only forty thousand cases. We’ve had a constant, unnerving diet of false news. And so now that there is good news, it’s not just that the news is good, it’s that it’s also this battery into which you can plug the entire nation, which is dispirited and worn out and say even if even if it’s makework, you want to take advantage of the hope and plug everybody into that. That’s what politicians normally are supposed to do. Instead, there is this we’re we’re going in the completely opposite direction as the president pursues his phony case about fraud, which puts a freeze on on all undoing all of the things to meet the pandemic, which is the number one issue facing America.
S3: Emily, just as a final piece of this discussion, what’s happening with schools is disheartening for those of us who are parents of public school students. New York City announced on Wednesday that it would shut schools the next day to just throwing parents into chaos. And we have this this terrible situation where in a lot of places, bars and restaurants are open, schools are not leading. I think our former colleague Jessica Winter tweeted, can can my kid go to school in the restaurant instead? And what’s going on? And who who should be ashamed of what’s happening with schools? Or is it is it all fun?
S5: No, it’s definitely not all fun. And pretty much everyone should be ashamed. I mean, the fact that the Trump administration berated the schools to go back rather than providing money and supporting them and helping reassure people, especially teachers and staff, that it was safe to go back, a lot of the blame falls on them. But the blame also falls on these cities and states, a lot of them big Democratic run cities in which the teachers unions got really, really concerned about safety in a way that, you know, was not necessarily borne out by the research and the science. We’ve seen more and more evidence that schools can operate safely. The Europeans, they kept the schools open and shut everything else and made education a priority. And I think, you know, what speaks to me so clearly about the value of that is that you can pay people back for lost wages when you shut a business, but you can’t pay kids back for the lost learning and the way in which this is going to just derail a lot of children, especially disadvantaged kids, just. Proportionately, black and Latino kids and low income kids, we always know that the burden falls on them more heavily than everyone else. And so for me, this has been true in my city of New Haven to public school kids haven’t been in school since March. And now people are knocking on their doors trying to find the kids who have disappeared. I mean, I just think there is going to be so much cost to this. And someone just did a study published in JAMA, I think one of the journals in which they linked some of the pieces we’ve been talking about for months in terms of when you have lost learning, you have lower graduation rates, you have more problems, you have lower earnings. Those things also translate into loss. Life like it is also the same hugely profound cost. It’s just longer term. We can’t see it. And I just find it deeply troubling. I understand that there are adults in school systems who are higher risk and I absolutely believe in making provisions for them. But we have basically put adults over children and asked children to sacrifice a huge amount without, you know, really reckoning with that. And I, I, I do not think it’s OK.
S3: So it is hard to fathom this, but we have been podcasting together for 15 years, 15 years. It has been the most reliable thing on my calendar for 30 days and the most joyful, honestly, like something that’s brought me pleasure for 15 years, the companionship of John and Emily and the companionship with you and the chance to think and talk and listen. It’s been amazing. And so we’re going to celebrate that the 15 years on December 9th at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, we’re going to be online for a special live show. And we’re going to celebrate by having three bottles of special wine to pair with each segment of the show in honor of the fiftieth anniversary event, Round Pine, Napa Valley is offering a three wine companion case exclusively to listeners at 35 percent off what you’d pay in the tasting room. So you should text gabfests to three five one four four four ninety four sixty three. Text gabfests to three five one four four four. Wine to get these wines and this incredible one time only price and join our party from the comfort and safety of your home. For links and more information, visit Slate Dotcom live. President Trump continues to cling diligently to power the transition, as we just talked about, held in abeyance by his lies and his legal nonsense, and he has been buttressed by the complicity of Republican elected officials. But it is almost over, isn’t it, Emily? Where do we stand on the legal challenges to this election? It’s like it’s once at once farcical and apocalyptic. Like I kind of feel like we’re alternating between the the Four Seasons total landscaping and the Reichstag fire. It’s like kind of where we’re living right now. But it’s you did a rundown of the legal claims, which are pathetic.
S1: Yeah. Actually, reading them all made me feel better because they’re so legally and factually weak. And yet there are many of these lawsuits and it takes time for lawsuits to play out. That’s the process. So far they have gotten nowhere. You know, we were we had a real spectacle this week, I would say, in two settings. One was watching Rudy Giuliani do one of the worst legal arguments I’ve ever seen or heard about recently in federal court where he was trying to argue that a judge in Pennsylvania, a federal judge, should throw out the results of Pennsylvania’s election, just not count all the results from Philadelphia and particular and a couple other counties. And the reason for this was just kind of this completely unproven suspicion, you know, and Giuliani didn’t seem to really know or particularly care very much about how the actual legal standards work for election law. Then they filed this amended complaint on Wednesday, which they actually called the Second Amendment complaint instead of second amended complaint, which just sort of stands for like the level of just like joke that this seems to be. So, you know, that’s like the first part of it. Then you had this vote by the Wayne County Board of canvassers in Michigan. This is Detroit and its surroundings. It’s a canvassing board that’s supposed to have basically like an administrative signoff on the results of the election. It’s two Republicans and two Democrats. And for a few hours, it looked like they were going to refuse to certify the results because of very small discrepancies in polling books, not quite balancing by a few votes in different precincts. And there was actually a motion on the floor to certify the results from every community in one county except for Detroit, which just happens to be where lots of black people live. I was really unsettled by that because actually if that county board refused to certify it was not totally clear it was going to happen, like then it would go up to a state board. But that’s also to Republicans and to Democrats and like, what if they refused to certify? And then you start having this perhaps reality of the state not having valid election results. And even if Biden, which he did, won Michigan by I think we’re at like one hundred and forty eight thousand votes, this specter of an alternate slate of electors from the Republican legislature. What was actually heartening about that evening was that after this county board said we’re not going to certify, there was just this outpouring of public comments on video that everyone could watch, all these people who were organized by, you know, Detroit and Michigan activists who were coming forward and saying like, no, we were disenfranchising us and calling out the racism in that board’s initial refusal to certify. And they changed their vote. And I actually was kind of amazed, like they cared that they were being criticized, like people stood up for their vote and the people on this board cared. So you can take that is kind of heartening to in the end, did you see that?
