S1: The following program has the potential, dare I say, probability, to give offense.
S2: It’s Tuesday, September 15th, 2020, from Slate, it’s the gist. I’m Mike Pesca. Donald Trump wants to be on TV badly, which is how he performs when he’s on TV today. He claimed to have read a Carl Bernstein book while calling into Fox. And Friends, of course, meant the Woodward book but didn’t own it. Tried to cover up by saying the Bernstein book wasn’t written well.
S3: The Bernstein book was always really boring. I have to tell you. And the Woodward book and Bernstein’s book, I read a Bernstein book The Guy Can’t Write. But Woodward’s book to me was a very boring it was a very boring. It was inaccurate.
S1: Bernstein’s most recent book was written, by the way, 13 years ago, is a biography of Hillary Clinton. I don’t think that’s the book Trump was reading. So Donald Trump’s book club not going to replace Oprah’s or Johnny Knoxville’s books out. How about the weather? It’ll start getting cooler.
S2: I watched you just watch I wish science.
S1: That was to Wade Crowfoot, California secretary of Natural Resources, who pointed out that the state had hit a high of 130 degrees in Death Valley and over 120 degrees in L.A. Trump predicting, assuring it’ll start getting cooler soon. But wait, isn’t this the same guy who said this thing? You know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. So the weather’s going to get colder, but the virus is going to go away when the weather gets warmer. A contradiction? Not necessarily. He just happened to be wrong about the consequence of the weather short term while also being wrong about the consequence of the weather. Long term, what I’m saying is he’s consistent and he clearly knows science and his people know science. So after Politico reported that the public morbidity reports, which are dubbed the holiest of the holy in agency literature, have been targeted by Trump officials in the Health Department’s communications office. The head of that office, Michael Caputo, confirmed it. He said that what they’ve done is they’ve brought in an outside expert who’s actually a part time assistant professor at Canada’s MacAllister University to push back on the official figures. Caputo spoke to The New York Times of the hired consultants efforts to make the data look better for the administration. Quote, He digs into these memoirs, those are the reports and makes his position known. And his position isn’t popular with the career scientists sometimes, Caputo said. That’s called science. That’s called science. To update one, McAllister University issued a statement saying that the researcher, Paul Alexander, quote, is not currently teaching and is not paid by the university for his contract role as a part time assistant professor as call science. As far as HHS spokesman Caputo. Well, he held a Facebook live session Sunday wherein he accused left wing hit squads of fostering insurrection. He advised people to stock up on ammunition for the election and said that the CDC was harboring resistance a I guess, the white blood cells of the CDC. You know what that’s called? That’s called science. Politico reported today that Caputo addressed staff and hinted he might be taking a leave, citing his own mental health. What did the president have to say about the fervid emanations of this hot under the collar handmaiden? It’ll start getting cooler on the show today. I spiel about the Wisconsin High Court sending Hawkin’s walk in hawkins’, you say? Yes, I refer to the Green Party candidate and a ruling that that party will not be on the ballot.
S4: But first, I interview Michael Sandel, who teaches political philosophy at Harvard. These classes, which are free online, have set records so of his TED talks because they hit on fundamental profundities that we need to recapture the common good. And the way to do that is to rethink our concept that some people are deserving and some are just asked to prop up those we call deserving.
S5: The name of the book is The Tyranny of Merit. What’s become of the common good? The answer to that question, or at least an answer, is up next.
S6: Common good is a concept that I’ve become a little bit obsessed with, I think we’ve gotten away from it and I think we’ve gotten away from it in ways that we can all agree with. But the specifics are a huge source of disagreement. In fact, we don’t even have a common definition of that, which is the common good or if it’s good to pursue the common good. Well, there’s no better thinker on these issues than Michael Sandel. He is professor at the Harvard University Law School and he teaches political philosophy. His new book is The Tyranny of Merit What’s Become of the Common Good? Professor Sandel, thanks for coming on. Good to be with you, Mike. So why the common good? Why not community or fair play or mutual interest or some other high minded virtue that might have been invoked in a Fred Friendly seminar on PBS?
