The “Presidents Are Not Kings and Plaintiff Is Not President” Edition
S1: This ad free podcast is part of your slate plus membership. Enjoy.
S2: Hello and welcome to the slate political Gabfest for Veterans Day, November 11th, 2021. The presidents are not kings and plaintiff is not President ED. I am David Plotz of City Caste here in Washington, DC. Emily Bazelon is absent today. I don’t know where she is. I think she’s on deadline. I think she’s on deadline. I think that’s what I
S3: owe you and you can get. You can get out of this show by just being on deadline, I think.
S2: Mm-Hmm. I mean, if if Emily, who is the most like diligent, productive person, feels overwhelmed and on deadline, then you know that it’s it’s an unreasonable expectation. But I actually don’t know Mitt Romney or she’s on vacation for I know she’s in Bora Bora. That doesn’t matter. Ruth Marcus, Washington Post columnist, Gabfest regular is back. Hello, Ruth, how are you?
S4: Hi, Emily Bazelon poser.
S2: There’s only one Emily who could be Emily. Fortunately, there’s also only one John who can be John and he’s here. John Dickerson of CBS Sunday Morning from New York. Hello, John.
S3: Hello, David. Hello, Ruth.
S2: This week, the infrastructure bill passed. Is it a big enough deal? Will Biden get build back better through? How badly will inflation impact all of his hopes and plans and dreams? Then the roiling chaos of Trump World News January 6th Subpoenas Hatch Act law breaking a grand jury. So much, so much stuff happening in Trump world that we, I guess, are obliged to discuss. And then it’s the law lives that you don’t. Why are you laughing?
S3: I just. You made it sound like there was some like, you know, I don’t know that that we didn’t have free will over the choices that we of what we put on the show.
S4: It was really not the best pitch.
S2: It’s going to be great. I can’t wait to hear what we have to say about it. I have so many thoughts. Then the fascinating, disturbing trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, what it says about the State of Modern America preview. It says a lot. I think it’s I am obsessed with this trial. Plus we will have cocktail chatter. So the bipartisan infrastructure framework before your sister’s preppy boyfriend before finally passed last week, President Biden is signing the bill. Today, I believe, means we can move on to three new questions. First, what is in the infrastructure bill? Will it be useful for America? Second, how does its passage affect what Democrats are likely to do on build back better the big social spending bill that that progressives in particular want to push through? And finally, will the GOP root out and expel the handful of House Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill, which was a bipartisan bill to begin with? To start with, what’s in this new law isn’t a good new law.
S4: It’s a good new law. And there is a lot in it more than it’s been in any infrastructure bill in many, many years that you can pick your number. It’s either 1.2 trillion or it’s five hundred and fifty billion in new spending, but it does everything from chargers for the electric vehicle that I no longer have because it was too hard to find chargers when we were driving across the country to clean water, to bridges, to broadband. So a whole heck of a lot that a lot of people should like and actually not only Democrats. 19 Republicans voted for Biff in the Senate and 13 Republicans Unite. Note fewer voted for Biff in the House, helping it get across the finish line, but they are getting a remarkable amount of grief for that.
S2: Do you do you think, John, is it your sense? And I know you’re not an infrastructure policy expert, but is the state? Is the scale of it right? Is the scale of Biff, right?
S3: I actually you’re quite right about me not being an expert on infrastructure policy, but I. But boy, does it reward inquiry. Bridgette put a wonderful study in the research from Brookings Institution about Biff and what comes next. And you can go down. I mean, if you believe that governments are organized to try to meet urgent needs and channel expertise towards meeting those urgent needs, you can really have a festival inside of this legislation. I mean, just looking at water infrastructure and how that is improved and also how the money flows out into the states and the relationship between public and private. There is, I think, the largest investment from the federal level in resilience against the effects of climate change, which is kind of an amusing little sideline because you have a Bill Cassidy, the Republican senator from Louisiana, who is one of the authors, not just of the bill in the Senate, but also the climate provisions heralding the passage. Passage of the bill, where you have Senator Kennedy and fellow Republican and Steve Scalise in the House essentially behaving as if climate change doesn’t really exist. That’s maybe going a little too far. Certainly, it’s Scalise’s case that’s true, but it just shows you one of the tensions involved in this. But does it meet the needs? And based on everything I read, it does. And this these are needs that are, you know, something we don’t hear much about, which is long term needs. In other words, this isn’t like an I mean, it’s an acute issue, but this is government action. You know, for the long term, for sustained growth over a very long period of time and it’s going to take a while to get it implemented.
S2: I mean, I’m I’m realistic. I understand the world we live in and I understand that a $10 trillion infrastructure bill was not going to be passed. That said, it’s it’s great. And as the the data suggest, it’s going to raise infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP to its highest level since the 1970s. But it’s way short of what’s needed. And when you think about it for LED abatement and pipes that they’re going to spend, I think 15 billion on trying to root out all the lead pipes that are still afflicting. And the estimates I read suggested that that actual need if you wanted to get rid of the lead pipes that caused all kinds of mental damage and all kinds of disease and both young people and adults, it would be $60 billion. So it’s a great start and it’s $50 more than was going to be spent, and I’m sure they’ll be huge progress made. But the amount of infrastructure improvement that this country could use is obviously way greater than even the 550 billion that spent. And the shame of it is that the country is able to borrow at incredibly low rates right now. And you know it, it hugely grows the deficit and grows the national debt. But it’s for a cause that which pays itself off over and over and over and over again. And so it’s very frustrating to me that this is taken as like, well, this is kind of as big as you get or it’s not. It’s as big as we’re going to get, and people are unable to think about the possibility of spending even more for a change that would be even better and pay off for the country in the long term for everybody in the country in the long term. So but I understand the world we live in.
