Too Big To Govern?
S1: The following program may contain explicit language and. It’s Wednesday, October 7th, 2020, from Slate is the gist. I’m Mike Pesca.
S2: Tonight’s vice presidential debate will take place against the backdrop of social upheaval, civil unrest, presidential instability, widespread inability to define the word therapeutic and public health peril. That, again, the backdrop, the drop is a four inch sheet of Plexiglas.
S3: When South Carolina Democratic nominee James Harris showed up to debate Lindsey Graham, he took with him his own enclosure, his own toll booth operator with the window up apparatus, window up apparatus, and I guess others got the idea. Maybe that’s smart. So the campaigns agreed to a divider. But if you look at it, it’s more evocative of a barrier than an actual useful barrier. It is to an actually effective piece of personal protective equipment what the JetBlue tray table is to a 12 foot long dining room table. Also, the experts say Plexiglas barriers pretty useless against the spread of covid, but that’s OK. Vice presidential debates are pretty useless. Once you’ve got Donald Trump on top of the ticket, what’s Pence going to say? No, no, no. The president doesn’t tweet with the intensity of a meth head Korean boy band fan who just swallowed a whole bag of fun dip while playing supermarket sweep, who’s been told by Oprah she gets a car. Can’t say that it’s not true, no matter how normal pense comes across. He’s like that old cartoon of the unremarkable nebbishy fellow who’s casting a shadow behind him, which is a huge, hulking monster, a hulking, heaving, oddly looming, obvious edit at 151 Monster. Did you see the tape our president released today? Not that inspiring. Unlike the first presidential debate in this one, Kamala Harris won’t get a free pass if she is, as you know, scattered as Joe Biden was at times. The bar for her will be a little higher than somewhat normal, which is all we wanted from Biden. And there I said it, Biden, my God, Trump and his antics and oxygen levels and infection and therapeutics. It just so dominates our thinking in mindspace. I sometimes fault myself for not mentioning Joe Biden more than, again, what German journalists thought back to 1932 and lamented, I wish I’d covered von Hindenburg domestic policy and a little more detail. So today I came across a video of Joe Biden getting an endorsement from an Italian American group pions. And I thought it was hilarious.
S4: Here is Joe Biden demonstrating his Italian bona fide as I was a pretty damn good football player and and I couldn’t understand until I to tell me why I did so well as a flanker.
S3: Back and a half back flanker back. You know, his football career actually did stop before the first Super Bowl was played. He’s an old guy. Anyway, here is Biden continuing on in this video posted by the Italian Americans for Biden. Harris flanker back and a half back.
S4: Well, Jake Montello, Frank Deledio, Cliff Angellotti, Jimmy Sabbatino, Lenny, son of AISI, he’s basically just listing a bunch of Italians.
S3: I know this could come off as some of my best friends and pulling guards were Italian, but actually I think most Italians, Italians of my dad’s generation say would like this. Hey, Lenny. Yeah. Cliff Sigils talking about you for being from the old neighborhood. Forget about it, because Italians, even in Delaware, have Brooklyn accents. I looked at some of these guys up there is a Cliff Ancelotti. The guy’s a dentist in Wilmington. So it’s his son, Cliff Jr. And he did go to Biden school. The father did. It all checks out. I mean, the list in the video does get well.
S4: It gets a little long at times, Jake Montello, Frank Deledio, Cliff Angellotti, Frankie Carbomb or whatever. And then there was Mo Black’s brother, Fat Andy and his guys. Frankie, the wife got in trouble. Freddy No, no, don’t give me the Sabbatino.
S5: Lenny Son of a little bitty big, pretty regular beat Joey Bagua. Donal’s was here.
S4: Jimmy Warmings Nicky potato salad, squeakily mussels marinara you regular Joe Davalos, Mike D’Onofrio, Mike Thaçi and Jimmy two times who got that nickname because he said everything twice like when to go get the papers, get the paper.
