Divide Creep Is Ruining America

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S1: This podcast may have explicit content and also has this implicit request, if you follow me on Twitter, why not follow the gist at Slate Gist? It’s Tuesday, May 12th, 2020, from Slate, it’s the gist. I’m Mike Pesca. Anthony Foushee and doctors Redfield Hohn and is your war testified before the Senate today. Here now is Dr. Foushee laying out the stakes of getting reopening wrong.

S2: Right now, my concern is that states or cities or regions attempt understandable to get back to some form of normality, disregard to a greater degree the checkpoints that we’ve put in our guidelines. But when it is safe to seat and pulling back on mitigation because they feel if that occurs is a real risk, you will trigger an outbreak you may not be able to control, which in fact, paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and deaths, it could be avoided. It could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery. It would almost turn the clock back rather than going forward. That is my major concerns.

S3: Now, I want you to hear that for a couple of reasons. It’s a medical expert discussing the most important health related decision our society has to face.

S1: That’s a big reason, or at least I thought it was until I got this email from a publicist. Hi, Mike. It begins so far pretty accurately. I’m hooked. The sudden call for social distancing has been nothing short of OK. At this point, I’m hoping she doesn’t indulge in hyperbole. Nothing short of a challenge for many while gay men. If anything, that undersells it. Okay. They’re P.T. Barnum. I think. In fact, Kovar 19 can safely be characterized as a challenge for many. She goes on, 81 percent of Americans say their lives have been affected exceptionally or a fair amount by the Koven 19 crisis, according to a Gallup poll. I’m convinced you make a good case. Gallup says. So it must be true with all of those people saying they were affected exceptionally. Sure, I’ll bite. Yet, despite the circumstance for self isolation, millions across the world are using this time to focus on ways to improve themselves. Huh? Some are taking this time to learn a new skill. Adapt to a healthier diet or spend time reconnecting with loved ones while others are thinking of more long term goals. Yes, because connecting with loved ones. Really? How long can that last? That’s fairly myopic, isn’t it? And a healthier diet has that long term that ends on Tuesday. Right. But this is the big run up. And here comes the big reveal. This is what the entire email is talking about. Others are thinking of more long term goals, like increasing their height up to six inches. People from around the world have consulted with Dr. Kevin Debbie Parr shod of the Limb Plastics Institute, Limb Plastics. Las Vegas’s premier limb lengthening medical practice to increase their height using the most advanced technology. At this point, I’m thinking like what? Monkey bars and minimally invasive surgical procedures? Well, I’ve seen the video doesn’t seem too minimal to me. Dr. Debbie Harshad. That’s his name. Kevin Debbie Paasschen offers patients the opportunity to boost their height by up to six inches in short. Yeah, I see what you unintentionally did there. In short, he prides himself on his ability to help patients feel confident in their skin and achieve their beauty, career or relationship goals. My beauty goal is actually to stretch my skin six more inches than I thought it would go. Is this guy for real? Indeed he is. I went to the Web site sorry to the institute’s Web site. The Little Plastic Institute where I found a bio of Dr. Debbie Parr Shard. It says, Dr. Debbie Paşa Shihad is proud to serve as a national and international thought leader in driving the limb, lengthening conversation within the medical industry and pop culture. I mean, personally, I can’t even think of who would be in second place. Yes, I can see the ground of thought leader to the good doctor. To quote from the Web site, Dr. Debbie Parsad says, quote, I believe everyone has the right to achieve everything they believe they need or desire. Huh. That is a clarion call for a leg lengthening. If there ever was one or possibly a recipe for chaos on a global level, don’t ask me, though. I am not a thought leader. So how much does this procedure cost? The answer? Seventy five thousand dollars to lengthen the femur. Seventy nine thousand dollars to lengthen tibias. That according to the pricing on limn plastics, by the way, used to be limn Plastic Co. or the Plastic Car Institute. The plastic cover man. The plastic for women. Now we just go with. Plastics. It’s much better gender neutral anyway, that is just the first step in the leg lengthening journey, if you will, because to remove the nails that the doctor inserts will be fourteen thousand dollars for the femur and he’ll give you a good rate on femur plus tibia. Twenty thousand dollars. So we’re talking almost one hundred thousand dollars. The question is, is it worth it? Well, an award winning news organization named Inside Edition covered the Limb Plastics Institute. And here was one, let’s say anguished customer David Wilson is the most painful thing that I’ve ever done through my life. But then Wilson demonstrated the world changing effects of being two inches taller as my legs got longer. I needed to extend my seat back further so I could have this adjustment room right here. It was kind of cool. That makes it seem so worth it. Another patient interviewed on News eight Las Vegas expressed these sentiments. If you get a procedure which makes you feel happy here, confident about yourself, about your body, then you should go for it or save the hundred grand, immense pain and 25 to 75 days of convalescence and keep your car seat in its original position. Your choice, as the original press release says, while many of Dr Debbie Parr Shad’s patients have already undergone surgery and completed their physical therapy, a few patients have been working to realize their full height throughout their time in isolation. Ultimately returning to their normal routines and places of work taller than before. Why gym? When I last gazed across the cubicle, I saw your eyebrows. And no, I notice I am staring squarely at your nose. Did you achieve your beauty goals via minimally invasive surgery at the Limb Plastics Institute under the steady surgical hand of doctor and thought leader Dr. Kevin Debi part Shahd? No, Steve, I raise my chair one inch. What do you think? I’m crazy. On the show today and by the way, thank you for that indulgence. Let me also say the original press release up to six inches. It clearly says anything more than two is quite dangerous. But anyway, on the show today, I spiel about countries that aren’t as polarizing as the United States. And I long for the same floor of the Irish. But first, we honor a man who needs no lengthening. Bill de Blasio is not only six five. He’s also mayor of New York City. But if you’re paying attention to his reaction to this pandemic, it has been confusing at times. De Blasio says some good things at press conferences and then he seems to violate his own dictates. He gets into spats on Twitter and he has his staff members threatened to quit if he can’t get his act together. His on again and then really on again. Antipathy with Governor Cuomo is always present in his dismissal of criticism does not exactly elevate the rangey mayor. The municipally gifted Aussie paper of The New York Times is up next to discuss.

