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S2: Hello, and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest for November 18th, 2021 the No. Joe Mojo Edition. I am David Plotz City cast here in Washington, DC. Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School from New Haven.
S1: Hello, Emily Jay David John.
S2: Chuckling, unknowable, mysteriously chuckling John Dickerson of CBS Sunday Morning. Hello, John.
S3: Well, no, I was just I was chuckling in an applause of your very good title, and I don’t think you should lend their serious ears to what you what what you unfolded there.
S2: Thanks. Thank you very much. This week, we will talk about Joe’s lack of Mojo Joe Biden sinking approval ratings. What do they mean? Then? The bad guys are winning a truly depressing story in the new Atlantic magazine. We will dig into what is happening around the world whereby the bad guys are winning. Why are they winning? Then we’re going to talk to the brilliant writer Jay Caspian Kang about his new book about Asian-Americans and other things as well. Plus, we’re going have cocktail chatter. John What has happened to President Biden’s popularity and when did it happen?
S3: Well, the his popularity was, you know, above 50 percent and which is in today’s politics. It was pretty good all the way through the summer. And basically the lines crossed between approval and disapproval. I’m using the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of polls. They cross in the end of August, and the contributing factors are and they start it’s he starts his decline in July. The contributing factors are both. And we don’t know what in what measure, but the contributing factors are both acute and longstanding. So there’s the withdrawal from Afghanistan that was bad for the administration. There is the the initial excitement over the fact that it appeared COVID 19 was was waning, that vaccinations were up. Then you have Delta, which is a big, you know, a big swarm that doesn’t go away. Then you have the economic results of of the coronavirus, rising inflation. And so prices are going up at the pump and in consumer goods. So you have that contributing to the fact that basically between the end of July, he has an approval rating of 52 percent and it’s now at about 43 percent. It’s been compounded recently by a kind of what feels like a pile on since the elections of a couple of weeks ago.
S2: Emily There’s also this underlying theme that he himself is not doing a very good job communicating what’s happening his administration hasn’t, he said. He’s 79. He turned 79 this weekend, happy birthday and that he has been not full of vim and vigour. He’s not a particularly effective communicator. The administration has not been making a great case that it’s doing a lot. That’s wonderful, and therefore people just don’t have anything to rally behind and that he himself is not somebody people want to rally behind because he’s just not a kind of an exhaustive, exciting figure.
S1: Yeah, I wonder about some of that. I mean, it feels a little like exactly what pundits would say. Right? And I wonder if there is another. Yeah, yeah. No, I agree. I mean, yeah, he’s his approval rating is dipping, so he must not be doing a good job communicating. I personally feel that he seems like kind of absent. But then maybe that’s because I’m not paying attention and watching zero television and don’t really care about his pronouncements. So maybe he’s like super present. And I feel like in the past when I’ve had these instincts, John has come in and been like, Well, actually, no, they’re talking about that constantly. It’s just that they can’t, like, rise above the noise. You know, some of the measures that Biden’s falling on like leadership communication, these seem also like things that, you know, his enemies in the conservative media have been attacking him on. And so it would be kind of easy to deflate him on those measures. But I mean, I guess I wonder if the Democrats are stuck in this moment where COVID doesn’t seem like it’s quite over. They still, in some ways seem like hyper cautious to me. I mean, Tony Fauci said this week, until we’re under 10000 cases, we can’t go back to a degree of normal. I mean, that just seemed like a barometer that who knows if we’ll ever achieve it. It made me feel kind of hopeless. And then there’s inflation and these kinds of questions about the health of the. Economy and people’s worries about that and all the like, forever, forever backbiting and sniping over the negotiations over infrastructure and the build back better bill, and maybe all of that just adds up to this like not very encouraging picture. And then you just blame it on the president because he’s the president.
S3: All right. That’s a big part of it, which is that I mean, there are three ways I think to think about presidential approval. One is he made bad decisions that made things be bad. Then there is things are bad, and it’s the president’s job to fix them and his solutions are awful. So he’s played a bad hand badly. And then the third is and some of this is gas prices. And I mean, then there’s a third category, which is you just happen to be in office when bad things are happening and you don’t have a whole heck of a lot of control over them. Inflation is probably a better example, although you can make the case that the that the final stimulus that Biden presided over while it gave tremendous relief to people contributed to the inflation. That’s now that now exists. I mean, obviously some Democratic economists from Jason Furman to Larry Summers have made that case, so I don’t know. So now, having put it in that category, I might take it back out. But anyway, there is the other part that’s what you’re saying Emily, which is you’re just stuck with it. For me, the question is if you look at the way the infrastructure bill, I mean, this is more of a press question, maybe. I mean, this is the largest infrastructure bill in 70 years. It is what people say they want, which is bipartisan agreement on things that are important to them. It also deals with long term problems, which legislation isn’t always so great at handling. Everybody’s always focused on what’s happening today, but don’t think about the future. This actually does do that in a way that’s actually going to materially help people’s lives. Maybe not tomorrow, but down the road. So it’s a big deal. What happens when it passes is immediately all the conversation comes to what’s going to happen next with the president social spending bill. So there’s no coverage of the thing itself and what it’s doing for people’s lives in the old days. Hugh Sidey, when I first came to Time magazine, said, You know, the White House has a megaphone and they get to say what they’re going to say, and it’s our job to be critical and pick it apart. And it balances it out itself, out roughly. But in today’s age where you have total atomization of media and the ability for the White House to say something and to present their argument is quite difficult. And you also have obviously the rise of adversarial media that’s ideological, not just critical. And so does that change the the job if your job is to create an informed electorate because the informed electorate makes its choices? And I don’t know what the answer to that is, but it’s certainly different than, you know, 70 years ago when Eisenhower was passing infrastructure in terms of the way people get informed about what’s being done in their name, right?