S3: But they’re all good people. You know, I have medium PD, a Trump guy, but we’ll have Lenny Santa Vaizey and Potato Salad Louie, give him a call, see if we can jog a few memories, if you know what I mean. I am implying a threat of physical violence on the show today I spiel about if fearing a Trump crater, other Republicans can run far enough away from the blast zone. But first, I welcome on two authors who are out with new books with. Differing ideas of America and size break it up versus blow it up. Matthew Yglesias has written One Billion Americans the case for thinking bigger on team were too big already is Richard Kreitner, who is out with a new book, More Description Than a Prescription. It is called Break It Up Secession Division and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union. Don’t you think these two guys needed to talk? I did. The results are up next.
S1: This is a little bit of a different kind of segment than we usually do. I usually do an interview and sometimes I have two people on maybe in opposition to each other. But I have with me two esteemed thinkers who have recently written books that I think are a little bit in dialogue with each other. One of them is Richard Kreitner is Break It Up secession division and the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union. And it’s not really a book of advocacy. It’s a book of history with some analysis. Richard, thanks for coming on. Thank you. And my second guest is Matt Yglesias, who has written One Billion Americans the Case for Thinking Bigger. And I will say this. This is not a sprawling book, but it’s a sprawling idea. And Matt has just one of the most interesting minds going. And much like in Miracle on what is it, 34th Street when one Santa said, you know, maybe you should buy that at Gimbel’s. I’m going to recommend if you want to hear a really good interview with Matt, go to conversations with Tyler. Matt was on that one or the Ezra Klein podcast, talked to Matt for a while. It’s really worth spending an hour and a half with Matt Yglesias talking about what he wants to talk about. But today we’re going to talk about something a little bit different. But anyway, thanks for coming on this show, Matt. Thank you. OK, so your book, A Billion Americans is about let’s have so many more Americans. And Richard’s book, Break It Up is the idea of less Americans. We’re going to get into that. But first, I’d just like to give you each a minute or so to tell me about the parts of your of your each of your books that really maybe we won’t be touching on, but are important things to think about. So, Richard, you may go first.
S6: OK, thank you. I’ll just say, you know, my books really not fewer American Americans and more Americans as opposed to more Americans, you know, so as you say, I’m glad you pointed out my book is a history. It’s not really an argument for breaking it up. Break it up is the theme rather than necessarily the argument. I survey, you know, for centuries of American history. And I try to argue and show that the United States has never really been united, that we’ve always been divided by race and region, religion, culture, class, and there have always been movements to break it up. And even after the civil war, you know, of course, the idea sort of goes away or gets repressed. As I say, this idea that that maybe we shouldn’t be one country, but it’s returned in kind of strange and odd ways through the 20th century and even today. And so far, they’re fairly marginal. But I suspect I suppose that they thought they might get more and more central to mainstream political discourse. I think we’ve actually already started to see this in the time that I was working on the book.
S1: All right. That’ll be interesting. And we’re going to ignore most of it. Matt, your book, your book, a spine, a clever spine that you could attach different arguments to tell me about one billion Americans and what we might not hear about for the rest of this conversation.
S7: So, I mean, so much of one billion Americans is about looking at the logistics because obviously a billion is a higher number than 330. So people have questions about parking, transportation, housing. You know, where do people go? I love urban policy. I love transportation policy. So, you know, the book really sort of gets into all the nitty gritty and there’s a lot that you could learn and take away from it about like how to improve transit systems and how to improve housing policy, even if you don’t ultimately end up embracing my big crazy idea. But, you know, I, I think here we’re probably going to talk about, you know, the virtues of bigness versus the the possibilities of split up, which is right at the beginning of my book, you know, sort of making the case for a bigger America. But a lot of it’s about the details.
S1: Yeah. OK, so, Richard, most of the arguments for secession as well, then we will define new countries more in line with the thoughts and thinking and predilections of the residents. Are the arguments against breaking up? How often do they rely on the economic like, no, we’re better off together just because of our economic force?
