The “Legitimate Political Discourse” Edition
S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. Enjoy.
S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest for February 10, 2022, the legitimate political discourse edition. Just noting that this title follows some discussion about whether there should be Colbert Gazpacho Edition and Emily John think it should be called gazpacho? I would. I didn’t. But recording it
S3: in the took place be considered by the committee legitimate political discourse.
S2: We will get to that. You’re gonna have to keep listening. That, of course, was John Dickerson of CBS Sunday Morning from New York. I’m David Plotz of City Caste in Washington, D.C. and making up the trio the the jazz saxophone of this trio, the oboe, the viola, the cello. Not sure what is, of course, Emily Bazelon Sue Gray.
S1: All of those choices.
S2: Which one would you want to be?
S1: Everything except the drums. I don’t want to be the drums.
S3: Why don’t the drums? The drums keep it all in time?
S1: Too much pressure. Do we have to explain the gazpacho joke that representative might have on?
S2: I got it. People can look it up. That’s what they do at the New York Times Magazine and Yale University Law School. They explain everything.
S1: We earnestly try to include everyone in our discourse, legitimate or not.
S3: May I pose a poll quickly to the group who here legitimately likes gazpacho me? No, I do, too. I do too. There were some, not me. It has to be done. It has to be done right or else you’re just you’re just serving salsa. But if it’s done right, it can be fantastic.
S1: Love gazpacho, especially watermelon gazpacho.
S3: Oh, well, now that’s that doesn’t make any sense.
S2: Well, the making is a whole other episode. I saw a good tweet about this last night, which was basically saying, Yes, I love gazpacho, but basically you have to accept the good gazpacho is just drinking olive oil.
S1: No, I totally disagree with this. I make really good gazpacho and it only has a little bit of all on it.
S3: How much garlic does it have?
S1: A significant amount of garlic?
S3: Excellent. All right. Well, then it’s fine.
S2: This week, we had a whole discussion about whether cathartic gazpacho was even soup the other day. But let’s not do it this week. Supreme Court The Supreme Court guts the voting rights laws of the United States. We’ll talk about that. Then the Republican Party Says January 6th was legitimate political discourse and then what to make of the Canadian trucker protests. Plus, we will have cocktail chatter. Emily What did the Supreme Court do in the shadowy darkness last week with voting rights? I mean, it wasn’t. They call it the shadow docket. I think they did it during daylight hours, but. It was shadowy.
S1: Well, it was right, it was without full briefing and argument and with a short concurrence dissent opinion, so it was the shadow docket. What the court decided by a vote of five to four is that the Alabama congressional map will stay in place for the Alabama 2022 elections, even though the three-judge panel that heard the case and took in all the evidence and issued what I think everyone agreed was a very careful decision, said that that map was a violation of the Voting Rights Act because it packed in Alabama’s black voters to give them a chance to only elect really one candidate of their preference. So effectively, Alabama will have a map that has six Republicans, all of whom happen to be white and one black Democrat. Instead of a redrawn map that would have been a two to five map that would have allowed Alabama’s black voters to have a chance to elect two candidates of their choice. And this is an interpretation of section two of the Voting Rights Act, the only part of the Voting Rights Act we really have left that still is supposed to protect against racial gerrymandering, but has been totally sidelined for Alabama. And it looks like the court is really planning to gut it entirely. And I have to say that when I was reading these opinions last night, I felt much worse than when I had read the news stories about the opinion.
S2: Why just go into that a little bit?
S1: Well, because ultimately what is going on here is, I would say, a new conflict between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution in the view of the Supreme Court. So the Supreme Court’s conservatives like to say that the equal protection clause demands effectively colorblindness. You can’t take race into account when you’re making laws or policy if you’re the government. The Voting Rights Act is all about taking race into account because it’s trying to remedy historic discrimination and make sure that Black Americans in particular, but also Latino Americans and people who have English as their second language, are not being effectively sidelined by the majority in a way that really limits their power to have an effect in elections. So if colorblindness wins out, we are not going to really have section two of the Voting Rights Act in any way, shape or form that prevents against racial gerrymandering. And race-based gerrymandering is the only kind of gerrymandering right now that is actionable in court. So it looks like we are just going to have congressional maps. And in some states, depending on state law, state legislative maps that politicians can draw however they want with really no constraint based on disenfranchising voters.
S2: Right. So you can other
S3: than state law
S1: other than state law, and I should say we’re not here yet. It just looked to me from reading the opinions like that’s where the court is heading.
S2: But so the idea now is that you can literally gerrymander for any reason you want except to protect historically discriminated against black voters.
S1: Right? So the idea of political gerrymandering, like you have Republicans in power and they make the map so Democrats can’t elect their candidates of their choice. The Supreme Court already has refrained from stopping that, no matter how extreme it is. So according to the federal constitution, there are no limits. And so what we have left is race-based gerrymandering. And now to me, the protection against that looks like it’s dangling by a thread or two.
S3: David, you were. You were essentially saying the practical effect of this is not that it’s because it’s because they haven’t ruled, actually ruled.
