Speaker 1: This Ad Free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. Enjoy.
Speaker 2: Hello and welcome to the Slate. Political gaps.
Speaker 2: For May 26, 2022.
Speaker 2: It’s the no way to prevent this addition. I am David Plotz of city cast in Washington, D.C.. I’m joined, of course, by John DICKERSON of CBS Sunday Morning in New York. Hello, John.
Speaker 3: Hello, David.
Speaker 2: And by Emily Bazelon of New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School from New Haven. Hello, Emily. K David. This week, the school massacre in Nevada, Texas. And how exactly how exactly this time nothing will change. What is the way in which nothing will change this time? Then will Texas and Florida’s bizarre laws targeting social media platforms succeed then President Biden’s confusing statements about Taiwan have thrown foreign policy into a tizzy. We’ll be joined by China scholar Sheena Chestnut Greitens to sort it out. Plus, we’ll have cocktail chatter and a reminder, Gabfest listeners, we have a live show coming up. Our first in three years. First in three years, we will be live at six than a historic synagogue here in Washington, D.C. on June 29th. You can get tickets at Slate.com. Slash Gabfest live, slate.com. Slash Gabfest live.
Speaker 2: It’s going to be really, really fun to get together with you to gather. We’ll have obviously audience questions and those are really joyful and interesting and delightful evening. So we hope you’ll join us. Slate.com slash Gabfest live for our June 29th show in Washington, DC. And if you can’t make it to DC, there’s a way to stream the show live so you can also buy a ticket to stream it there as well.
Speaker 2: I mean, this is just going to be a terrible segment. I don’t really know. I don’t know if you guys got a chance to listen to the dailies episode on Wednesday, which was about the the families from Sandy Hook and the horror they endured ten years ago. And and it’s kind of anticipating the nightmare that the parents of 19 children and two adults and you’ve all d-texas will will be going through. Like it’s clear that we’re not inured to the horror that happens in our nation. It’s clear from the response to what has happened in Uvalde that that people feel this very deeply.
Speaker 2: But I think what is so sad and frustrating for all of us is the certainty that it will not get better. There was Newtown, 20 little children were slaughtered. We did nothing ten years ago. We will surely do nothing now. Not only did we do nothing after Newtown, we made it worse because you had monsters like Alex Jones who set out to make life worse for the families of the murdered children.
Speaker 2: I don’t know. I. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t even know how to have this conversation. It’s just it is it’s a society that is un willing to try to solve a problem that is profoundly soluble. Is a society on the brink of of some kind of of collapse, perhaps it’s I don’t know. I’m just going to stop and let’s just talk about it.
Speaker 3: Well well, you’re I mean, you’re everything you say is right and everything you feel is is right. I happen to be doing anchoring CBS’s emergency coverage when this happened, and I’m still. Incapable of kind of getting going through the day after. I don’t know how long we were on the air for a long time. I think one of the things that. So that. To the extent anything can help at all is to figure out where to put your frustration and anger and possible activity.
Speaker 3: So I think the biggest thing is that this is a question and we’ve talked about it a million different times, but this is a variety of this is a problem with our democracy, in addition to the problems specific to guns. And we can talk about all the everything from the filibuster to the anti majoritarian design of the Senate to to the to the change in partisanship in America. That’s a part of the systemic reasons that nothing is going to be going to change.
Speaker 3: And then there are two specific things I’d like to get Emily’s thoughts on, in particular with the red flag laws, which are there does seem to be some some movement toward bipartisan movement, which the only way anything’s going to happen in a Senate with the filibuster towards enacting a national red flag law, whether whether and how much that would do to change things.
Speaker 3: And then also, even though it’s never going to happen legislatively, that the liability protections from the Protection of Lawful Commerce Act, those are never going to change in the Senate because of all those Democratic things I talked about earlier, about whether Emily thinks there’s any legal route to changing the liability protections for gun manufacturers.
Speaker 1: Yeah, I mean, there’s just such a cruelty to this that, you know, our country, which obviously does care a great deal about its children, continues to make them vulnerable in this particular way. And it’s a scourge that is ours alone internationally. So just to define red flag laws, what they allow is to temporarily remove firearms from someone who may pose a danger to themselves or others. So, you know, you have to go through a legal procedure. Someone has to be worried about the person with the gun enough to initiate that procedure. But it’s better than nothing, which is what we have now.
Speaker 1: There are mass shooters who might have been flagged with those laws, you know, the universal background checks having really solid background checks. A federal law for that would, I think, accomplish more and is very popular. But we just run into these, you know, formidable structural barriers that you are already talking about. And I thought Ronald Brownstein did a good job in the Atlantic of just like laying them out in more detail.
Speaker 1: But we’re basically stuck and we’re stuck in the same way that we are on other issues where there’s majority support for some something, but it either isn’t important enough to voters to override their other concerns, or when people really learn more about it, they get nervous. And so it sort of appears to have a lot of support.
Speaker 1: You know, it’s interesting that five or six years ago, universal background checks were on the ballot in Maine and they started out seeming super popular. And then once the NRA and other groups had attacked them, they were less so. Americans have the idea that it’s bad for other people who shouldn’t have them to have guns. But a lot of Americans want to have their own guns, and that matters more to them. And in some ways, the scarier the world gets, the more people feel that I mean, we have many, many more guns in the country than we did when Sandy Hook happened.
Speaker 3: Well, a particular group of people feels that I mean, this is where the the intense feeling you have a symmetry of intensity of feelings. So the people who see gun ownership as connected to their freedom, as Bill O’Reilly said in 2017, this is the price of freedom. So if you think about the way people behaved about masks in certain portions of the country and vaccines didn’t take life saving measures and paid the penalty for it because of their concept of freedom. That’s the portion that feels most powerfully about support of guns because of the way the Senate is arranged and because of the filibuster, which gives the minority a veto on majoritarian opinions, even to debate them.
Speaker 3: It’s not just to get a vote, but even to debate them. That that intense group, which is not the country but happens to be, have the most control over that one institution and one party, of course, also, because there is an enormous penalty in the Republican Party if you participate in any gun control or gun safety legislation. Fred Upton, who voted for the assault weapons ban, said when he voted for it, he needed police protection for six months and that was in 1994. And things have only gotten gotten worse.