S4: Well, David, I think I agree with everything that you said about the scope of the needs and the size of this bill not being commensurate with the scope of the needs, but in addition to the art of the politically possible and the reality that we had imaginary infrastructure week for four years under Donald Trump and never managed to do it. There’s just a really interesting and when I say interesting, I mean interesting to John John Dickerson Adie governmental administration question about the capacity of government to absorb this amount of additional spending. It’s another $160 billion a year over the next stretch. And so you need to shovel out that amount of money and, you know, reminds us that back in the day in 2008, when a trillion dollars also seemed like a lot of money, or 2009, we didn’t have a lot of shovel ready projects. And even if you sort of spend the time to order the shovels and everything, it takes a lot of people and experts throughout the sort of ranks of government to effectively administer these programs. So.
S2: Great point.
S4: I would vote for more, but I am concerned even about the ability to administer this. The other point I would make is that as you’re saying, this infrastructure bill should be bigger. Are you taking away from BBB
S3: to Ruth’s point from the presidential standpoint we think about? So what’s I mean also like having a bipartisan bill of this size passed through politics today is itself. I mean, when Ruth and I started out, that was normal. That kind of thing happened and then a president went around the country and tried to sell it. Like, This doesn’t happen. A great deal. So that’s another reason why. Just to remember what the art of the how much the art of the possible has shrunk, but puts her finger on a crucial point is one. When you think about presidents, the first thing is, can they get this kind of legislation passed? But the second huge and important thing is implementation. We focus on the signings, but we rarely focus on the execution and a huge question here. If you care about and think about whether these programs are important and happen is whether an administration has the focus and the talent to implement everything. I mean, that’s that that depends who’s in the executive branch. But then there’s that just the overall slowness of things. CBO did an analysis of the Obama shovel ready stimulus package in the beginning of his presidency, and it took the Department of Transportation in the first six months. They spent nine percent of the allotted money after 18. Once they spent only half of it, it takes a while for this to happen, and we’re in the middle of a supply chain issue. And so that’s a demand issue. There’s been more demand than the system can handle, and this puts more demand in the system, which means we not only have they had the slowness of having this happen, that would exist anyway in government, but we have particular slowness because of supply chain issues.
S2: Right. You could order the shovels. It is shovel ready. We’ve ordered the shovels. The shovels are going to take a year to.
S3: Shovels are back ordered
S2: so that if you brought up build back better the sort of social infrastructure bill which no, I would love for that to be spent. I would love for them to spend three trillion on that or seven trillion on that and raise wages for every caregiver in the country and and have universal preschool and universal daycares and universal and for all care elder care for sure. John, where are we on that? It was those the bills were conjoined twins. There was this idea. They cannot live without the other, but they passed one and now the other one is the other one just dying somewhere.
S3: Well, it may be dying because Joe Manchin is killing it. So there was an agreement in the house to decouple these two. There seems now to be some disagreement between the moderates in the house and the progressives in the House. About the nature of that agreement was. So that’s one little challenge. But the big challenge is that Joe Manchin is continuing to say as he has for a long time, let’s go slow. Let’s not rush into this because inflation. And if you don’t get Manchin, you don’t get 50 votes in the Senate, it doesn’t happen. So he is continuing to say that inflation numbers this week were the increase year over year. Check me if I’m wrong was on this year. Over year increase in inflation was the highest in 30 years, which gives more evidence to those who would like to either kill or delay the build back better legislation on inflation fears. Pelosi says there’s going to be a vote next week in the House, but it’s had yet another challenge from Joe Manchin, and unless he gets convinced, it’s not going to happen.
S4: So these were conjoined twins that you actually did not want to separate if you are a believer in both bills. You did not want the operation to separate them to succeed. And it succeeded. And you wanted it to succeed in the sense that they needed to be separated in order to get passed. But that operation took place at the worst possible moment, as it turned out for progressives and for Joe Biden, which is to say that we had these really quite daunting and alarming, and I think perhaps should alarm even the David free spending David Plotz Says of the world inflation numbers that came out. And so while I had thought that while this was a very, very high wire act to get build back better through the Senate with mansion and cinema, I think that these latest inflation numbers are going to be quite jarring for them. And it is very much that the operation succeeded. But the half the nation is about to fail, and now I will stop torturing that metaphor.
S2: So Ruth, you touched on this earlier. One of the. EPI phenomena of the fifth passage is that the 13 Republicans in the House who voted for this new law have been catching hell from their constituents and from from people all over the country. There, their phone lines are being overwhelmed with angry messages, death threats, their social channels overwhelmed and, you know, threats to primary them threats to drum them out of the party, threats to strip them of their committee assignments. This is for a law, as you pointed out, had that had 19 Senate Republicans supporting it. So. I this is part to me of a larger phenomenon, I’m just making it very unpleasant to be a member of Congress and scary.
S4: It’s scary. You cannot choose to vote your conscience and not even your conscience to vote your constituents interests to do it on something that, as John said, when we used to drive our horse and buggy to the gates of the White House to cover it should be a no brainer and a non-partisan thing. The one thing that members of both parties have always been able to agree on is spending money and getting credit for it to suddenly find that to be a potentially death defying political act is just a measure of the crazy town we’re living in.
S2: Well, I think it’s one of the things that’s happening is that it’s so we’re selecting out all the people who kind of are willing, who believe in politics is the art of compromise and and the people who remain in politics are people who who revel, who are unaffected by the amount of hostility and who even revel in the amount of hostility that they get. And that’s a terrible set of people to have in politics.