S1: Yeah, they haven’t ruled it. The practical effect in Alabama is to leave this map in place and also just not to enforce the current Supreme Court doctrine that is supposed to prevent race-based gerrymandering. So the three-judge panel that ruled in this case applied the factors that are supposed to lead you to remedy a map like this. And the Supreme Court’s conservatives said too bad to close the election. Meanwhile, the election the general election is in November and the primary is in May. And so effectively it means that there is no time horizon in which the census can happen, the redistricting can occur and it could be remedied. But then there’s this further concern I have, which is reading the opinions that the Conservatives are ready to say, You know what? No matter what the timing is, we don’t think that the Voting Rights Act is constitutional. I mean, that’s effectively where they’re heading.
S3: I think twenty seven percent of the state of Alabama is black, then you would have under the map that is surviving 14 percent of the representation within the one district to to give people some sense of the imbalance. Would it Emily in under the previous Voting Rights Act have required Alabama to go to the Department of Justice to get clearance for this new map under the previous one that hadn’t been gutted by the Supreme Court and. And secondarily, on section two of the Voting Rights Act, is it that a is that the right place to look? And B, does that cover both affirmative efforts to rebalance historic racial prejudice and efforts to stop new attempts to block in race-based voting? In other words, does it have two functions?
S1: Yeah, I mean, when the Voting Rights Act passed in the 60s and when it was renewed several times since then, there were two parts of it. There was section two, which is what we’re talking about, where you Sue after the fact. Based on this idea that the government has done something that dilutes the power of minority voters to elect the candidate of their choice. Originally, there was also section five, which, like you said, meant that the Justice Department and parts of the United States that had low voter registration for black people and other minority groups that the Justice Department would come in and they had to pre-clear or pre-approve a change that the state made. The Supreme Court effectively took away Section five. Back in 2013 and the Shelby County decision. So we lost that. The country lost that a while ago. And so now what is left is this after the fact remedy? And yes, Congress talked about it not only addressing the problems of the past, but Congress saw it as relevant to continuing to protect the interests of minority voters. And so one thing that I think is important to understand is we’re not talking about the idea that like if you’re a black voter, you just get to elect who you want. We’re talking about the problem that some candidates, especially minority candidates, black or Latino candidates, have in appealing to across racial coalitions, across party lines. So if you think you live in a world in which white people are less likely to vote for a black person than someone else, and there are some good data about this, like you can show it in voting patterns with, you know, President Obama, for example, compared to white Democrats running for president. Then you’d be concerned about the power of black and Latino voters to elect the candidates of their choice, basically with enough of a coalition of white people or people of other races to kind of make it across the finish line. And that’s what Section two is supposed to be addressing.
S2: Isn’t there a sort of partisanship, geography, racial sorting? Big issue here, too, which is that I assume that the Alabama Republican Party and drawing these maps was not drawing it because they particularly wanted to disenfranchise black people. They were trying because they wanted to disenfranchise Democrats. It’s just that in the state of Alabama to be black, that black black Alabama is the vast majority of the Democratic Party in Alabama. And so the effect of a political gerrymander was to create a racial gerrymander. Like, that’s a kind of complicated issue because if you say that political gerrymandering mentoring is OK, then what do you do about the times when the politics and the race sort of are in conflict?
S1: Well, so I guess I would start by questioning your premise. I mean, I am given the history of racism and the presence of racism in the country. I’m not sure that you can say that people are gerrymandering. The map don’t have some racial impetus, but it’s super, super hard to prove that right. So like, that’s an issue. I mean, it might be that if we were starting all over again, it would make more sense to have protections against political gerrymandering, to just have some limits about the kind of map drawing you can do and greater protections so that you’re keeping the sort of one other way to think about how you redistrict as you have these principles, like you keep communities together, you draw relatively compact districts, you try to have some kind of geographical integrity instead of these like crazy lines. And some states really do have redistricting processes that emphasize those factors, but other states don’t. And so then you end up with these crazy, misshapen districts, and what we have left as a protection is this racial gerrymandering protection, which I really think is like on very thin ice right now at the Supreme Court.
S3: But I guess what what I heard David saying, which I think is true is is let’s imagine the the motivation stays constant. Let’s imagine that they want to racially gerrymander because they want to put all the black voters in one district. But the rest of the country is self sorting and becoming more concentrated in the way that used to be the way that black voters voted. In other words, Black District black areas were always basically voting for the Democratic Party in this theory. Now that’s the the way other geographical areas vote. In 2012, after the last census, there were 66 districts that we would consider sort of competitive split districts where you had voting for the member of Congress was different than than the president. With Biden, there were only 17 of those districts. So people are living in a more concentrated fashion. So if I’m gerrymandering purely for the purposes of political power, which is the Supreme Court, Says is OK. I’m drawing lines now in a way that deals with the fact that people live in concentrated areas. So if somebody accused me, wait a minute, you’re dealing with black voters as if they live in a concentrated area and you’re minimizing their vote, you would say, Hey, I’m just doing the I’m just doing that for purely political reasons, because now everything is geographically condensed. The non-Black districts are looking more like the black districts, which creates that fuzziness, which gives somebody an out. If the Supreme Court has said it’s OK to gerrymander for political power reasons and not racial reasons.
