The “What’s in Trump’s Safe?” Edition
David Plotz: This Ad Free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest.
David Plotz: Before August 11th, 2022. It’s the what’s in Trump’s safe addition. I am David Plotz of city cast here in washington, d.c. joining me from new haven, Emily Bazelon of the new york times magazine and yale university law school. Hello, Emily. How are you?
Emily Bazelon: I’m good.
David Plotz: And John is still away somewhere. But that doesn’t matter because we have our beloved regular Juliette Kayyem of Harvard’s Kennedy School and the author of The Devil Never Sleeps. Hello, Juliet, from wherever you are also New England.
Speaker 3: Good. Hello, Jamestown, Rhode Island.
David Plotz: This week on the Gabfest, why did the FBI search Mar a Lago and will it be politically damaging for the Democrats that they did so then? How big a deal is the Inflation Reduction Act? Has Joe Biden had the most successful presidential month since Lyndon Baines Johnson? And then the full story of Trump’s cruel and ineffective family separation policy, it’s finally been told. We will talk to Atlantic reporter Caitlin DICKERSON about her exhaustive and grueling account of one of Trump’s worst policies. Plus, we’ll have cocktail chatter.
David Plotz: The FBI executed a search warrant at Mar a Lago. Trump’s Florida State and reporting suggests they were looking for records, classified materials that Trump had taken from the White House and not returned as the law requires. It is the first time a former president has ever been subjected to a search warrant like this. But I mean, we’ve never had a Trump before. So first time for everything, always Juliette. What do we know about how this would have been approved and why it might have been approved and what was approved?
Speaker 3: Sounds like it was a a relatively normal process with an abnormal subject, which is they needed it and they needed judicial approval to get the information. They have essentially a document which lists out the reasons why they need the information and what they’re looking for. They apparently buy news reports. They coordinate in a way with the Secret Service at Mar a Lago because that’s the governing law enforcement agency over that place. They do it when Trump is not there and they know he’s not there because they don’t want any interaction with him and they go in seeking documents.
Speaker 3: Okay. So that’s what we know. What documents now is just a matter of what we know from reporting TRUMP. The Department of Justice certainly knows. But protocol and history and I also think fairness is a reason why we’re not learning from the Department of Justice. There’s been no essentially no acknowledgement of what happened at Mar a Lago.
Speaker 3: And then the third part is, what is it? That’s where there’s just lots of speculation about what’s in the documents. I will say there are things that you do know simply from the facts. The division within the Department of Justice is the National Security Division, which executed the search, the National Security Division with as sub part within the division that deals with classified information and improper disclosure. So in other words, this is not the tax division. So we certainly know something from that. And the other is we also know that Trump gave up some materials earlier, that he had classified information earlier that he had taken without authorization. He gave up those documents. So the question is, is why did why did he retain this group? So that’s what we know right now.
David Plotz: Do you Emily think it’s likely that they really were only looking for documents taken from the White House and not returned? And why would that be addressed when that’s usually just solved administratively? Again, no precedent for anyone who’s behaved like Trump, but this does seem like an unusual way to solve a problem that hasn’t been solved in this way before.
Emily Bazelon: Yeah, I mean, it seems like there’s got to be more to it. Not that I have any inside information to that effect. It just doesn’t add up to me that if they’re just having an argument with him, you took some classified materials you needed to give them back, that that would be enough for a raid on the former president’s residence. That is just such a ramping up that you would think there was something else going on here, something that the Justice Department thinks could be criminal or there’s a kind of willful withholding of information or they’re worried it’s going to get shredded or there some disloyalty to the United States. Those or those are some of the factors that the FBI has put forward in other cases in which there have been these kinds of unusual moves. And so it was useful to me to have those parameters because I do think it’s going to be deflating if this just turns out to be like a fight with the National Archives.
David Plotz: Over like some letters that Kim Jong un sent to Trump.
Emily Bazelon: Right. Which, like Trump has been waving around is like, you know, memorabilia.
David Plotz: Emily just to get one thing out of the way, there’s been some Twitter chirping that if Trump were charged under a particular statute, one of the particular statutes about holding on to classified documents, he could be disqualified for being president again. Why was that theory theorizing to it arising, incomplete or wrong?
Emily Bazelon: Well, it does say this in the statute. The question is whether Congress has the power to change the qualifications for the presidency that are in the Constitution. And the answer seems to be no. And we already ran this play when Hillary Clinton was being accused of, you know, potentially violating the statute, when we were spending endless time thinking about her email server. And there was already a kind of whole vetting by law professors of this theory. And essentially people said no.
David Plotz: Said the right Juliette you wrote about this a bit is in full froth. And then now we’re at war crowd who see this as a wholly political act of vengeance by the Biden regime, capital R regime. What is to be done about the sense that that the government is now a tool? I think whether or not I think it’s highly unlikely that President Biden or any of Biden’s. Staffers organized this to get back at Trump. I think this is almost certainly something being done by career prosecutors and approved probably very reluctantly by a political appointee somewhere in the Justice Department.
David Plotz: But there is going to be the sense on the right that you can use the Justice Department now to go after political enemies. This is the Trump did it and now Biden’s doing it. So it means it’s free rein for anybody to do this in the future. How are we going to keep this sort of professionalized in the future? Are we is a a next president going to use this tool again and again to go after political enemies?
Speaker 3: I mean, when when Nixon was impeached, there was always a view, impeach him. You know, every future president will be impeached. And the truth is, if you stay out of trouble, that isn’t true. Ronald Reagan, Carter, Obama. I mean, in over there’s there’s there’s you know there’s and Bush both Bushes. So it’s this this sort of threat that is going to be used by the other side. Does it generally actually that ends up not being true. And this narrative is part of the incitement, the anger narrative, the were constant, you know, the sort of right wing were always pissed off and were never happy narrative, which really did get triggered on Monday night when the raid happened that that’s the world I live in. And I had never seen anything like it since January 6th. Everyone from responsible or should be more responsible political leaders to really the dregs of society are pushing a violence narrative which they get from Trump.