S8: That’s definitely one strand of the thinking. The other is that it would just be very messy and possibly even violence. You know, the one time that that anybody actually went through and tried this in the 60s, it turned, you know, notably violent to an extent that that would equate to eight millions dead today. So I think we have a very justifiable fear of secession. And I try not to be blithe about that. To the extent that I am arguing for secession or at least suggesting that we should consider it, it’s really not to try to get down to these homogenous these politically uniform polities. I think that can only lead to violence in certain. Forms of cleansing, my, my, my, my concern, my interest is that it might be that bringing things down to a more local level is simply more democratic and more efficient as a way of sorting through our many disputes than arguing over everything in Washington.
S1: Matt, what about what Richard was talking about? Just if you grow bigger, you get further away the governed, get further away from the governors, and that’s a problem in terms of democracy.
S7: So I actually really like this argument. You know, to me, it resonates with the themes of my book, which is that it is, I think, totally true that if you want to find a really well governed country, you’re normally looking at like Finland or Singapore, Denmark, like really little places. People are really close to the issues. It’s constructive in some ways. And then if you think, though, about, well, look what we really want the United States to be like a tiny patchwork of little Finland’s, wouldn’t that be sad? And I think it would be sad. Right. And the reason it would be sad, though, right, is that the United States has never been, I think, the world’s best governed country. But we have played a unique role in the world that New Zealand does not play and it has not always gone perfectly well. But at critical moments, the United States of America has done really great things, and we’re stuck with the bigness and unwieldiness of the United States. But what we risk right now as the Chinese economy grows larger than ours is being overtaken in the virtues of bigness.
S3: So, Richard, part of the American creed is this embrace of sprawl to some extent and diversity to a large extent. When you look at secessionist movements, are they a rejection of diversity or are they more of an assertion of diversity, essentially saying we’re diverse in a way that’s not being accommodated by the America that exists right now?
S8: Yeah, I think they’re more typically an assertion of diversity. I mean, not all forms of diversity are good. You know, the South’s argument for for secession was that they were diverse region. I don’t I don’t I don’t like that they were. I don’t you know, I don’t like what made them a diverse region. But it was an assertion of of descent from from this kind of national norm that was that was forming in the north and in the west. The more interesting question to me is about sprawl, as you call it, or expansion, you know, in the 19th century. And what’s what’s interesting to me about the one billion Americans idea is these historical parallels where what I found is that every effort to make America greater or to make it larger to to expand was always met with a secessionist movement. These were movements that were meant to make the country more united and they ended up making it less so. So the Louisiana Purchase, for instance, which which we all celebrate, is this kind of great nation building moment, was an attempt to basically squash Western separatist movements in the Mississippi River Valley. But all it created was this massive secessionist movement in the Northeast where New Englanders realized that they were about to lose power in this expanded union and tried to secede from the union, it climaxing at the very end of the War of 1812. And I wonder, you know, I’ve ever had one million Americans over the weekend and I really, really enjoyed it. But I found that there was no there was no discussion. I’d be really curious to hear you talk about this meant no discussion of the political or constitutional democratic implications of this. You know, what would need to change constitutionally and in order to make a country of this size work? You know, the House of Representatives is already way too small. It hasn’t been expanded in over a century when the population was one fourth of what it is now. So I’d actually love to hear you talk about that.
S7: Yeah. I mean, look, I think there is indeed there has historically been a lot of tinkering with the American constitution, and I think we need more of it going forward, you know, sort of one way or the other. The reform I’m actually most taken with is Lee Drutman came out with a book recently arguing quite forcefully that moving to more proportional representation type systems could alleviate a lot of the polarization dynamics in American politics. And I used to think that that was sort of unworkable or irrelevant in the Madisonian system with a single elected president. But he really convinced me that that’s not right and that I think that we should do that doesn’t have such a high bar to change is to try to address the gerrymandering issue by pushing states to use proportional representation to elect their state legislatures and their members of Congress. And that helps generate a politics that’s less sorted by region and it injects a little bit more complexity back into things. Also trying to have whether we’re talking a billion or three hundred thirty million, trying to have just two political parties sort of encompass such a vast and sprawling country leads, I think, necessarily to a.
