S1: Following recording may or may not include instances of words being said that the FCC would find me for if their long arm could ever reach.
S2: It’s Monday, March 2nd, 2020.
S3: From Slate’s The Gist, I’m Mike PESCA. Bhuta JEJ here to Jej Globe Jar over char-.
S2: But you know what? The exchange of these two Midwesterners who put party and country ahead of themselves. You know what that tells me?
S4: It tells me that Democrats are better than Republicans or at least so-called moderate, reasonable Democrats actually are moderate and reasonable, at least as compared to the same version of Republicans. These so-called moderate, reasonable Republicans could not act reasonably or with moderation back in 2016. We’ve heard it so much this cycle. The idea that, oh, it seems like the Democrats are going through what the Republicans went through last time, a collective action problem. It’s in each of their interest to be the one who occupies the middle lane against a candidate from the extreme wing of the party. But they can’t get together and act so that only one of them occupies that lane. In 2016, the Republicans didn’t want Trump, but they couldn’t get out of each other’s way. They couldn’t clear that lane, if you will, for one choice. And they got Trump. They kept waiting for someone else to take him out.
S1: Not the Democrats. Well, not these two Democrats, I guess. Tom Stier, too. But he’s less of a politician, more of a rich guy with a bad tie. But Amy and Pete did it better to point to Biden as a sufficient embodiment of an okay candidate who will be a serviceable opponent to Donald Trump and a reasonable president should he get elected. Rather that than the quixotic crusade of the never ending campaign. So they’re out and they say vote for Biden. Now, look, all politicians are egotistical, self-serving, grandiose. They are, in fact, some of the worst people on earth. To put the good of the whole over the good of the individual. But Amy and Pete did it better than their Republican counterparts did. And in doing so, they may have saved the party and they may have saved the country. Now to the cavalcade of caveats. Bernie Sanders is not Donald Trump. I’m not saying is Donald Trump is a crass and cruel person who has animosity towards the underclass. Bernie Sanders is an idealistic person who has a lot of sympathy for the sympathetic. So mobilizing to stop Trump is a very different thing than mobilizing to stop Sanders. But put that aside. Don’t judge the actions by the metric of who is helped or who is hurt in the end. Just judge it by the standard of what is the desire of everyone in the race who isn’t. Bernie Sanders this year or Donald Trump 2016? Because back then, the Republicans, almost all of them really wanted to stop Trump. They just couldn’t get together and do it. The Democrats did. Eriko the Democrats were better than the Republicans. It’s really all kind of inspiring. Now, what’s less than inspiring is what’s left or who’s left. The consensus sane, safe choice is this guy.
S5: We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men and women created, but they go, you know. You know the thing?
S1: Yes. Only that guy can one day match the intellectual and rhetorical fireworks on a debate stage when facing this guy. Now let this shallows to Gretta.
S6: Grétar. I lost a Grétar.
S7: I said who who is, of course, nowhere near as gracious and uplifting as this guy, and I wish them all the best.
S8: I thought both of them behaved themselves is a nice way to phrase it, but they represent well behaved contestants.
S7: That’s how Mike Bloomberg defines public service. Of course. Maybe this guy, this next guy is the guy that will all have to soon be rallying around.
S9: I’m sympathetic to the Sandinista government. I think it was right. They made the revolution. They’re trying to do the right thing, but no good.
S7: And those guys are the guys. Those are all the guys. And yes, they are all guys. It could be a coincidence, but we do seem to be pulling from a fairly narrow pool of candidates. Three of the last four presidents were straight white men born in 1946. The three remaining viable Democratic candidates if account. Bloomberg. The ones you just heard from were born in 1940 to 1942. In 1941. A woman born in 1960 and a man born in 1982 have today endorsed one of the men born in 1942. And the reason they’ve made that endorsement is so that in the year 2024, we don’t look back and say 24 out of the last 32 years, we lived in a country where the president was born in the year 1946. It’s a big thing when you think about it on the show today. A spiel about the process thus far of picking a president. It’s a critique. But first, Ross Douthat is a New York Times opinion writer who is now the author of The Decadent Society How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success. And I’m going to give you a tip on how best to listen to this interview. In assessing his theory that we’re a decadent society, you’ll probably be tempted to focus on the word decadent and to use the standard definition of decadent and all the associations that come with decadence like gluttony and being a libertine or excessiveness.