Speaker 3: Trump has always had violence as a sort of final, you know, final political play. I mean, he just thinks violence is sort of a natural part of politics and we’ve gotten kind of used to it. So I think it is distressing and I think the elevation of this language is something that will take years to hopefully rot out of our system. We’ll tire of it. But, you know, there’s always lone wolves and others who will act on it. There is also signs of a counter insurgency that we shouldn’t forget either. The groups are dissipated, they can’t raise money. They’re not increasing in size, even though they’re they’re growing louder.
Speaker 3: Trump is isolated. He’s deplatformed the Republican Party is is complicated in terms of how it’s voting. And that’s better than it it being solely about Trump. And and polling now suggests that most majority Republicans would would not beg for Trump if he exited. Those are the signs that an ideology is not growing. And that’s just basically the ideologies don’t die. They either grow or they dissipate. And I think there’s lots of signs that this one, at least the violent side, is struggling in the post January six enforcement and other efforts.
David Plotz: What do you make of the political implications of this search? I. I am skeptical. I’m skeptical that this is delightful for the Dem, the Democrats politically or for for President Biden in particular. Unless it turns out that what they’ve recovered is really quite alarming and they are able to share that and in a relatively short time frame. But otherwise it feels like it’s going to seem. Uh, political, potentially political and trivial and, and also makes Trump into a martyr rather than, than the villain that we know that he is. And it and it aggravates the right and it sort of antagonizes and gins up emotion, which makes people more likely to vote against you.
Emily Bazelon: It doesn’t seem like this is something that will dissuade Trump supporters, right? This is only going to make them feel more embattled. Whether it motivates liberals and Democrats or independents, whether there’s a sense that Trump is tainted and corrupt, I mean, how much more evidence do we need of that? Right. Like, this is it’s this is where you sort of become defamation proof. Like there’s so much evidence.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, we have Trump pleading the Fifth. Over and over again in the civil case in New York, where New York Attorney General Letitia James was deposing him or was supposed to depose him this week. And suddenly, you know, Trump, who in the past has scoffed at pleading the Fifth. Why would you do that unless you’re guilty? Well, turns out, like if you don’t want to answer questions, it’s a pretty good route to take, especially if there’s still at least the possibility of a criminal investigation. In New York, though, the district attorney in Manhattan, Alvin Bragg, has really backed away from that. Anyway, this is all part of Trump’s persona. And so I think you’re probably right, David, that if this kind of proves to be not much and you have these pretty shocking, you know, headlines about reading Mar a Lago, that is not really going to be an asset for the Democrats, whether it really matters in the end compared to like gas prices and inflation. I think that’s another question.
David Plotz: I want to just close. I was really struck by the juxtaposition of the Trump search and the Alex Jones trial. And we’re in this. Whether or not the Trump search was over something broad or something narrow, I think it would be highly unlikely that it was over nothing. It’s almost certainly he did at least take some records that he wasn’t supposed to have. And we know that Trump is has a history of invoking executive privilege in preposterous ways, withholding records, withholding documents, having his his employees and aides withhold testimony. Alex Jones clearly withheld a phone that had all kinds of and important evidence on it that was required. And you realize how much of the law depends on people recognizing the legitimacy of the law and respecting it.
David Plotz: And I worry that we’re in this position where yes, these are examples. Alex Jones is being held liable, financially liable, and maybe Trump is going to be held criminally responsible for some some sort of records mishandling. But but like it’s very likely they could get away with it. And there’s this just this this scoffing, scornful way that that some people want to treat the law. And if they do and can get away with it, it just really is. It weakens your profession. Emily and Juliette.
Emily Bazelon: 100%. I mean, don’t you think about that every time they see someone’s phone like this week, it was Representative Scott Perry from Pennsylvania. Like, I don’t want to encourage mass deletion, but if you’re Scott Perry, didn’t you.
Speaker 3: Already go.
Speaker 4: Through your phone.
Emily Bazelon: Like, come on.
David Plotz: President Biden, has there ever been a better president, a more successful president in the history of history of history’s the most extraordinary run of any president in memory. The Chips Act.
Speaker 4: Woo.
David Plotz: Legislation protecting veterans health care killed the head of al Qaeda. Gas prices are plunging. Inflation’s down two zero 0% in july. And the jobs report. Everyone has a job. Juliette has seven new jobs. And once the house approves it, he will sign the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill that will remake climate policy and tax policy. And most of this happened while he had COVID. And he was also he also turned 134 years old. So it’s pretty impressive, Emily, don’t you think?
Emily Bazelon: I mean, I guess he’s not Jimmy Carter after all. Maybe. Yeah. I mean, it’s really interesting to watch someone whose approval ratings are kind of historically low, have this run and then wonder what kind of effect it’s going to have. Exactly how much does it matter electorally? Is President Biden’s lack of popularity just kind of frozen in cement at this point? I don’t know. What do you guys think?
Speaker 3: For me, it’s like, hilarious to watch like two weeks ago. Will he run again? Democrats want him out. You know, the hand-wringing by Democrats and then he’s FDR, Lincoln, and, you know, whoever else, LBJ all combined, you know, it’s like, so who knows what what’s going to animate things. And we also don’t know in terms of the politics of all this stuff, just the undercurrent of the of the of the decision and how that’s going to play out in local elections, especially in some of these states that are are proving to be so heartless.