S3: A lot of discontentment, yeah, but there’s a lot of good political science, as you know, that says that our first past, the post system just generally adheres to two political parties. I don’t know if we don’t change the system, we change the number of parties.
S7: You know, I mean, I agree, but I just think that is a system. It’s changeable, right. There’s a provision of the Voting Rights Act, the way it’s written, that actually prohibits states from creating multimember districts. And they did that for very specific reasons related to a sort of a very particular fear. And they wrote an overly broad way. And I think you could facilitate a shift away from first past. The post for Maine, for example, has now adopted rank choice. Voting in Massachusetts is considering it. And I would go further down that line. I think that’s the there’s a lot I might change from the Constitution if it was blue sky. But working within the framework we have, trying to move away from first past, the post seems good.
S9: Now, Richard, here is when I read your book. Obviously, the Civil War and that secessionist movement looms large, maybe so large that it precludes us from actually considering the good arguments that some secessionist movements may have raised. Now in general, usually, and this isn’t so bad, this is human nature. A secessionist movement is essentially saying, no, we’d like to secede because we think we could get more resources for our people or however we define, as, you know, the real people. But were there any in your survey of the different movements that actually raise good points, virtuous, civically virtuous points?
S8: Absolutely. I mean, my heroes for the book are these disunion abolitionists who, you know, in Massachusetts and throughout the north, from the 30s to the 50s, were arguing for northern secession from the union to protest and not merely to protest, but to actually undermine the institution of slavery. Historians have kind of cast aspersions on this idea and accuse them of favoring their own moral purity, more than actually caring about the slaves who would they would have relinquished into bondage. But when you actually look at what they were saying and what they thought, they really had a practical program for why northern secession would actually possibly lead to the end of slavery. And I think that’s a very a very bold and courageous argument and possibly one that has something to say to us today when, you know, the North was basically these abolitionists were observed that Southern slave owners who basically had every every had all control of the federal government in the years before the civil war were still complaining that they didn’t have enough. And we were constantly, you know, fighting unfairly in order to get their way. And the abolitionists for simply saying to northerners that they should do the same thing, that they should stand up and play what we now call constitutional hardball and fight dirty as well and say that, you know, the union exists not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. And that end is liberty, actual liberty, not slave owners liberty. And if it’s not going to serve that end, then we should break it up and start a new country and that might lead to the end of slavery.
S3: Are the huge countries doing better for their average citizens? It would seem to me that, you know, I don’t know that China is it seems certainly Russia to acquire its hugeness, subsumed a lot of what are now independent states, Indonesia. You could make a case about that. I don’t know. I don’t know if the I don’t know if Eugenia’s helps the average person.
S7: But this, you know, to except the other.
S3: Right. The counterpoint is America seems to have. Right. Wouldn’t you rather be an American?
S7: America is very big. You know, we’re doing well. So the United States is a very sparsely populated country. I mean, the bottom line, factual information I want people to know about this is that a billion Americans sounds like a lot. But if we had a billion, we would have the population density of France. We would have half the population density of Germany. And so basically the United States is it’s a great country, high standards of living. We’ve got a crazy president. But still, life is life is pretty good in the United States, notwithstanding all the rest. But it’s an underpopulated country. We have lots and lots of room and lots of resources to have more people come here. Historically, our population grew quite rapidly because we, you know, have been welcoming to the world and that has slowed down for sort of fundamental reasons related to family life and bad choices related to immigration. But growth, I think, will continue to help us. It will help us repopulate and revitalize some of our struggling cities in the Midwest and help us reverse the decline of the population in rural areas. We will lead on the international stage and so much more.
S3: Richard, what do you think are the big problems with a big country?
S10: Hmm. I mean, as I said, I think I think the political ones I feel like our representative democracy has withered in the century since the House has been expanded and in the times that that the country has grown. I think that democracy suffers. I want to talk about just touch on what Matt was just talking about. You know, I went to school in Canada, at McGill in Montreal. Canadians are very happy. It’s a large country physically, a small country, fairly small by population. Canadians are very happy and prosperous people. And they don’t have this kind of manic pursuit of greatness. They don’t they don’t feel like they need to be number one, you know. And then I found that that had us that there was a certain psychological burden that they did not have that most Americans have, which I think is is basically the burden of empire, the burden of of always having to be number one. You know, there’s there’s a secret passage in the book where we’re talking about we should focus more on family and community and less on work. I mean, putting that crudely. But that basically summarizes.