S3: What did you see today’s news they’re now trying to get? They’re now trying to rescind their research and my God, no.
S1: OK, so I take back the the heartening I guess that’s really I mean. Right. So I think, look, what we’re seeing here is this interplay between the Trump campaign and the kind of insanity from the president about denying these election results and then how far can it seep through the Republican Party because state and local officials are still answerable to state and local constituents. And what I thought I was seeing before this latest turn was that, like, this is a local board, but probably nobody even knew who these people were until this. They were suddenly in the spotlight and then actually like they could be returned to what? To their actual duties and their kind of sense of civic responsibility. But maybe now I’m being proven wrong because the influence, the kind of infection of the Trump campaign’s denialism is now reaching them.
S6: I wanted to go through all the ways in which there’s crazy making from the president’s claims to what he’s actually losing about in court, because there’s a he’s not only losing in court repeatedly. But there’s a disconnect between what the president is saying in his Twitter feed and what they’re even asserting in the court cases that they’re losing. And and so forth.
S7: You know, so one small example of that is that, you know, the voting machines he’s saying are responsible for all this fraud is not actually the voting machines used in the parts of, say, Wisconsin, where he’s asking for a recount. So, I mean, I think what the president is doing is and has done for four years is create a marketplace where your ambition is rewarded. If you say insane things that match what he’s doing. And that’s what we saw in the canvassing board, I think. And so these attacks in the courtroom and Giuliani’s totally non-legal jibber jabber was not about actually any court cases. It was about creating this other world. And that’s the other world that all Republican leaders are in good standing and fully a part of. And just to make it clear, what they’re doing is they’re saying the president has every right to use the system to follow fraud. And then what they’re allowing is him to use the system to dismantle and discredit the system, which is what they are standing by and letting happen.
S3: Yeah, I mean, it’s good that we’ve said this a hundred times on the show. At least I feel like I have. The shame of this is that when our electoral system finally does get cracked, which it hasn’t done this election, but when it gets cracked by a more effective and canny authoritarian than Trump, it is not merely Trump who bears the blame. It is these people who have stood by complicit like they they just need to understand. And they are going to be responsible for the death of this system that they theoretically believe in. I think in their hearts, they do believe in electoral democracy in the United States, like they want it to be true. They’ve all been rewarded for it. And yet they have chosen by their complicity and their inaction and their their enabling to allow it to be. Mortally wounded and one thing I don’t understand, John, actually, is I mean, I guess I understand why at this moment, but at some point soon, the Republican Party needs to find a way to purge Trump from the system, not because Trump ism needs to be purged from the system, but because people like Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, who want to be president, who want to be the authorities in this party, need to get him out of the way. They need to have Trump not hang over them all the time so that they can then ascend to their spot where they get to rule. And when are they going to get a chance to do that?
S6: Oh, I don’t think for a long time. I think the first primary is to is to win in this new market that he’s created. And we see it in in the broader party. And let’s just be clear exactly what’s happening is Republicans are saying the president has has every right to follow these legal avenues to look into fraud, knowing full well that that’s not why the way he’s using the legal avenues, that he’s using the legal avenues to create this destabilization and create a political environment and to somehow he can stay in office, they know full well that he’s doing that. So that’s the first thing then they know that he is using those avenues to block Joe Biden from getting ready to do a very difficult job, which is to become president. So that’s the second thing that’s happening. And then the third thing is that they are watching the president and his forces marshal this weird extra legal gambit, and they’re not using any of those forces and energies to deal with a pandemic that’s killed two hundred and fifty thousand people. This is all knowable. This is an guessable this is knowable and nothing is being done. So if you imagine all of that, that’s the market that’s created for those twenty, twenty four candidates. And they’re all playing in that market. And I don’t and I think that’s the winning in that marketplace is the first primary. And then you figure out whether Donald Trump is going to run in twenty, twenty four. But you can’t I don’t think you do what you’re talking about, David, which ultimately has to happen for many for a long time now.
S1: So that’s super dark. I guess what I was hoping or holding out some kind of idea of is that the rejection of these bogus challenges in court was actually going to have some kind of healing effect. Jed Sugarman, who’s a law professor at Fordham, wrote an op ed in The Washington Post this week arguing like, hey, you know, the judges are going to look at the actual content of these claims and they’re going to say there is nothing here. And then there’s going to be this pile of court decisions that are going to say to the American people, like, we looked we scrutinized like no fraud. Take it easy. It’s OK. But I think what you’re suggesting, John. Well, both of you, is that that’s not going to matter because those aren’t the authorities that at least Republican voters are going to look to.
S6: Exactly. And it’s and nobody seems to find it in their interest to make those the authorities. I mean, and that’s that’s what’s depressing.
S3: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the things we look I think the court system and the the the electoral system will hold up. And I think Donald Trump will not be able to steal the presidency from Joe Biden. Joe Biden will become president. But the confidence that people have had, that the legal system, that the rules that we have, that the regulations that exist, that the these things are have fully resisted Trump’s assault and therefore they’re that they are in some sense solid is just totally misplaced. Like, as John says, it’s not about any normal rules. It’s not about kind of the fundamental principles of the laws that exist. It’s like there it’s this alternate reality. And so the whole holding out hope that the kind of analytical, rational world that we have previously occupied can resist it is is hopeless to me.