S3: They don’t just revel their careers, depend on it. That’s how they raise money. That’s how they raise money for themselves and also how they raise money for other members of the party. And they gained fame and get on TV a lot. I mean, it is there. It is their lifeblood creating this kind of conflict. And it’s one of the big things that has corroded Congress more broadly. The other big force corrupting Congress is the reason the stakes are so high. Here is not just a the fact that polling consistently shows that members of both parties in the cause of those parties think that the opposition is not just wrong, but evil. So you’ve created an apocalyptic view of the other side, and so that seeps into this kind of behavior. But secondly, what’s at stake here is control of the of the houses. I mean, as Francis Lee has shown in her work that all the fights have, the stakes are high because it means that Republicans are giving a win to the Democrats, and that’s going to undermine their effort to say the Democrats can’t do anything. Please give us control of the House and Senate again, which is the dynamic you have when the two bodies switch back and forth relentlessly. But the final point goes two years David, which is this is how you make legislation. There are adults in the Senate and even adults in the House who know that this is the only way you’ll get anything done and is Racette constituent service, which is what those Republicans are doing, which is voting for things that directly affect their states and districts, is the central part of their jobs. And Republican leaders know this, and they know that’s why they voted for this legislation. And yet they’re letting the most virulent members of their constituency burn down the system. This isn’t just about one vote, it’s about whether you can have compromise and make progress on something that’s important. And that has long term ramifications that go well beyond this to whether Congress can even do its job. And you would think that a leader of that institution would care about whether the institution can actually function or operate, particularly a leader who takes the long view which leaders are supposed to do.
S2: Slate Plus members you get bonus segments on the Gabfest every week. So much fun to do the segments we are going to do today a Gabfest plus a slate plus segment on the University of Austin, the new university that a bunch of conservatives and conservative intellectual types want to set up in Austin. That will be a counterweight to the liberal dominated ivory tower that so many of us attended. Ruth Marcus and David Plotz John Dickerson did not attend a liberal dominated Ivory Tower University
S3: now, and I think that’s why people can sense in me a real kind of connection with something really central and elemental in the rich American tapestry.
S2: That is true. Slate Plus members, you get to hear John Dickerson say Rich American Tapestry six or seven times every Slate Plus segment.
S3: I’m just over here sipping on my environmental tea.
S2: I will confess that I make an effort not to pay attention to what is happening in Trump world, not merely what former President Donald Trump is up to, but also what those who would investigate or punish him are up to. It seems to me like mental energy that I would better spend on other things. So I generally spend on other things, but occasionally there’s so much news that arises. The poisonous bubble of news arises from the toxic slurry where he lives that you have to pay attention. And so it was this week, Ruth just quickly give us that there was a there’s just a ton of Trump world news. What? What were the highlights for you?
S4: So for me, the highlights were Judge Tanya Chunkin in the District Court here in D.C., telling the former president that he is not only not a king, as you said and the name of the show, you’re not a king and you’re not even the president. And this is a dispute that’s going to make its way up through the food chain of the federal courts about whose papers are they anyway? And and other documents. President Trump has presidents papers go to the National Archives. There is a mechanism if somebody is trying to get those papers for a former president to say, hey, they’re covered by executive privilege. But there’s also a mechanism for the current president to say, Hey, you know what? I care about executive privilege too, because people could be invading mine, and I think they are not covered by privilege. So here for really, we have this absolute conflict between President Biden, the actual president who says, I think these papers are not and these documents are not covered by executive privilege. And to the extent that they are, there is an imperative public interest in getting them. And so no former President Trump, you are wrong, the judge
S2: legal dog barking at the door.
S4: Comey Sorry about that. He’s a bad dog, but he loves a good District Court ruling. So I am taking it, as he is say, is barking not just for Judge Chuck in telling Donald Trump that he loses here, but also refusing to grant a stay while he appeals that this is going to go up to the District Court, to the appeals court in D.C., where it’s apt to get a pretty conservative panel of including Trump appointees. And so it’s going to be fascinating to see what they do. Meanwhile, outside the courthouse, back in one of the other branches of government, the January six select committee, have you guys gotten a subpoena yet? I haven’t gotten a subpoena yet, but I think we have to be on the list because they are subpoena ing and I don’t want to say I am not being. I’m sounding snarky here, but I’m not really being snarky. I think this is imperative. I think David Plotz is completely wrong. I think it’s really important for all of us to pay attention to what happened on Jan. six in the lead up to January six and to make sure that the public pressure is on so that we don’t turn away from the imperative of figuring out what happened. And so they have issued subpoenas to a I’ve lost the total count a ton, I think is the technical legal term of individuals in the Trump White House and in its environs to provide testimony and documents. And those are some of them are being complied with. Many of them are not being complied with. That turns us to. I think the third and I’m probably missing something, but the third ring of this circus in the executive branch, which which has been kind of silent. We’re still waiting to hear from the Merrick Garland Justice Department about whether or not it’s going to do what it should do. I believe and prosecute Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress, which was passed by the House, but needs to be executed by the Justice Department.
S3: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with Ruth more. The reason to study the attacks of Jan. six in whatever form is that is about January six. But it’s also that the habits of mind that allowed it to happen are being exploited and further perfected at this very moment. In an effort to pretend that what happened on Jan. six wasn’t as awful as it was, which, of course, if those habits of mind become perfected, then it sets the stage for this to happen again. And what I was seeing in the previous segment about leaders in Congress recognizing that threatening Republicans who voted with Democrats is the beginning embers of what is an inevitable conflagration. The same is true on January six, which is they were identifiable things after the election in November that represented those same kind of embers. And you didn’t have to be that smart to recognize that those embers after seeing what you had seen for four years in the Trump administration, in the relationship he had with his voters, were going to lead to something awful and turns out something awful happened. And so to not go back and say, Hey, maybe we can head off this kind of thing, not just what happened on that very day and who is abetting it and who allowed it to happen and who fomented it. But also, if you don’t walk the cat back and figure out the contributing factors in a variety of different ways, the contributing factors, then you just set yourself for it, open for it to happen again. It’s just it’s like basic. And also, while I’m on this damn horse, that is there’s another point that’s really striking, which is that members of the of Congress should care a little bit more about basically the fact that they were attacked by the executive branch and that there is no kind of collective outrage at what was done to them to Congress is amazing. And again, especially for people who spent their career saying, you know, there’s been too much executive overreach. And we got to get rid of this executive overreach and protect the prerogatives of Congress. Well, here you have it. Here’s your chance. It’s like saying, I’m I’m I’m going to kill an elephant when the elephant. I’m going to go take out that elephant. The elephants in your living room, you’ve been handed a gun. Now is the time to actually behave in support of the institution that you’re a member of.