S7: Yeah, I mean, absolutely.
S10: And I feel like that might not be consonant or, you know, we can’t you can’t both make that transition towards towards more quality of life rather than the quantity of the goods that you produce or amass and maintain this this insistence on being number one. And and can you can just kind of a a country that I think does does very well without that that kind of manic pursuit of greatness. So I, I think quality of life kind of withers. And yes, you know, this is my fear is that in in adding and becoming a billion Americans and making our country the same size as China, we become more and more like China, which I think would be all altogether a loss.
S3: OK, so the last question is, let’s look to the future. And obviously we default to what’s already happened. There was a secessionist movement and failed and we have tripled in population. In fact, by my count, I think we’ve tripled four times. The first census was about four million people, up to twelve thirty six, then past one hundred million. And now we’re at three hundred thirty something million. For tripling, I’m not going to ask which we will do next. Secede or triple. But do you think that tripling will happen and do you guys think that secession actually has a real chance? Matt, you could go first.
S7: Secession. I’m super skeptical on will we triple our population again? And we’ve done it in the past. We’ve roughly tripled over the past eight years. So I think we could do it again over the next eighty. You know, will we actually it all depends how many people buy my book, but I think it’s perfectly realistic.
S10: I mean, I think it is possible that the population is going to triple, as you say, we’ve done it four times, you know, the population is still increasing at a slower rate. Whether or not that comes as part of some kind of program like that is talking about, I’m not so sure my my fear is that it actually would produce the, you know, the type of secession and disintegration that I’m talking about, if not prepared or really preceded by the kind of constitutional reforms that I mentioned and that Matt mentioned as well. And it seems to me that if we want to avoid that scenario, regardless of what happens to population size, we do need to take a hard look at the Constitution. That’s that’s the argument at the end of the book. You know, as I said before, it’s all the history. The one sort of prescriptive point is that I think that we need to look at the Constitution and probably even have another constitutional convention if we want to avoid some kind of fracturing. You know, we we fought a civil war once to avoid breaking apart. My, my my concern is that we may have to break apart in the future to avoid another civil war. And both those, I think, would be horrible situations. And I hope that we can avoid them. And I think the way to do it is to think seriously about the structures that have gotten us to the, you know, what seems like the end of the road as far as our our present system goes.
S1: Richard Kreitner is the author of Break It Up Secession Division in the Secret History of America’s Imperfect Union. And Matt Yglesias is the author of One Billion Americans The Case for Thinking Bigger Richard Matt. Oh, and they both have excellent beards. Gentlemen, thank you so much.
S7: Thank you. Thank you very much.
S11: And now the spiel never has a vice presidential debate been more important to the sinking fortunes of a political ticket than tonight? The president is ill, literally. His campaign is stagnating because he cannot fathom that Americans outside his thought silo won something from him other than bare faced denialism in the face of dire concerns. His vice president doesn’t differ from him on the issues, but his difference in tone at least marks an opportunity for the ticket to rebound. Plus, there is the fact that the Trump team seems to be campaigning more against a Harris Biden ticket as opposed to the actual Biden Harris ticket. Kamala Harris represents pretty much inaccurately, accurately a larger deviation from the mainstream of the Democratic Party than Joe Biden does, according to this formulation. The thing is, Mike Pence might do fine compared to Kamala Harris, and he certainly will shine compared to his boss. But no matter how well he does, I cannot foresee an outcome where a brilliant vice presidential debate performance will affect the race, not just because vice presidential debates never do, but because Donald Trump won’t allow it. He can’t allow it. If he sees Pence gaining ground, he won’t recognize it as an opening. He will perceive it as gaining ground on his enemies. He will see it as gaining ground on him. Donald Trump, he’ll feel threatened that someone else is usurping him and he’ll make sure to reassert himself as the dominant voice. This is due to narcissism, poor strategy, but also the unshakeable belief that he’s not really doing as badly as he is. He tends to downplay to play down the circumstances no matter the circumstances. Ultimately, I can tell you this, that I hope it all works out better for everybody.