S1: I mean, I guess I knew that. I mean, I had two months this week. I was reading one of the new lawsuits in Nevada and then this amended complaint that Giuliani filed. And they are both arguing for throwing out the results of a democratic election, which one person clearly won by thousands or tens of thousands of votes because of completely unproven suspicions. And in the Nevada case, it’s like some whole conspiracy theory about the machines that were used for verifying signatures, like a kind of statistical argument about the idea. Well, there should have been more votes thrown out in the Pennsylvania case. The Trump campaign is actually arguing, give it us the envelopes that the ballots came in. We want to look at them and tell you whether we knew the state of Pennsylvania, whether we think there should be more votes, like it’s totally crazy. And it’s so outside of the norms of democracy that it’s just I mean, it’s like laugh and cry at the same.
S6: But also in the court cases, when you read them, it’s like somebody discovering baseball for the first time. And so they go to the judge and they said, wait a minute, the umpire, check this. Made a subjective judgment about the pitch being thrown, and in one case, he even told the batter he was out when he didn’t swing at a pitch like making the game.
S4: Were there all along you were going to complain about these machines or signature verification?
S1: Like, let us somebody who is reporting on this last spring, let me tell you, there were people who are willing to explain it to you. And by the way, that’s a crucial part of election litigation. You don’t let people challenge the method of an election afterward because that is disenfranchising. There’s a whole doctrine about it.
S4: What’s the Colchis election? Yes, but it’s an important part of the doctrine.
S1: And when you think about it, like, of course, that is crucial to the rule of law.
S7: And we should also just one tiny little thing to add is that the reason that the people who are standing by no better is not just the mountain of evidence before them that show that the president is using the system in the forbearance of his allies to destroy the system. But they know it because he’s done it repeatedly in office. I mean, this is essentially what the question was behind impeachment. And while Republicans didn’t find to impeach him, plenty of Republicans said what the president did was wrong. And what did they say he did wrong? He used the system, which is to say the national security apparatus, to seek to punish a political opponent, and that that was a perversion of the system under the guise of using the system. Right. Because remember, he was they were arguments that he was denying the money because there were legitimate reasons, reasons to do so. It’s using the system to pervert the system. And remember, real money is being burned here, not just faith in the democratic system, but the transition that isn’t taking place as a result of this in a very difficult time. This is not like something you could just stand by, presumably, if you were motivated into your chosen profession by a desire to work in the service of the common good.
S1: Can we also just say a word here about the firing of Christopher Crabb’s Oh My God fell at the Department of Homeland Security, who was so stalwart about speaking the truth about election security and now he’s gone and his deputy is gone. And like this is all just part and parcel of how the Trump administration is going out the door.
S3: That was great, I love this John Dickerson carrying a flaming sword on the gabfest. I think you should wear that sweater more on the slate. Plus members, you get amazing extra content. Imagine you get that Dickason content, but then more of it. Our bonus segment today is what holiday movie should do. We want to make what holiday movie doesn’t exist that we want to make. And I actually have possibly not to not to oversell it. I may have decided I may have the greatest idea that anyone has ever come up with for today’s plus segment to just previewing that.
S4: Hey, hey, Tom. Nice to see you.
S3: Thanks for having me. And just so I’m clear, Tennessee between the world, me came out in twenty fifteen. Yes, a long time ago. I thought that long ago I was thinking I would have if you’d asked me, I would have said it was like twenty twelve but. All right.
S1: Long enough that our kids are all older than when they read it. Including your son.
S6: Yeah. That’s what I was wondering. Well maybe we should talk about that on the show, whether you. OK, all right.
S4: I warn you, that’s not going to be as insightful as you think it is. Everyone ask that.
S8: And it’s a disappointing thing. And I’ll just say this. You guys should all notice because you’re right, the kid, like, was living in my house. And so he never experienced the book. Yes. The way an audience would, because it was a rough draft. And I was always talking about it. And I was always so it was kind of when it came out was kind of a big deal.
S4: Oh, believe me, we actually don’t we don’t have much of a between the world to me relationship.
S3: No, but it’s like. Dad, did you finish that letter yet? Have you finished that letter yet.
S4: You still haven’t finished the letter made me realize that I love you know, it wasn’t that much commentary about it. It was like to send me a text.
S8: He would read it and we would talk about it and then life would go on. And the book came out in life. Very much went on, you know, I think because because of the intimacy of what it achieves sometimes with readers, because it’s a letter, the presumption is there’s that level of intimacy about that thing with my son. Coso is a reflection of our actual relationship. And it’s that.
S7: Do you do you expect someday he’ll come back to it, though? And, you know, like just with with time will come back to it and see it afresh?
S8: I mean, I’m sure. I’m sure. But I cannot overemphasize to you how small a part of our relationship that book is.
S1: Do you think that’s so healthy? Actually, like, he’s not he’s just like he’s like that’s what you were happy about and thinking about and like he is totally fine.
S8: It’s totally fine. It’s totally fine.
S3: You know what? I’m we’re just going to start this. We’re going to use that now. We’re starting the actual segment. Hello, listeners. That was just talking before we started in twenty fifteen Tallahasse Cote’s. That’s who you just been in Tallahassee. Cote’s published Between The World and Me, which is is brilliant and influential letter to his son who was not paying any attention, paying attention to him in a letter to his son on Saturday, HBO is premiering a dramatic adaptation of that book. It’s got a who’s who of black America participating in it, including Tom McCarthy himself and Oprah and Wendell Pierce and Phylicia Rashad and lots of other people, Courtney B. Vance. They are going to be reading and interpreting Tallahassee’s book. Tomassi is, of course, also the author of The Case for Reparations, the author of comic books, a novel he’s arguably and Don’t Don’t Blush the most important writer in America. Tomassi, welcome back to The Gabfest. It’s great to have you.
S8: And and I actually want to start with a publicist would kill me if I didn’t say the water dances.
S4: Yeah. And that’s the novel which I recommend. Thank you. And when you have you have so many you have so many landmarks.
S9: Do you feel any sense of relief at all that the Trump presidency is ending?