S7: Well, I think to begin with, our civic life is in very good shape these days. Everybody is aware of the polarization, the rancor. And what I think lies at the heart of it is that we lack a politics of the common good part of what makes people suspicious of the common good, as it suggests uniformity, a single set of values that everyone has to abide by. Like it or not, I speak of a politics of the common good because I think we need to find a way to deliberate about the common life we share the the sense of justice. We want to inform our common life. And we’re not very good at that these days.
S6: So, for instance, let’s just take an issue in the news. Police reform is part of the problem with achieving police reform that we can’t even define. We know we don’t want Derek Chauvin and those like him to be killing George Floyd and those like him. But beyond that, that we can’t even decide upon because we don’t discuss enough or have a vocabulary for the discussion, what the common good of good policing would look like.
S7: Yes, that’s exactly right. And I like the way you you say we lack the vocabulary, because what I have in mind when I speak of the politics of the common good is finding a way to reason together to argue together about in this case, what what are the police for preventing acts of violence, unjustified violence, protecting property, performing various kinds of social work, monitoring traffic? There are lots of different answers to the question what in a just society police do. But that’s not really the debate we’ve been having.
S6: Right. There seems to be a I would think a in many ways good and justified project to redefine certain ideas about the American character and the American mythos, things like redefining our foundation from 1776 to maybe sixteen, nineteen, or at least raising that date as something to ponder the idea of the melting pot being interrogated and I think essentially scrapped. And I understand why this goes on. But do these reconsiderations, which acknowledge that there have been a lot of people left out of the story of America, those reconsiderations getting so much emphasis and momentum behind them, is that in some way a threat to the project of defining what is the common good?
S7: Not necessarily. It depends on the spirit in which those debates and reconsiderations take place. It’s important that they take place on the basis of civility and mutual respect, which means listening to one another, even where we disagree about fraught questions, for example, of racial justice or of identity and how they bear on politics and the distribution of the good things in life. What we are not good at these days is listening and also defending our principles are competing conceptions of justice and the common good in ways that seek to persuade persuasion in a way is one of the key parts of democracy. But it’s a lost art. And and one of the one of the aims of my book, The Tyranny of Merit, is to try to redirect us toward that, are to ask what might a more robust, more morally robust public discourse look like?
S6: I’ve seen you to a TED talk, and you’re one of the few people who rely on audience participation where you kind of do it like I would imagine you do. You teach a class, you know, you pull someone from the front. What do you think about I think the one I saw the definition of golf was but so I could understand it. So you you appealed to me as. The kind of person who is pursuing this course, but, you know, I guess the counterargument would be something like there have been there are certain gatekeepers and there are certain discussions that have been going on. Progress has essentially eluded so many of us. Maybe it is time not to forever pursue discourse and disagreement in an affable way. Maybe the time is now to just hold gatekeepers accountable and emphasize ideals that have long been suppressed in the American discourse. So what do you think of that?
S7: I agree that we need to keep gatekeepers accountable and that should be right at the center of our politics. But the way we do that, the way we empower citizens to keep the gatekeepers accountable is for citizens to be equipped with competing conceptions about a just society looks like from the one that the gatekeepers are perhaps enforcing. And one of the ways of doing that is, I think, to reconsider the whole project of the market driven version of globalization that we’ve lived through for the past four decades, largely promoted by the people you’re calling the gatekeepers or the governing elites. And to ask ourselves, why has there been such a backlash against the distribution of income and wealth and power that has resulted? And equally important, why has that backlash led to the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. and other similar figures in Europe rather than to more progressive voices? Until we answer that question, we’re not going to make much progress.
S6: Right. So you’re pointing to income inequality, America’s Gini coefficient, the fact that so few people control so much wealth and power as not just a regrettable fact of modern life, but actually undermining the purpose of the common good?
S7: Well, I certainly think that the deepening inequality of income and wealth does undermine the common good. But that’s not the only problem closely connected to that deepening inequality. Our attitudes toward success, toward winning and losing that have deepened and fostered resentment, grievances, legitimate grievances. And so the reason I speak of the tyranny of merit is I think that the meritocratic idea has been brought to bear by those who’ve landed on top as a way of justifying their success. It’s the idea. My success is my own doing. I worked hard. I exercised my talent. The market has rewarded me lavishly, perhaps, and it’s my do. And by the way, those who haven’t done so well, those who are struggling, they must not have worked as hard or been as talented as me. Those are the attitudes toward the inequality that have really created the resentment that led to this populist backlash fueling these authoritarian alternatives.