S1: But Ross means it more in terms of decay. So here comes my advice when you hear us. Speaking of decadence, substitute, sclerotic, risk averse or exhausted, then it becomes a discussion, not a taxonomy, a discussion of ideas. With that in mind, you join my talk with Ross Douthat, author of The Decadent Leaning, Sclerotic or Exhausted Society.
S10: Ross Douthat is a columnist for The New York Times. I listened to him every week on the Argument podcast where he and his co-host, David Lee Ann Hart and Michelle Goldberg prove Ross’s status as not just Liberals favorite conservative, but I’m going to say the Jews favorite Catholic, maybe a little bit. Ross has a new book out. It’s called The Decadence Society. Spoiler alert, it’s our Society How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success. Hello, Ross. Hello. Thank you for having me. So I know that. Oh, absolutely. I know that every interview will say, well, you defines decadent in a weird different way than maybe I would think of as decadent. The cover of the book is a glutton being fed morsel after morsel. And so I did come into it thinking, well, I know Ross, I know his inclinations. He thinks that he probably does think Americans are, you know, too gluttonous and also a little bit libertine. But it’s not exactly that, is it?
S11: No. And I mean, the cover is this terrific image that we couldn’t resist using. Yeah, but you and actually you are the first person to point out something that I was afraid more people would point out, which is that the cover is of sort of decadence of the traditional school where it is sort of gluttony and endless feasts and chocolate covered strawberries. And I guess that’s a little bit of the story. But really, I’m defining decadence to mean stagnation and drift and repetition at a high level of wealth and technological development. So being decadent doesn’t necessarily mean that you are morally corrupt or having orgies. In fact, some orgies might not be decadent at all. They might be dynamic or. Right. Decadence is more likely to mean that you are sort of stuck repeating yourself. Your economy isn’t growing as fast as it used to. You’re not having as many kids or even as much sex as you used to. And you’re just watching the same recycled Star Wars movies friend here until the millennium.
S1: And this is different from other related critiques like secular stagnation or the end of history, how it’s actually an attempt to sort of synthesize some of those critiques in a way.
S11: So there’s one of the first chapters of the book is about the sort of the economics of decadence. And it makes an argument that is a version of what Larry Summers calls secular stagnation, what the George Mason economist Tyler Cowen calls the great stagnation. Basically the idea that not just the U.S., but all developed countries have growth rates have sort of subsided, decelerated. But then the book is also trying to bring in demographics a little. Warren, obviously there’s sort of a feedback loop there, whereas societies get older and they have below replacement birth rates, you have fewer young people, more old people, they get less dynamic. It costs more to have kids. So people have even fewer kids. That drives down economic growth. So these things are entangled and then they’re also entangled with what I call political sclerosis, which is the thing that that’s the part of decadence that I think everyone recognizes and agrees on basically that U.S. politics is gridlocked and stalemated and Congress doesn’t function anymore. And you have sort of, you know, various contending forces, polarized parties, different branches of government and so on that make it impossible to get anything done right away. So it’s bringing it’s basically saying a decadent society is a society where a lot of different forces are converging to produce, not collapse, not crisis, but stalemate and stagnation.
S10: No new frontiers, no new ideas. Everything is recycled. And like copying something over on a VHS tape loses something with each iteration of a recycling. Yes, that’s such a good line. I wish I’d use feel free because I prive quoted you without you knowing it also. So among my questions and this interview was going to end with me giving you a prescription that you will not take, but this will actually answer it. It was out there. It’s hanging out there. And I have a prescription which will blow your mind and make you feel undecorated and make you personally feel that you are going to break away from the exhaustion. I just want to middlemiss that I’m excited. Yeah, that’s Excite. I’m ready. So but let’s talk about politics. It is true that America, because of its structure and because of its rules, is experiencing political sclerosis. But as you note, Europe, which has an entirely opposite set of rules, is also experiencing sclerosis. It could be that sclerosis has set in for two independent reasons and it just happened at the same time. But it seems to me more likely that it’s other things causing the sclerosis. And politics is just an expression of that.