S2: Would you go kill elephants?
S3: Well, I was the only thing that’s wrong,
S2: in my view.
S3: I know I’m sorry, but I’m sorry. It was the only thing that came to mind.
S4: I mean, we’re just going to call him Captain Spaulding from now.
S3: Oh no, I I agree. I couldn’t think of like. But I mean, it’s for so long. You have people who I mean, particularly Republicans who said, you know, the executive is overreached.
S2: I agree
S3: with you. I’ll come up with more. That’s good for him.
S2: Well, and and just joining David Plotz in the kind of I can’t look at this bench on that bench over. There apparently are all Republican donors, all these Republican donors who endured Republicans after January 6th who are like, We can’t give to this party. We can’t give to members who who support President Trump, who who voted to not validate the election. They’re all back. They’re all kind of pouring, you know, the energy companies, the hedge funds, the tech companies, they are back and they are pouring money into the Republican Party. So they when you think about the the amnesia, the amnesia is alive and well. I guess my kind of choice not to pay too much attention to it is not so much. I mean, it’s just for my own mental health. It just agitates me. It’s more just a sense that it’s a despondency that none of this will get settled. The January 6th investigations will be derailed when Republicans take the House back in 2020 to and and they will they’ll delay the investigations until 2022. And then when they take the house back, they’ll just pull pull back on all of it. And I’m, you know, I’m also convinced that the Supreme Court will come down firmly on whatever side it is that will protect Donald Trump’s interests on the executive privilege front. And so it’s I guess my choice is a choice to to not emotionally invest in the idea that this is going to reveal anything or change anyone’s priors because my fear is just it won’t. And it’s a fatalism. And I guess what you guys are saying is that we can’t afford fatalism, right?
S4: I mean, what’s the consequence of your fatalism? The implications of your fatalism is January six happens and we shrug and we say, Well, that was regrettable, and we would be very perturbed if this were to occur in the future. So we would really respectfully ask that you not engage in such conduct. But what is
S2: it? What is it in your world? What is it that what is it that they, this committee can accomplish to change minds or change the Republican Party’s attitude toward it? It just feels it feels hopeless because this party is so deeply corrupt and deeply complicit and in thrall, a cultish thrall of a monster. And so we’ve
S4: already we’ve already gotten there is some information, but there will not be perfect information. As we learned with Don McGahn, it is possible in the current environment for anybody who has managed to go into the Plotz memory hole and forget. Don McGahn was President Trump’s White House counsel, and he managed to put off Congress for years and years and years from getting his testimony when it mattered. But not everyone will testify, but some people will testify. They will provide important information for people who care and for generations down the road to understand what it is that happened and potentially happen to our democracy and how close we came to disaster and who was responsible for it. And if you, you know, don’t ask, don’t get and don’t subpoena. Don’t get. Don’t try. Don’t get so if you want to be Plotz and put your head in the sand. You don’t like Plotz is like
S2: Plotz the hope you just like let. I’m like a straw man.
S3: Let it be the elephant.
S2: I’m apparently the elephant.
S3: Let it be resolved that we shall build a high tower. And from that, we shall dunk upon the Plotz.
S4: Sorry, David. It’s been really nice being a guest on the Gabfest.
S3: Can I jump in here? Because. Because I missed the examination that Ruth talks about is important. But also we shouldn’t lose sight that the the central quality of this is known is public and is admitted to by former President Trump. The president considers and considered in the moment the rioters to be heroes. He did not take action, both official action or by making a statement that would calm them down when he was implored to do so by leaders of his party in Congress, his children, his closest advisers. And that was that was what happened in the moment. And subsequent to that, there are now people in the party who are trying to forget that all of that happened. This is about maintaining standards in public about how people should behave and what is and what should outrageous because it’s an attack on the system that keeps us from all being at each other’s throats. And if Ruth put it beautifully, which is like if you treat it as an inconvenience, you know, like a like a gaffe or a, you know, an impolite word said in the parlor of polite society. If you treated in that minimal fashion, then you just invite it to happen again or you invite people to perfect ways of doing it again. You have to hang a lamp on this. Even if you discover nothing new, you have to hang a lamp on it so that people say, you know, it turns out, probably shouldn’t have violence when things don’t turn out the way you’d like them to be.