S6: But it is my perception that the sentiment of the self-made man usually man, and the idea that anyone could make it in America with enough bootstrapping and perhaps a lack of humility or accounting for luck among those who’ve succeeded. That was, I think, very prevalent since the post-World War Two era. And it was prevalent during periods of the 60s and 70s through the 80s where income inequality wasn’t that high. So you had that argument without the income inequality and maybe it wasn’t that bad a problem.
S7: Well, the idea that everyone should be free to rise, that there should be a level playing field, and that if there is those who work hard and are talented will get ahead, you’re right. That idea by itself goes back a long way. But when the kind of market driven globalization we’ve had over the past four decades creates such deep inequality, and when those at the top inhale so deeply of their own success, believing I made it on my own, those left behind have no one to blame but themselves. That’s a recipe for the kind of resentment that leads in sometimes dark and ugly directions, as we’ve seen since 2016. So I think. We need more than the idea that the Democratic Party or progressive parties or the mainstream parties should simply answer inequality with upward mobility for some, because helping people scramble up the ladder of success when the rungs on the ladder are growing further and further apart, that loses its capacity to inspire most people, especially when the chances for upward mobility are not that great.
S6: So I’m going to suggest something else that’s going on. Mostly you’re talking about a populist backlash which is being seen throughout the world. It’s it’s inevitable and in a way logical to elites hoarding power and resources for themselves. But I think that there’s another reason that that dynamic undermines the common good. And it’s that 30, 50, however, many years ago there were robber barons. But whoever we thought of as the elite, they had more of an investment in the common good as well, because when you get to be very, very rich, you can almost remove yourself from the dirty concerns of society. And I’m not just talking about Jeff Bezos or those like him. I think there are a lot of people at the very top who very much believe in the meritocracy, who become less invested in the experiment of dialogue and understanding and the common good as well.
S7: I think that’s true. Mike, I agree with you about that. I think the way it’s happened, one of the the dynamics of this is that during the decades from the end of World War two, let’s say to the 1970s, of course, there were differences in income and wealth. But for one thing, those differences were not as stark as they are today. CEOs made 30 times perhaps what the average worker did, whereas by the 2000s it was close to 300 times. It’s not because they suddenly worked so much harder than CEOs half a century earlier. It’s because the the rules changed. The shape of the economy changed. But something else happened, which is as inequality became as pronounced as it now is, the common spaces in public places of everyday life that gather us together across class differences in across differences of race and ethnicity and upbringing. These common spaces have lost their capacity to gather us together, in part just as you say, because the affluent buy their way out of public services and public facilities, whether it’s to do with health facilities, health care or work out places or sport access to sporting events. I talk about the advent of skyboxes. You know, it used to be that going to to a baseball game. When I was growing up in Minnesota, I was a Minnesota Twins fan going to the ballpark. Yes, there were box seats and bleacher seats and the difference in price was about a dollar fifty two dollars at the time, three dollars maybe. So going to the ballpark, CEOs sat side by side with mailroom clerks, more or less, and everyone got wet when it rained and everyone ate the same soggy hotdogs and drank the same stale beer. And then in the 90s and 2000s came skyboxes, those luxury skyboxes that enabled some to watch the game in air conditioned comfort. But behind Plexiglas, far above the common folk in the stands below. And now suddenly not everybody did get wet when it rained. I call this the skybox of vacation of life because it’s not a didn’t only happen in sports stadia, it happened throughout our society. And this has led to a condition where we we scarcely encounter one another across classes, for example, in the course of our everyday life. And that’s corrosive of the common good.
S6: So the meritocracy was invented to address a flaw, which is that life was so much based on luck, things like birth luck and surviving childhood and surviving childbirth. And to some extent that that is an innovation. Is it the case then that you’re saying the meritocracy hasn’t been realized or there is an inherent flaw in relying on the meritocracy, even if it’s working out, quote unquote?