S2: That’s a very. Now all my questions that I was about to ask seemed kind of trivial, but I’m going to ask them anyway. Emily, because they’re just really about political tactics. But I think John, that’s a very profound point. I was reading somewhere and I and I hadn’t really thought about this before. But was the Georgia double Senate victory a disaster in disguise for the Democrats? That that was the result of having a Democratic majority in the House and Senate and a Democratic president raised expectations of what this administration could accomplish that were unreasonable and that in fact, they haven’t been able to accomplish nearly as much because they don’t have a really a working majority in the Senate that allows them to do anything expansive that that people want to do. They probably would have gotten an infrastructure bill anyway. They probably would have gotten something. They would have gotten some spending bill anyway, even with the Senate minority. And with this majority, they just appear to be feckless and impotent.
S1: I mean, if that’s true, it’s on the tab of Christian Cinema and Joe Manchin, not the victories in the Georgia Senate races.
S3: Yeah, I think one of the problems is that people who should know better when pundits and analysts who rush to the FDR analogies when Biden was elected should be have their licenses revoked. I mean, nobody’s going to pass after we get licenses. I didn’t get a license. Yeah, no, I actually got a passport. It allows you to fish in 38 different states as well. So that’s it’s really quite useful to have one anyway. Nobody was going to pass any FDR style programs. When you have the thinnest possible margin in the Senate and you have only, you know, a barely larger one in the House, it just isn’t going to happen in a big, diverse party in today’s politics, like the fact this is why infrastructure passing at all is extraordinary. And also back to this communications thing. I mean, we’ve talked about this a lot before, but the ability of a president, any president, including the great communicators, Clinton and Reagan, to communicate. In certain environments is just impossible. I mean, you just can’t do it, it’s just a presidential communication when you’re pushing against the headwinds of the country just is not that of terribly effective. In a moment of national tragedy, a president can come in and shape and speak to the country because everybody lends their generous ears to what the president is saying. But if people are just cranky and pissed because we’re in the 19th month of a pandemic, you can do pirouettes on the head of a unicorn spike, and you’re not going to get a lot of people paying attention because they are inflamed and they’re angry. And we’ve seen, as we’ve talked about before, the people who are in out of power are more inflamed and more angry. And so, you know, I’m not sure there is communication good enough to to solve the problem. And we should just say quickly this problem for Democrats on the generic ballot in the Washington Post poll is as bad as it’s ever been. It’s as good as it’s ever been for Republicans in a generic poll means when you ask somebody, would you vote for a Republican or a Democrat in the House, it’s 51 41 Republicans over Democrats traditionally when the numbers are that bad. If you look at the graph that that takes presidential approval and and matches it up with the number of seat losses in a non-presidential election year. Biden’s approval rating is in the territory of 1994, which, as you may all remember, was a historically big year for for Republicans. So that’s things are very bad for Democrats.
S2: Well, given that Emily, given how bad things look. What exactly can Democrats do to both govern better and and enhance their prospects of avoiding total catastrophe at twenty two?
S1: You know, I’m not sure that the things I think they can do better are going to make the difference in winning or losing, but I think they could communicate much better on education. I mean, the numbers show that people are really turning toward trusting Republicans, not Democrats or. The numbers are almost even when Democrats used to have a big lead, and that just seems like something we saw coming out of Virginia and the close race in New Jersey and all these school board races that in states like Pennsylvania. I mean, that just seems like it’s important, even if it doesn’t make the difference in the election to figure out how to meet people where they are on that issue. And then I think Biden has to. I mean, I feel so silly saying this because it seems so obvious and I’m sure smarter people than me in the White House and elsewhere would have more sophisticated things to say. But it seems like Biden needs to get out there with some kind of positive message, some kind of sense that, like the country is on the right track and here’s what’s happening. And some of it should be like shovels going in the ground for the infrastructure project. But some of it should also be like recovering from COVID and some sense of like progress on the pandemic. And I don’t mean to be totally pollyannaish about it, but I do feel like there’s this sort of extra level of holding back that is starting to just make at least me feel very restless.
S2: But Emily, doesn’t this go to what John was just saying a minute ago, which is that there are environments where that just doesn’t break through that. It’s not clear that if Biden started to do a victory tour or kind of normalizing tours that anyone wants to hear it right now, right? John is not your
S3: not your point. It is. Yeah, it’s both my point. And as I’ve said before, though, you’ve got to do something. So I guess my point would be keep keep expectations low. I mean, it’s funny when you read these pieces that say, you know, Democrats think that once the economy gets a little better and a few months pass, you know people will change their minds. I don’t think when people are in a cranky mood, it takes a really long time for them to change their minds because they may be in a cranky mood for different reasons also. Of course, always keep in mind the electorate we’re talking about here. We we’re talking about an inflamed Republican electorate and somewhat desultory Democratic electorate. And so what is going to reignite the Democratic electorate? And I think the best possible case for the for the White House is probably not to spend any time talking about education because it’s bad issue, complicated place to talk about it. And every minute you’re talking about it, you’re energizing the other side’s voters. As important as the issue is outside of a political campaign. And talk about what they actually have done, which is not just infrastructure, but they pass an, you know, an enormous stimulus bill that helped people weather the end of the pandemic. And if they could get their act together and pass a social spending bill, they could talk about what they’re doing for women who have been disproportionately affected by COVID 19 and college and housing and all kinds of other things. And at least try the idea that achievements in Washington might pay off again, a lot of headwinds, but it’s the best thing they’ve got going.
S2: Slate Plus members, you get so much great stuff from Slate and today’s bonus segment. It’s going to be a question that we culled from our conundrum suggestive conundrums. It’s actually my conundrum. I think just this conundrum, which is who is the most useful kind of friend to have, is the most useful kind of friend to have a doctor, a billionaire, someone who owns a pickup truck. We are going to discuss that at Slate.com. SlateGabfest Plotz. We turn now to the cover of the Atlantic magazine, where an Appelbaum occasional Gabfest guest and, you know, brilliant journalist and commentator has a new story. The bad guys are winning, and it’s a story that essentially says that liberal democracy, which we won the 20th century. Yeah, great. We had a great 20th century. It’s getting it’s getting whacked around. It’s getting crushed in the 21st century because there is a loose alliance of autocrats who are supported by billionaires and supported by propaganda farms. And this loose alliance of autocrats is successfully ruining the world. And they’re crushing dissent in places like Belarus and Russia and China and Venezuela. And they’re able to do this not because the world doesn’t condemn them. The democratic world doesn’t condemn them, but because the condemnation just comes with no teeth and that other people, other bad actors, are there to support them. So when the people of Belarus rise against their dictator and the world says yes, go people of Belarus, throw out your terrible dictator. The Russians are like, yeah, whatever, we’ll send it with that, they send in journalists, they send in soldiers, police officers, advisers to figure out how to crush the Belarus and revolution because it’s in Russia’s interest for Belarus to to continue to be an autocratic country. And there is essentially this this murder Inc. global tentacled, autocratic network of bad guys, and they range from Erdogan to the governments of China and Russia to Saudi Arabia to Venezuela, you know? You know, even the US flirted with this under Trump or Brazil with Bolsonaro. And it’s eroding and defeating liberal democracy. I found this a deeply, deeply depressing, disturbing story. Emily. There was this, I think, and talked about this term impunity that that the problem is not that people don’t know what is going on is wrong, or it’s not even that they don’t even condemn it. It’s a it’s condemned. Everyone knows it’s wrong. And yet they can get away with it. They can act with impunity.