S3: I will now give you a timeline of some of the things New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said and done as regards the Corona virus. March 2nd, he declares on Twitter, I’m encouraging New Yorkers to go on with our lives and get out on the town despite Corona virus four days later. He acknowledges there is a new reality of community spread. So the fact is, when compared to a few days ago, we have a very different reality. March 11th, in a press conference, he advises, We go about our lives telling people, quote, not to avoid restaurants, not avoid normal things that people do. If you’re not sick, you should be going about your life. That was the date of the NBA shut down. And since then, he’s gone a little back and a little forth on how seriously to take this to the point that on March 16th, The New York Times reported that the mayor’s top aides were furiously trying to change the mayor’s approach to the corona virus outbreak. They documented arguments and shouting matches between the mayor, advisers and health officials with people threatening to resign if he refused to accept the need to close schools and businesses. Well, the schools are closed. The cities are closed. But I wonder, and it’s not a scathing condemnation. I just have so many questions about why the mayor does what he does and if what he does is, as it seems, so contradictory to where we need to be in fighting the corona virus. Joining me now is, I think, the best person I could think to talk about this, his he’s PaPeRo who writes the New York Today column for The New York Times. I’ve read you a little bit of his bio, and this is why I think he’s perfect. Raised in Queens. Educated in Albany. Lives in Manhattan. Worked for the Queens Tribune, the New York Sun, Politico, New York. And The New York Times. Except for that Albany foray, which we can forgive, um, this guy’s a New Yorker and observer of New York politics through and through. Thanks for joining me, Ozzie.

S1: Thanks for having me. So let us actually acknowledge the Albany part of it. Is the mayor doing a bad job, a weird job or just a job that is so in conflict with Andrew Cuomo, who might not be doing a perfect job, but sort of has become the avatar or hero or pandemic boyfriend during this time.

S4: I think what we’re seeing is two leaders in the middle of New York learning how to deal with a crisis in real time and the backdrop to some of this. But those of us who were in New York and sort of remember it was September 11 when we had other New York officials thrust into a crisis. And Rudy Giuliani, obviously the mayor of New York City at that time, became America’s mayor for how he handled the crisis immediately on that day and the days afterwards. And he saw George Pataki sort of recede into the background. And Andrew Cuomo, who was running for governor the following year, dismissively referred to Pataki as sort of just holding Giuliani’s cope with. That was the quote.