S8: Yeah, of course. Of course. It’s always tough to hold, you know, two things in your head at the same time. And that is this is better. And wow, this is really bad right now, you know, but the levels of bad, you know, I’d rather have, I don’t know, a blown Achilles. Then you have to have my whole leg amputated, you know. So, yeah, you know, this is better. This is better.
S1: So we were I was reading over various essays you’ve written and things you’ve interviews you’ve given over the last year. And it seemed like maybe there was a period before the election where you were feeling kind of optimistic and then perhaps less so of late. And I was thinking about that in terms of all the rending of garments right now within the Democratic Party about, you know, whether progressive slogans like about defunding the police are to blame for the fact that the Democrats didn’t do as well on the down ballot races. What we’re supposed to make of the slight uptick among black voters and slightly larger uptick among Latino voters of support for President Trump, kind of despite all of the racism and degrading of the country and just bad policy. And I wonder what you’re making of all this right now. You know, it’s always hard in these racing historically contingent moments to quite know how to pause. But I just wonder how you’re taking it all in.
S8: Yeah, I mean, I think the thing that always inspires me and was inspiring me over the summer is the, you know, the mass movements among people, you know, in which those movements spread, not just nationally, but internationally. I mean, it was it was it was a thing to behold. I was in Louisville to go down there to report on Rihanna, Taylor and her killing. And I would say 80 percent to 90 percent, maybe not 90 percent. Let’s say 70 to 80 percent of the protesters were not black. And, you know, this, you know, assume moments that some probably will render absurd. But I thought were quite beautiful at one moment. You know, at one of the protests, her mother spoke and one of the leaders of the protest said, OK, you know, we’re all going to sing right now. And the song they played was Young, Young, Gifted and Black by Nina Simone and all these white people with the Black Power fess up, you know, singing and nodding to young, gifted and black. Now, there’s a way of mocking that, you know, and talking about how people are opposing it. And I guess, you know, there’s always some level of that, you know, among all groups of people. But I don’t think that would have happened 20 or 30 years ago. You know, posing as old people always poses. And you know, what I’m trying to say is I’ll take that. I’ll take that. If you were so moved, you spend your afternoon or your day, you know, protesting, you know, the killing of this woman in her own home and that moves you to sing and, you know, raise a fist. I mean, I’ll take it. I’ll take it. So that always, you know, made me feel good in terms of the Democratic Party. And I you know, I’ve never run for office, so, you know, I don’t know. But what I’ll say is if we are in a situation in which these I, I think first of all, I’d like I’d like to quantify this. How many Democrats ran on defunding the police? I don’t think very many. You know, I didn’t pay to all of the attention to the rhetoric of the squad, but let’s say it was the squad. Let’s say, you know, you got four right there, OK? And maybe there are a couple more who I’m unaware of. Maybe Bernie Sanders was against it. He was loudly against it. If defund the police is enough to counterbalance 250000, you know, dead Americans, I don’t I don’t really know what to do with that. You know what I mean? I don’t I don’t like that at that point. You know, you start looking at the board on which you’re playing because here you have a kind of anomalous threat that, you know, I believe at this point has been kind of enacted in Milwaukee, maybe something out in Portland somewhere if people feel like they are willing to tolerate.
S10: A large swaths of Americans feel like they’re willing to tolerate two hundred and fifty thousand dead people.
S8: As opposed to a kind of activist call to defund the police, that those two things are equal, indeed, that one is actually more of a threat than the other. I think. It’s my job then to ask some questions about the society. You know, I think it’s really, really hard. To say to an Alexandria Castillo court says that she should talk as though she’s in a swing district now, she can’t, on the other hand, go in, you know, talk to somebody in an actual swing district that you should be talking like me. You know, I think it’s really hard to say to activists out in the street, you know, who are not politicians and do not see it as their business and shouldn’t see it as their business to be reduced to, you know, apparatchiks of the Democratic Party, that it’s their job to make it easier for folks run. That’s not who they are. That’s not who they are. That’s not that’s not what they’re supposed to be doing. I would really resent it if I was as a writer. I was told you have to write in such a way, you know, to make it easier for us to win, you know, the state legislature of Florida. I mean, it just restricts. You know, the lane and the amount of things that can be said, you know, within politics, I’ll probably take it further and argue that’s how we got here in the first place. You know, not necessarily if those policies are correct, that’s not what I’m saying. But by shrinking the ball and what we can think about and what’s possible, what we’re trying to achieve.
S6: So I say I want to ask you about shrinking the board and also your own what you’ve been doing for the last year, because I really a when you left Twitter, I feel like that was deeply healthy. There’s a quote and I don’t know who it’s attributed to who said, To be creative, you have to disappear sometimes, which and you just unplug from the madness. And you’ve said two things already. You said, look at the board on which you’re playing and that you might have to ask some questions. How is the last period of your work and your thinking changed in the way you ask questions, the way you look at your work?
S8: That’s a great point. I mean, I think so. When Trump was elected, I. I was I found myself kind of it really honestly, like even if it had been Hillary, I found myself in a creative like with a creative problem.
S10: I felt like, you know, I had said something for the past eight to 10 years. It had brought me a certain amount of acclaim. And there is a world in which you keep saying and doing that same thing, and I just didn’t want to do that, you know, I didn’t want to write.
S8: I just I could not imagine spending the next four years, just every week talking about how racist and corrupt Donald Trump was. Like I felt like that was going to like that would be destructive for me. I would. Do more harm to myself than I would offer any enlightenment to anybody else. You know, one of the cool things about writing about Barack Obama is and you see this even in his reemergence, he’s such a complicated figure, you know. And so what that does is it forces you to think it forces you to you know, it’s a great mental exercise. Well, I found it a great mental exercise as a writer. You know, I feel like I had pretty figured out in 2016 it was not going to be a great mental exercise to try to understand what he was doing and why he was doing it. Pretty clear. It’s very obvious. This is not, you know, I think you have to wrestle with. So, like, one of the things about not being public is now you can actually go and, you know, just be curious about things that, you know, you were curious about and expand your boundaries and not have to write about it. So probably two questions. I’ve been thinking about a lot and doing a lot of reading on. It’s just to get for myself a basic and clear understanding of economics and finance and how to how that works know and I always thought that was a glaring gap in reparations, like I could point out, you know, what happened, but I couldn’t really quantify it. I couldn’t really explain it. And so, you know, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on that. And then, you know, the second question that I’m just beginning to tackle, but I’m really, really looking forward to is whether we have the ability, put bluntly.