S1: Right? I mean, it’s like the liberal democracies come in and they impose sanctions and then that opens that creates economic opportunity for people who don’t care about the abuses that are happening. And those people rush in to the void and there’s like a connected corporate network of them around the world. I mean, I thought part of the genius of this piece was to think of it in terms of Inc in terms of business interests and this idea that in some countries, the leaders of them, you know, people like Maduro, Lukashenko in Belarus, it’s not even clear what political ideology or values they stand for. They stand for keeping themselves in power and keeping the people around them rich. And if that’s your goal, you can find people help you, you know, get around the sanctions enough to do those things. And then, you know, there’s this very poignant moment where and is writing about Belarus and the idea that all these people poured out into the streets and it was a ton of people. It was like a million and a half people
S2: in a country of only 10 million.
S1: Yes, thank you. And. And they thought, Well, OK, like this is going to make the regime give in. And no, it didn’t. It didn’t really have any effect. It was like this tidal wave of human anguish and protest. And then it subsided. And that is like, really just deeply distressing when you think about what it’s like to live in these countries and what the barriers to change are.
S3: Just to add one other fact to Ann’s piece that Freedom House, which tracks the health of democracy based on the argument that if. There are more democracies and democratic practices are healthy, there will be more people living in freedom. In the last year, they’ve done this report for many, many years and in the last year, 18 countries had declines in their Democratic scores. Only six countries saw improvement. It was the 17th consecutive year of overall decline, which meant that the number of countries that are designated as democracies is at the lowest point in the history of their doing this report. And so it’s not just, you know, so it’s a bad picture. And to the extent it keeps getting worse. And Anne’s argument, there are more places for Autocracy Inc to find Safe Harbor because every one of these countries has oligarchs and has business interests that can go around. And I thought the impunity argument was quite helpful, too, which is that there’s just no conscience. What became so shocking in reading this is you see glimmers of this on the day that House Republicans are not really very bothered about the fact that one of their members put out a video pretending to kill a member of the Democratic Party and that there’s just no, there’s no real. I mean, they haven’t said this. This exemplifies the highest standards of our party. But short of that, they haven’t done much. And when you see the overall impunity grow, it just gets worse. Impunity never grows and then kind of shrinks away.
S2: One thing that I felt that and maybe even underplayed was that with China’s role in all of this, China’s a very interesting force globally because China is not a complete force for ill in the world at all. It’s building lots of things people or the people of China have have, you know, arguably the greatest accumulation of human wealth. The greatest, you know, rise in in human welfare in the history of the world has happened in China in the past 40 years, and the people of China are very supportive generally of the government of China, insofar as we have evidence of that and they’re very supportive of what’s happening in their country. And there’s a huge growth and prosperity and education and and and this is being exported sort of to the world. But the difference between a China rampant in the world in the United States rampant is that China’s really willing to do business with anyone doesn’t care who they’re doing business with. And as a result, almost any of these bad actors can always find support from China to, you know, dredge their harbor or build the rail line. Or, you know, do you know, build that, build the factory or whatever it is, China will finance it if it’s if it’s in the economic interest of the Chinese business, people that want to do it and the US had during the 20th century, the U.S. was more in the US, was certainly like U.S. business everywhere but US business and exporting U.S. values. Whereas China is not particularly interested in exporting values to other countries, it’s interested in doing business and extracting profit from it. And if if China could be turned to being a better kind of a better global citizen and say, like, you know what, we’re not going to do business with Belarus or with with with Maduro. Maybe some of this dissipates because China is the economic engine driving so much of it,
S3: although they’re they may not be pushing an ideology for themselves, although I think they kind of are, but they’re definitely pushing a diminution of the Western ideology. I mean, arguing
S2: heatedly, Yeah, yeah, that
S3: democracies ain’t so great. And and one of the things that was interesting in that pew Typology poll is the extent to which in the Republican Party furthered and supported and really bolstered by a continued argument by Donald Trump that the US really ain’t so special that, you know, the U.S. is it doesn’t have a right to dictate to other countries because the U.S. has lots of blemishes. That’s essentially the Chinese argument. One thing that is interesting about China David that you raise is this week, when Xi Jinping met with Joe Biden, one of the levers that Biden and the administration think they have. And it does seem to be true is that this idea of impunity has a more mixed cast when it comes to China, which is the China really cares about how the world sees it, wants to be considered one of the great powers in all aspects in the world. And so you could see that with the Trump administration when they go to China into trying to help with North Korea. In other words, they said, Hey, if you want to be a big player on the world stage, you help us put North Korea in a box. Biden, when he was trying to get China to participate in the most recent global climate talks, said, You want to be a big fancy nation on the world stage. While you’re not really doing your part on this important issue as a way to kind of use that sense of of image to goad them, which is not obviously something that does anything to move the Russians or the Russians.
S2: Emily I’m interested in your thoughts on how much of this autocracy Inc is a function of the way the internet and. And mass communication works in the internet age and the ability of the bad guys to have harnessed it, I think there was this fantasia in the early days, certainly during the Arab Spring. Oh, that the internet is this tool for democracy and as tools for spreading, spreading freedom. And as our former colleague Will Dobson wrote in this book, The Dictator’s Learning Curve. These tools have been fully successfully co-opted and turned turned to different purposes and malevolent purposes.