Speaker 2: The support for guns, the universal support for guns and in in any fashion is become a piece of people’s political identity, even for people who actually don’t probably use guns and care about guns. I’m actually on. I’m somebody who likes guns. I think gun ownership in the right way is fine. I love shooting guns and and support it, but it’s clearly not part of my political identity. But yet there are people who don’t even use guns for whom this has become part of their political identity because it is wrapped up with all these other aspects of partisanship. It’s when we’ve sorted ourselves into two tribes, when we’ve become two tribes, that that problems like this become insoluble because your tribal identity is I will not countenance any kind of change to this which infringes on my sense of my freedom. And that’s a recipe for a country which cannot which, you know, is frozen, which is what we have.
Speaker 3: Right. And it’s not new. And these changes in partisanship that have taken place over 40, 50 years mean that it’s not just about somebody changing their mind. I mean, you have James Lowe, who did the original analysis that showed that the most liberal Republican House member is still more conservative than the most conservative Democrat. When you passed the Brady Bill, you had conservative Democrats and moderate or liberal Republicans. Those don’t those overlaps don’t exist anymore. And that’s locked in. It’s not, you know, into who gets elected. The people who would have been around before, who might have been gettable on these kinds of votes, just don’t aren’t even in town anymore.
Speaker 3: And also because our elections are all so totally national now that this cultural feeling about guns means that any individual person in an individual race who might try to do something has to has to balance a the money they won’t get from the NRA and other groups who take a signal from your position on guns to send you money, and then also that you might become the target of the outrage and furor of of the national spotlight. If you take a position that is contrary to the to the position of your team, which means breaking out of this situation incredibly difficult.
Speaker 2: Emily, I saw this amazing statistic that I think it was Derek Thompson retweeted, which is that before 2018, there were never more than 60 school shootings in the United States and never more than 60 victims in a year. There were still plenty of school shootings before 2018. Not to say it was we were in some paradise. We were still a massive outlier in the world. But since 2018, every year since 2018, there have been more than a hundred school shootings and more than 100 victims. It was bad, and then it has. There’s been this enormous jump in the past five years. What is it?
Speaker 1: Well, I think there’s this copycat phenomenon, and I think that it is a way of getting enormous attention. And even though the media has gotten smarter about trying to downplay the identity and the life of the shooter, it still just causes a huge uproar. And there is something that attracts a very small number of dangerous people to that. I mean, I don’t you know, often we see these shootings in kind of bursts of two or three. And the fact that we had this horrible mass shooting in Buffalo last week, like, it’s probably not a coincidence. I don’t know what to do about that except to, you know, make sure that the media is being as kind of prudent as possible. But it’s also obviously important to have coverage. There’s no way that we’re not going to talk about it. And yet I do worry that just the attention feeds more shootings.
Speaker 3: If one of the barriers to the kinds of bills that people want to see passed is is not only Republican representation, but you have two Democrats who don’t want to mess with the filibuster. You’re not going to elect a more liberal Democrat in West Virginia than Joe Manchin. But you could beat Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. You could pick up the Senate seat in Pennsylvania. And if you did that and Democrats retain the rest of their seats, then they wouldn’t need the two Democrats who who opposed changing the filibuster.
Speaker 3: You know, a lot of choices don’t exist in this debate, even though people are are seeking action and think it’s just a matter of willpower. In some cases, however much willpower you may have, you can’t get past the filibuster unless you get 50 senators. But if you could get 50 senators if you win those Senate races. So the question will be whether Democrats use this as a as a political message in all of their close races. And there have been instances, you know, thinking back to the to the Manchin-Toomey bill, you had four Democrats who voted against that. So it’s not the case. It’s not always the case that Democrats in close races are brave and brave in the way Democratic voters would like them to be.
Speaker 1: This is grim. I want to see if that’s something that’s actually going to make it even grimmer, which is that one of the tools we do still have left are state and local laws that impose more gun safety than, you know, federal law does or than other states choose to. And it is entirely likely that the Supreme Court, when it rules in this gun case out of New York, presumably at the end of June, is going to make it harder for states and cities to have those kinds of gun safety measures. That is absolutely what seemed likely from oral argument. And it’s hard to believe that the justices could choose right now to make this even more dangerous. But it seems like their theory of originalism is going to lead them in that direction.
Speaker 2: There’s also something that is so perverse and infuriating about the way that Republicans are responding to this, the solutions that are proposed. Ted Cruz talking about how there should be only one unlock door in and out of schools, every other door locked, one way of entrance and egress. Can you imagine what would happen if there was a fire under a circumstance like that? The idea of putting armed security guards at every school, there were armed people at the school and look what happened. But to put 300,000 people guarding the doors of America’s public schools to propose these kinds of solutions is is so insulting and so frustrating when there are things that are so much simpler and easier and smaller.
Speaker 2: If you made it hard for people to buy high capacity magazines, if you made it harder for people to get guns that fire a lot of bullets very quickly, if you just require gun training to buy a gun and you require people to store their guns safely, so many things which don’t fundamentally intrude on your right to own a gun and to use a gun for sport and for for self-protection. So many things that you could do are reasonable. And yet it I don’t know. It’s just I yeah. Think about that fucking classroom. It’s an entire classroom. It’s like all the graduations that will now be celebrated, all the colleges that will people will not be admitted to the weddings that will not happen. The children and grandchildren that won’t come. The person who’s lost a sister and so doesn’t have a sister to to be her confidant and friend and the people who will never get to fall in love with those children. It’s. It’s just. It’s just it’s just sick.
Speaker 2: Okay. I need to take a breath. We should all probably take a breath before we move on to these other stories and to other things. On the Gabfest. HB is a term in Texas. Texas bills like a House bill. For Texas state bills this year. We’ve got QBs all over, all over the place and. HB Maybe you should stand and stand for House Bill should stand for Hells Bells or who boy or something.
Speaker 2: We had HB eight, the alarming Texas abortion law that stopped most abortions in the state with its sinister bounty program. And now there’s HB 20, a bizarre and sweeping and, I presume, wildly unconstitutional effort to stop social media companies from moderating content. Now, I cannot stand social media companies any more than you can. I would be happy in a world where social media companies cease to exist and maybe even where social media became so unpleasant that people stop using it. That said, the HB 20 is crazy and the similar Florida bill is crazy.