S3: And then all Pataki did was hold Giuliani’s coat.

S4: Exactly. So if you’re a New Yorker, if you sort of remember these kind of things that’s in the background and, you know, Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio are sort of cognizant of the politics of that area. They’re also, let’s just be fair, public servants who are called upon to do something extraordinary that not many people had anticipated before, which is manage a public health crisis that moved much more swiftly than at least some people were anticipated. De Blasio has commented, as you noted, evolved over time. And it was based on some information that was coming in, information that now in hindsight, you know, six, seven weeks into this, look like they should have moved perhaps faster. Andrew Cuomo, who always likes to be the living embodiment, that city’s other creature of the state. And he’s the head of the state. He is sort of leading into this idea that he is taking control of the messaging and he wants to be seen as someone who’s very active in managing this. Now, initially, there was calls to sort of let you know, mayors or let some local officials make some decisions. That, too, has evolved over time. So whether or not de Blasio on camera are doing a good job based on what they said at that particular time, I think it’s a little bit complicated because of how much has changed over time. But you’re right. There were people who were pulling the alarm and saying this has to change much more swiftly.

S1: Right. And Cuomo, although he has this status in his press conferences, are soothing and informative. He got a lot of things wrong in the beginning. And that may second quote that I started off with. Cuomo is saying the same things. He was emphasizing that we shouldn’t fear this. Instead of emphasizing that this thing could be a killer. But look, even Dr. Foushee was essentially saying the same thing. So I’m not going to. Valuate de Blasio unfairly. I’m not going to evaluate him in a light other than his peers. But still there were the words and there were the actions. And I wonder how bad and how much it hurt him that he made a recommendation that all gyms be shut down. And then a day or a half day before he snuck in one last workout at the scab that he constantly picks, which is he travels to a gym in a different burrow by motorcade to get a workout in every day. And he couldn’t stop himself from doing that during the pandemic.

S4: That has been one of the most obvious points of criticism of the mayor. And at different times, he’s able to say, look, the city is running. Well, the economy is running well. Crime is low. Finances are high. Like get off my back is essentially his message in that regard. What makes this episode kind of different from the past is that, as you said, he was encouraging people to sort of keep a social distance from one another. And generally people understand that to me, like don’t do excessive traveling. And here he is sort of seeming to defy the spirit of what he’s asking people to do. Both the governor and the mayor have said we’re in extraordinary times. People need to accept the level of change in their own lives in order to help reduce the spread of this disease. So when he goes into a car and travels to another borough to walk in a park, that, for all intents and purposes, is a very nice park, but no different than other parks that you can avail yourself to. And in other boroughs, it raises the question of how much is he accepting the kind of advice he’s asking other people to accept? And it’s right.

S1: He did that, too, by the way. He was spotted walking in Prospect Park and heckled by, hey, it turns out people have cell phones and heckled by some guy.

S4: You know, for news junkies like you and I, we can delve into the details of what he said, when and everything. If you’re someone who’s busy just dealing with raising your own family, no worries about work and what’s going on. Your snapshot of what is happening comes in these bursts of moments. And if you’re seen the mayor sort of traveling to another borough to walk, the message you may understand from that is, well, it’s OK for me to go out and kick a soccer ball with a friend of mine. We’re keeping six feet apart and the ball and like, you may get the wrong idea of what to do if you are only casually passing through and picking up snippets of information. And when you have politicians who get elected through an electoral process, you know, partisanship. And we all understand what that implies. It sort of creates new challenges when you’re trying to tell people information based on health and science facts. It becomes very complicated.

S3: Look, I think there are different models that work. I think that there’s this successful politician communicating model. And I think Cuomo does that well. I think there’s the shared politician and health official. Look at Ohio and Mike DeWine and Amy Acton in Seattle. The health officials have become superstars.