S1: Yeah, I mean, I think you had this moment, like with the Arab Spring, where it seemed like, Oh my God, the internet is this amazing force for democratic organizing. It’s allowing protesters to find each other. It’s allowing people who are dissidents to really come together. And then it failed in most countries. But then I think really importantly for Will’s thesis. Dictators figured out how to infiltrate, and they realized that you can come in and spread false rumors and you can tell people to show up at the wrong place. And you can do all kinds of trolling and all the kind of false posting and spreading of misinformation and disinformation, the intentional sort that showed up in the American election in 2016. And it sort of we started paying attention to it then. But if you go back a few years, you see these tools being used in other countries very effectively by authoritarian regimes is something Zeynep Tufekci has written about a lot and kind of recently. And you just start to see that these are very double edged sword, these tools. And obviously, we’ve seen this with the rise of misinformation about COVID worldwide that you can use seamless, frictionless, rapid spread of information to spread all kinds of messages. And if the corporations that run the social media platforms amplify content that is hot in order to make money, because that’s what keeps eyeballs well, you know, the autocrats are going to figure out how to take advantage of that. We are joined by Jay Caspian Kang, who is the author of a new book We’re Going To Talk About, called the Loneliest Americans. Jay is also a beloved colleague of mine at the New York Times Magazine. He writes a newsletter for the opinion section of the Times. You can also read him there, and he’s the co-host of the podcast Time to Say Goodbye, which he does with Tammy Kim and Andy Lu. Jay Welcome to the Gabfest. We’re so glad you could join us. Thanks for
S4: having me.
S1: I wanted to start with this really interesting paragraph in your book that is in the introduction. You say that the book is about that desperate need to find oneself within the narrative of a country that would rather write you out of it. When I say Asians are the Loneliest Americans, I’m not conjuring up a vision of an ancient weather-beaten man playing a one string violin by the window of a Chinatown tenement. I have no idea of that man is lonely or not. Rather, I’m talking about the loneliness that comes from attempts to assimilate, whether by melting into the white middle class or by creating an elaborate yet ultimately derivative racial identity. The latter serves a double purpose. First, and most important, it serves as an explanation to white people. This is who we are, and here are the ways in which we are both different and the same as you. Second, it allows for the illusion of solidarity. By mimicking the language of the black struggle in America, we hope to become legible as a comrade, a fellow traveler or a person of color. There is an implicit apology to this sort of pleading. We know we don’t have it as bad as you, but we also aren’t white and need a way to talk about it. I mean, obviously there’s just a ton there to unpack. Are you saying effectively that Asian-American identity is so derivative that it doesn’t really exist, or that it’s kind of tissue thin and only exists for, like elite aspiring elite people? Is part of the problem here, obviously, that Asian-Americans come from different countries in the world, and those national identities might feel much more important to a lot of them.
S4: First of all, thank you for reading it so nicely. It’s much better than I could read it. And you know, I don’t know what it is. My writing, my eyesight is leaving me at the age of the early 40s and but I refuse to get glasses. It’s a good question that has a few answers to it. I think the first is that, yeah, I think that basically what has happened is that in 1965, that Hartzler Act passes right in the ton of like ninety five percent of the Asian people in America composed 1965.
S1: And that’s a big immigration law that allows for more immigration from China, Korea, Japan, etc..
S4: Right. But also like eastern and southern Europe, right, which had been restricted before to and in Africa as well. So really opens up the world. And today is like the reason why America looks the way it does, which, you know, I don’t know. I find it so strange because it’s only like a right wing talking point at this point. Right? You know, like Tucker Carlson will say, like the Heart Seller Act changed America and they’re there. That’s what they’re doing. They’ve come for you. It’s weird because he’s right. You know, it did change. It did change America. And so it is strange that on the progressive side, especially on the academic side, that’s not really how history is are built or that’s not how sort of concepts of a people are built right there. They build up more through history the way they build it. Their history is through stringing through events that are traumatic in the lives of those people. And so for Asian-Americans, it’s like, Well, we start with Chinese exclusion and then we go to, you know, lynchings that were happening in the West and then we go to, you know, then we skip forward to like the 1960s and the radical 1960s, like, you know, like in the we say, this is what Asian America is. But for those ninety five percent of people who came first in 1965, like the vast majority of them just say, I don’t know what any of those things are. You know, they they don’t have any relevance in my life, like, what are you talking about? Chinese exclusion? I’m here now. And also my grandparents were like, you know, great great great grandparents or whatever. We’re in Korea at the time. It doesn’t have any real relevance to me. And so I don’t even know if it’s like paper thin at that point. It’s just sort of a hodgepodge of different things that I would say that the majority of the people who are supposed to be in that, you know, in that group don’t really believe in. And so it’s just something that’s always been confusing to me. More than anything,
S3: what interests me about a hard seller in the passage that Emily just read? And I think an argument you make, which is hard sell it comes along in 1965. It comes after the Civil Rights Act. There is sometimes this feeling as if like, well, the whole civil rights movement, you know, open up the doors for Asian immigration. Does that narrative contribute to what you’re saying, which is a kind of simplifying of the story? And therefore there are real disadvantages to making opportunities for Asian-Americans seem to be the kind of result of the civil rights movement.