S2: Let’s turn to the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, Kyle Rittenhouse. You know, he was a 17 year old who brought an AR 15 style rifle to the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He came from his home in Illinois to a place he did not live. Kenosha, Wisconsin, after there were protests following the shooting of a black man who was thought at the time to have been unarmed and he Rittenhouse went. He believed to defend businesses that he thought were threatened by demonstrators and to provide medical care. He was untrained to provide. He ended up in disputes and conflicts with some of the protesters and killed two people and wounded another and then endangered various other people by shooting near them. He is now on trial for murder. He testified in that trial on Wednesday and was teared up and was very emotional about what he perceived to be his right to defend himself from a threat. He’s making a really interesting claim of self-defense. And, you know, whether he’s convicted or acquitted is going to be a really fascinating question. Ruth, this is just an amazing case because it’s pretty clear to me, at least he’s going to be acquitted at least of the most serious charges that he faces. He’ll make a claim of self-defense and that there is under this very broad law that exists in Wisconsin. Other places, it’s your entitlement to self-defense is is vast, but it gets to this other issue, which is like, are you really entitled to self-defense? If you bring a incredibly deadly weapon to a place where there is chaos and act like an act like a vigilante? And is that is that should you immediately forfeit your right to make a claim of self-defense if you do that? But anyway, I’m just wandering. Talk about his claim of self-defense. And is it a valid point
S4: if you’re not wandering at all? I think you’ve put your finger on the fundamental tension here, which is between the rights of Kyle Rittenhouse as individual criminal defendant and our need as a society to figure out the appropriate way to deal with this outburst that we’ve had of vigilantism. So I hold no brief for Kyle Rittenhouse. The notion that he was taken up by the right from President Trump on down as an avatar of white goodness and toughness on crime and he is a hero is repugnant. It’s repulsive. It is wrong. He’s a 17 year old who had no actual legal right to have a gun who put himself into a situation that he knew was violent. Carrying this super lethal weapon and should not have had it should not have been using it should not have been in that position. However, Kyle Rittenhouse, as individual criminal defendant, is entitled to a lot of things that we want individual criminal defendants to be entitled to, to the presumption of innocence, to the requirement that the jury unanimously find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and to a claim that whatever happened prior to that moment of shooting and when I say moments of shooting, I mean moments of shooting because he shot three people killing two of them. What matters in his self-defense claim is whether he was acting reasonably in fear at that at that time. And there I think the prosecution has a very, very difficult case may have overcharged its case. And you say it looks like he’s going to be acquitted of the most serious charges. I think that’s clear with the proviso that it may not even get to that because the prosecutors may have fumbled yesterday and in some of the evidence that they tried to kind of sneak in about Kyle Rittenhouse, he used Kyle Rittenhouse his silence with police beforehand as a way of suggesting that he was somehow that in a way that suggested that was somehow incriminating for him. And Kyle Rittenhouse has a Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions. He raised that Fifth Amendment right at trial. But it is an absolute no-no for prosecutors to suggest that invoking your Fifth Amendment right or exercising your Fifth Amendment right is illustrative of guilt. And there’s that’s where the prosecutor crossed the line. The judge, who we should also talk about, could actually not just dismiss the case, but dismiss the case with prejudice, which would mean that it couldn’t be. He couldn’t be tried again.
S2: Ruth, you’re a lawyer like that. The thing that’s so interesting to me here is just that he is entitled to a defense. The self-defense defense and the self-defense defense appears not to. It doesn’t appear to be relevant that he himself has brought this gun, which is so deadly. And then in fact, one element of his defense appears to be that he felt in fear, in part because he thought someone might take his gun from him and shoot him with it. And so that he brings he brings the thing which causes the episode to be entirely heightened. And then his justifiable defense is that that someone might use it against him. And it’s just it’s so it’s like a it’s so twisty,
S3: it’s self exculpate and you just by carrying a gun, you can always claim that you were worried it might be taken away from you, which allows wanton use of it. The other thing that is we should just throw in there in terms of the legal part of this is that when when judging whether he had a reasonable. Fear of his for his life, which, Dan, you know, the tests are that the fear was reasonable and that the force was all it was, the only necessary means a belief can be reasonable even though it’s mistaken, which feels like if you’re trying to convince a jury to unanimously charge that he did this willfully and not, you know, at least a little bit in self-defense, that idea that a belief can be reasonable even though it’s mistaken seems like something that a juror could kind of hold on to and not convict him. The the other thing that that is interesting to me about this is the question of provocation judging that, whether because you don’t get to say it was self-defense if you provoked it. And then the other is and it’s kind of murky in the law and the other is retreat. In other words, did you have an opportunity to retreat and therefore deadly force wasn’t wasn’t the only option. And then finally, on this question of becoming a hero to President Trump, including some reporting that that there was official talking points to the ad within the Trump administration to make Rittenhouse seem like a sympathetic character. Remember also that another narrative from the right is that a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. One of the people shot by Rittenhouse was a paramedic who Says, and it appears from footage that this is the case that he ran to the shooting because he thought it was a he thought it was a mass casualty event by a shooter. He had a handgun in his concealed carry permit, appeared to have been expired. But nevertheless, in another version of this, you could have imagined he was the good guy with the gun. What what is so often portrayed as a reason to allow, you know, gun ownership? Is that a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun? But here you see the two narratives crashing against each other.
S2: I want to connect what’s happened with power in this house to what we hear happening in school boards across the country, where you have parents who are extremely upset about what they perceive to be a fronts to their children, whether it’s mask mandates or vaccine mandates or curricular mandates of various sorts are taking control of school board meetings with aggressive tactics, often threatening school board members, veiled threats of school board members. And you know, one one school of thought says this is just, you know, this is the First Amendment. This is public expressing its right and this is parents speaking up. And I, you know, part of me totally believes that. But I think what’s happened with Kyle Rittenhouse, what’s happened with the school board it has to do with expectations about public behavior have kind of changed in this country in a way, and we haven’t really caught up to it. You can behave in ways that are novel and antisocial and aggressive, and they are no longer punished by public opprobrium. If you are an asshole, there are enough people who will say, Go ahead, be an asshole. I support you being an asshole, even if you’re an asshole and you’re kind of in your narrow community that the restraint disappears and shame disappears. And you kind of claim that you can be an asshole because you’re acting for the higher good of your children or you’re acting to protect the good businesses of Kenosha, whatever it is, but you’re being an asshole. And we have lost the collective because we become so tribal is the tribal rises to defend the asshole in their side. And we’ve lost the ability to kind of make these behaviors unacceptable. They should be unacceptable behaviors. What Kyle Rittenhouse does, what the parents are doing. It’s just not the polite. A well-functioning, ordered society does not behave this way.
S4: Which is why we need to connect it up to January 6th. And look at that because to me, that’s the real connection. That’s where the civility disintegrated and the vigilantism started or not started, but erupted into public view.
S2: How do we get beyond it then? Like, how do we how do we pass through it?
S3: You have to maintain standards in the face of pressure not to. And you have to say this is wrong and my narrow of the narrow interests of my team are not more important than universal standards. I mean, it was a really bad idea to change out the source code that said, we should live our lives by caring about caring for our neighbor with source code. That said, we should elevate this the celebrity of people who act only in their own self-interest. But. That’s happened across politics and across culture. And the reason it’s so hard is even if there is an instance, let’s start to separate it from Rittenhouse this case, even if there’s an instance in which there is a rebuke and someone and the system or a judge or otherwise stands up and says, No, these are standards and you can’t shilly shally your way around them just because your team has come up with a clever rationalization for what you’ve done. The people who most need to hear that for these standards to come back into place are the ones who will just come up with a with an after the fact rationalization for why that judge or that ruling or whatever was in error or is, you know, fixed or is somehow a result of the deep state.