Speaker 3: And some of the stuff that you see is that people are voting. Craddick and not necessarily saying that they like him. And that’s fine for the party as it moves forward and the party runs against another party and boy, are they putting up some doozies. So in the end, this may end up a whole bunch of things, may end up making the Senate more likely than not Democratic. And I’m I’m not Pollyannish, but I’m not convinced that the House is dramatically going to go to the Republicans yet.
David Plotz: Do you guys think that Biden himself deserves credit for any of these pieces of good news? It’s not really clear to me that gas prices are not plunging because of him. He didn’t kill the head of al Qaeda. I mean, he approved some operation. The veterans health care legislation was a bipartisan piece of legislation, been in the works forever. The Chips Act is basically a Republican piece of legislation that Democrats glommed onto. And the Inflation Reduction Act is is Joe Manchin. You know, it’s a Joe Manchin bill with with Chuck Schumer. I’m sure Biden had some role there. But it’s not clear to me that as a as president that what he is doing is is making the difference. It’s just that there is a democratic structure in place and he’s benefiting from it.
Speaker 3: I disagree. I mean, I think once again, we’re going to be talking about the president setting agendas. Right. So he may not set the specifics, but he’s he’s setting agendas. And and these are complicated agendas that have withered for a long period of time, whether it’s the environment, technology, the the the over the horizon capabilities after the withdrawal in Afghanistan that show that we can still kill the head of Al Qaida. There’s a limited amount of bandwidth for government. And what what the president prioritize matters to agencies, matters to the Hill, and matters for the kind of concessions that he needed, at least in this legislation.
Speaker 3: I come from the non-legislative world when I was in government it was more, you know, response and capability and things like that. And that matters too. If if we as we saw him with COVID, right? I mean, a president who decides that it’s not an interesting thing that he wants to spend his time on will will will have an impact. So priority setting energy, what the and remember what the agencies do what the bureaucracy does is very, very influenced by what a White House wants.
David Plotz: Emily, let’s turn to the Inflation Reduction Act, which we still is not yet law, but presumably it’s heading there once the House approves it and Biden signs it. What about that bill? Has you intrigued what seems what seems useful in it? What seems valuable in it?
Emily Bazelon: So I guess a few things. Lowering prescription drug prices is very popular. It’s something that voters have wanted for a long time. Democrats are giving them one of their hearts desires. It should be a good thing for the world to have Medicare able to negotiate prescription drug prices, and it should be the kind of thing that matters for Democrats chances in November. The energy provisions seem really important, right? I mean, this is the biggest piece of legislation trying to impact climate change that we’ve seen. It does it mostly by trying to incentivize renewable forms of energy.
Emily Bazelon: Yes. The pipeline that Joe Manchin wants that goes through West Virginia is going to get built. But it seems like people who work on climate change issues are just thrilled that this is happening. And given that two weeks ago, it seemed like Joe Manchin was going to be responsible for the death of civilization. That is a big relief if you care about climate change.
Emily Bazelon: And then finally, I think, you know, while the tax increases look like they have some loopholes in them, it’s important that corporations are going to be paying at least 15%. I mean, I don’t understand why it’s not higher, but at least there’s something in there and they are trying to pay for the bill. And it just seems like a pretty good expression of the Democratic Party’s values and priorities. I mean, I also am going to express some sympathy with Manchin that build back better had so much in it. I could never remember all of the provisions like every time we did this show and I had to think about all its many tentacles. I just got lost. Maybe my brain is too small, but having a bill.
David Plotz: Oh, no, totally with you.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, same thing, right? Like having a bill where you you can list out what’s in it in 30 seconds or less is is, I think, helpful. And that doesn’t mean that like the child care and elder care and other provisions in and art important family leave. But I think trying to do this in pieces, having a signature accomplishment that you can actually make clear to voters is helpful.
Speaker 3: We can look at the details of it and say it didn’t go far enough are the loopholes. There’s actually a piece that’s starting to get noticed that most electric vehicles won’t qualify for the federal tax credit or the full federal tax credit because mansion gone in a provision that requires a certain percentage have been made in America, our supply chain for things like Cobalt and others, where let’s just say that, you know, that stuff like that is made in places like Congo a lot easier than they’re made here. So a lot of the cars and car manufacturing companies don’t envision that consumers will get the full tax credit. So there are going to be surprises out of this that it didn’t go further than people thought, because I think that’s one piece where people think, gosh, that’s actually a lot of money for a tax credit.
Speaker 3: But like Emily, there is I sort of think of this as proof of life, Bill. It shows that systems can work and in particular, the other the the health stuff and other stuff wasn’t my focus. It’s the environmental stuff. You cannot underestimate or one cannot underestimate not simply what this means to show this kind of investment, sort of historic investment in alternatives rather than then, oh, this is like a nice little thing. Let’s. See if we can go somewhere with it.
Speaker 3: Right. This is now going to be the way we think about energy investments in the future, which then, of course, will have an impact on our climate, which of course then will have an impact on climate disasters and our vulnerabilities as a society. So that’s the first piece. But the second and this is where, you know, looking at reporting from abroad in particular Europe and China and elsewhere is interesting because it’s it’s also a sense that America is back in the game.
Speaker 3: We tend to think about isolationism as being about national security and war and things like that. It’s also about economic competitiveness and the extent to which the analysis abroad is, wow, they may not be the lead player. They may not be where we want them to be, but they’re back in the game. And I think that is really important because this is a global competitive economy. You want you want countries looking to the U.S. rather than China or elsewhere for this new economy.
David Plotz: I just want to spend a brief second on the provision that most interested me, which is the expansion of the IRS and the proposal to fund 87,000 hires, although to be clear that a lot of that is for from attrition due to retirement. But it’s really interesting whether this move to get people to pay their fair share of taxes and stop them from cheating, the government will work as well as they hope it will.