S10: To create a public. That is truly public and not.
S8: Based on just giving white people things or just privileging white people, you know, whether we have the ability to create an egalitarian public or not, because I think that’s actually at the root of a lot of what’s going on right now. I think it’s very difficult to disentangle that from the toleration of, you know, how many. You know, folks have died, you know, and I’m not saying it’s like a to be situation where you say ha ha ha is just black people. So I don’t have to do I mean, that might be part of it, but I don’t think that’s all of it. But it is hard to dismiss the fact that this era of polarization that folks talk about, this era we’re in, you know. The societal bonds seem to be fraying pretty much maps perfectly on the post civil rights era. You know, I don’t really have the science behind that, yeah, but, you know, I’m acquiring it and just to be able to do that and not have to, you know, tweet about it, it’s kind of cool.
S3: Yeah. Tennessee, how do you feel about the reemergence of the term black and the recession of the term African-American? Do you have views on that or why that’s happened so quickly and so in such a dramatic way?
S8: No, I mean, I think, you know, these things happen within the political moment, you know, this whole debate this summer about like this this sort of thing, I’m so happy that I don’t have to be a drag down that path yet, you know, like, you know, I read about it. There was a whole thing this summer about whether, you know, the black should be capitalized on a W and Y, and I just I don’t have to have an opinion on it at all.
S4: I mean, you do what you want. I do what can I go back to something.
S8: No, just this notion of public cause I want to connect to things like what John was asking about, what Emily was asking about. You know, I think like this is why this idea not not really defunding the police, but actually abolition of policing is very interesting to me, because I think at the root of it is a question of public safety. And so I the way I would articulate this is I think if you polled African-Americans and said when you see a police car coming down the street or you see police officers, do you feel safe? I suspect that the numbers and the kind of things that would be elicited even in a qualitative conversation would be much more nuanced and much more complicated than you would in other conversations. Look, if somebody just got shocked or just got robbed and said, yes, I do feel safer, you know, when that happens, you know what I mean? When I’m walking down the street? Not necessarily. You know, I think it would be a very nuanced conversation. What I’m trying to say is the very fact that African-Americans either through their or black people, whatever we’re saying, no black Americans, whatever it is, will be the very fact that you pledge of fealty to a state, to a public enterprise, the very fact that you pay taxes to it and it doesn’t ensure you an equitable level of safety. And then you begin to look at other communities and you say, well, how do they ensure an equitable level of safety? And the answer is not by jailing, you know, large groups of people. The answer is not by stopping frisking, you know, random folks. Then you have to say, OK, so can we do something different here? Can we find some other way to you know, I get it. Nobody likes crime. Nobody likes, you know what I mean? Feeling vulnerable to gun violence. No one no one likes that. But maybe we need to think about another way besides just send in the cops. And we published this this piece on police abolition when I created this issue of Vanity Fair over the summer. And the writer Jose Duffy writes, You know, she made a great point that I think about a lot. And that is. There’s considerable evidence that you actually can reduce crime by sending a strong presence of policing, but, you know, she went back and started looking at what that meant, like what those tactics actually were. And as it turned out, you know, a lot of those tactics are things that got us, you know, in hot water in the first place. So if you fight for this is to stop, stop and frisk actually does have an effect on crime. Is it OK to detain my son on the street just because, you know, he’s walking somewhere? Are you willing to tolerate the fact that just being young and African-American means that you necessarily will have higher contact with the police and that necessarily, you know, just on average will lead to more violent contact?
S10: Folks are right to say or to at least question. Is this the way to you know, why am I being made to feel that this is the only way I can be made to feel safe within my neighborhood?
S8: You know, I think that’s a that’s a really good point. I don’t know about the slogan defend the police, but I like I like what the thinking is going. And I don’t want us reduced to a world in which we can’t think about that because some fucking congressman, you know what I mean? In Wisconsin, you know, Isabel, because Max Rose isn’t good enough to win, you know, Staten Island or doing whatever I like. That’s Max Rose’s responsibility. Don’t bring that over to me and tell me I’m not allowed to have a public conversation about, you know, what does and does not make my son safe. Sorry, it’s a bit of a rant.
S1: That’s all right. Jose is a regular guest on the show. We are also big fans of hers, and I really like that peace group. So I want to push you a little bit on this. And I was thinking about what you were saying about reading and learning about economics and the way in which class as well as race is threaded into the concerns about justice that I think you have. So, you know, one of the pragmatic responses that I might give to what you’re saying is, well, we have this country that we live in and it has disproportionate power for white rural voters who tend to be more conservative, who tend to be troubled sometimes by messages from cities, by images that they see where protests seem to turn violent, even if that’s only a tiny part of what’s actually happening. And obviously, I’m not in favor of cutting off avenues of, you know, imagination and writing and thinking and opening that window. But I do wonder sometimes about just the pragmatism of what messages become most popular and most associated with Democratic candidates in a moment when politics is so national. And so even if defund the police is only really getting strong support from a tiny number of politicians, if white people in Wisconsin think that’s the message of the party, is that a problem? And I was thinking about the civil rights movement and maybe I’m wrong about this. I’m no historian, but I think that there was a deliberate effort to emphasize the more popular aspects of the civil rights agenda and that that helped bring white people along because like there are a lot of white people in this country with this disproportionate voting power. And so I wonder how you take all of that into account because you are thinking about reparations like you were nuanced in your thinking about class and making sure that there you were talking about reparations as on top of programs that address class based concerns more broadly, right?