Speaker 2: So what began as an effort by conservatives in those two states to stop Facebook and Twitter primarily from flagging various forms of loathsome content from conservatives, has become a scheme that would help spammers and pornographers and racist manifesto writers and other trolls make life intolerable or even more intolerable online. So, Emily, what are these Texas and Florida laws? What do they do? And how on earth did a Texas court or federal court, excuse me, based out of Texas, allow the Texas law to go into effect?
Speaker 1: Yeah. I’m going to just sort of smash the laws together. Basically, they apply to major platforms Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, etc.. You have to have over 50 million users for the Texas law. And basically then it gets super, super easy to sue the companies for every possible content moderation decision they make. So they are basically treating content moderation as censorship. And the idea is that you can’t discriminate against someone on the basis of their viewpoint.
Speaker 1: Well, then how do you take down posts that are graphically violent that’s expressing a viewpoint? What about supporting terrorism? Also expressing a viewpoint? There just seems to have been no interest in what actually makes these sites kind of barely tolerable and livable. And this obviously comes out of this idea, a false idea from conservatives that their content is not circulating as much online. Of course, the fact is they’ve been tremendously successful at getting messages amplified on these social media platforms. But because of that perception, there’s this idea that treating content, moderation and censorship is somehow going to benefit them, or just like a way of taking revenge on the tech companies.
Speaker 1: And then the Texas law has this really crazy provision in it that you can’t, quote, censor someone based on their geographic location in Texas. And so the idea is that if the Facebook or some other platform is like, you know what, we’re just not going to operate in Texas anymore. We don’t want the risk that then you could sue for being a Texas resident who can’t post on the site.
Speaker 1: I don’t understand how a federal court allowed this to proceed. I mean, there’s this idea, this sort of beginning question about whether the law can treat the platforms as what’s called a common carrier. That’s like the phone companies. Right? So the idea of a common carrier is that you’re not allowed to make any decisions about content, moderation, slash viewpoint discrimination because you’re like the dumb pipe that just carrying the thing. The FCC has never treated the platforms as common carriers because obviously they’re making all kinds of editorial decisions all the time about what to carry. And so I just don’t really understand how the court in this case didn’t agree with that. But here we are. And I guess because of this, there could pretty soon be what’s called a circuit split between two federal appellate courts in the Supreme Court might weigh in relatively soon. I don’t know. Maybe that is to the best of our or not. It’s just these laws are kind of federalism run amok.
Speaker 2: But I do think there are these interesting gray areas that we shouldn’t overlook, which is that if you if you remember a couple of years ago and I think it was in Sri Lanka, maybe it was in other places, these WhatsApp groups where you have it is in some sense WhatsApp is point to point, but WhatsApp has become point two group, so it’s become 1 to 100 or 1 to 500. It be even. And would you consider that when you’re communicating with more than one person, is it now is it should it be treated the same way as a as an individual phone call? It’s a it’s there are grey areas. I don’t think a Facebook post, a public Facebook post or a public tweet in any sense is analogous. But it’s not that there are there no gray areas here.
Speaker 1: Should there’s a middle ground. And in the past Facebook has dealt with since it owns WhatsApp. You know, when it turned out that kind of spreading from group to group was totally toxic. Facebook reduced. You could only send it to, like, five or ten of. They’re people. Although when I last week we were talking about their efforts to kill this legislation in Brazil and the journalist I was talking about them, Patricio Campos mellas, was saying that actually like they went back to a hundred people who you can send messages to in Brazil, kind of when no one was looking. But there’s just a separate question of when we want the government to intervene. You know, and there is, again, this sort of irony here of how completely like heavy handed, this sort of government enforcement is of the rules in the name of, you know, anti-censorship. It just doesn’t really make sense.
Speaker 3: We should also throw in here that this is grievance bait, right? So there is no downside. If you’re a politician in certain places for putting forward this kind of idea, the crazier, the better to just get the attention that it brings you, which is surrounded around this idea that big tech is, as Emily said, you know, this false idea that is somehow throttling conservative speech. If you look at the ten most popular posts on Facebook. It’s overwhelmingly conservative. And then with a with a a significant number that is just off the charts.
Speaker 1: Nutty and full of disinformation, off the charts, too. I mean, you know, one way to think about this is about the culture war. So it doesn’t really matter which posts are in the top ten because the companies are from Silicon Valley. They’re owned by people who are seen as being in some way progressive, although they are also in other ways really not that at all. But that because big tech is perceived as being coastal, that it’s an enemy and you attack it. And that’s why the politics runs in the way you said. And that’s really how to understand these laws are not actually about a real problem. They’re about this kind of more effervescent sense that conservatives are losing in cultural battles.
Speaker 2: And there is this hilarious kind of Handmaid’s Tale gridlock situation that could come up in Texas, where you have HB 20, which forbids the censoring of of posts, and then HB eight, which forbids providing information that would help people get abortions. And so you can imagine, like who who wins when those two things run up against each other, the people who are trying to provide information to getting abortions, that insisting that they’re being censored under HB 20. It’s just it’s a Gilliard gridlock.
Speaker 2: I don’t know is the Emily do you think there’s any chance the Supreme Court upholds the substance of these laws?
Speaker 1: No, it’s just is so far outside of our law, I can’t imagine it. It just the Supreme Court. One thing it has been very determined to do is increase the scope of the First Amendment, of freedom of speech in all kinds of ways that are both good and bad. I mean, it’s given corporations tremendous amount of power. It would just really fly in the face of all of that law, too, to uphold these these bills. On the other hand, the fact that, you know, a federal court has already managed to do that makes me think like there’s something I don’t understand about this.
Speaker 2: Just to clarify here, because the people who pass these bills say they are the ones who are supporting freedom of speech. You’re saying that the Supreme Court’s idea of freedom of speech is these companies have own their platforms and they are entitled to determine the speech that that’s on their right.