David Plotz: I think that a lot of Americans, especially rich Americans, do a ton of tax avoidance and they find clever ways to get out of taxes. And probably the IRS is going to target that and get some of it. I wonder if there’s going to be a backlash. I really do, because nobody everyone thinks the other person is cheating, but that what they’re doing is just they’re just taking advantage of the rules and everyone else is cheating. And I wonder what’s going to happen when every millionaire or every cent a millionaire in the country starts getting heavy audits and how quickly they’re going to put all their funds into a Republican Party and how quickly the Republican Party is going to defund this.
Speaker 3: The IRS would be smart once this is passed to maybe give a sense of what the priorities are going to be enforcement, because the tax audit isn’t nothing. I mean, it’s a big deal. So prioritizing it and then they’re not going to do it. But man, these churches and their nonprofit status as they become, you know, like basically rallying for political causes is just ridiculous. And a brave IRS commissioner would would produce that as a priority, as the most outrageous loophole in the world. These are not churches. They are the faith of of Trump. And it’s ridiculous. Well.
David Plotz: I’ll throw it back at you, which is there are a ton of non-profits which work for progressive causes, which are effectively also politically active. And they get get tax benefits. Do I mean, I know the churches are different.
Speaker 3: So you could say don’t touch any of them because it could be used against the next in the next administration could be used. And then all of a sudden you’re going after Greenpeace or or, you know, Human Rights Watch or whatever. But I think that there is that there is some cases that are such outliers in terms of what’s permissible behavior at the site. Right. That that would be worth looking at.
David Plotz: Caitlin Dickerson is an Atlantic staff writer and the author of An American Catastrophe The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Family Separation Policy, which just came out in the Atlantic. This is a case where the headline really matches the subject. This is the story of an American catastrophe. I would urge you listeners to read the story, which is very deep and very complicated and incredibly richly reported. It tells the story of the Trump policy that separated 4000 children from their parents, then lost hundreds of them. And how that policy came to be so Caitlin it is perverse for me to ask you to simplify the story, because your point is really that it’s not that simple fiable it’s the result of many, many actions by many different people who overwhelmingly did not understand the consequences of what they were doing or chose not to see the consequences of it. But as much as you can, can you just start by, please, sort of summarizing the key points from the story, which also was a story that you broke originally.
Speaker 5: Thank you. Yeah, there were a lot of reporters. We were all kind of doing it really alongside each other. I decided to jump into it because after covering this in 2017 and 2018, when it all took place, I just still felt like there was so much that we didn’t know. And I felt like the really quick, quick scapegoating of Stephen Miller, who obviously was a huge driver behind Donald Trump’s immigration policies. He was President Trump’s chief adviser on immigration and then have Kirstjen Nielsen, who was the DHS secretary at the time. DHS is the Department of Homeland Security. It wasn’t really doing anybody a service. And that, you know, this policy took dozens of very high ranking government officials to sign off on it in order to be put into place. And then, of course, it was carried out by hundreds of people working under them. And I felt like it was really important to figure out how that all actually took place.
Speaker 5: So, you know, a few things. You know, this was an environment of very intense pressure, not that it ends absolves anybody of their responsibility. But one thing I heard over and over again is like you could not imagine how many phone calls I was getting from Stephen Miller from his associates at the White House. This is what I was hearing from high level officials at DHS who who ultimately approved of this policy. They talk about facing unprecedented pressure to do so and and just not feeling like it would have been strategic for them or for their careers to push back and say, hey, this is, you know, I think a really terrible idea.
Speaker 5: Some of them told me they thought the idea to separate families was so outlandish it would never actually go anywhere. It was just one of these grandiose notions that, you know, Miller was batting around in meetings and others just told me they figured, you. Somebody else would actually would actually get in the way of it. So they didn’t need to sacrifice their own careers to do so. And because you had all these people stand by and allow this to happen actively or passively, you know, you ultimately get the separation, as you said, of thousands of families and hundreds of whom still haven’t been reunited.
Speaker 3: Your description about, you know, both how the bureaucracy should work for a reason, but also their faith that the bureaucracy would stop the evil right. That’s the other side of it, that people’s confidence that you you couldn’t possibly be making such a bad decision and therefore it couldn’t possibly be made. Right. I mean, that seems like a lot of people.
Emily Bazelon: And yet Nielsen’s decision to believe these lies. Oh, we’ve done this before. And her lack of curiosity about how it was going to work, I found that unforgivable, frankly. I mean, I know she’s not like the driving force, and that’s like Miller and and that’s McAleenan, who’s the head of Customs and Border Patrol. But I still just found that really hard to take.
Speaker 5: I think a lot of that is this pressure that she faced to prove that she wasn’t a squish, to prove that she wasn’t a moderate, you know, that she could be tough enough. That’s actually a phrase that I heard President Trump said to her over and over and over again, you’re not tough enough. And so, you know, she kept trying to inch over to the right further and further to meet these expectations until she just completely lost sight of, you know, reality, as you say. You know, and she’s she’s been being given these assurances that don’t make any sense.
Speaker 5: Call up any prosecutor in the country and ask. And I have and ask them, you know, what do you think about an idea to prosecute thousands of parents outside of their communities traveling with small children who don’t, you know, speak the language necessarily? And they say, you know, this would obviously be chaos. It’s not rocket science to figure that out.
David Plotz: Digging into that. Caitlin, one key thought that I had or one thought that I had as I was reading this, was that one of the reasons why it was possible is that it was not owned by one agency, that if DHS had had to not just make a decision, but also actually had to prosecute everybody and also had to house all the kids and be responsible, that almost certainly this decision would have been made differently because they would have realized, oh, man, we’re now responsible for all these children. We’re losing track of them. Oh, man, we actually have to deal with, you know, the criminal prosecutions of all these people. And then the fact that you were able the DHS was essentially able to hand off the ugly parts of the decision to a different agencies, allowed them to to do it and wash their hands.