S11: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s as I said, I think it’s feedback loops, right where Europe is in certain ways has always been since the 70s, a little more economically stagnant than we are. Europe also does more redistribution and is more economically egalitarian. So there are tradeoffs there. But European growth rates looked like they were going to converge with ours for a while and then have leveled off. European productivity growth is worse than ours and ours is already mediocre. So Europe has in certain ways a little bit more advanced case of economic decadence, and it certainly has a more advanced case of demographic decadence where we’ve had below replacement fertility for the last 10 years, arguably since the Great Recession. They’ve had it for the last 30 or 40 years. And to the extent that what we see in our politics is a reaction to those kind of trends, it’s not surprising that you have similar mixtures of, you know, distrusted elites and establishment’s populist movements arising. But then when the populist movements take power, they’re operating within this gridlocked, stalemated system. And it’s hard to actually make dramatic reforms. And so there’s I think that the nature of our time, in a way is a simultaneous desire for transformation that gives you Trump and Bernie and Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn and a whole host of figures join to a lot of trends that make it hard to actually enact that. Most of all, I think just the fact that societies that are older are very resistant to reform. Right, for obvious reasons.
S10: So if decadence, your definition of decadence, which is about sclerosis and risk aversion and exhaustion, if that’s true, look at the current political moment we’re in. We have essentially two revolutionaries, radicals who will be facing each other if Bernie stays as the likely frontrunner facing each other in the presidential election. Now, from reading your book, I know you’d say, OK, that’s maybe the style they’ve adopted. But is it new, which is the same warmed over nationalism or Marxism, but you’re not adherent to either of those philosophies to the people who are supporting these two guys. Doesn’t the moment seem to contradict what your general thesis is like? Not exhausting, but exciting.
S11: I think the moment shows that there’s a lot of discontent with decadence. And I actually I started working on the book weirdly a long time ago now and a couple other life events intervene. So I started working on it a little ways after the 2012 election, Obama versus Romney. And that election just felt decadent, full stop, like, you know, an incumbent who had run a passionate campaign in 2008 running a very safe, negative campaign against a candidate who is just sort of Mr. Business wing of the GOP. No energy, no excitement, an incumbent, an establishment. You’re doing battle and obviously politics is more interesting today. For better or worse than it was when I started going to submit worse. You’re just a bit worse, but it’s more. But. But to follow your question, it is less decadent in the sense that both socialists and nationalists are expressing a clear desire for something new. But I think there are two reasons to be doubtful that this is actually the end of decadence. The first is that there just are these constraints that, you know, you’ve seen manifest with Trump in power. Right. Trump is an authoritarian on his Twitter feed. And, you know, he’s pushing at norms all over the place when it involves making sure that, you know, his seedy allies don’t get, you know, don’t get sentenced to prison. But in terms of his actual effect on American policymaking, it hasn’t been dramatic at all compared to what we know, what we would have expected from a genuinely re-aligning President Ronald Reagan. FDR and so on. And that suggests that within the structures of decadence, it’s hard for even a disruptive figure to change things. And I suspect that the same would be true of a Sanders presidency, that it would be more like a Joe Biden presidency than a lot of Sanders supporters want to think.
S10: And then the other is, well, it’ll be like a Biden presidency, but with a lot of anger.
S11: With a lot of. Right. Well, end right. Which is which leads me to the second reason I’m skeptical, which is that it seems like there’s all this sound and fury, but it exists in virtual spaces. Right. It’s very different from the protest politics of the 1960s. People go online and sort of play act politics. And there’s this academic named Aton Hirsch who wrote a book that came out after mine.
S12: So I don’t vote him. Yes. He was our guest yesterday. So you heard. OK. So are low talk. Everyone should go listen to that episode.
S11: And but my gloss on it is, you know, he’s talking about what he calls political hobby ism. That’s a version of what I call sort of the retreat into virtual politics where you fave a tweet, you know, or you donate money to somebody on Facebook and you feel like you’ve done politics. But in fact, you aren’t engaged in the kind of organization and activism that has traditionally led to, one, political realignments and to sweeping policy changes. Right.