Speaker 1: So there’s this initial question about whether the platforms are a common carrier. If they’re a common carrier, then, you know, all bets are off in terms of what the Supreme Court will do. But that doesn’t make any sense to me. And so once they are companies that are making some kind of editorial decision, they have all kinds of First Amendment rights, and they have always run their sites as private malls where you have mall cops. It’s not the public square where the First Amendment and all of the sweep that we provide for speech that the government shall make no law. That is not the rules because the companies are not the government. And so they are allowed to express viewpoints. They’re allowed to say, we disapprove of terrorism, we disapprove of hate speech. They get to do all kinds of stuff that the First Amendment would prevent them from doing if they were the government because they’re not the government.
Speaker 2: I do sort of like the idea that maybe this is just a secret, clever plot by the people who hate Facebook like me to destroy Facebook by forcing Facebook to post publish all that, all the child porn, all the violence, incitement, all the all the racist manifestos and spread it out everywhere. And so people could really see what was what what would happen in a troll dominated universe. And then people would just completely stop using Facebook and just go back to meeting in the in coffee shops.
Speaker 1: That you actually can still regular child porn they left that out and that is so clearly illegal but everything else you said goes. And also the you know, one of the things I’ve been hugely in favor of is more transparency about how the algorithms work, understanding, letting researchers in. So we actually see how these sites operate. But the way these laws are written, they would basically spill all the secrets of content, moderation, so the spammers would be able to get around them and that just the spamming alone would make these places unbearable.
Speaker 2: Slate Plus members, you get bonus segments on the Gabfest and other Slate podcasts and of course member exclusive episodes and segments from us and from other shows today on Slate. Plus, we’ll be talking to Jody Rosen about his book Two Wheels. Good. It’s a history of the Bicycle. I’m, of course, a bicycle nut. Emily’s a bicycle nut. John, I believe, has written a bicycle. So we will we’ll talk to Jody about bicycles and their place in the world. Gabfest listeners, we have another Gabfest reads our next guest fits reads drops on Sunday. And it’s John DICKERSON. Our very own John DICKERSON interviewing left Batwoman on her sequel to The Idiot. Either or. John, was that an exciting interview?
Speaker 3: It was. It was tremendously exciting. I’m an enthusiast of her voice, of her main character, of her restraint in writing and of the. A journey that she takes and that her character takes. And what role kind of inquiry into sort of inquiry under the wrong heading, the benefits and disadvantages of that. We examine all of that and her her elegant writing style as well.
Speaker 2: One of the most appealing phrases in foreign policy is strategic ambiguity, a description of US policy around the question of whether we would militarily defend Taiwan if China attacks Taiwan. This week, we’re in a moment of strategic ambiguity. Ambiguity, thanks to President Biden’s thrice statement that the U.S. would be willing to get militarily involved to defend Taiwan. This is maybe the most sensitive issue in the world. So we are joined again to discuss it by Sheena Chestnut Greitens, who’s an associate professor at UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. She directs UT’s Asia policy program, and she is writing a book about China’s grand strategy. So, Sheena, let’s just start out with what President Biden said this week. Does this represent a change in policy and what actually is our policy about Taiwan and defending it?
Speaker 4: Yeah. So for a long time, the United States has had this policy of strategic ambiguity, which basically means that the United States has been cagey about under what circumstances and exactly how it might come to the defense of Taiwan in various different crises or in the case of an attack. And the reason for that actually has to do with a lot of the history between China and Taiwan, including the fact that at one point U.S. policy was designed also to keep Taiwan in Chiang Kai shek, the leader on Taiwan in from the fifties through the seventies, from trying to go back and attack the mainland. And so there was actually this this sort of dual sense of trying to restrain both sides and not embolden either to take risks that would be destabilizing and drag the United States into a war. And the United States has had this policy of being kind of unclear for a while because it thought that that uncertainty might actually deter, in particular now Beijing from from trying to do something aggressive to coerce Taiwan.
Speaker 4: But as the military balance across the Taiwan Straits has changed, you’ve seen that the successive U.S. administrations have gotten more and more concerned that they need to send send stronger signals about the commitment to defend Taiwan. To leaders in Beijing, in particular, Xi Jinping, who seems to be willing to take a lot more risks than previous Chinese leaders. So I think that’s the context for for Biden’s comments.
Speaker 4: The White House is trying to be very clear that this isn’t a change in formal U.S. policy, but this is the third or fourth time in the last year that President Biden has said something that has seemed to be inconsistent with strategic ambiguity and that the White House staff have then had to walk back. And to be honest, we don’t know if this is just Biden speaking off the cuff, as Biden has tended to do for a very long time. Or if this does reflect really an instinct on his part as president, that is a little bit out of tune or shifting ahead of where formal U.S. policy is. The answer is we just don’t know right now.
Speaker 3: Right. So it could just be a malapropism or he could be making the strategic game.
Speaker 2: You just said. Yes, John. I don’t think. Yes, he just said yes. That’s not a malapropism.
Speaker 3: No, no. He said yes. That’s what we’ve committed to do. So I guess my point is he might have just been using a misunderstanding of the word military, misunderstood the question. And what he had in his head was, we’re going to give them military assistance, but we’re not going to put U.S. forces, get U.S. forces involved. On the other hand, might this have been more intentional, which is to really heighten the idea of ambiguity? Because. No, because we have no idea what the U.S. policy is.
Speaker 3: And is there any way in which you use the phrase embolden both sides when you were talking about the history of this, will this matter at all or does this affect behavior in Taiwan or in China?
Speaker 4: Biden’s comments Yeah, so I think there are a couple of things going on there. First of all, just to be really clear, you know, nowadays nobody really is thinking that conflict would break out because Taiwan does something militarily provocative or attacks the mainland. Right. And that is fundamentally different from the at least some decades of the history of of U.S. policy toward the China Taiwan issue. So I think what Biden is is trying to do and it’s appropriate for the U.S. government to to communicate clearly to China, is that some of their coercive actions toward Taiwan, such as the overflights over Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, which have been happening more and more frequently and with larger and larger number of planes recently, I think it’s appropriate for the administration to be signaling, you know, that that the play and the Chinese military are running some pretty serious risks by trying to coerce Taiwan militarily.