S4: Yeah, I mean that, you know? Glenn Yang, who works at The Times, wrote a great book about this and just came out, I think, a year and a half ago about that, the Heart Seller Act, and if you read that book and if you read, you know, the scholarship around heart seller, it’s really not about the extension of the civil rights movement, right? That is like a thing that is said to promote it. Basically, just be like, Oh, yeah, you know, like, we did this great civil rights thing, and now it’s time to do it, too. But obviously, the question is what’s happening in Asia at the time, right? If you if you expand the borders of what you’re thinking about beyond the United States, then there’s, you know, there’s a lot of wars going on in Asia, right? 1965 was a time when, you know, people are very much thinking about like geopolitics and the encroachment of communism or whatever, right? And that there is also massive propaganda campaigns going on in Asia at the time that say that. Like, why would you ever trust the United States when their racist immigration policies won’t even let you in the country, right? Like, that’s the big that is a recurring theme that is going broadcast out throughout Asia and the United States. At that point, I think decided, you know, a lot. If you read that the speeches in Congress, you read what people are saying, just like, look, we got to let some of them in, you know, and then their next thought was like. And you know, you can read this from like what RFK is saying at the time, what Lyndon Johnson is saying at the time. They’re like, Listen, we’ll just let about, you know, they’re not really going to come. We’re just going to make it legal for them to come. So don’t worry. And that that’s part of the speech that. And you know, they’re wrong, right? Like, everybody came to realize the people game. And that’s, you know, that’s why my parents, you know, that’s why I, like most of the I don’t know if you walk around, if you have Asian friends like I guarantee the vast majority of them are here because of that. Like that sort of. It’s almost like a diplomatic miscalculation on the part of the Democrats in 1965. But I think that the the sort of spillover effect from the civil rights movement is probably a bit overstated at this point.
S2: Jay first of all, congratulations on writing a book without a subtitle, which is just so it is so hard to write a nonfiction book these days without a subtitle. It’s like everyone needs you to do the subtitle so they know what the book is about, and they can be like, Oh, that’s what he’s arguing. The my question is about the this term Asian-Americans and whether it is, is it possible? Is it right to think of this as a coherent category? We have immigrants from half of the world from wildly different cultures, language groups. What what are the like, the costs and benefits of grouping people from this this? This, you know, huge swath of the world in a single category of Asian Americans.
S4: Well, I think that there is this belief and it started and you know, it starts with people who who were here before 1965 that the general idea behind it was that there is a student movement and the idea was to sort of organize everyone who is not organized at the time. And this is happening in the late 60s, and it’s a lot of students whose parents and families have been here for generations. And so, you know, there’s a lot of Japanese students involved in this, right? Like a lot of those Japanese students were interned or their families are in turn to the Chinese-American families like they’re the ones who sort of slip through during the time of exclusion that they’re or they go all the way back to the gold rush and their families know this history of violence very well. And so during that period of time, it made sense to have like a coherent ideology or a coherent sort of identity that’s based on, hey, there’s only like seven of me and there’s four of you. So what if we would reach and we kind of look the same? So why don’t we join forces here? We’re both called Oriental, and let’s make this thing called the Asian-American. This is happening at like San Francisco State UC Berkeley in the 1960s. And that legacy, you know, and which is sort of spread through ethnic studies programs, but also sort of becomes this, you know, in the same way that I think that like something like Latin next becomes part of like a spoken political and media language before it’s actually adopted by the people itself, right? Like Asian-American almost becomes that throughout the sixties, late 60s in the early 70s, where it’s a term that’s used a lot that I don’t think a lot of people are coming. The United States really had that much fealty to or even awareness of its borders changed by about a billion people, depending on how you define it, right? Like if you say, are South Asian people Asian, you know, then you have like 1.3 billion more people. If you say, well, no, they’re South Asian and or they’re brown, like, there’s all these sorts of different ways in which it’s characterized. And yeah, I think it’s led to a lot of sort of incoherence. But the reason why I persist is because I think there are people who want it to be a political identity, but I’m not sure that the people who want it to be a political identity really have much idea and what that political identity would be. You know, I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about this for like 10 years now, and I can’t really think about what you know. I still don’t have a good answer to that.
S3: So Jay, what I wonder is there? And if I may just be asking you to do something you were just saying you’ve been having trouble doing so, I apologize. But. So the week or so ago, Pew put out a political Typology of what I spent a lot of time thinking about, which is political differences. And we talk about Republicans and Democrats, and they point out there are really nine different gradations, and some of them are quite different. Within the Republican Party, for example, you have a corporate wing and then you have another wing that says corporations are like destroying America. And yet they are called Republicans and they vote for the same people. And I wondered if there is a structure you have come up with that breaks apart Asian-Americans into component groups. That allows some way of grouping, but that doesn’t do the, you know, the messy thing of just having one group.
S4: Yeah, I think that if the biggest change is generational right between first generation second generation immigrants, that second generation is much more liberal and much more votes Democrat at a much higher rate, the older generation tends to be much more, I don’t know, bootstrapping. I mean, that makes sense, right? That’s why you come to the United States in some ways. And if you come to the United States and perhaps you buy into some of the ideas about America and also, you know, there’s a good chance that nobody really helped you very much if you’re an Asian immigrant who came to the United States, right? And there’s not that much concern about that population. And so I think that generationally is the most important way to think about it. But I also think that if you’re trying to group people politically, you know, if you’re trying to group people more anthropologically or socially and say, like, well, what are the different groups? The class divide is really the way to go. Asian-Americans are either rich or they’re poor. You know, they have the biggest income disparity of any racial group in America. You can go into Google. You can see a lot of Asian-American people right now. You might say they’re not the CEO of I guess they are the CEO of Google at this point. But you know, I don’t even know the words right, but like. And then you and then you go to Chinatown and New York City, you go to Sunset Park in New York City and you walk around and you’re like, These are not these are not rich people. Again, like, there is something where the identity when speaking about the identity, you’re really just talking about the wealthy people, right? And you’re sort of not talked about the person who delivered your dinner, for example. And so I don’t know if those are useful categories, but I do think that those are the actual categories when talking about Asian-American is something that, you know, the book. To do I guess it’s something I’ve tried to do. You know, if you don’t think about it in terms of class and you end up with a group that you know in some ways is not particularly all that sympathetic politically.
S1: A few weeks ago, I think when your book came out, you were ruing what you saw as a likely development that most of the people who had reviewed your book would be also Asian-American. Yeah. That the people outside of this, in your view, kind of problematic group identity would not be the people kind of introducing the book to the world. It was part of what made me want to have you on the show, but I just wonder how that’s actually played out and what your initial objection was about.