Speaker 5: I think the tribe for cated or maybe even more, you know, for cated than that that nature of our immigration system did make it easier for conversations with you know nobody knowledgeable present to go on where these assurances could be given. Everything’s going to be smooth, everything is going to go fine. And there was just nobody in the room who was able to push back. But putting immigration enforcement all, all into one place, I think would also be tricky.
Speaker 5: I’m curious what you think about this, Juliette, but you have you also have this this kind of cultural divide between the Office of Refugee Resettlement and HHS, which houses the separated kids and unaccompanied kids, most of whom in those in that office, they’re social workers. They’re people with expertise in child welfare there. They have actually, you know, sometimes what feels like the opposite goal of the enforcement agency, which is looking to introduce consequences and to deter migration.
Speaker 5: And so, you know, people at RR would, of course, not want to turn over, you know, care of children to the law enforcement agency that is DHS. DHS would never want to turn I mean, correct me, Juliette, if you think differently, but enforcement over to social workers. So it’s it’s a very big mess. And, you know, the fact that it’s handled by so many different agencies is is one of, frankly, many problems here.
Speaker 3: Right. HHS is is catching up the whole time there. Now, you make the point that they’re not at the table and it wasn’t surprising to them that they weren’t at the table, just given how the department was solely for focus on. And it wasn’t just child separation border enforcement, which is a priority that’s going to have consequences for HHS, which is in sort of the the receiving mode. And and to your point, David, that line, I thought, you know, Chris Nielsen being an interesting, not forgivable character, she says.
Speaker 3: Right. She says, I didn’t prosecute them and I didn’t house them. It’s like, what? Like, are you frickin serious? But that’s how she’s viewing it is that’s HHS and that’s DOJ. I’m just the guys who grabbed them, right? I mean, it’s just an it’s a remarkable point. But I. I agree with that. That and then when you’re white, you know, the way the interagency should work is then you’re responsible. Player at the White House says, let’s get all these equities to the table and figure out how this is done. This is why it’s also a story and policymaking and see where we drive resources. That responsible person doesn’t exist because it’s.
Emily Bazelon: Steven Miller Well, and let’s not leave out Alex Azar, who’s the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, just seems totally checked out and like also not believing what’s happening. And from your reporting, you know, utterly ineffective. I wanted to move us forward. You know, one of the lessons you drive home in the piece, I think, is that while this policy was a catastrophe and got news coverage, there hasn’t been a whole lot of consequences for a lot of the people involved. And I think you raise the concern that as a result, this could happen again.
Emily Bazelon: You talk about an interview with the current head, the Biden administration secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. And he’s not interested in, you know, talking to the people who are still in his department, who participated in this, have having some big investigation or review or report. I worried about that. And I also wanted to ask you about this part of the piece in which the current Department of Justice is still, in some ways pretending in court that there was no family separation policy, which I didn’t understand at all.
Speaker 5: Well, I’m actually curious for your thoughts on that, Emily, because I, I tried to figure out why DOJ is still defending family separations and these civil cases brought by families who are seeking damages for what they experienced. And what I what I heard made sense, except in this extreme circumstance, when you’re dealing with family separation and an administration that has been unequivocal, you know, Biden has called this criminal. But basically what I was told is that, you know, a lawyer’s responsibility, a oil lawyer’s ethical duty, is to defend their client as vigorously as possible. The government in this case is their client. So this is this is what they’ve got to do. And and it is, I think, the norm.
Speaker 5: But again, we’re talking about an extreme circumstance here. And so I wondered if you thought there was any possibility that the DOJ could change its posture. I mean, I know then you also have the fact that Biden isn’t supposed to influence what what prosecutors under DOJ do in court. To your question about accountability.
Speaker 5: Right. So there are a number of things that that could happen that haven’t happened. You know, meaningful consequences for people who were responsible for this policy and especially, I think, you know, those who pushed it forward by giving, frankly, false assurances to, for example, you know, the Homeland Security secretary and others, as well as those who were responsible for completely misleading the press and Congress. I mean, regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, that’s not something that we we do in this country is actually, you know, put out statements from the federal government that that contained not a no comment or not a change.
Speaker 5: The subject here, something I’d rather talk about but just a straight up. No, we’re not separating families when in fact we are. That feels to me like a moment that’s worth, you know, just sitting with for a minute and recognizing that that does fall far outside the bounds of of, you know, a functioning democracy. And then, of course, there’s the families themselves. And some are seeking, you know, an apology. Others are seeking damages. I think all that I’ve talked to at least, are seeking any kind of assurance that this will never happen again and there is no meaningful impediment to family separations starting up again, you know, tomorrow. And yet the Biden administration has has been unequivocal. They don’t want to do that. But in a future administration, it could easily happen because still, you know, I try to point out and we’ve actually talked about this before on your show, you know, Congress is failure to act, created a vacuum for this policy in the first place, and they still haven’t done anything in response to this policy.
Emily Bazelon: Yeah, I mean, I was thinking about reparations as I was reading. Now that would be a huge policy change from defending the Government’s conduct in court. But I think it’s another thing we should sit with. And, you know, that’s what these damages suits are, at least like a step toward. Right. And you document and I think it’s very easy to show the incredible continuing costs this is having on both kids and parents.