Speaker 4: And, you know, in terms of what what Biden’s saying, our commitment in the Taiwan Relations Act, which is the law that governs U.S. policy toward Taiwan, is to provide Taiwan with with a capacity to defend itself. But the United States also says it has a pretty serious interest in peace and stability in the Western Pacific, which leaves open the option of considering other forms of intervention. Or is this. So there’s nothing in the Taiwan Relations Act that says that that that’s off the table.
Speaker 4: And as we’ve seen in Ukraine. Right. You know, military assistance to somewhere like Taiwan or Ukraine can take a whole range of forms. It can involve training. It can involve the provision of a whole range of of arms. And one of the big things I think we’re seeing now is a debate in Taiwan itself and a debate in the United States about what kind of defense strategy Taiwan needs, because there’s been a sense for a while that Taiwan’s defense strategy and what it’s procuring aren’t maybe the things that would help the most with its defense.
Speaker 4: And in that sense, I think Beijing, Taipei in the United States, as well as the entire international community, have been watching Ukraine really, really closely to try to figure out what lessons to draw for Taiwan’s defense or, in the case of Beijing, the potential to to mount an attack or a coercive military operation if they feel like they are ready to do that.
Speaker 1: How much is Ukraine and Putin in the background of all this? I mean, how much is this just about the idea that letting governments that have that want to infringe on other countries boundaries is proving to be more of a problem than the world sort of realized and just kind of reminding China that there could be consequences. You know, in some ways, it seems like the argument for China intervening is even stronger than it was before, because Putin is it seems like he’s likely to be able to at least take part of Ukraine. On the other hand, this war has been obviously so much more costly than he anticipated, and at least the West has been united against him. And I just feel like that must be so much part of the mix here, although I’m not actually sure I understand how it’s in because I can’t decide whether Biden is doing this on purpose or not. But I wonder how you factor that part in.
Speaker 4: So first of all, I think that the fact that Russia and China signed this joint statement in on February 4th, so three weeks before Russia decided to invade Ukraine in late February, really did set set it up for the international community and the administration to link the two. And because, you know, first of all, you have this photo op, this very visible moment of the two countries sort of reinforcing this bond between two autocratic leaders. But also because there’s a line in the joint statement that’s actually very striking about how both Russia and China are concerned about the United States meddling in their backyard in ways that that compromise and challenge both both Russia and China’s interests. And that seems like it’s a pretty clear sort of comparison or analogy between the two, you know, regional environments.
Speaker 4: Now, once the invasion actually started and China started to see how this was unfolding, you’ve seen the official media and, you know, state spokespeople, foreign ministry spokespeople backpedaling and saying these are nothing alike. But they actually set up some of that comparison in the language of the joint statement. And and so I think it’s not surprising that that that you’re seeing some of those comparisons made.
Speaker 4: Plus, this is an administration whose national security strategy, at least what we know of it, and the interim national security guidance that came out in March of last year really emphasize this distinction between autocracy and democracy. And the word Ukraine is kind of a textbook case of how dictatorships go to war. Right. They tend to be more conflict prone, especially sort of personalized dictatorships, and they tend to pick wars that maybe they aren’t going to be very good at fighting for political reasons. They tend to perform more poorly on the battlefield because they’ve done a bunch of political stuff to mess around with their militaries and then they don’t. They have a harder time finding exit ramps when it seems like it would be rational to do so. So I think there’s lots of reasons why you can think of these two as as similar.
Speaker 4: And the issue is that the geography is actually very, very different. So you’re looking at, in the case of Ukraine, a country that, if I’m remembering right, is about the size of Texas. It has four upwards of 40 million people and a very, you know, a land border with Poland that’s been absolutely essential for getting military assistance in and out.
Speaker 4: Taiwan is a small island. It has about 22 million people. It’s very densely populated. It’s urban geography in many cases. It’s very mountainous. And there are some pretty constrained access points for China to try to get on and off the island. So but there’s also the issue of trying to resupply an island militarily that would be much more complicated.
Speaker 4: So at the military, you know, broad military level, you know, there are some pretty significant differences. But the other big difference is that Taiwan is not recognized by most countries in the international system as a sovereign country. And so the two. Things that that, you know, President Zelensky has used incredibly effectively in rallying international support our sovereignty and territorial integrity. And and that this is a norm that we haven’t broken in Europe since 1945 with a couple of possible exceptions related to the Cold War and Soviet behavior. But it’s a very strong norm that’s generally held up and been good for the international environment.
Speaker 4: And the other is democracy. But you think about, you know, Taiwan is not going to have an ambassador at the United Nations inviting people to pray for the souls of the Chinese ambassador the way that the Ukrainian foreign minister ambassador did. You know, they’re not going to have these head of state options or the, you know, the same ability to appeal to a sense of shared European democratic identity, because Asia is just much more heterogeneous. It’s not nearly as consistently democratic. And so it’s not clear that either of the same kind of appeals would actually work for Taiwan that have been so effective in rallying the international community to the defense of Ukraine. So I think all of those things make it, you know, in some ways much more complicated and fraught to try to think about the defense of Taiwan, both in a political and a military sense.
Speaker 2: Sheena How likely is a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the next ten or 20 years? And what if there’s not an invasion of Taiwan? What are the other paths besides an invasion that are likely? Is there any chance that there’s just a peaceful swallowing of Taiwan?
Speaker 4: That is a terrific question and a very, very difficult one to answer. I think if you pulled 25 people who’ve spent their lives studying China, you’d probably end up with 26 different answers because somebody would be undecided. And part of that is, is to do with the time frame. I think if you ask people, is something likely in the next five years not as clear that that’s the case. If you if you’re talking about, you know, 2049. I think there’s a lot more concern that China will feel the need to resolve the Taiwan issue, in part because Xi Jinping has laid down that marker for the completion of national rejuvenation. And one of the only concrete deliverables he’s given to a global or domestic audience is the Taiwan issue. And he said it can’t be passed down from generation to generation. And it’s really linked to national rejuvenation.
Speaker 4: So if you’re looking at at 2049 and there’s a lot of concern in the next five years, I think that’s a lot less clear in part because I don’t think China has made up its mind how to view what’s going on in Ukraine yet. And this gets to the question Emily was talking about a few minutes ago. You know, there was a lot of concern initially, oh, wait, the United States looks distracted. We could maybe China will take advantage of this to behave aggressively toward Taiwan.