S4: I think most people who have reviewed the book are still Asian. You know, someone reviewed the book and Chicago Tribune who was white. It was interesting because, you know, it’s a different perspective. There’s two things that happen. The first is that like, like in the book review industry, I think that it’s the problem is not race itself, necessarily. It’s that within within, if you’re part of like a minority group, the people that editors will go out to look for for review these books is actually a very small group of people, you know, like if they’re like, OK, we need an Asian person or for you this book, there’s like seven people. I’m one of them. You know, if there’s an Asian book that comes out, you know, people are like, Do you want to review this book and say, I don’t know anything about this topic of this person is like, you know, Vietnamese and I don’t know. You know, it’s just weird. And I just like, I don’t know how you get like somebody else to provide a type of perspective about it. And so generally, what you have is you have a small group of people who are kind of discussing internal stuff, you know, like not and not necessarily internal to that group, but internal to the industry. Right. And and that is like, I think that that is interesting to me, somebody who works in that industry, in this industry, it might be interesting to other people, but you know, I don’t know if it’s interesting to anybody else. I don’t think that’s actually happened with my book. I think some of the reviews have been actually quite interesting and and you know, a couple of them have been actually quite well-written, argued even for people who might disagree with a lot of the book. But at the same time, I think my idea was that I don’t get why we sort of proceed this way. Right? Like, I feel like the main reason behind it is that people don’t want to get canceled if they say something bad about a book and they’re not the same race as somebody and it gives people a little bit of protection, but against that type of thing. There’s a sort of magical assumption behind it that if the person is of the same thing, that they must have some secret insight into the person or the book that they can share with the white readership to also find kind of a wrong, you know, generally and be, like, mildly offensive, you know, like, yeah, it’s like, Hey, do that Asian, talk with each other, you know, like, Oh, there’s like, I don’t know what that is. And the last part of it, I think, is that it really limits the conversation around the book to the questions of identity only. You know, this book has a lot about class, and it has a lot about how cities are built as a lot about food in it and the people who are reading or writing. The reviews also understand the game in a certain way. Right. And so they tend to write about the types of things that they think they’ve been chosen to write about. And yeah, that sort of ends up with the same type of thing being written over and over again. I’ve seen it with a lot of books, and I know a lot of people are frustrated with it. I wish that like. I don’t know, I wish there is like a lot of Latino reviewers of this book who could talk about their, you know, like immigration and the parallels and the differences. I think Jewish, right? You know, like a lot of the best responses I’ve gotten are from Jewish readers who have said, Hey, a lot of this feels pretty resonant to me. And some of it doesn’t like those are those are capacious types of conversations that it should happen around the book, whether positive or negative about the book itself. And I think we’ve limited a lot of those out.
S1: Well, I definitely responded to it, partly as a Jewish-American feeling like you said there are some things that really resonate this idea that there’s all this American history and actually it has nothing to do with my family, like we just weren’t there for that part. But then also the sense that, you know, there’s a comfort in having a group identity, even if it’s kind of manufactured. And I actually wonder if there I mean, you say in the book that you feel like the Black American struggle is different, but it also obviously has fissures in it. And people got here at different times and it covers lots of different countries.
S4: I do think it is different in terms of like I do think the number of people matters, right? The majority of of black Americans are descendants of slaves. Right. Something like five to six percent of Asian-Americans were here prior to 1965. Right. Their families are here prior to 1965. And so. And then, you know, the black struggle civil rights reconstruction. That history is one that is deeply ingrained. And all of the United States, right? And it’s one that is lived through people’s families. They can trace it back. I just think that when you have an identity that almost nobody believes in, it does create a different type of dynamic than one that would also say, Hey, we have contradictions in our in our in our history too. We have people who come in and, you know, they identify for certain reasons. And that’s great, you know, but I don’t know. I think it’s just like at some point how many people are talking about is it’s a relevant question.
S1: Point well taken. Jay Caspian Kang Thank you so much for coming on the show. To our listeners, I truly recommend Jay’s newsletter. He is writing and thinking about race and education in all kinds of interesting ways. So you should check it out. Jay Thanks so much.
S4: Thank you.
S2: Now, let’s go to cocktail chatter. Emily, when you are preparing a Thanksgiving cocktail this weekend, a pre-Thanksgiving cocktail, as you sit down with your long list of cooking tasks and you have a drink and start cooking and chatting. What are you going to be chattering about?
S1: Oh my god. This story about the exoneration of two of the men who were convicted of killing Malcolm X is so crazy and interesting. You know, I have so many questions like What is this mean about what the FBI knew at the time? Why did these two people go down for this killing? There is a third person who confessed to the killing and had always said that these other two men were innocent. And then I’m also fascinated by the role of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in this. So Cy Vance is about to leave office. This is obviously one of the big announcements he’s making before he goes, and it really seemed what prompted this investigation was a documentary and a book that, you know, a bunch of non professionals really pushed for reopening this case. And that’s just such an interesting development in, you know, the land of prosecutors who are willing to revisit past convictions and to see this, you know, phenomenon that I’ve been tracking from this other point of view play out with like such epic historical significance was just totally crazy and interesting to me. So I can’t wait to read more about this John Dickerson.
S2: What’s your chatter?
S3: I have a kind of double chatter. One is about a book called the the favorite book Faber FBR Book of Reportage, and it’s an amazing collection of, well, reportage, but it goes back all the way to, you know, the beginning of time 55 B.C. in that kind of thing anyway. One of the entries, they’re all very short little entries, slices of reporting of real of real life. And one of them is about religious observance, as in Dunkirk, in sixteen sixty two. And it writes about these monks and basically the monks and their vow of poverty and relationship with God put themselves in the hands of the citizenry. And so basically they would accept alms and that’s how they ate. I mean, basically, it was your duty as a religious person and in the community to feed the monks. But sometimes people would drop there wouldn’t exactly keep the standards up. And so when that happened and they didn’t, you know, hold up to their obligation, they rang the starving bell. And when the starving bell was rung by the monks, then people would hurry over to the abbey and, you know, give them a pot roast or something because they knew they’d really gotten to the point where they were actually having to ring the starving bell. So any time you’re hungry, go ahead and ring the starving bell. The second thing is that I’ve been finally finishing the way we live now, which I read about three quarters up by Anthony Trollope many years ago and then never quite finished it. And I’ve been delighted in finishing it. And one of the delights, as people know, is sometimes I listen to the audio book while I’m doing some other task. Timothy West is the narrator narrator for the way we live now. Timothy West is also the narrator of lots of Tolkien and Shakespeare and Stoppard and other things. He’s amazing. I just go listen to Timothy West for the sake of it, and it’s just a delight. Trollope the way we live now, it feels like you’re reading punditry about the current news cycle, which is great in its own terms. But then Timothy West makes it even better.