Emily Bazelon: I mean, that really hit home for me in terms of the, you know, the particular stance of the Justice Department in court that you talk about, like, absolutely, they don’t need to be saying that there was no family separation policy when there clearly was. Right. Like, even if you are going to defend these civil cases, it’s really important to do that within the boundaries of fact. Reality. And I got very concerned when I read that part because it felt like zealous advocacy kind of run amok. Now, I mean, I don’t know a ton about these cases. It’s possible there’s something I don’t understand that explains them. But I found that troubling.
David Plotz: I just would like to note that if your premise is that we’re trying to enforce immigration law and there’s a population of people trying to enter the United States in the southern border, and that population is growing and increasingly desperate. And there’s a rise in climate. Refugees and people are driven by a very strong compulsion. And you decide you don’t actually want to let a lot of these people into the country or allow them into the country. The solutions you end up coming up with are going to be cruel. I don’t think I think it’s very unlikely, extremely unlikely that we don’t have things that are like family separation. In the future. We’re going to be very, very cruel. If there are huge surges of migrants trying to enter the country and the country decides they don’t want them. And this is just one appetizer for that.
Speaker 5: I think that’s one way of looking at it. And look, you might be right, David. I also think having looked back at our entire history of immigration policy in this country, you know, you can approach it as a law enforcement policy, but it can also be approached as an economic policy where we look at redistributing visas and making sure that we have enough visas available to fill the demand for labor so that you don’t have this incredible demand, which also draws people to the United States on top of the circumstances that they’re fleeing in the first place.
Speaker 5: You know, root causes is something that you hear usually two or three times at the beginning of an administration and then never again. And that’s kind of what’s happened under the Biden administration, but working to actually try to help, you know, to stabilize the economy and stabilize public safety, which takes a long time. It can’t always be done in four years. And I think that’s why it gets forgotten. But that would go a really long way as well. I think academic research has shown that’s not just conjecture. So, you know, I think.
Emily Bazelon: You’re talking about stabilization in the countries of origin, Guatemala.
Speaker 5: Yes, etc.. Thank you. Right. So that people feel like they can have a job, they can feed their kids, they feel safe. You know, most migrants, almost all migrants that you talk to arriving in the United States would prefer not to be here, would prefer to have stay at home, but really come because they feel like they have absolutely no choice. And so, you know, it would take an administration that was willing to make some sacrifices.
Speaker 5: I actually appreciated hearing from there was a guy, John Zadrozny, who was on Stephen Miller’s White House immigration team, and he couldn’t have been more candid about, you know, the way that they approached all of these issues. And one of the things he said to me was like, look, we’re willing to take a few arrows. You know, we know this isn’t going to be popular with everybody. We don’t really care. And it would be interesting to hear a Democrat administration take that same tack and say, you know what, I think this is for the greater good to try to tackle this, even if it’s not going to score immediate political points. I do think that’s what it’s going to take to get us past reaching for these harsher and harsher consequences as if they’re the only tool available to us when they really aren’t.
David Plotz: Caitlin Dickerson is the author of An American Catastrophe. Read it in The Atlantic. Thanks, Caitlin.
Speaker 5: Thank you so much.
David Plotz: Let’s go to cocktail chatter. Emily, when you are lazing in a late, late summer day in New Haven with a with it a delicious mint julep on your porch, what will you be chattering about?
Emily Bazelon: We have a family friend, PJ Frantz, who was trying to release a single a song he wrote on his own this summer. And I in watching this kind of take place, I learned something about the economics of how you try to do this as a musician, like all of the kind of social media angst that goes with it. So this song is called Down Bad.
Speaker 4: Words on the Tip of my Tongue or the timing wrong. They are always supposed to. Do you want to come to.
Emily Bazelon: PJ wrote it and performed it. He made a tik tok like I think made a bunch of tik tok earlier this summer or spring to kind of get interest going. You play like snippets of the song on the tik tok, so you’re not giving it all away, but you’re trying to like craft an appealing image of yourself and I don’t know, like 15 or 30 seconds. Then you get a bunch of downloads, then you start trying to get in touch with agents or labels, what they maybe represent you. If you’re just starting out, you probably don’t get them to sign you immediately. So you’re trying to get your song on to Spotify on your own and figure out how to get it onto some playlists to kind of bump it up. And it it just is so social media and kind of word of mouth dependent. It sort of feels like trying to win the lottery.
Emily Bazelon: Watching it just made me feel like music musicians. I mean, it’s always obviously been really hard to make it as a musician. But this idea that you have to launch yourself and somehow get hundreds of thousands or millions of people to listen to your piece of music just based on like the strength of your own charisma and appeal. It’s just it’s a tough world out there.
David Plotz: Well, it’s but it’s interesting because, like, do you want it to be just the gatekeepers? You want it to be just that record labels decide whether you get to make it or not.
Emily Bazelon: Right. It’s totally democratizing. I mean, PJ was telling me about someone else. He knows who released a song a few years ago. It didn’t really go anywhere. And then suddenly it turned into some massive hit in Indonesia. So, yes, you’re right about the lack of the gatekeeping function. On the other hand, it’s totally it’s hard.
David Plotz: Juliette, what is your chatter?
Speaker 3: I’ve been thinking about Olivia Newton-John, who passed away this week. She had a very complicated, messy, messy life in the last few decades. But I think anyone of a certain age should stop and appreciate her. And her most famous role, of course, was in Grease. She played Sandy. Sandy.
Speaker 4: I got chills. Then go to Brian and.
Speaker 6: Go, go, go, go.
Speaker 4: Your supply is. I. You better shape up.