Speaker 4: And my own sense at the time, and I still think this looking forward at the next six months to a year, is that, you know, China is much more likely to wait and see because it perceives at least a significant possibility that the United States get sort of pulled back into European security, has to put troops on the ground in in in Europe, strengthen what it’s doing in NATO’s, spend more resources there, and that that could really pose a trade off or at least slow down this ongoing attempt to pivot to Asia, which has been something that three or four successive administrations have said and everyone has actually had trouble implementing for various reasons to do with other trade offs. So.
Speaker 4: So I think that there’s some, you know, interest at this point in Beijing rationally and just sort of sitting back trying not to pay, you know, any costs, if possible, for what’s going on in Ukraine and and seeing if the United States can get itself tied down and complicated and pulled away from its focus on on China. And, you know, if if I was a strategic decision maker in Beijing, and that’s more what I would be thinking and watching, just kind of watching, waiting to see.
Speaker 2: Sheena Chestnut Greitens of UT-Austin, thanks for coming on the Gabfest please come back again. Maybe there’ll be some happy China story you can come back and talk about.
Speaker 4: That would be great. Thanks so much for having me.
Speaker 2: So let’s go to cocktail chatter. I did some investigation after I talked up my vermouth last week. I drink red vermouth. It’s sweet. Thank you for everybody who offered me tips on it. And somebody, some person on Twitter said that what I’m drinking is the drink that Andie MacDowell character drinks in Groundhog Day. So. It’s sweet for sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist. And they said, if that’s good enough for, you know, all the rest of the days of the universe. Surely it’s good enough for us. So try it out. Red vermouth on the rocks with a twist. John, what is your chatter?
Speaker 3: Mine chatter is about what we normally would have been talking about this week if it weren’t for this horrible massacre is that Donald Trump took a real drubbing in in Georgia during the Republican primary. He had backed former Senator David Perdue against Brian Kemp, the incumbent governor who had resisted Trump’s repeated entreaties, pressures and otherwise to get him to change the election results. He singled out Kemp and said basically he was going to make his mission. Donald Trump did to to remove him from office. Kemp beat Perdue by 52 points. 52 points is is I mean that’s that’s I don’t know there’s not really a phrase in the American phrasebook that describes that kind of a pounding. And then also Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, who’d President Trump also targeted both while he was president and then afterwards also won his race.
Speaker 3: Now, so why does this matter? Well, because, obviously, Donald Trump holds tremendous sway over the Republican Party. And in understanding the contours of his sway in the party and the difference between Donald Trump and Trumpism is quite important because The New York Times has did an analysis of the top battleground states and found 44% of the Republicans in those states had taken measures based on the idea that the 2020 election was stolen. So whatever happens to Donald Trump in an idiosyncratic set of circumstances like Georgia, the the animating principle that the election was stolen and the people can rise in the party by furthering that idea is still very much alive and well. And we are seeing, you know, where Donald Trump begins and ends and where the movement he started begins and ends.
Speaker 3: There’s a very good piece thinking through some of these ideas by Jason Willick in The Washington Post and the idea he quotes Richard Hofstadter, the political scientist or political historian, who said, basically, third parties are like bees. They they lose their power once they sting. And his argument essentially is that Trump was the. The bee was that was essentially a third party. He has so he has so taken over. And so the Republican Party has become him. And that that essentially actually weakens him in the end, because there’s no longer a disconnect between the establishment and the populists. They’re all one.
Speaker 2: Emily, what’s your chatter?
Speaker 1: I wrote a piece last week that for me was a kind of labor of love. It was about a group of small group of feminist lawyers in 1970 who brought a case on behalf of women. It was the first case challenging an abortion restriction on behalf of women affected by it. And this is a case that predated Roe, but for a variety of reasons, was obviously not Roe, not the case that made it to the Supreme Court. What I really enjoyed was talking to a couple of lawyers who were behind this litigation, Nancy Stearns and Diane Shoulder Abrams, and then learning a ton about Florence Kennedy, who was their colleague on this case.
Speaker 1: And what’s important legally about this case is that it made a lot of arguments about abortion restrictions and why they should be unconstitutional. Foremost among them, that women’s equality and freedom really depends on being able to control when you’re going to have a baby or be pregnant. They had a lot of foresight in recognizing how fundamental that argument would be. It was an argument that was lacking in Roe. And, you know, the peace talks about how much that would have mattered.
Speaker 1: I’m not sure what the answer is, but I feel like this piece of feminist history from 1970, this case called Abramowitz versus Lefkowitz in in New York, and what ended up happening to it had some remarkable twists and turns among them that one of the reasons the case didn’t go up to the Supreme Court was that the New York legislature very unexpectedly actually changed the law in New York in 1970, had a near a ban on abortion except for saving the life of the mother. People challenged that law. They wanted to legalize abortion in New York. It was this same group of feminist lawyers and other activists who were pushing for political change, and they won this very unexpected victory.
Speaker 1: When an assemblyman from the Center of New York Catholic, very Catholic district, he first voted in favor of keeping the ban on abortion. But then he stood up and kind of in this dramatic moment with his voice trembling, said that two of his sons had said to him, Dad, you can’t be the vote that makes this bill go down. And so he changed from no to yes. And that’s how New York. Legalized abortion in 1970. How?
Speaker 2: All right. It sounds like you’re right. I saw that story. I didn’t realize that you wrote it. I thought in the times I was like, I mentally checked it off or something. I had to go back and look at. And now that I know that you wrote it, I’ll go read it.
Speaker 1: Please do go read it. I had it. It has great photos, too. From the time.
Speaker 2: My chatter is about one of the the small but truly irritating historical injustices in American life, which is that there are a bunch of forts in this country named after Confederate generals, named after people who are literally traitors to the US Army, people who literally fought the U.S. Army, the enemy of the U.S. Army. And yet we have bases named after them. Fort Hood. Fort Bragg. Fort Hood. Named after John Bell Hood. Fort Lee Bragg named after Braxton Bragg. It’s outrageous. And so there is.
Speaker 5: A.