S1: And so I wonder with de Blasio, let’s take the big flare ups that people have really pointed to. There are one of three explanations. He’s either just uncaring. He don’t care what people think. But that seems to be contradicted by how much digging out of the criticism he does. Right. So maybe he’s uncaring, maybe just undisciplined, like he never really thinks about this. Does what he wants. He just is constantly creating fire from self to put out how he operates. Or the third thing is we’re being unfair. This is, you know, going to the gym. People went to the gym before a shutdown order. That’s the point of a shutdown order that happens in two days. You’re allowed to do something beforehand. I don’t know what of those three things. Am I leaving something out or which of those three things do you think best explains?

S4: I am very hesitant to open and get into someone’s head, but I think it’s hard to find the evidence that someone is purely uncaring. I think one thing that has been true about the blogger for quite some time is that he’s reacted with defiance when he’s been criticized for something that he thinks is unfair. So if you criticize him for going to the gym and he looks at himself and doesn’t think it’s a fair argument, instead of adjusting in order to get those the win for that cycle, he will dig down deeper. I believe he views it as a matter of principle that he’s not going to be kowtowed on what he considers an illegitimate argument. Other people like you can point to Nancy Pelosi as someone who thinks of political power in very real terms. You know, you don’t get the score for making the argument. You get the score for getting the ball across the finish line, clearly. I follow sports balls. I’m getting it. Yeah. But the clearly deplores you’re someone who sees value in stating principles and Andrew Cuomo is someone who sees value in accomplishing things or or getting headlines in which reward him for doing what he says. This fits into that category where de Blasio feels that the criticism is unwarranted. Therefore, in order to show that. He is winning this argument. He continues to do it. I think that’s where this sort of fits in. I don’t think he believes this to be a legitimate criticism of of his stewardship of the city. And I think in some ways, you may also wonder if if he does it purposely, because if you raise that question to him, he has the response of, you know, the response of saying, hey, so many other things are more important. Is this really what you want to focus on media? And I think it falls into that kind of trap that you have to wonder. It’s it can’t be not anticipated to some degree.

S3: So I want to get into the progressive politics. And those are his politics. And they’re really they’re deeply held. I don’t question the sincerity of his beliefs, but to some extent is the tension or the things that he’s done that has led to staffers revolts to say nothing of public disapproval. Some public disapproval driven by his wanting to follow how he defines progressive ideals at a time when the broad public is paying attention and might not have as much invested in those ideals tangibly. There was a tension. Do shut down schools or do you keep them open? But in his calculation, he emphasized the plight of the underclass over the situation of everybody. And maybe there is a defensible way to do this. But he didn’t do it in a way that was applauded by the public. And he also allowed his definition of progressivism or helping the have nots. He let it dictate policy to the point where New York, which was the hardest hit by the pandemic, closed schools well after other places. And that has, I think, proved to be one of the reasons why the virus has spread in New York.

S4: I think de Blasio is hemming and hawing about shutting down schools. He was elected during the 2013 campaign cycle on the promise of shifting New York City’s focus not towards the struggling middle class and those aspiring to make it, as some of his challengers like to phrase it, but really focusing in on the people who have been left behind during the boom time of Michael Bloomberg. So I think people understand that to some degree what they were getting. So I think it’s of no surprise that that in de Blasio calculation, the people who are working two jobs, you know how, you know, two family household who have jobs that are looking to figure out how to take care of their children has to be schooled at home. I think he was cognizant of that clearly. But I think he he didn’t want to just quickly dismiss the concerns or skip over without a lot of information. What so many of the people who are struggling and are in public schools going through there are homeless children who attend public schools that need much more healthy consideration than the families who are middle class or upper middle class means that are dealing with the same challenges.

S3: So for the national audience, yeah, acknowledging there are tensions, specific tensions between how the state in the city is structured. Are there general insights that can be gleaned about de Blasio and leadership in a crisis or lack of leadership?