S10: 2016, 4 percent of voters actually volunteered in a campaign. 1964, 17 percent.
S12: Right. So that’s that’s a great statistic. I’m going to steal that for the next. Said next. That’s a ton. So I’ll give him I’ll give him all the credit. But that’s that.
S11: I think so far is the dynamic that there is a revolt against decadence. There is a dissatisfaction, but the rebels have trouble following through on their promises when they take power. And a lot of the energy involved gets diverted into the sort of virtual space we’ve created where people can be socialists and anarchists and neo reactionary right on Twitter without actually ushering back in the 1930s or the 1960s.
S10: Is that much different from the idea of commodifying your dissent? This is the new commodity. That’s how dissent gets commodified.
S11: Right. And this sort of Marxist version of my argument. Right.
S10: I mean, would be a lot of argument, by the way, that over I’m not a mark scholar, but a lot of it struck me as fitting in with Marxism.
S11: No, I mean, I did one of the conversations I did was with, you know, I think it was with VOX, but we were talking about sort of the Frankfurt School. Right. And sort of their view of how how capitalist cultures sort of turn everything into entertainment and commercial products and, you know, without sort of going all the way with Marxist analysis. I think that’s true, at least of our particular moment. I’m I’m sort of skeptical of arguments that like this is the iron logic of capitalism. And there’s a version of this on the right. Right, where books like my friend Patrick Denene book, Why Liberalism Failed. That got a lot of attention a couple years ago, basically said, you know, that’s not capitalism. It’s that liberalism is an ideology with its focus on individualism sort of leads inevitably to atomisation, fragmentation and so on. And I think both of those arguments, the left wing one and the right wing wing definitely describe our era. I’m just less sure that you can say, well, it was all there in James Madison or, you know, there in capitalist capitalist growth and it was always negatively going to come out. I think it’s more that we just have sort of hit some particular limits with, you know, the fact that like we can’t actually, it seems, colonized space being an obvious example that have made latent tendencies more likely to be manifest.
S10: So now we come to the part of the interview where I have my prescription. Yeah, we’ll save you. Excellent. That you will never that you will never. How do you know Granter? I’ve read the book. OK. And I did the calculation. Yes. So here are some of the things listeners should know here. Here’s some of the things you talk about. An advocate, the frontier you like. Frontiers you like the spirit of frontier ism babies. That’s a big prescription. They are going to be great. I’m in favor. You even speak up for cults. Not that they’re a good thing, but talking about wild, wild country. That documentary about the utopian community in Oregon. You said the lunacy was obvious, but so was the boldness, the yearning for transcendence, the willingness to believe in a life changing message and a holy man. So cultish ness frontiers babies. You’re a devout Christian. You want to be a Mormon. That’s my prescription. If you were a devout Mormon, you would not feel decadent. And if you were in a Mormon community, you would not feel the world was. You would not feel your community.
S11: Oh, yeah. You think this is a crazy prescription, but this is not. Don’t. Don’t think that I haven’t considered it. We when Mitt Romney was running for president, the Mormon Church would invite some journalists out for sort of like tours of Mormon time, basically to, you know, I assume sort of try and educate people in preparation for the looming Mormon presidency. That didn’t actually happen. And speaking as a you know, as a Christian who considers the Mormon revelation to be heretical or, you know, some some of term like that, it was shaming to see the dynamism of of sort of the, you know, of the Mormon world, not just the not just the big families and the missionaries, but, you know, the the sort of supermarkets they run for low income people that, you know, the kind of charitable service they make. And it’s absolutely the case in the I think I say this in passing in the book. But like the two least decadent places for on my definition in the rich world right now are probably Greater Deseret, which means, you know, that’s the old name for for the, you know, the Mormon Republic out in Utah and the state of Israel. And if I were to say to someone, you know, where are you gonna go and live, where, you know, there might be problems, but they won’t be the problems of decadence. It would be Provo and and Tel-Aviv.
S12: Now, you know, there are some obstacles to my becoming Mormon, mostly, you know, my revelations always Archangel Mordechai. And it’s it’s Moroni Moroni start notbad. And I and it might be Morone anyway.