Speaker 2: Congressional naming commission. The Congress got around to finally deciding to do something about this, and they plan to rename these forts. And they just announced this week who they want to rename them after. And it’s great. It’s awesome. So one fort is going to be renamed after doctor Mary Edward Edwards. Walker, who was the first female U.S. Army surgeon and the only woman to win the Medal of Honor. Another one is going to be named after William Henry Johnson, who was a heroic World War, one black soldier who who died in obscurity and poverty. And one will be named after Dwight Eisenhower. One will be named after Richard Cavazos, who is the first Latino four star general. One will be named after General Hal Moore and his wife, Julia moore, who lobbied to create the notification team.
Speaker 2: So if someone dies in battle, it used to be the way a family of four notified was quite brutal and Julia moore was the person who came up with a much better and humane system to do that. It’ll be named after another fort named after pioneering black soldiers Arthur Gregg and Charity Adams. So it’s a it’s a small injustice being remedied way too late. And I hope I hope nothing happens to derail this commission. Probably something will happen to derail this commission. Someone will say, oh, we have to keep a fort named after John Bel Hood. Goodness knows we couldn’t not have a fort named after John Bell Hood Confederate traitor.
Speaker 2: Listeners, you send us chatters, you tweet them to us at at site, Gabfest, you email them to us at Gabfest at Slate.com. And our listener chatter this week comes from Rebecca Vernon. And it’s a story which I saw like the three Emily was just talking about, saw intended to read. And now I went back and read because I saw Rebecca flagged it and it also has amazing photos.
Speaker 6: This is Rebecca Vernon in Washington DC and my cocktail chatter this week is about scientists discovery of a secret forest in a giant sinkhole in China. Sinkholes like this are not uncommon in this region of China, but the size of this one has made it an especially exciting discovery because they expect to find new species in this forest. I love this story because it was such a delightful find in a week that was pretty rough. Otherwise in the news.
Speaker 2: I do love a sinkhole. That is our show for today.
Speaker 2: The Gabfest is produced by Sheena Roth. Our researcher is Bridgette Dunlap. Our theme music is by. They Might Be Giants. Ben Richmond, senior director of podcast operations, still have not met Ben. Looking forward to that. Ben, let’s have a meeting. Alicia montgomery is executive producer of Slate Podcasts. Follow us on Twitter at Slate Gabfest. Tweet chatter to us there. Come to our live show June 29th in Washington, DC. Get tickets at Slate.com slash Gabfest live. And you can also, of course, see that on a live stream if you can’t make it to D.C. to join us. Slate.com slash Gabfest live for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson on David Plotz. Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next week.
Speaker 2: Hello, Slate. Plus, how are you? We are joined by I don’t know if you’ve been on the Gabfest before, Jodi. You’ve certainly haunted the Gabfest. You’ve haunted the Gabfest.
Speaker 1: In only the best of ways as a friendly ghost.
Speaker 2: You’re you’re such a slate podcast presence. But your ideas, your thoughts, your dreams, your machinations, your insinuations have have have influenced us Jody Rosen, of course, as a journalist, a writer in New York, and he has a new book very close to My Heart Two Wheels Good The History and Mystery of the Bicycle. I want to read a quick passage from towards the beginning. None other than Steve Jobs called a personal computer a bicycle for our minds. Or maybe the machine for our minds is the bicycle itself. Many of us know that our brains feel invigorated, our vision sharper. Our sense is keener when pedaling a bike. Bike riding is the best way I know to reach an altered consciousness, not an ennobled or enlightened state. Exactly, but definitely an enlivened one. A bike ride is better than yoga or wine or weed. It runs neck and neck with sex and coffee. Love it Jody. Welcome to the Gabfest. Congratulations on the book and congratulated on your fantastic title for the book. So why is it only neck and neck with sex?
Speaker 5: You could say that bicycle is a form of sex many people have talked about, man. There’s been a lot of writing and thought about about the bicycle as an erotic device. There’s I actually write in this book, David, I have a whole chapter about, about bicycle porn. It’s manifestations both on, you know, in, in the movies, as it were, online, but also in 19th century literature, art thought a crucial thing about the bike is that it is that when you mount pardon the expression a bike, you kind of merge your body with it. It’s it’s more like a prosthesis than a vehicle because ideally you’re kind of becoming one with the machine. When you ride a bike, there’s, there’s, there’s, there’s a kind of erotic quality to it, let us say.
Speaker 2: Well, I’d like to I’d like to have your riff on the lyrics to a bicycle built for to the famous song Bicycle Built for Two, which is, I guess, a deeply sexual song.
Speaker 5: It is a deeply sexual song which actually was inspired by a sex scandal in in England. It was I’m now I’m now I wish I had my book handy so I could look up the reference. But I think it was, you know, a sex scandal among the the nobility that inspired that song. It was sort of a satirical song originally, but there’s some some double entendres in that song which may not be apparent to those of us a centuries plus. Later.
Speaker 1: I’m going to return us to this political sphere of this show, which maybe is a mistake, but I’m going to do that anyway and talk about how the bicycle has been an engine for revolution, for political change. I just loved this idea that Hitler had to break a bicycle union in Germany in order to come to power. That when the Nazi forces were occupying other countries like France and the Netherlands, they confiscated bicycles because they were a means of escape. And then, of course, there’s the role that bicycles played, have played in the fight for women’s suffrage and feminist rights. I want to hear more about all of that.
Speaker 5: Yeah. So, you know, I mean, it’s very interesting because the very first bicycle boom, which took place in Regency England in 18, circa 1819, right after the invention of the kind of first proto bicycle which took which was happened in in in around 1817 in Germany. At that point, it was it was really a status symbol. It was for the elite. You know, it was it was the the Dandies of London that first embraced the bicycle. So it the bicycle began its life as kind of a plaything of of the rich.
Speaker 5: But by the time we hit the the 1890s bicycle boom, this is the arrival of the so-called safety bicycle, which really democratized this machine, made it available to the masses cheap and easily became for an in England they called it the people’s nag. It was it was embraces this kind of democratizing device which leveled the playing field across class, across lines. And yes, famously was embraced by by women, both as kind of a symbol of new womanhood and as a tool of protest.