S4: Robert Caro is fond of saying power reveals. And I think he you can say possibly the same thing about a crisis that when a crisis happens. One of the first things it reveals about the people in charge is how sensitive they are even to the idea of a tragic imagination. You know, de Blasio is very attuned to inequality, income inequality, in particular, racial injustice and things along those lines. I think we haven’t had in New York or in many other places elected officials that were keen and sensitive to the concept of of a public health crisis like the one we’re facing immediately. So I think it shows how much de Blasio and Cuomo and New York officials were considering other kinds of challenges that don’t necessarily line up with the Corona virus. It was something that was initially thought of as being, you know, coming in from China or Rouhani. And it turns out the New York Stran, you know, came from European travelers. You know, it’s something that they didn’t understand immediately how quickly it spread and therefore sanitation and handwashing and things like that. These weren’t the kind of challenges that these two career politicians spent their lifetime sort of addressing and focusing on. And I don’t think many other people in this high level of politics are really come to the foreground with those qualifications. So I don’t want to cast aspersions on them on those grounds. But how quickly people reimagine what is possible is a sign to some degree of leadership. And it’s not the kind of leadership that American politics has often focused on or rewarded.

S3: Yeah, I got to say, in a political. Devastation. Robert Caro is fond of saying it’s just the best, most promising way to start an answer. It makes up for any goal post Slapshot finish line befuddlement. We’ve had earlier. It’s gone.

S4: Excellent recovery. Accomplished. Mission accomplished. That’s the phrase.

S1: Yes. We’ll put it on the banner behind you. Aussie paper writes the New York Today column for The Times. He has a background in every non Murdoch owned piece of media in New York City. Thanks so much.

S5: Ozzie, thank you for having me.

S1: And now the spiel. America is polarized. It is a fact at once familiar and routine. But the consequences of that fact are profound and without exaggeration, their world changing. It’s not like this everywhere. And there are mature democracies where two sides are in at each other’s throats. And things in those places are generally, in a word, better. I don’t know if Sweden’s corona virus response is proper. I don’t think it’s working. It looks to me like it’s not. But Sweden’s corona virus solidarity, that is something I would trade them for right now on an Irish Corona virus podcast. I listen to called viral. This analysis was offered the other day. The question is why in Ireland’s politics turning caustic at this moment? Mark Paul, the business affairs correspondent for the Irish Times, did note that Ireland has screwed up some of its testing and it failed hit thresholds that leadership articulated weeks ago. But he said the Irish public isn’t nearly at each other’s throats like the American public is or like the British public is.

S6: There is a lot more togetherness in the moments between society and the public eye, between what the government is doing. I don’t think that there’s this much suspicion. I mean, Britain was a very divided society going into this crisis already because Brexit had divided. The entire country is polarized. You know, nobody over there is friends with each other over here. I think people in Ireland, Irish society, has pulled together so well. I mean, I’m looking out my window right now. I live in a working class suburb of Dublin. And I can see on every single house, although there’s tri tricolore hanging out windows, you know, they’ve got messages on them to Full-Time workers. There is a real sense of togetherness in Ireland. And I think people don’t really want to put their heads above the parapet too much to criticise the government. I’m not saying that it’s unpatriotic or anything like that. But there isn’t a culture of just slapping our politicians down for the sake of us, not in the middle of this crisis.

S1: He went on to say, In Ireland, the leaders are seen as working very hard and that people give them credit and refrain from criticizing them too harshly. Well, maybe a big difference is that in America, the leaders are really the main leader is not seen as working that hard and certainly not working hard in most people’s interest. Maybe that’s part of it. More likely, it’s that our president has a different concept of leadership. And this concept runs counter to basic Democratic ideas of it being wise to pursue policies that the majority of people perceived to be in their interest. Trump has a different philosophy. He appeals only to his base. He antagonizes his enemies. He thoroughly suppresses the hope of those in between. And because of the peculiarities of the Electoral College and our system, he may still win. It’s generally a stupid tactic, except for Trump. Trying to thread that needle might be the best chance he has. So he needles. Of course, Trump didn’t cause America’s polarization. He capitalized on it. And one way he did so was to turn his party into a white Christian ethno nationalist party. He figured if he won the votes of almost all the white Christians and deny Democrats the votes of almost all the white Christians, then he would win. It was a political calculation. Such calculations simply aren’t possible in places like Ireland, which is so overwhelmingly white and Catholic. Being electorally successful among the whites and the Catholics is the same thing as being electorally successful. And also, Trump, as champion of white Christian conservatives, has to very much embody those things. He can’t just lightly wear his Christianity or his conservatism, even though in real life he’s not very much of either of those things. So the Christianity he embodies is the one is defined by the faultlines of American discourse. Meaning he’s anti-abortion, he’s anti-gay and he’s anti science. Well, consider this. Ireland has a conservative leader center right, basically. But their prime minister, the Tesuque, is conservative, but he’s also gay, a medical doctor and of South Asian heritage. If only one of those things after the word conservative were true of America’s leader, the polarization wouldn’t work quite as well here. The contrast has to be stark for the polarization to work. So when an unpopular ryze democracy like Sweden, Ireland, Canada, there is deference to experts in a polarized society. There is suspicion of experts and support for whichever politician can phrase things in the starkest terms that seems most true to his or her team. An interesting illustration of this was today in the Senate Help Committee, where Senator Ron Paul, who is actually one of those things in the list of gay Southasian and medical doctors, spoke. So here is how he frames the statement that he wants to make about the likelihood of people who have acquired antibodies for Cobh, Vid 19, having protection from reinfection. Let’s now he phrase’s this.