S4: Well, and I think that we need to focus on carving out space on both sides for really passionate debate. The unhappy parents who come to school boards and say, I can’t believe you are foisting beloved on my beloved child, need to have space to express those views. But that can’t include people attacking school board members going to their houses, berating them in their houses. People who protest the killing of Jacob Blake in Kenosha have to be able to do that protest. But but they have a responsibility. We all have a responsibility to do it in a way that is not engaged in violence and that doesn’t invite or prompt. And this doesn’t justify any of Kyle Rittenhouse’s behavior. That doesn’t kind of invite vigilantism. So we just have this vicious, vicious cycle right now of anger and violence and berating and bullying that we have to figure out a way to break. But we have to figure out a way to break it really without squelching speech on both sides.
S2: We can squelch speech a little bit. Would be OK. Just a little bit would be fine. Like, you know, I don’t think threats or speech, I don’t think looting a speech. I don’t think carrying a AR 15 style rifle is speech. That’s just me. Let’s go to cocktail chatter. Bridgette has been a pretty dark, dark Gabfest, but I’m counting on you to bring him a joyful, bubbly, bubbly prosecco, a delightful hot toddy of some sort of cocktail chatter to us.
S4: Well, I don’t know if this is joyful, but it’s going to be different. I’ve been really thinking a lot about the lawsuit that was filed in California by a couple whose embryo was switched by terrible accident before it was implanted so that a woman gave birth to a child that she believed was her child but was not her child. And she and her husband were like, Huh, this one looks a little different. But like parents, you know, every parent looks at their child and says, this is the most beautiful child in the world, and I love him to death. And so this is our child. But a few months later discovered that from DNA tests that this was not actually their biological child, after all, and there had been an embryo that was switched with another couple. So the couple swapped and like UPS’s, now there’s a question about who’s liable and how much liability there is. But it made me start thinking about the meaning of care. I’ve carried two children to term. I would, I feel, have a different connection with them or love them any less if somebody else had been their carrier. I don’t think so. Would I feel, you know, what is the loss that you have from this? Because I think we all understand it to be a terrible loss. But at the same time, we simultaneously understand and we know many, many people who fiercely love non-biological children as fiercely as they as others love their biological children. So it’s just a really interesting. And I think, you know, when the dinner party conversation lags, which never does at my house, you could just get into a really interesting chat about the meaning of parenthood.
S2: There were two points I want to point to in that story. One is it that the the family that suing actually didn’t. They weren’t comfortable with it. The father was very uncomfortable. The father felt there was something wrong, which was interesting, and he pushed by believe for a DNA test. So it wasn’t that
S4: it was a terrible but, but also experienced. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but he also experienced it as a terrible loss because they had an older child, an older child who had bonded with this child, who I can’t remember whether it was a boy or a girl. But now who? The older child had understood this to be their sibling. And all of a sudden, their sibling two months in is like, Oh, never mind, we’re going to return that puppy. It’s it’s horrible.
S2: It’s the other. The other piece, just from a purely technical legal question, a question I had was the families just traded babies. What does a court have to approve it? It like? Is there some legal judgment that says This is your child, that’s their child?
S4: Oh, you should have to go through sort of relinquishment of parenthood and adoption site type procedure?
S3: They did. Or they showed up. Then they did. Oh, they did. OK, yeah, I was going to say, at least you think that at least have to get something notarized
S2: so hard to get some notarized these days, having to do it without notarized
S4: to your house now.
S2: Actually, there’s a there’s a business around the corner from my apartment, which is it in in totally other line of business. But the only thing I’ve ever seen anyone use it for is the guy who runs. It is also a notary. Some people are desperately getting stuff notarized at four bucks a pop or whatever it is. John What’s your chatter?
S3: My chatter is about the Pew Typology project and report, which came out this week and an analysis of about 10000 Americans. And it shows that while we talk about the parties as Republican Democrat, there are really nine different gradations of political belief and positions that people hold. So it gives you lots of analysis into what are the forces driving these parties and why. It’s of course, totally obvious that it wasn’t going to be a quick trip to the altar for the build back, better legislation or why. You know, there is the fighting in addition to the fact that legislation making is a contentious process if anything’s at stake. Of course, there was going to be infighting in the Democratic Party. If you look at the way the party voters hold the various positions they hold, but it also shows you the same kinds of issues in the Republican Party. But but another thing that it tells you that interests me is on issues of race. For example, you have 75 percent of the Republican leaning groups basically say nothing more needs to be done to ameliorate inequities in American life for black people. If. They ever existed at all for that group. The Democratic groups believe the exact opposite. Seventy five percent of them believe some or a lot needs to be done to fix these issues. And it just reminds us that when you have a verdict, as you’ll have in the Rittenhouse case, which by the way, if you could combine the only thing incendiary thing that isn’t a part of that issue is is abortion. I mean, you’ve got guns. Race politics behind the ruling will be America’s existing attitudes about whether white Americans have advantages over black Americans. And when you look at this Typology, it shows you how those beliefs thread throughout the parties and throughout the different political coalitions. So it’s quite interesting and also has whether one of those quizzes that we like that allow you to figure out where you would land on the map based on your values rather than, you know what jersey a person’s wearing.
S2: None of us pointed out actually when we were talking about Rittenhouse like the obvious point, which is that if Rittenhouse were black. This whole conversation, I mean, the idea that he would be getting this break is ludicrous. There’s just no chance or very little chance at the same self-defense argument would be taken as seriously being taken by people now. Right.
S3: The benefit of the doubt goes to a white defendant in a way it wouldn’t a black defendant, which was arguably what was part of the protests in the first place.