Speaker 5: So suffragists, you know, rode bicycles to the barricades. You know, the bicycle is is a device of personal mobility and freedom. You can you can move fast on a bike. You can organize masses of people to take to the streets in great numbers. And and those people can, you know, elude the authorities in ways that are that on bikes that is, you know, arguably easier than certainly if you’re in a car and definitely if you’re on foot, you know, maybe maybe the the Canadian the Canadian convoy would have would have worked a little better if they’d all been on bikes.
Speaker 5: But yeah, I mean, there’s a long, long history of this stretching from those. Protesters in late 19th century England. In the U.S., the suffragist protesters threw to, for instance, the Tiananmen Square protests in China in 1989. That was really a bicycle protest, hundreds of thousands of people’s pilgrimage to Tiananmen every day on bicycles. And it’s continued right up to the present day. So the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprising. In the aftermath of George Floyd, we saw thousands and thousands of cyclists taking to the streets.
Speaker 3: Outline the political landscape in a city like New York, where one of the benefits of moving here was not I’m not like you and David and probably Emily, who make the bike bike a part of their daily commute, because I just have to go upstairs. But but one of the great things about moving to New York was all the availabilities, a bike. So you just put it in your travel calculus. So you take the subway and then you get on a bike or you or you bike and then walk. How much is that helpful to the bike rider of the kind you are, which is where it’s already knit into your life? Does that make it a better or less good city? And then just a joining to that. But but then there are all these other personal modes of per ambulation, all these scooters and things like that, which I would think mess up the bike life. But maybe that’s wrong.
Speaker 5: Yeah, I guess I’d say that any alternative transfer transit that’s not a car does not mess up the bike life and only helps the bike life. That is. I mean, you know, the goal of cycling advocates is to push cars off the streets by changing our laws. And, you know, I think first and foremost, by getting rid of free parking, that would be the biggest step, I think, to make all cities, including or maybe even especially New York, cleaner, safer, happier, healthy places.
Speaker 5: But in terms of what the bicycle culture of New York, it’s it’s interesting. It’s a it’s a complicated picture because on the one hand, thanks in part largely in part to the efforts of of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, you know, we have we have much better bicycle infrastructure in New York now than we’ve ever had, but there’s still way too little of it. So it’s it’s very dangerous to ride a bike in New York, despite the fact that we have city bike, which is a bike share program which puts thousands of bikes available at relatively low cost on the streets. The problem is to make a city really safe for not just bikes, but any vehicle that’s not or any mode of transport that’s not on four wheels and driven by an internal combustion engine and that I include pedestrians. You really just need to, like make less space for cars. That’s what the places the and especially northern Europe that have have done well on this score have done they’ve they’ve they’ve frustrated the ability to park your car and drive it into the center of the city.
Speaker 5: And those cities have flourished in all kinds of ways. Not only is it like an obvious social good because it’s better for the environment, you breathe cleaner air and there are better public health outcomes. But it just really like, you know, like cities want to be places where you’re moving around on foot. You’re moving at a not a breakneck pace, but at the kind of the pace that a bicycle in genders, which is not too fast and not too slow, just the right pace to take in the panorama of the city to interact with with your neighbors, to maybe just go to the grocery store.
Speaker 5: You know, Mayor Mayor Anne Hidalgo in in Paris, who’s really aggressively advocated changes to the streetscape there and to laws to make it turn into a cycling city. Has this idea about the 15 minute city, which is that everything should be available to you within 15 minutes, your every every task you need to perform as a citizen, whether it’s going to the grocery store or taking your kid to school, even voting what have you, should be within a 15 minute walk or bike ride of your home. And and, you know, I think those change, you know, very, very easily accomplished changes to infant infrastructure once we wean ourselves off of the that the the drug of that of of car culture are available. And it will really it can really improve the life of countless millions in this country and around the world.
Speaker 1: I was really struck when I was in Amsterdam this spring by how people of all kinds and ages were riding bikes. They were really simple bikes. I have like a clunker bike and they had even more clunker bikes and it just felt like it was. Everybody is. It belonged to everyone. I live in the city that is sort of like semi hospitable to bikes could be much safer. I have some friends who ride bicycles, but a lot of people don’t. They just don’t really feel comfortable on kind of city streets that haven’t been effectively redesigned for bicycles. Do you feel like you have tips for people who are sort of curious about their sort of bike adjacent but afraid. Use them to commute? Or do you feel like it’s really about the city infrastructure changing and it’s just like a safety hump that people are not likely to get over without some major changes?
Speaker 5: Yeah, I think I come down on the safety side of things. I mean, like I personally I am not scared on a bicycle, even even in New York. I’m less scared than I should be, I think. But that’s I’m a pretty confident cyclist. And I’ve been, you know, braving the bedlam of New York streets for decades now. So. So maybe I’m the wrong guy to ask about. You know, I’m just like, get on the bike ride. You’ll love it. But.
Speaker 5: But I do I do think that I do think that, like, you know, we all should become advocates for this infrastructure because if this is really a this is really a political issue that transcends you know, there’s a lot of rhetoric around the bicycle that it’s like this sort of, you know, it’s this it’s this thing for for green people in blue states. And that is not true. The bicycle is the bicycle is for everyone. You know, the bicycle is maligned often by people on the right as kind of like, you know, a hippie mobile or something that’s for, you know, bourgeois bohemian limps. Right. But but the truth is, the bicycle is for everyone and it will be for more people.
Speaker 5: And so many people have better outcomes for their health and and more to the point, just happier lives if they live in places where it’s safe and easy to ride bikes, because we all know it’s like a bicycle, a bicycle ride. It really feels really good. It like it’s just it’s like it’s like a spiritual high, you know, to be on a bike, you feel like you have a superpower because you’re moving four times faster than you can on foot with five times less exertion. It’s just like the most miraculous and efficient device that’s ever been created for moving through the world.
Speaker 5: So I guess what I’d say to to circumnavigate. Back to your question on a meandering bike ride, back to the question you asked. I yeah. What we should all be we should all become bicycle advocates and then old, old people who are bike curious or anyone who’s very curious will be able to like take their bike out in the road ride in a protected by bike lane safely and, you know, cruise, cruise down the street, cruise through the world.
Speaker 2: Jody Rosen is the author of Two Wheels. Good Jody to you see out there on the trail, on the bike path, in the protected bike lane.
Speaker 5: Look forward to it.