S7: Well, both, both. And it’s an important distinction that you raise. For one thing, it’s certainly not true that everyone does have an equal chance to succeed. The playing field is not. Equal, there’s a deeper problem, which is even if we could create equal chances for everyone so that no one was held back due to prejudice or being born into a poor family, the meritocratic ideal, even at its best, is flawed. It has a dark side and the dark side is this in a true meritocracy, those who land on top know and believe that their success is their own doing and that they therefore deserve the material rewards that the market heaps upon them. And by implication, those at the bottom must deserve their place as well. They must lack the effort and talent to succeed. And this leads to hubris among the successful meritocratic hubris, I call it, and humiliation among those left behind. And this hubris and humiliation, the dark side of meritocracy, even a perfect meritocracy, helps explain, I think, why that we haven’t attained a perfect meritocracy. It helps explain the tendency today for those on top to look down on those less successful than themselves and for working people to feel that they’re looked down upon. And this is a recipe for the resentment that has fueled the populist backlash.
S6: So is the solution an attitudinal one? If only the elites were humble and recognize their privilege, it that’s a part of it, but it takes more than that.
S7: It takes more practical, concrete steps. One of them is to reconsider the role of universities as the arbiters of opportunity. And then beyond that, but related, we need to put the dignity of work at the center of political debate and a court greater social recognition and esteem to people who make valuable contributions but who are not rewarded by the market or valorized by the society. And we see this. We should be prompted in this market by what we see during this pandemic. But it seems to me now is the time for a public debate about how to reorient our economy and our values to accord greater pay and greater respect to those more in line with the importance of the work that they are doing.
S6: Michael Sandel teaches at Harvard University’s School of Law. His latest work is The Tyranny of Merit. What’s Become of the Common Good? Thanks so much.
S8: Thank you, Mike.
S4: And now the spiel. In the United States, a national election is a myth. Not only is there no consequence to a national vote, the idea of a federal vote is just that. It’s an idea. It’s stitched together from 51 states and a city voting. So while we fuss and focus about the national election and national tallies, those numbers are best a proxy. They’re not meaningless. They tell us a little something. They’re rough, but they’re a proxy for what matters. You know that. I know that. We also know that the state vote is shaped not just by the preference of voters, but by rulings about who gets to vote and where and how and when that. We also know that sometimes it gets harder to pay attention to because there are 50 different stories about those questions. And sometimes those stories contain distractions like stolen mailboxes. But sometimes those distractions are actually tucked inside valid concerns about how the post office will handle the vote. But here’s one idea that goes underappreciated, not just where, when, how and who gets to vote, but who voters get to vote for. Well, it’s Biden or Trump, right? Yes, but it’s also third party candidates. And in close elections, they could be pivotal if there were to be a method to suppress tens of thousands of voters. And we knew about that suppression effort, we would be up in arms, rightly so. But, you know, third parties work very much like voter suppression, not the intent. It’s fair and fine to have third parties, but the effect is essentially suppressing the votes of the candidates who can actually win most votes for a Green Party candidate. Not all, but most are siphoned off from the Democrat. Political science tells us most votes for libertarians are taken away from Republicans. So last election in the state of Wisconsin, the Green Party’s Jill Stein got thirty one thousand and six votes now. What was Trump’s edge over Hillary Clinton in that state? It was twenty two thousand seven hundred forty eight votes. There’s nothing nefarious about people wanting to vote for Jill Stein. But it is the reality that if we just went by the usual pattern of Green Party vote allocation, some to the Dems, some to the Republicans, some staying home and some two other third parties, if we did that, Hillary Clinton very well could have won. It’s hard to say so definitively because it is a hypothetical. By the way, this hypothetical assumes Gary Johnson still ran on the libertarian line. So it’s kind of an unbalanced hypothetical, but it’s safe to say that the Green Party represents at least a few thousand fewer votes for the Democrats in a place like Wisconsin and a few thousand votes did and may very well still decide Wisconsin. That is why what I’m about to report or at least allow Channel three Green Bay to report seems like obscure news, but it isn’t.
S9: Seven people in Wisconsin decided what hundreds of thousands of people across the state were waiting on. The Green Party will not be on your ballot this fall. The state Supreme Court essentially said the Green Party waited too long to ask for a ruling, noting the election basically started again.