S11: Yeah. So there are some obstacles. But if but if I have told my Mormon friends this, if archaeologists in Central America discover ruins of the civilizations that appear in the Book of Mormon, I will have no choice but to convert, and I will be delighted to do so and leave decadence a haunt.
S10: What do you think more likely will Ross douthit in 2040 be Hasidic Jew member of the LDS Church? Or just a little more depressing he is now?
S13: I I don’t know. I mean, I’m I intend to stay Catholic. I already converted wants as a teenager. And I think I think I’m going to stick around. But, you know, the reality is that I’m there’s all this data on happiness over the life cycle. Right. And I’m I just turned 40 years old, which means I’m headed into what is statistically the trough of happiness so horribly. This book in part just reflects that downhill slide. And in 25 years, I will be sitting around saying these apps are terrific.
S12: They let me talk to my grandkids from across the country. What was I thinking twenty five years ago complaining about decadence.
S13: So that’s that’s the plan. Still Catholic, more reconciled to the age of the app.
S1: Ross Douthat is the author of The Decadent Society How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success. Thank you, Ross. Thank you. And now the schpiel let us reflect. Let us reflect on the process of how we’ve chosen this Democratic nominee. And I say this today purposefully because I don’t know who the Democratic nominee is going to be. So it’s not a critique of a person. It’s a critique of the process. And I think we can all admit that this process has, in a word, sucked, that it was no way to choose a president and that it’s just going to get worse from here. In my entire life, this has been the most dreary race to the White House ever. When I was a kid, Republican nominating contests resulted in a Reagan or a Bush or a Bush or Reagan. Those are pretty exciting. There was usually a McCain or a Buchanan type rogue element along the way. And then the party coalesced around this Reagan or this Bush. And they were happy with I mean, one time they went with Bob Dole for some reason, but at least they were happy with the Reagan revolution and Reaganomics. People loved Reagan. I’m not here to defend Reagan or to talk about his policies or George W. Bush. But what I’m saying is those people, those Republicans who are into being Republican, we’re pretty happy with the process. And Clinton and Obama did that for Democrats the last time around. As horrible as it is to say among us, the sane Trump was thrilling to his supporters. So that worked. And a lot of people on the far left didn’t like Hillary. But I was kind of excited by Hillary. I thought she would have been a good president. So for me, this Democratic nominating process has definitely been the most dissatisfying of my life. Remember, people did not hate Dukakis and Mondale at the time. They make fun of him in retrospect. But those guys were liked by the Democratic establishment. They didn’t have euge glaring weaknesses until, you know, a second after Dukakis rode in the tank. So we’re either going to get Bernie Sanders, who most self-identified Democrats are really wary of. I stand by that statement. Most self-identified Democrats are really wary of this guy becoming the Democratic nominee. Or we’ll get Joe Biden, who most self-identified Democrats are kind of about these unobjectionable. It really is no way to pick a president. So far, we have a lot at less than 4 percent of the delegates available. And our choices have been whittled down to such a degree that this one’s burgeoning field of 24 candidates is down to four. Five, if you include Tulsi, the feeling of wow. There are a lot of ideas here. Sorting through this should be exciting and maybe challenging. That’s all been reduced to the old familiar guy, the old billionaire, the old guy who hates billionaires and the actually 70 years old, but comparatively adolescent woman who everyone says has no chance. Great. Some candidates who exited only elicited a shrug. Some Assai, some a pat on the head. Good job. Try next time. And none individually can argue that any of the candidates who’ve exited really had a good shot at winning. They didn’t really make a mistake by exiting. But I do think that if you ask most Democratic voters, hey, coming in to Super Tuesday, what do you like a chance to vote for some combination of Carmilla. Corey. Hooli and Pete. Amy, the Yang gang? Or do you want to sweep them all away and only be left with old guy, old billionaire, old guy who hates billionaires and lives? I think most Democrats would trade their current donkeys for the box on the display floor. But collectively, the polling and the fundraising and the process said no. You leave. Leave us with the old guy, the billionaire old guy, the old guy who hates billionaires and Liz Warren. I blame the party and I blame the media because the party organizes