S12: Ultimately, it won’t work out because it always works out. It has to work out. You know what I get say hopefully it’ll work out. Nobody loves a peaceful solution better than President Trump that I can tell you. Hopefully it’ll work out.
S3: So that was in reference to the epidemiological course of covid, the economic consequences of covid and also North Korea negotiations that two will work out because it always works out, what with a big inheritance in the offing and generous bankruptcy laws and a steady supply of American suckers ready to buy stakes or wealth courses or your vision. The question I’ve been considering is why do the rest of the Republicans not see what he is doing to them? Yesterday, he huffed and puffed his way into ending congressional covid relief talks, huffing and puffing his way through covid relief kind of a thing with him now, I guess The Daily Beast had an article today. Republicans ditched Trump Save the Senate. They talk about the effort of the moneymen to pivot away from Trump. Quote Tom Davis, the former head of the Republican National Republican Congressional Committee, had said he sent Tom Emmer, Republican Minnesota, the current NRC chair, a memo laying out the case for telling voters the benefits of a divided government, the implication being they’d support congressional Republicans if they viewed them as a bulwark against Biden. All right. So we have to toms a current Tom, a former Tom elected Republicans named Tom agree, except for Tom Cotton and Tom tell us which is notable because they are in the actual Senate. In fact, I find that there’s two category of person who is objecting to the idea of Dich Trump, save the Senate. And those categories are Trump and senators. Senators actually running for reelection are sticking closely to Trump, becoming even Trump bigger than their natural inclination might suggest. Kelly Loffler, once touted as a moderate to the trumpeter Doug Collins, is attempting to win her election by out trumping the Trump lickspittle in Colorado. Cory Gardner, once long touted by himself as a moderate who would work with Democrats with ads like this.
S4: So what’s a Republican like me doing at a wind farm supporting the next generation?
S11: That’s what but the Gardner vibe of a different kind of Republican all falls apart when confronted with Trump. Gardner, for instance, wants a quick replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and has repeatedly signed on to bills that would destroy the ACA and also is just generally very praiseful of Trump. The truth is the strategy of selling potential Republican voters on down ballot candidates, but not Trump, won’t happen because Trump won’t allow it to ask for voters to exhibit an appreciation for gradations or to engage in the nuance of careful consideration between the good Republican and the Trump Republican. It’s impossible. Each day, Trump seeks to define the party more and more as his party. And the party has been happy to cooperate or at least powerless to object, flattening discernment and critical thought. That was Trump’s tactic. And now it’s the Republican Party’s reality. Good luck to any Republican, including Trump’s running mate who seeks in any way to deemphasize Trump. Trump views that is unforgivable, and as his impotence in other areas increases, it’s the one thing that he can still exert some power over to punish the apostates to Trump. There is no Republican Party without Trump and voters know it.
S13: And that’s it for Today Show, Daniel Shrader is hoping for the endorsement of Dutchmen for Shrader, he used to play volleyball with Cornealious Young Dirk Johnson, Pater Vanderburg, Hendrik van Dyk, Wilhelm, Burkean, Bosch, and those are just the middle Blocher’s. Margaret Kelly can now proudly tout the endorsement of Irish people for Kelly, Connor O’Brien, Brian O’Connor, Murphy, Ryan, Ryan Murphy, Ken Donovan, Donovan McKenna, and those are just the nearly palindromic ones. Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts. She’s the endorsement of the WNBA teams, niños bands and podcast titles for Montgomery. She’s got The Sun, The Sky, The Dream, The Virge, The Shins, The Verve, The Cut on Tuesdays, the gist, not part of Alisha’s. Let’s just do our own thing. We might not be able to define therapeutic, but we can define Pallava in Peru, Adepero, Peru. And thanks for listening palaver.