S4: That from Wisconsin, Channel three, Green Bay, Green Bay. You know, they had the rooting interest at stake. Now, the seven people who made that decision, who they referred to in that report, there were, of course, the Green Bay Packers linebacker corps know it was the Supreme Court and the breakdown of their vote illustrate what’s really going on. The Liberals all said the Greens should not be on the ballot, the conservatives, except one Brian Haig. Dawn said the Greens should be on the ballot. Hey, Dawn has lately been irking his fellow conservatives because his philosophy can be best described as well. Conservative. He goes out of his way not to write the law, but just to say if the law is unconstitutional. And he thought the law was thought the law was clear. The Green Party candidate, Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, the vice president, they misfiled their application to order a massive reprint would disrupt the election, especially with so many voters requesting absentee ballots. Now, why the applications were misfiled? I do have some sympathy as maybe not the most assiduous filler or of paperwork in the world. So Angela Walker, the green VP candidate, a professional truck driver, by the way, changed the listing of her home address. So some people who signed to get her on the ballot signed under one address and some signed under another. Originally, her address was listed as 32 04 TV road room 231 Florence, South Carolina. It was then changed to three fifteen Royal Street apartment a Florence, South Carolina. That’s it. That was a mistake. A few thousand signatories thought the Green Party VP lived at one address in South Carolina, not a second address four miles away from the first address. I would have never supported her if I knew she was a Royal Street resident. And stand those. As the official Green Party filing notes, it matters little to a voter who resides in Wisconsin what the actual address of a vice presidential candidate in South Carolina actually is a change of address, especially within the same city of Florence, South Carolina does not speak to the constitutional qualifications of the candidate, which in this case are clearly met. True, but I did some sleuthing and I found out that 42 04 TV road does not exist. It’s a patch of grass next to a highway overpass, a nearby address that does exist, not 30 to a four, but 30 twenty for TV road. And that is the Florence Express in the reference to room to thirty one. Makes me believe that this was the address she was trying to list. TripAdvisor, by the way, features a few pictures provided by travelers who stayed at the Florence Express. In one picture was of a cockroach. One was of the filthy under bottom of the lodgers foot with the explanation quote The floor is filthy, dirty. The bottom of my feet were black is called. Also found out they do not have continental breakfast or coffee. The other address is at least a residence, but it’s pretty picky to disqualify a candidate because of a mistake, a mistake, this minor. It’s very common for rival campaigns to scrutinize signatures for errors. And these are errors, i.e., they violate the rules which the Green Party lawyers knew, and by the Green Party lawyers. I mean, in this case, actually, a Milwaukee law firm with a long history of representing Republicans candidate Howie Hawkins told The Washington Post, You get help where you could find that they have their reasons. We have ours. I don’t know, maybe how Hawkins platform just resonated with Republicans.
S5: I’m Howie Hawkins. I’m a Green Party member running for president of the United States. And my platform is about eco socialism and an eco socialist green new deal.
S4: Yeah, I just can’t hear Kimberly Guilfoyle shouting that agenda from the mountaintops. Actually, The Washington Post elicited some refreshing candor from Bob Spindell, a Republican member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, who wanted to allow the Green Party on the ballot, he said, to be truthful with you, the Republicans wanted West on the ballot and the Republicans wanted the Green Party on the ballot. Democrats did not want West to the Green Party tickets on the ballot West. Oh, yeah, forgot him. Kanye West, he’s trying to run right now. And in Wisconsin is being kept off the ballot. Rules are rules. And W working with a lawyer who coincidentally used to be the general counsel for the state Republican Party, filed late. It was 14 seconds late, but still literally a late registration where still has a scintilla of a chance, perhaps. But it is likely that Wisconsin can get on with the business of mailing out almost 400000 absentee ballots, which must be received by Election Day, where you’re sure they’ll be vetted by Republican lawyers. To make sure every bit of their information is in perfect order and not received a second to say nothing of 14 seconds too late.
S2: And that’s it for today’s show, Margaret Kelly produces the Gist patients, Rogan Sjaak oversees the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Daniel Shrader, just producer, has no equivalent on the modern Wisconsin Supreme Court, but he is interested in the jurisprudence of the court’s six chief justice or awesomes, our coal. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts as a mom who does not use profanity. She closely watched actual Wisconsin Supreme Court case, State V. Brightman, which overturned a criminal conviction in a case where a mother used profanity against her 14 year old son. The gist the kid did burn the popcorn. Just wanted to add some context to Britney. And thanks for listening.