the primaries as a media event. And it does not work. It just does not work. There is so much grappling and vetting and pushback so very early in the process that when the choice actually goes to the voters, they’re ill served. They at best have a vague sense. What was that about Biden’s hair sniffing or bussing in 7th? I remember something about that, but I can’t quite recall it. And oh yeah, Liz. She was the front runner for a while, but now she just can’t win. Why is that again? I mean, let’s just take that question as a fact. Was it the case that the party was deluded for a while by supporting Elizabeth Warren more than the other candidates? Or is it the case that they’re kind of deluded or dysfunctional? Now, one of them has to be true. Months and months before regular people were or even should have been paying attention, cuts were made in the field. And the only thing that could withstand this vetting, these cuts was having super high name recognition or a Cordray. Of unshakable fanatics or $52 billion great process. I believe the party will tell itself that, hey, we performed a weeding out. This is what we were supposed to do. If you left it because you couldn’t stand up to scrutiny. I don’t really think so. I think this was an impossible game of Survivor for which there was no winning. Only three or four people got immunity idols along the way. I haven’t really watch Survivor, but I hear immunity. Idols are a thing. Caucuses are an undemocratic disaster. At least we see that now. Maybe they’ll be swept away. But then the first two states which are supposed to be where retail politics and voters really getting the chance to assess and know the candidates up close. Well, what happened there? We might as well just have ignored them. One of the two viable candidates who are still left performed absolutely disastrously in New Hampshire and Iowa. The other one who is said to be viable, tied, twice, tied, an upstart who’s not even half his age. Now, Nevada was a big percentage win for Bernie Sanders, but a big win in a low turnout caucus. It meant that only thirty five thousand people showed up to caucus who even wanted him to be president more than anyone else. It’s true. That’s twice as much as the other people running. But that was his signal event. That’s the one argument where you could say, yep, Bernie Sanders really showed his mettle by getting those 35000 Nevadans to back him. And what in South Carolina show? I mean, you can talk yourself into a story. Oh, it showed a comeback in the power of a Clyburn endorsement or a firewall. But it isn’t just as true a story. This black voters like Biden. Black South Carolinians stuck with Biden. Black South Carolinians didn’t care about anything that came before or maybe didn’t pay too much attention to what came before. And what if you’re not a black voter from South Carolina? Doesn’t matter. They got their way. So for everything that went on for years in this crazy process with ups and downs and John Delaney squat thrusts, Marianne Williamson’s dark forces and Castro getting everyone but Joe Biden to say there should be no such thing as coming into this country illegally. Not that it shouldn’t happen, just that it shouldn’t be illegal. That’s kind of crazy for all of that. All that mattered is that one guy with an unshakable codrea of support from the far left. One guy who is unbelievably rich and one guy who had the support of black voters in one state are left. It is that simple. No, no, no, no, no. You have to fundraise. You have to come out with policy positions. You have to have a strong ground game. You have to build coalitions. You have to have great moments in debates. No, you don’t. None of those things were true. I mean, Bernie did fundraise. He has a lot of supporters. He’s the least detailed policy positions. Biden never had a good debate, somewhere less disasterous than others. Bloomberg, he only had money. And Warren did do most of those things better than everyone else. But there is little logic left her being still in the race. And this is all with 96 percent of the delegates yet to be assigned. Look, I’m not despairing. I’m just reflecting. I do think this is no way to pick a candidate. And the sad thing is this this whole process, this whole no way to pick a candidate might not actually pick a candidate for four more months.
S14: And that’s it for today’s show. For a lobby is the associate producer of The Gist. She is dropping out and endorsing the mayor of DeForest, Wisconsin, because that is the halfway point between Minneapolis and South Bend. So she figures it’s a good catch all for camps. butI JEJ and Camp kloberg Char. Daniel Shrader, just producer, is very intrigued by this idea of Camp kilobyte char singalongs bug juice toasting marshmallows, roasting on a comb over an open fire. The jest and crown thy good with. What is it now? From sea to the other, you know. Big wet thing. Whooper adepero Dupere. And thanks for listening.