S2: My chatter? It’s a triple chatter John with double.
S1: Well, no, I don’t do it.
S3: I believe in the Treaty of Kent. It was determined that Germany chatters, Ah, are not good.
S2: No, no. Every every man born of a living woman is entitled once every three years
S1: does that Macbeth?
S2: It is man of
S1: Macbeth in
S2: the man who born of women.
S3: OK, tell fuck Burnham. What comes to dancing? OK, sir,
S2: I shall quake with fear. Leon McDuff The first one is this really interesting piece in The New York Times by Jeffrey Leavenworth on Jonah Fight Marriage. Did you guys see this? It was so crazy. So Jeffrey Leavenworth wrote a story about his parents marriage. His parents had been married in the 50s, maybe the fifties or early sixties, and turned out at some point and after they had four children, their father converted to Catholicism. And at this point, he’s in his mid-40s. But he’d had an earlier marriage. He’d been married before he’d married Jeffrey Leavenworth mother, and he wanted to get that marriage annulled and the Catholic Church refused to annul. His previous marriage and said, in fact, that he was now living in a kind of illegitimate marriage with his current wife, with whom he had four children. And they said he could continue it if he had what was called a Josefine marriage, if they lived as brother and sister. His parents, who’d had this marriage. You know, a regular marriage, got twin beds and like spent the next 10 years of their marriage living. It was so important to them that they live in the good graces of the church. It was so important to them that they were willing to endure this sexless touchless marriage. And then the previous wife, their original wife, died and that made him a widower, and he was then able to remarry his, his actual wife and and return. But it’s this idea of this thing that Joseph fight marriage is so fascinating. Anyway, check it out in the times. The other two quick ones just Atlas Obscura. My old dear employer has a new iPhone app, and it’s fantastic. If you like Atlas Obscura, check out the iPhone app. It’s really easy to use and fun and playful and super super useful if you’re out traveling. And my current place city cast if you were in Houston, the City Cast Houston podcast has launched its A Morning podcast about all that’s going on in Houston. It’s great. Our host, Lisa Gray, is so vivid and wonderful and knows everything about Houston. Check it out at Houston Dot City Cast FM.
S1: That sounds
S2: great. Yeah, it is great. Listeners, you sent us lovely chatters again this week and you tweet them to us. That’s like Gabfest have been so many good ones. This is another animal related one. It’s from Melissa Ocepek
S5: isolate political Gabfest. This is Melissa Ocepek from Champagne Illinois, sharing a listener chatter of a tweet I saw from Ferris jabber of a wild fox stopping and listening to a banjo player. I thought this would make for a good chatter because I think it relates to so many things that so many of you and your listeners are interested in. Notably, the power of music, the beauty of nature and the relationship between those two wonderful things. I recommend checking it out if you can. It is really so lovely and so simple and really brightened my week.
S2: You guys check it out. It’s so frickin charming. No, I guess just thirty five seconds long. So it’s great. Foxes are the most beautiful animals. They are so beautiful. That is our show for today. The Gabfest is produced by Jocelyn Frank. Our researcher is Bridgette Dunlap. Gabriel Roth is editorial director of Site Audio. Jim Thomas, managing producer. Alicia Montgomery, executive producer of Slate Podcast. Please follow us on Twitter. At at Slate Gabfest tweet to your chat or to us there for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson I David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week. Hello. Slate Plus. How are you? So we have our conundrum show coming up soon, and we have so many great conundrums, thank you for sending them. And I had a conundrum and that I wanted us to do. And I was just like, Hell, we’ll just do it as a slate plus segment because there are too many good conundrums of yours to do and the conundrum show anyway. So I was just thinking, this is this is I’ll caveat this in a second. But the basic question is, who is the most useful friend to have? Like, is it a doctor, a car mechanic, a judge, a billionaire, a celebrity, a dog walker, someone who owns a pickup truck, a notary? And it was the purpose of friends is not to be useful. The purpose of friends is to create community and love and and care. But you and yeah, and usually you do run across a friend who’s really useful to you and and hopefully you are that friend, other people that you are really useful to your friends in some way. And I wanted your guys’s take on, you know, what’s the most useful kind of friend to have?
S1: I am going on the nurse doctor path. And the reason for that, I confess, is that I don’t actually have a doctor, which I know is like, ridiculous. And I’ve lived in New Haven for a really long time.
S3: Wait, ever.
S1: No, I, of course, had a pediatrician when I was growing up and when I was having babies, I had an OB-GYN, but I somehow have not had an internist for a really long time. Like, I don’t know, possibly like 20 years.
S3: And so what I meant by ever?
S1: Yeah. So it’s I do have a nurse midwife, but I haven’t seen her in a really long time either, because I’m not having babies anymore. So as a result, if there is someone who can like, look at your stitches about, you get stitches,
S2: let a doctor. Well, no,
S1: I mean, you said so. Or it’s more like looking at the cut to decide whether you have to go to the emergency room. Right? Are you a doctor? You might have to do that.
S3: Then you like that whipping up policies and that kind of stuff. I mean, I had
S1: a whole ball this year says, I mean, effectively, this kind of yes. And so it’s really helpful if someone can just like, look and make sure that you’re not going to die.
S2: I’m a million percent with you. You guys know, I have a really great dear friend who’s a doctor, Mary after listening Hello, Mary, and she is always willing to give the kids a quick, once over check if it’s strep, you know, look at look at this wound that wound. Give a second opinion. If you have been to the doctor and the doctor said something you don’t like, it
S1: saves much
S2: time, so much time and money, but so much time. Mostly it saves time. But on the other hand, my ex brother in law, very handy, very handy person loves to be handy, and he would always come to our house and would just fix all the little fiddly things that I just couldn’t be bothered or didn’t know how to fix. You know this little bit of plumbing or that little bit of electricity. So a very handy person is also who likes to be handy is also a really great person to have.