S2: I have a couple of chapters, one first a sort of self-interested one. Gabfest listeners may remember I used to offer tours of Fort DeRussy. This Secret Civil War fort hidden deep here in Washington, D.C., is Rock Creek Park. It’s an amazing place. It has an incredible history and it’s just a really fun place to visit. And I like I’m obsessed with its history and they’re great stories around it. And I am reviving those tours. I’ll be doing them in the fall and winter on weekends, and it’s offered through Airbnb. If you look for exploring a secret fort on Airbnb or just email me David Plotz at gmail.com or tweet at me and I will send you a link. But I’d love to see you on Saturdays and Sundays this fall. Just an hour. It’s great. It’s really fun. Beautiful place. My other chatter is a profile in the Atlantic that’s taken from John Karl’s new book. It’s a profile of Johnny McEntee, who is a Trump official I’d never heard of, who is a he’s a former college, mediocre college football quarterback, very tall and handsome. So apparently that’s why Trump liked him. Who at the ripe old age of 29, ended up in charge of White House personnel, and he was the loyalty enforcer across the administration and and in the theory that the absolute worst and most competent, incompetent and venal people ended up in this imperial court. He certainly appears to be such a person, and it’s an incredible story about what he did in the last days of the Trump administration, notably trying to get one of the things that was most of it that is trying to push out Defense Secretary Mark Esper, ultimately pushing him out for barring the display of the Confederate flag opposing the president’s direction to use American forces to put down riots and actively pushing for diversity and inclusion. So this guy, McEntee is a real piece of work, and I’m sure if Trump is elected president again, he’ll probably be like. Secretary of state, knowing the situation we’re in now, listeners, you sent us so many good chatters this week, this was maybe the best week of listener chatter we’ve ever had. It was almost impossible. I spent an hour in the listener chatter rabbit hole this week, so thank you. Please keep them coming to add Slate Gabfest and the one you couldn’t turn couldn’t turn down this one from Tsur Somerville
S5: Hi Gabfest Says Tsur Somerville in Vancouver, B.C. And my chatter today is about bogey. The dog, who seems to commute in Istanbul, travels about 30 kilometres a day on ferries, on trams and on the subway. He channels John as best we can tell, because his favourite is the Taksim Square historic tram. He’s a good New Yorker because he doesn’t seem to pay for his rides, goes right through the turnstiles without ever paying, and needs a little bit of work on that ticket because he often is lying across multiple seats rather than making sure there’s room for the other passengers. But all in all, extremely well-behaved, less people get off first and certainly a better traveler than a lot of people on the buses I ride on.
S2: Do you guys see the picture of this dog? It is. The pictures are the cutest thing you will ever see in your entire life. It’s just beautiful dog riding the subway.
S4: I just want to say pet chatter is the best chatter.
S2: 100 percent. 100 percent. That is our show for today. The Gabfest is produced by Jocelyn Frank, our researchers. Bridgette Dunlap Gabriel Roth is Editorial Director of Slate Audio, June Thomas, managing producer. And Alicia Montgomery, executive producer of Slate Podcast. Please follow us on Twitter at Slate Gabfest Tweet Chat or to us there for John Dickerson and Ruth Marcus, the ever delightful Ruth Marcus, even though she handed me my head on a platter. But then again, Emily does that to most of the time. I’m David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week. Hello, Flight-Plus, how are you? Also, welcome to our new slate, plus listeners, we have had a nice surge and new slate plus memberships and upsurge in upwelling of applications to the University of Slate. Plus we appreciate you joining. Hope you enjoy the segment, Ruth. Are you going to apply to University of Austin? You going to teach at the University of Austin?
S4: They haven’t asked yet, and I think that would be an interesting question. I think the University of Austin, or U80 X is an interesting idea, and we should probably back up and explain a little what it is.
S2: Yeah, go
S4: ahead. It’s going to start as a course, I think, this summer and it’s going to start at the graduate level and then potentially trickle down to undergraduate without degree granting opportunities for now. But the basic underlying impetus seems to be a belief that there are not safe spaces as it were for speech on college campuses across the country, that there are some topics that are too difficult to touchy, too incendiary, too dangerous for professors really to raise with their students, and that there should be a mechanism at a venue. And they want this interestingly to be a physical venue, not just a virtual venue where people who are willing to be challenged and interested in being challenged can come together. I think the risk here is that you sort of attract the people who simply want to provoke and not the people who want to have discussions. But I have to say, and you guys may disagree with me, that while I do not agree with one of the founders of this enterprise, that political correctness and speech suppression on college campuses is destroying America or the worst problem that’s facing America, it is by far not the worst problem that’s facing America. I think it is a problem, and I think there are things that people on college campuses and elsewhere in workplaces do feel nervous about saying these days and conversations that should be had that aren’t being had, that can be had in a polite and respectful way. And so I’m going to be interested to see what they do. And if they did call me up and ask me to teach, but I might say yes,
S3: I find myself in agreement once again with the gentle lady from. But that’s that’s. Yeah. New Jersey. I mean, there’s been a lot of online dunking, which is, of course, what that’s kind of repetitive. But you know, and the claim is that Barry Weiss and others who’ve been promoting this are, you know, warriors against efforts to suppress free speech, but then have made a career out of suppressing free speech. Well, that’s fine. Have a place where. And being physically proximate and in person is crucial because we behave better as in each other’s company than we do through social media. So that almost is. But if there is a project involved in trying to improve the hygiene of public discourse and debate, then that’s wonderful, including whether the people who created this forum for doing so are total hypocrites and don’t practice what they preach. That’s great. A wonderful place to discuss this. And in fact, a perfect space in which to discuss that. And if you want to sharpen your skills for for the kind of debate I would hope would take place in here. The Constitution of Knowledge by Jonathan Rauch is a great book about what is at stake about what we mean when we say, having open minded debate and what the kind of rules of evidence are for that kind of thing. The heterodox academy is also involved in this, which is a group of 5000 professors and educators who believe that this is a problem in our culture because of course, it totally is whether this is the right venue or not, to the extent that we’re all talking about it and see a need for it. That seems great. So more power to him.