Speaker 3: I mean, those of a certain age of not seeing Grace. Do yourself a favor. It’s lots of fun. Very silly. It was larger than life, much like a Star Wars release was at that stage. It was the highest grossing film of the year that year and defied all expectations. And one of the reasons was, of course, her. She plays a goody two shoes, Sandy who who falls for the the bad boy? Well, in our age of sort of feminism, I’m sure like lots of people will have like bad feminist takes on on Sandy’s metamorphosis to please the guy. But there is something about her going from cute Sandy with with a little bows to leather clad sandy with four inch heels telling him he better shape up. And and it’s an image that that I think every girl dreams of doing one day.
David Plotz: My chatter. I have been incensed about something in Washington this week. The federal government is doing something that is so joyless and pointless and stupid here in Washington, D.C. And I just you guys are going to have to bear with me. There is a place called the Capitol Stones in Washington. It’s an alley, a pile of stones, a pile of old stone behind the stables in Washington, D.C., in Rock Creek Park. And they’re the happy accident of bureaucratic negligence.
David Plotz: So basically what happened in the 19, late 1950s, early 1960s. They are redoing the Capitol. And in the course of redoing the Capitol in the east front of the Capitol, they had to take a whole bunch of original foundational stones out of the Capitol to build this new front to the Capitol. And so they took tons and tons of stone, some of which was just blocks of stone, but a lot of it was carved. There were whole columns.
David Plotz: Have you ever been to the National Arboretum in Washington? The columns in the National Arboretum were taken off of the Capitol. And in this moment and and the national park excuse me, the architect of the Capitol who controls this took these stones and dumped them in the woods in Rock Creek Park in the early 1970s. They they sort of they didn’t know what to do with them. So they just dumped them in the woods, in these piles, in a kind of nowhere place and in Rock Creek Park. And nobody knew about them until about 20 years ago.
David Plotz: People started to realize, Oh, there’s this incredible pile of stones at this point. They had gone all mossy. And you see these carved stones, you see stonemasons marks from the stone masons of the 1790s who are preparing these stones for the Capitol. And it’s an avenue, it’s a kind of avenue, and it really feels like a mayan temple, a discovered Mayan temple, and it’s behind it and it’s beautiful. And like, you go there and it’s it’s an almost, you know, transcendental, sacred experience. It’s really weathered and beautiful. And it’s all the trees have grown up around it and the bushes around it. And it’s it has this quality of sacred space.
David Plotz: And the National Park Service controlled the land, the architect of capital control the stone. But they were basically embarrassed by this. They were embarrassed that they had dumped this national heritage in the park. And they increasingly, over the years, had started fencing it off and fencing off. And the fence has got more and more aggressive. And this week they announced that they are going to move the stones out of Rock Creek Park and put them in a storage warehouse in Fort Meade where they will be inaccessible to the public. And so their claim their claim is, oh, it, people are going off the trail to go to the the stones, which is technically true. The stones are like 12 feet off of a trail. So in order to get to the stones, you do have to walk about 12.
Emily Bazelon: So maybe make and I’m like, well, feet.
Speaker 5: Little trail.
David Plotz: You could like literally make a 12 foot trail and get to the stones. I could do it this weekend if they asked me to. And then they say, Oh, the stones are subject to vandalism or theft. But there’s been no I’ve been there 20 times in the last decade. There’s no vandalism, no theft. They’re just people go there and they have this wonderful experience with it. And it is just the shriveled hearts of these people. The lack of understanding of what these these stones mean is so stupid. It is a grim and sad and small minded move to lock these stones away, which have brought so much pleasure to people and are just, you know, sitting there majestically for us. And I’m incensed about it. So that is my chatter.
Emily Bazelon: That sounds extremely frustrating. Can I add something? I have this friend, Caitlin Desilvey, who is a geographer, a cultural geographer in the UK, and her work is about the idea of curated decay like that. When you have a monument that might be sort of accidental or are there trees growing out of it or like a meteor? Yes, but those are some of our most precious memorials and that the task of whoever’s managing them is to figure out not how to like, cement them into place or totally preserve them, which is what moving them to the warehouse or whatever would do. But just to like let it kind of live and breathe in its more natural state.
David Plotz: Listeners, you have also sent us chatters. You sent us. Chatters. You email them to us at Gabfest at Slate.com, you tweet them to us at at Slate, Gabfest. And this week, you you, Sebastian Cray, have sent us a listener chatter.
Speaker 7: This is Sebastian in Brooklyn, New York. Next week, I’ll be taking my team, the Village Lions, to the Bingham Cup in Ottawa, Canada. The Mean Cup as the rugby chairman of LGBTQ teams with over 70 teams, with thousands of players coming from all corners of the world to compete to bring in, Cup was founded in honour of Mark Bingham, who is a gay American rugby player who started the first inclusive club in the United States, the San Francisco Fog, and was in the process of founding the Gotham Knights in New York when he was killed on 911. Mark was one of the counter attackers on Flight 93 that helped bring the plane down. The tournament is held every two years in Mark’s honor and celebrate the growing, growing inclusivity of rugby around the world.
David Plotz: That is our show for today. The Gabfest is produced by Shaina Roth. A researcher is Bridgette Dunlap. Our theme music is by They Might Be Giants. Ben Richmond is senior director for podcast operations. Alisha Montgomery is the vice president of Audio for Slate. Please follow us on Twitter. That’s like Gabfest and tweet chatter to us there or email it to us at Gabfest at Slate.com for Juliette Kayyem. The always super sub at Juliette Kayyem and Emily Bazelon on David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We will talk to you next week.
David Plotz: Hello, Slate. Plus, how are you? If you are Serena Williams, you’re pretty good because you’re. That was just a snippet from our slate plus conversation. If you want to hear the whole conversation, go to slate.com, plus gabfest. Plus, to become a member today, greatest tennis player of all time, one of the greatest athletes in the history of the world, announced that she is going to leave professional tennis after the U.S. Open. I am sure, Emily, that Serena Williams means a lot to you because you’re a tennis player. And you. I’ve heard you talk about her in bits and pieces. So why did she mean a lot to you? Does she mean a lot to you?