S8: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah, definitely. It was you know, it was never reparations or, you know, you know, reparations or a public option, reparations or it was never that, you know, and I never thought about it that way. So I just want to, you know, interrogate, you know, a couple of things here. Well, let me let’s start with the civil rights movement. I would quibble a bit with what you said in general. The civil rights movement in his time was never particularly popular, I think, about the Freedom Riders. I mean, just totally and, you know, I got data on this somewhere just completely, completely unpopular. Martin Luther King was not I’m sure you noticed, Emily. I don’t think I’m election. It was not popular. And not only was Martin Luther King not popular in his time. You know, many consider his most principled stand against Vietnam that made him even less popular. You know, I mean, you know, under the king is going into Birmingham, Alabama, and, you know, established preachers there, black preachers who hate him and want him to like he’s you know, he’s divisive even within the black community. And that’s not to say they weren’t concerned about image. They clearly were. They clearly were. They clearly knew the power of media. There was this constant, constant effort, you know, with his followers to maintain this line on, you know, on nonviolence. Oftentimes, that line frayed. You know, you sort of, you know, with the sanitation workers. I’m not arguing that they weren’t conscious of that. What I’m trying to say is the reception to even that effort is a little bit more mixed than we remember. The second thing I would say is, you know, this is basically how racism ultimately works. And it’s implicit in your question. I’m not saying your question is racist, but I’m saying the mechanism of it is in. There is not that I say you’re black and you can’t do X, Y and Z. I just make the cost a little higher. Just make it a little higher. So there’s no cost, say, for a militia in Michigan literally shutting down the state legislature. I mean, actual violence, right. Like with guns literally taking on the shutting down, there’s no cost for people who are a part of that plotting to kidnap the governor. OK, there’s there’s no cost for a kid crossing state lines, you know, shooting three people, walking blatantly past the police, the police doing nothing. And there’s no on the contrary, that kid actually becomes a rallying cry. Meanwhile, I mean, you got some folks that threw some rocks, but that was let’s take the most extreme, you know, burnt down a store. Right. Right down a store. And that’s like deadly. Not even a violence, not even the violence, even saying defund the police, even saying defund the police is apparently 10, 20 times more costly if somebody actually taking over actually shutting down the state legislature. It’s very, very hard to win under those terms. And then you add all of the structural stuff, right. Like, you know, which you kind of already mentioned, which is that, you know, there’s disproportionate power already. I have some sympathy. You know, I really, really do. I would ask something else. You know, I think and I don’t want this to come off too harsh. It’s difficult to do everything at the same time. But I would not discount the fact that a lot of people, especially during the first term of Obama, really held their tongue and really tamp down on that aspect of protests and to watch, you know. The rescue, this is me getting into my finance, you know, to watch the rescue of the banks, no matter how necessary it was, and to see homeowners, you know, disproportionately African-American experience, you know, a historic drop in wealth. I mean, that does some things that does some things to your faith in, you know, just let us handle this so much with so consistently frustrated just by a recalcitrant Senate during Obama’s, you know, first and second term, you know, people start thinking it’s got to be other ways. You can’t tell me just vote and then go home, you know, just vote and then shut the fuck up. Yeah. You know, you can’t like you can’t you don’t you don’t get it both ways. And so I think there are a lot of people in leadership right now, you know, in in Congress. And I understand. I get it. I get it. You know, if you can’t get. I mean, think about this, you need the presidency and both houses to enact change is a high bar and I get the feeling of, you know, you’re making it harder for me to clear this high bar. But, you know, these activists and these writers, you know, and these, you know, left wing. You know, Congress, people like to say, look, they have concerns, too. They have people that they have to represent to. I understand I understand the frustration, but I don’t want to live in a world where I can’t write reparations for the Atlantic, where I’m being, how, as I said, I’m being held to account, you know, for Max Rose. You know, I don’t think that’s fair. And I don’t think it ultimately gets us where people think it’s going to get us.
S1: Well, right. It’s about short versus long term thinking, too. And trajectories and arc.
S8: Yeah. I mean, we have a basic. Problem right now, just, you know, in terms of a lurch away from I mean, democracy was always a little chancy, I would make the argument that conservatively you really can’t talk about it except post nineteen sixty eight. And it’s always an embattled notion. But, you know, you have an outgoing president is doing everything he can to assault, you know, notions of democracy and fair play. And the party’s going along with him. You know, you got chairman of the Judiciary Committee calling down to Georgia trying to, you know, disenfranchise people. We are in a situation where, you know, imagine, you know, the NBA finals and the Lakers just say, we’re not listening to the refs, period, period. We don’t care what the ref say. I mean, how you have a game that.
S7: You know, so it’s a very, very difficult, you know, to read folks are trying to navigate, don’t ask you, what do you make of President Obama in this moment? He has. And what do you think the. What do you think that chapter, the next chapter is going to be like for him, because he’s clearly gearing up for a new chapter and book is part of it. But what do you where do you assess him right now?