S2: Yeah, I was really. Baffled by the amount of rageful heat this generated, I know, of course, it’s Barry Weiss, it’s, you know, Larry Summers, it’s it’s Caitlin Flanagan. It’s various people of her unfashionable people have been calling me unfashionable side of certain debates. And, you know, no doubt our hypocrites and and wrongheaded and all sorts of ways. But the amount of rage it generated seems totally disproportionate. Yes, it is true that the intellectual right insofar as the intellectual right has higher education at Liberty or Hillsdale, it two squeezes and limits debate even more than the intellectual left does. And it’s true that the people who are starting up are not giving up their cushy positions at these high paying elite institutions that they are pouring right now. Yeah, that that is also true. But what’s the problem? Like what is the problem? Like, why not have such a place? What is wrong with it? And if some, if some Palantir guy wants to spend a part of his fortune to endow it? It’s probably better spent than than what he would have spent it on otherwise. And there’s and and one of the points, I think, which is which people continue to overlook is American elite. Higher education has not grown in the number of students it takes with population that if you look at the number of students who go to Harvard or Yale today and compare it to how many went in 1950 or on how many went in 1800 and then compared to the U.S. population, the growth has not kept up. So Yale and Harvard and their equivalents are much smaller relative to the to the U.S. population than they were a generation ago or two generations ago. And and so there is a need to create new models for higher education. There is. There ought to be new elite institutions that work on a different model than than Ivy League. That’s that’s great. But let a thousand flowers bloom.
S4: This isn’t this. This is not this. The enterprise is not aimed at satisfying the excess demand to get into Yale or Harvard is aimed at satisfying a different demand or different problem that Yale and Harvard present, which is increase. I think this is fair to say an increasing intolerance on campus or at least danger in expressing views that are not the approved views of what is the consensus progressive conventional wisdom that’s extant on those campuses. And I am not a Barry Weiss provocateur, but I found myself a few weeks ago writing a column about Yale Law School in which and this was not a class,
S2: courageous, outrageous effort.
S4: This was not a classroom discussion. This was a student who sent out a juvenile and kind of tasteless email inviting people to a Chapo trap house party for the Native American Law Students Association, which he was a part of. And for The Federalist Society, which he was a part of, but was what was remarkable, is the degree to which the bureaucracy of Yale Law School got itself involved in not quite disciplining this student, but basically trying to coerce apology from him for having sent out dismissive, which, among other things, said that he triggered his classmates by invoking The Federalist Society. And when I wrote about this and I compared it to a Maoist re-education effort, I got criticized. And this was really quite remarkable by the Asian-American Law Students Association at Yale for a racist comparison. So I think that just tells you everything that you need to. I might be wrong. The comparison was overblown. I said the comparison was overblown, but it was not racist, but the Asian-American law students I now I’m going to hear from you and you know, please, I’d like to have a conversation about it. It triggered them, they said, because some of their relatives had been caught up in the Cultural Revolution. And this just tells you everything that is wrong about PC culture on college and law school and graduate school campuses today. We need to kind of get a grip, and if this new institution reminds us that we need to get a grip, I say go for it
S3: and maybe it’ll filter back out into other precincts. Because the topic we were talking about earlier where Republicans who joined with Democrats on the infrastructure bill are being threatened. The idea is to make the threats, not just to punish them, but to create a self-censorship among, in that case, Republicans, so that they never, you know, say anything or put a foot wrong, which is one of the strongest forces at play in college campuses. To keep people from expressing ideas is to just make them mute so that they never even say anything.
S2: I mean, I wonder if you atx the problem, it’s going to be, it’s going to get these these students who are eager to have these transgressive debates about whatever particular topics, Maoism or anything else. But it’s not going to get the other. It’s not going to get the it’s not going to get any students. They can have debates with that. It’s going to it’s going to be its own echo chamber.
S4: I think that’s exactly.
S2: And that’s yeah, that will be a bummer.
S4: That’s exactly the problem. It’s going to get the sort of people who feel super aggrieved by the current culture. I feel annoyed by the culture. But it would not. And sort of a oppressed just. A little too strong, I feel annoyed by a culture in which I have to really super be careful before I start to have a conversation that might be a little transgressive and have to check myself. It’s hard to do it like when you’re a part of an opinion section where your job all day is expressing opinions. And you know, which is not to say that I want to say anything that is offensive to somebody, but I did not think the Cultural Revolution was offensive. If if you are selecting from this subset of people who are not just kind of mildly piqued about this like me, but just this is their it, the main thing that’s motivating them, then you’re just revving them up without any good consequence.
S3: And one of the ways it can fail is if it grievance replaces actual argumentation. That’s why the constitution of knowledge is good because it it gives you a roadmap for the component parts of of a reason debate ends, but one ends up happening is a person comes in not with reason and not with facts or logic, but they just come in and unfurl their long list of grievances. And then when someone on the other side of the argument or in the gallery says, you know, all you did was just win John for 15 minutes, you didn’t actually present an argument and you’re not going to persuade anybody. If you’re just making assertion after assertion, the the attack there is on epistemic grounds, not on ideological ones, but people have become professional umbrage takers who take any criticism and say, Oh, you’re you’re trying to squelch my free speech rights when in fact all they’re trying to do is create the conditions for correct argumentation, and that’ll be a huge test of these debates.
S4: Yeah. And at the same time, we are witnessing this completely opposite phenomenon that is stemming from some of the same precincts where we’re talking about telling teachers, telling educators, telling professors that they can’t be doing what they’re not doing, which is teaching critical race theory to two poor students who will be too upset by this to function. So, you know, you have to if you’re going to be for free speech, you have to be consistently for free speech.
S2: All right. By Flight-Plus.