Emily Bazelon: I mean, I think Serena Williams, just as this kind of incredibly strong, determined woman, this ferocious tennis player, she kind of changed the image of female athletes in important ways. If you are not a fan or somehow don’t know much about her, I really recommend reading the writer Claudia Rankine on Serena Williams. She’s just so interesting on, you know, race and gender and tennis and class and privilege, all these elements that have gone into Serena’s legacy. I also think the movie about her dad is interesting, especially the parts about coming up in this very white country club world and what it was like to be Venus, Serena’s older sister, and her proving themselves in that context.
Emily Bazelon: I guess the I have sort of two things I want to ask you guys about. I mean, one thing about Serena that has struck me for a long time is that in some ways, the the single misfortune of her tennis career is that she didn’t have an amazing rival. So the player who beat her the most times was Venus Williams, her older sister. And Serena is clearly the dominant of the two of them in terms of their entire careers. And if you look at the other people who beat her a substantial number of times, it’s from a long time ago. It’s like Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati. It’s not people who we recognized more recently. And so as a viewer, I just sometimes felt frustrated by that. I kind of wanted Serena to have someone that was like, you know, Chris Evert for Martina Navratilova or, you know, the Djokovic, Nadal, Federer rivalry in men’s tennis. So I don’t know, are you guys enough tennis fans that you think about that? What’s your context for Serena?
Speaker 3: I mean, I, I follow her. I know her. I sort in of her. You know, she’s she even her sort of farewell that she wrote herself, right. For Vogue. I sort of how she was going to exit or as David said, evolve, which is a much better way to put life changes, was I couldn’t relate to it in a way. I mean, just the way, you know, just that kind of talent and stature is, you know, so so she doesn’t just start a company. She’s, you know, talking to Sheryl Sandberg about about starting a company. You know, it’s like, okay, you know.
Emily Bazelon: Rarified world.
Speaker 3: That that did come off and whatever. But obviously she also earned it. I mean it. In other words, that’s the breaking down the barriers. I think two things sort of came to mind to me. And I mean, one is, is what does it mean to have a at athletic body and be a female? I think that cannot be underestimated. The pictures of her are. I mean, she is the top athlete athlete of female athlete. And she does not fit the mold. I mean and I mean, part of that is is is is her family. Part of that is she embraces it. The catsuits the the the over-the-top hair, everything. And I just love that.
Speaker 3: And you you see that in in younger girls, there’s a whole movement. I’m a water person, so sports surfing and paddleboarding and stuff, but in swimwear, wetsuit, wear, whatever, just an acknowledgement that women’s bodies are not, you know, are not Gidget or Sandy for Olivia Newton-John the second I really loved what she said, this is the essay that she had in Vogue saying goodbye.
Speaker 3: What she did say about her sister. I’ve always wondered about the two of them. I mean, I know they’re very supportive of each other. But when she says that her sister’s defeats were actually what allowed her to succeed, I thought was such an amazing, sort of beautiful acknowledgement of something that couldn’t have been easy between the two of them, both being so competitive. And then later, she says, I’m the emotional one. Venus can handle anything. And I that made me feel like I had some insight into something I’ve always been curious about. Just on a personal level, you don’t anyone who has siblings know they’re complicated relationships and loving and everything, but it is. I love that part.
David Plotz: I’m not a huge tennis fan, but I just admire her so much because she has this enormous charisma. And I love I think I was thinking about why, why, what makes her the greatest? And I think the the athletes who really succeed are athletes who break the cliche of their sports. The ones that you start, you see at first, and sort of like fear or resentment or like confusion. And then you come to love it and. She took a sport that was built on elegance and built built on on a kind of long, limited, long limbs. I mean, country club still. But but it was an elegant game.
David Plotz: And she made it about a game of power and changed it and sort of said, I’m going to change the rules of this. And when you go against type, you make something, you make something exciting. And and people a lot of people resent it. People people who are invested in how it used to be resented means why John McEnroe was John McEnroe was such an asshole in a game that was built around gentlemanly ness and Connors too. And they, they made this the sport that had been quite restrained, kind of unpleasant, but it was unpleasant in this way. That was exciting to watch.
David Plotz: And I think that the way that Serena Williams took a game, which was a little bit boring and and graceful, extremely graceful, not not to take away and very athletic, not to take away from the great, you know, gifts of the people she defeated and the people who came before her. But to change the rules of it is incredible. And those are the people you you remember. And those are the people who really matter in a sport because they they not just they don’t just succeed in in the sports own terms. They don’t just win the trophies which which she did, but they win the trophies and make people play it differently and make people watch it differently and make people understand it differently. And that is that’s a really cool thing to do.
Emily Bazelon: Yeah, I love that. I also love that she came back to the sport after becoming a mother when her body in some ways didn’t seem totally physically fit. But she did it anyway. And to me, there’s something very poignant about the idea that she’s exiting or evolving without the final, you know, major tournament victory that would have brought her to the top. Or is it equalling Steffi Graf? I can never quite remember.
David Plotz: It’s Margaret. Margaret Court. She’s she’s already past all the ones who really matter. It’s just Margaret Court. She’s at 23 courts at 24.
Emily Bazelon: Thank you.
David Plotz: So she if she wins the U.S. Open, she’ll she’ll tie court, I believe.
Emily Bazelon: Yeah. And, you know, I think probably. Well, we’ll see. But in any case, it doesn’t matter. And, you know, and in some ways, there’s something better about the story if there are some pinnacle that she hasn’t achieved, because maybe that does make her seem a little more relatable.
David Plotz: By Slate Plus.