S8: I don’t know. I don’t I don’t I don’t know where he’s headed. You know? You know, he was always tough to cover because, you know, and again, this goes back to the challenges. Why was a good thing? Because, you know, I disagreed so much, but at the same time, I just I had incredible respect for his intelligence, for his basic decency, the importance of which has only been emphasized over the past four years for his ability to communicate to a section of America. There certainly are. You know, I could never imagine how to even begin to do that. And yet a. I think it’s probably his biggest weakness, and I think that is, you know, in, you know, not entirely blameless for the moment that we’re in right now. And I want to be really clear about this, I think the very things that brought him to power, that made it possible for him to be the first black president, are the things that hurt. I don’t think you get one without the other. There was a piece in the Atlantic a couple of weeks ago. I think it’s like the prologue to the book. He said something to the effect of that. He could not foresee, you know, what was going to happen over the next four years. That one of the reasons why the book was difficult was because he just never expected things to go this way. And I just said, wow, how could you not how could you not? I mean, this dude ran on, you know, building a wall. He ran on, you know, a Muslim ban and he was not going to get in there and get, you know, become you know, you’re not you are not going to give him more power and he is going to become a better person. What history says is that they are always, you know, cowards who will bend to the will of folks. And that’s pretty much what happened at the same time. You know, I just want to be clear. Had he had my perspective, he probably never would’ve been president. So that’s the tough part about it. You know what I mean? And that’s the really complicated thing about it.
S10: Watching him campaign, watching him in interviews. He is. I still find an impressive. I still find him extremely, extremely impressive. I probably blame the circumstance more than, you know, I blame him, you know, I think it may prove true, sadly, at the end of the day that Trump was a more impactful president. I think it’s easier to destroy than it is to build. But you’re talking about three Supreme Court justices, you know, in four years at this very moment, Trump is still trying to impose his will. You know, it’s much, much easier to destroy any collective sense or wage an assault or any collective sense, you know, on the idea of democracy than it is to build it in the first place. And regrettably, you know, just living in the country that we live in with the history it has, Trump has a great tool. And the fact that, you know, he had a black president before.
S11: Tallahassee, Coates.
S3: Watch the HBO adaptation of Between the World and Me, starting Saturday by the paperback of the water dancer of his novel, Emily Dickinson.
S4: Emily and Oprah. It really. Yeah, my books. One of them. One of them is in between the world. Thanks, John. Good luck. Thanks, guys. Thank you, man. Thanks. It’s great to see you.
S9: Hey, before we go to cocktail chatter, listeners, I have a special request as part of our 15th anniversary celebrations, we are compiling politically themed cocktails and we need your help. Do you have a favorite cocktail that can be made even better with a little political soup saw, a little political political flare?
S3: We ask you to submit an original cocktail recipe with special props and acclaim. For those of you who give us clever names, go to Slate Dotcom Slash Cocktail. There’s a link to a forum for your submissions in your podcast player and in our show notes on the Slate website. Remember, we want to see your original cocktails. Is there a splash of apple cider in your president? Adam’s Apple TV, a dash of liquid smoke and an Obama old fashioned. Send your favorites our way. Check the show notes for a link to the form. Now let’s go to cocktail chatter when you are having your politically themed cocktail.
S1: Emily Bazelon, what are going to be chattering about so I got really interested last year in a particular piece of labor history in which Joseph Yablonsky was poised to take over the United Mine Workers in the I think it’s in 1969 and then he is brutally murdered in his home. And it turns out that the his rival for the leadership of the United Mine Workers, who was the head of it at the time, is behind this. It’s a hit and it’s this turning point in American labor history, in particular for the United Mine Workers, which actually, in the end, Yablonsky was a reformer. And even though he’s killed, in the end, a lot of his reform agenda ends up being able to take place within the union in the 70s. Anyway, I got so interested in the story and it turns out there’s a new book about it called Blood Runs Coal Coal Siao The Yablonsky Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America. It’s by Mark Bradley. I think it’s brand new and I just got a copy of it and started reading and I’m totally hooked so far so I’m excited that this book exists. Blood Runs Cold by Mark Bradley.
S9: I thought there was a movie.
S1: I think there is a movie about this from years ago. That’s not very good. Maybe I’m casting aspersions and I shouldn’t be.
S3: John, what’s your cheder mind?
S7: Chatter is about two things. One is that as listeners to this gentled podcasts have known all along, I’m on the board of something called Covenant House International that helps teenagers trying to overcome homelessness. And every year we have a sleep out, which we can’t do this year, which is to just a night we spend in solidarity with those teenagers, obviously, because it covered. We can’t do it, but I’m still raising money for it. So if you go to the blog at John Dickerson dot com, it’ll have a link to the donation if anybody is so moved. They do amazing work and they’ve been particularly stressed under covid-19 because obviously more kids are in danger and they have to go through all of the protocols and all of the madness. And they haven’t flagged for an instant in taking care of these amazing kids who, you know, once they take care of homelessness, are able to to live incredibly productive and meaningful lives. So that’s one plea. And the second thing is there is a just a lovely little documentary on an magazine, the website. It was done by a woman named Charlotte Reagan or Regan. Sorry if I get that wrong. And it’s called the games kids play when the streets are their playground. Just a lovely little 14 minute documentary I recommend.
S3: My Charter is a story I saw in The Washington Post last week about Fort Hood. And Fort Hood is named after a Confederate general named John Bell Hood, a traitor and also an incompetent. He was a really bad general, even by the standards of his own army. He was a bad general. But this is a big fort in Texas. And there’s now a proposal or desire among some to rename it as a desire, among many to rename it, and in particular to rename it for a soldier named Roy Benavidez, who’s a Green Beret. And The Washington Post recounts why Broyd Benevides? It would be an appropriate person to name this fort after. And it’s about this incredible rescue he made of Special Forces troops who are about to be slaughtered in in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. It’s just an amazing story. He was all sorts of detail, some of which are probably not appropriate anymore. But he was a his knick. His callsign was Tango Mike Mike, which was because he was known as that mean Mexican. His only weapon, he had a knife and a bottle of Tabasco were his weapons. He was the son of a Mexican-American sharecropper and a Yaqui Indian mother and performed this unfathomable act of bravery. I strongly recommend reading the story if you want to be inspired about about how brave someone can be and and also how awful someone like John Bell Hood could have been as well. So check that out, listeners. You have sent us Wonderful Chatter’s this week. You tweet them to us at at Slate Gabfest. I want to point to one that Mike had at Railfan Barry sent us, which is a YouTube video of somebody whose name Kanazawa Kanichi, who I think must be an artist. I don’t know who comes out with Kanichi is I watch this video. A video is Kanazawa Kanichi with a kind of flat metal plate which must have some certain qualities. It’s sitting on some kind of platform and that must have certain special call. And he put sand on that plate and then he with different tools, different mallets, essentially. Vibrates the plate and what happens when he vibrates the plate with different at different frequencies? Is the sand reassemble itself into shape so it will reassemble itself into a circle or reassemble itself into different star like shapes just by the vibrations on the metal plate? It’s mesmerizing and basically it’s magic. I mean, it’s physics and that physics is magic. So check the video out.