S1: I totally agree. But you know what I’ve discovered just in the last few years, my husband is that person, and I did not know this about him. And now he fixes everything like
S2: just rekindled your marriage. He’s so sexy.
S1: He kind of hit this talent. I have some time
S3: as a question to ask you, first of all, what how handy are we talking about here? I mean, I mean, you fix this like, I don’t know.
S1: He like, Well, first of all, he’s fixed, really fixed like two toilets in the house, like had to really like put in new parts. But there are other things, too, where he’s like to things. I mean, I just like hooked up electricity. Yeah, we have this elliptical machine now.
S3: See, this is important. Anybody who that for me, electricity is the I mean, I’ve solder things. Although I almost once burned down the house because I used to solder together my computer parts and we made that when I was leaving my dad and we went away for the weekend and I came back strong iron. Oh, I had guys on something I’m know out of
S1: the house, not burn down. That sounds terrifying.
S3: Well, when you when you balance the soldering iron on the battery or whatever, I had balanced it on the the and that is hot is elevated in the air. It’s not touching you. And it just stayed balanced that I was going crazy. But the the other thing I was wiring to get a computer power and crossed the wires and made this enormous spark. So, so electricity is that if you can jump over and do things with electricity, wow, that’s I’ve done it. That’s really handy. And if we told the story about when we were married,
S1: no, but please do.
S3: And mother took her aside and of course I’m embellishing. But, you know, sat her down between the needlepoint pillows as the light dimmed in the in the east and said before we got married and is John handy. This was to her a real question about whether the marriage should go or whether it would slip on the rocks if I
S1: mean good for her
S3: ball peen hammer. Were they to the doorframe when it needed it or whatever might happen
S1: and might be pretty handy too, though
S3: we have our areas of expertise. They are. It’s a load sharing arrangement. She is incredibly handy on anything in 98 percent of the world, but there are some areas in which I retain some mastery.
S2: Are there any other? So I had a couple of just going back to our original subject the friend, the friend with an amazing, underused country house. That’s a good friend to have that’s
S1: called mooching
S2: off the I don’t think really rich people are actually useful friends because you either they rightly don’t want to get entangled with your finances if you need to. If you’re like, I need money. They rightly are like, Forget it, I do not give money to my friend. That’s the bad scenario. Or they do, and that’s also a bad scenario. So I think that’s also not actually secretly you think like, Oh, I really want to be great friends with Jeff Bezos, but if you’re great friends with Jeff Bezos, it would just be stressful. And in in asymmetrical in all kinds of ways, it’s
S3: hard to gain. Say your points about the doctors, particularly also because a doctor who settles you down saves you. You know that number of days between when you have this thing happened, it turns you right. The number of days between when you get to an actual real doctor. So there’s a lot of but you would go ahead.
S2: David Yeah, no, no. I was going to say, but I was just sorry. I was just interrupting, but I was like, You know what kind of doctor? You don’t want to have a friend, psychiatrist, psychologist? That is actually,
S1: I totally disagree with that because they can prescribe medication. And at least if you’re my mom, you remember everything you learned in medical school. It’s crazy.
S3: Well, reserving the balance of my time or claiming back the balance of my time, the just back on the on the I thought you were going to say on the doctor, what you don’t want is the doctor friend who turns out to be an alarmist. A friend of mine was describing this that they have a roommate. I guess it was a roommate from college whose response to everything is not. Now let me put this in the context of life’s long arc, but oh my god, you know, rush to her. When I was in college, I had a swollen lymph node and I called up. It was in the middle of exams and everything. You know, your whole body is revolting against you. And I was stressed out about whatever damn exam it was. And I called student health late at night. I remember I was on a payphone on a street and said, like, I have this like marble in my neck. What’s up with that? And the person at the other end, the line was like, You must get in here immediately. It was just like a swollen lymph node from like whatever was happening, but it was terrified me. You don’t want that kind of doctor friend.
S1: Well, what’s your argument against psychologists and psychiatrists? You think you’re messing with? Yeah, that
S2: they might be judging you, that they’re sitting there and they know,
S1: but they don’t. I feel like this is such a misnomer and so unfair to them, at least my mother and my father. Well, also do not
S2: do, but also a psychiatrist. Forget psychologist for a second. They might be useful. Psychiatrist. They play doctor, but they can’t. They actually don’t know if you have an ear infection or not. They actually don’t do the kind of good internist stuff. Maybe your mom is an exception. I love your mom’s fantastic.
S1: My mom doesn’t try to diagnose ear infections because she doesn’t have the equipment. But if she had the whatever it’s called thing that we put someone where
S3: she, you know, you can use the iPhone four that it has this really. Yeah, it’s if you look, it’s the flashlight symbol on the iPhone, you just put that up to the old ear and you get a world of wonder at the end of the line.
S2: My father, also my father, back when he was still kind of a practicing doctor, he I couldn’t. He refused ever to be helpful to his family. He had this principle, which maybe your mother doesn’t have Emily, which is like, you know, the Hippocratic Oath you cannot practice on your family. And so I remember I was like dying of an infection. And he just he would not prescribe me anything.
S1: OK, we do not have that rule.
S3: Can I also just go back to the defining terms here? As I was saying, you can’t gainsay the doctor thing, but a wise friend is incredibly useful, which is to say it’s the non physical manifestation of what we were saying earlier about settling you down like a person who has perspective at the ready who has had a sufficient life experience to give you a view that changes and reorient your worldview without, you know, the kind of friend who just presses solutions on you that are implausible. That’s no picnic, but somebody who just has the kind of orienting wisdom that’s a real great thing to have in life.
S2: I would say that you’ve both served that role for me, so thank you.
S3: Oh, back at you. That’s very sweet. And it’s true. Thank you.
S2: I do think having a notary for a friend would be useful, but you’d save that for another day.
S3: What is the point of notarization, I mean, honest,
S1: just to drive one crazy, it has no point. It’s just a big bureaucratic.
S3: I mean, if you’re going to make people notarize things, then really add some ceremony to it, like let’s get out the powdered wigs and the sealing wax and
S1: well, they do get this whole thing is cool. I like this, but it’s not worth the time and pain in the neck.
S3: I want somebody to have a sword
S2: that would be good. All right, Flight-Plus, catch you later.