S7: And yet the media continues to report that we have no evidence that patients who survive coronavirus have immunity. I think actually the truth is the opposite. We have no evidence that survivors of coronavirus don’t have immunity and a great deal of evidence to suggest that they do.

S1: He presented that argument to Anthony Foushee, who phrased it this way.

S2: As I’ve often said, they again, BP, you can make a reasonable assumption that it would be protective. But natural history studies over a period of months, two years, didn’t tell you definitively if that’s the case.

S1: Senator Paul took Foud. She’s more temperate assessment and generally conceded. Yes, that’s a better way of saying it, in all likelihood. The vast majority of the people who’ve had it will have some form of immunity. What if we started from that premise? What if we started from a deference to the experts? What if we didn’t start with tearing down some media strongman? Because I’ve read a lot of articles on if immunity will be granted. And generally they’re just like this one from the Philadelphia Inquirer today. Quote, No one can say for sure yet what will happen with the Corona virus, though scattered reports of people becoming reinfected thus far have generally proven to be false alarms. But if evidence from other types of corona viruses is any guide, the amount of time that people remain immune will be on the shorter end of the scale. Or this one. Also today, live science reporting after recovering from Cauvin 19. Are you immune? The first quote by a doctor of immunology says, We do not have any reason to assume that the first immune response would be significantly different from other Corona viruses. In other words, the entire conceit of saying the media is lying to you and what they’re saying is almost the exact opposite of what is true. It was overwrought. It was overdone. And it’s a symptom and also cause of polarization. So on on that very issue, the possibility of reinfection, you know, the bottom line is there are strong indications that. We’ll be some. But we don’t know. We really don’t know. So let’s imagine a world where we don’t know where we can take and embrace that ambiguity and not weaponize it and not allow it to tear us apart. The hearing today did have a partisan split. But it wasn’t always stark and it wasn’t always unfair. Generally, Democrats like Patty Murray and Bernie Sanders did take their jabs at the president. And Republicans like Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander didn’t really dwell on administration myths, missteps. They were focusing on the future and whatever polarized or polarizing content there was, it just stuck out as so deleterious and so beside the point and so antithetical to what should be a group effort. There was a time and it wasn’t much more than 12 years ago when the entire tenor around a crisis like the one we’re having wouldn’t be so riven and frankly, wouldn’t be so stupid. But now is not that time. So now we have a health crisis, an economic crisis, and solving those two things are made more difficult by our polarization crisis only with polarization. It’s not a sudden onset acute crisis. It’s more of a background condition and it makes every other crisis worse. And that’s it for Today Show, Margaret Kelly is the gists associate producer. She’s thinking to go into implant tax unless there’s a competitor, let’s say Implant Combinator. Why? And what if that one got a leg up on the competition? Daniel Shrader, just producer, wonders if the good doctor’s long legs run afoul of the authorities. Does he have a procedure that could keep him beyond the long arm of the law? The gist. I just worry that thought leader and femur increaser Dr. Debbie Paşa Shahd doesn’t try too quickly to branch into arm lengthening surgery losses which exceed his grasp. Adepero do Peru. And thanks for listening.