S9: That’s our show for today. The gabfests is produced by Jocelin Franker researchers Birgit Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Slate podcast. You and Thomas is managing producer. And Alicia Montgomery is executive producer for Emily Bazelon and a Sweater. John Dickerson, David Plotz, thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week.
S3: Plus, just a note, Emily had to go to be on deadline because she had a big story to work on, so it’s just me and John. So this is frankly mostly going to be just me here. Weird topic this week. I don’t even know where this came from. Somebody, somebody. I think it’s just because our producer Joslin’s topic, which was what holiday movies should they make, which it’s just like, you know, it’s like a random who knows? I mean, I had I had a couple of ideas, John. You probably haven’t had a chance to think about it.
S4: I don’t even understand this, but go for it. OK, I’m going to I did think I was sitting I was sitting in my apartment last night just like thinking, oh, which one?
S3: Movies, holiday movies should they make? So I’m going to get my two bad ones and then I’m going to give just hold your horses the greatest idea that you’ve ever heard. So one is they should make the real Hanukkah story, which is that the Maccabees, the heroes of the Hanukkah story, actually terrible and that any any modern person faced with the situation the back of that time would definitely have chosen the Maccabees opponents or these Hellenized Jews who had adopted kind of Greek practices into Judaism. They were cultured, they were sophisticated, and they ended up being murdered by these religious zealot. So they should make a Hanukkah movie, which is really about like being on the wrong side of Hanukkah. That’s number one. Number two, people talk a lot about the war on Christmas. I think they should do like a red dawn, basically the war on Christmas where there’s an actual war against Christmas and they’re shooting like some people are trying to shoot Santa and the reindeer reindeers are murdered. And the elves, the elves have to, like, fight in kind of guerrilla warfare, John. Yes.
S6: Isn’t isn’t that what isn’t that what and I’ve never plugged into this debate. And I really want to channel Tennesseean in life, basically, which is his his unplugging from a lot of things in order to do the kind of deep, focused work that needs to be done. I don’t I’d also like to to channel into his talent. But if I can’t do that, I’d at least like to copy the way he carries himself. And so in with that is the preamble. I’ve never paid attention to the argument over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not. But I think that’s in part, David, a part of that debate of whether Die Hard a Christmas movie or not is your I know what you’re saying is a much more fully realized Santa with no thanks, but I think that’s a part of that.
S3: Yeah. OK, now, everyone ready? Here we go. Greatest idea anyone’s ever come up with for a movie. I’m going to I’m just about to make whoever this director is. I’m about to make his fortune. So there is a certain class of people and I am in that class of people who love the movie love actually. Like who genuinely. Have you seen the movie Love? Actually do know it.
S6: I can’t remember whether I’ve seen it or not. It’s supposed to be incredibly charming and I don’t remember whether I’ve seen it too well.
S3: There are people who think it’s incredibly charming, are people who think it’s absolutely terrible. But it it has a huge effect. It is. It’s kind of like the what The Wizard of Oz used to be. There’s whole classes of people. I know them. I’m in one. I’m in a family like this and I know tons of other people like us who watch love. Actually every year around Christmas. Often we watch it. Other points, it’s a it’s a story. It’s a set of about eight or ten interlinked stories, all of which take place on Christmas Eve and all of which relate to love in various forms. And it’s a problematic movie and a bunch of ways. I mean, it’s it’s like doesn’t have any there’s there’s no gay couples in it at all or there’s no kind of homosexuality in it at all, no acknowledgement of it. There’s it’s extremely hetero normative. There’s basically no race in it, like no acknowledgement of of race. It’s there’s a lot that’s that’s kind of gross and mishandled in it. But these interlinked comic love stories really work. And so here is my idea. My idea is and at some point I had a friend who’s Polish who showed me the Polish version of love, actually, which is basically a Polish movie, which is not love actually shot for shot. But it’s the same idea of these interlinked comic love stories, all of which take place on Christmas Eve. And it was great. It was just as good as watching regular love, actually. So here’s my idea. My idea is every year you remake love actually, and each year you do three three parts of it. One is you take some of the actors who are in it for the original love, actually, and you just continue their story. So one third of the stories are like just continued versions of the people we’ve come to know and love. Second version, the second. So another third of it is literally basically shot for shot remake one of the original stories of love, actually, just with different actors of a different generation. So instead of it being Colin Firth and whoever the Portuguese woman was in the original love, actually you remake it with with whoever today is, Colin Firth is and whoever today’s person is. And so you just you get the satisfaction of seeing that story with. You loved 20 years ago, but now you get to see it with these hot new actors, but it’s just the same story and then a third of it is just news stories. So you only basically have to come up with new content for a little bit of it, which is and those new stories then become part of the love, actually, canon. So every year there’s a new love, actually, and it has the effect of like you’re like what happened with those people? Oh, my God. And you get to see the same thing you always loved and you get something new. It’s genius. Send me the checks. I’m waiting for it right now as a non love actually fan on this, it means nothing to you. I appreciate your kind smile.
S6: No, I just think the enthusiasm with which you barreled into that was charming in and of itself. It could make its own holiday movie.
S3: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know. You don’t need to say anything else. We can just stop. Let’s just end it there. Let’s just end it there by Slate plus.