S1: Yeah, I mean, you’re absolutely right that the big sort, the idea that we are sorting as a country into living among people who agree with us along partisan lines, that is absolutely part of gerrymandering. It is also true that following the last census and this census, there is the sophisticated, you know, computer map drawing software that allows you to like, make these maps however you want. You could just move voters around really quickly. By the way, the notion the Supreme Court said, like, Oh, Alabama only has a few weeks to redraw the map. It takes them like a day to come up with gazillion maps like it’s it’s really just this pretty instantaneous process. So the truth is, even though we are sorting, if states wanted to draw maps that allowed for more proportional representation, they could do that right. So like if you have a big city where you have a lot of Democratic voters or a lot of black voters, you can just like break it up into a lot of pieces. Now that goes against the principle of keeping compact districts and keeping communities represented together. But if you care about proportional representation, you can totally do that.
S3: And the reason you want proportional representation or the reason you want mixing is that it in theory creates better outcomes. When you when everybody’s in safe districts of homogeneous voters, they can do whatever the hell they want. They can say the the the gazpacho is coming or the Gestapo is coming, and they know that they are not going to lose a single vote because they’re in districts where they’re going to win by 10 points by their own party. So the problem is that between cell sorting and gerrymandering, we have these districts that are basically there’s no split ticket voting.
S2: Right, right. That’s right, John. I mean,
S1: that’s worse than the problem of dividing up communities, right? I mean, I think about this a lot like, does it matter if you’re the city of Austin and you have like six or seven members of Congress representing the city of Austin? Or maybe that’s good, because the city of Austin has lots of representation. I mean, good for the city of Austin. Just to pick out an example. Like, there’s an interesting set of questions about that.
S2: Well, but you’re saying, but the city of Austin, they’ve created six or seven districts in order to divide up the Democratic voters.
S1: Right? So there’s there are two ways to screw the other party effectively to talk about it in partisan lines. One is you pack all the votes
S2: in and packing,
S1: cracking and packing. Exactly. You pack all the voters into one district and then they only get to elect the candidate of their choice in one place. Or you crack them into lots of disparate districts and then they can’t elect anyone.
S3: Can I ask you about the Bazelon doctrine thing Emily? So as you mentioned, there’s a long time before the election, but presumably if if Alabama voters had to deal with, you know, two new districts rather than one. The effect of that decision comes into play before Election Day because people candidates have to run and so forth and so on, so there’s not. But the question is after after a census, new lines are drawn always. So there’s always some change before an election. So how how is it a completely empty argument made by Judge Kavanaugh or or is it just kind of a judgment call? And how do you see it?
S1: I mean, I thought it was telling that Justice Kavanaugh kept emphasizing March 30th, and that is the first day of absentee voting for the primary. And, you know, both Chief Justice Roberts in his concurrence and then the main dissent, Typekit said, Well, hey, wait a second. The actual primary date is in May, and the general election is in November. And those are far away times. And, you know, even March 30th is not exactly like tomorrow. So I found this to be a pretty vacuous argument, especially because because we’re in shadow docket land, this is about whether to respect the the decision of the District Court, whether to keep the the court that actually like spent time reviewing all the evidence whether to keep that as the decision that determines the shape of the map as opposed to going with this idea that, well, Alabama has a pretty good case for challenging the map. So let’s let’s do that.
S2: Slate Plus members, you get bonus segments on the Gabfest every week. This week, our Slate Plus segment is going to be a John Dickerson special. We’re going to talk about what a game or a sport is. Anyway, it was inspired by a referee that John had while reading about a game called Eaton Fives. But it will also be encompass the Winter Olympics. It will encompass mind. Sports will encompass all kinds of things. So Slate.com, Says, Gabfest Plus become a member today. Legitimate political discourse shattered the mugger as he knocked down the old lady in the street. Legitimate political discourse cried the school bully as he beat this not out of a fourth grader. Legitimate political discourse and absurdist euphemism of a phrase a creepy bit of linguistic confusion has entered the lexicon this week. The Republican National Committee, the official arm, the official arbiter of the Republican Party, passed a resolution censuring to House Republican members Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the Jan. six committee and in passing. This censure resolution described the committee as attempting to persecute ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse. The RNC says No, no. What we were talking about were not the not the Jan. six protesters. We were talking about other people who were drawn into the dragnet of Jan. six, and you’re misreading what we’ve said, but it is kind of what they said. But do they should we mock them for this phrase?
S3: Well, there are a lot of things that we should be deeply concerned for about and and there should be real heavy mocking for me and you guys, former guys know about this because I wrote about it in the Atlantic this week. The thing to be most mocked for is the fact that Donald Trump, the person who is the leader of the Republican Party and who is likely to be the nominee, is the person that you have the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, the leader of the House Republicans and now the vice president have all said he is thoroughly unfit for the presidency by the actions he took while he was president. Mike Pence last week said that there was no more un-American thing than what Donald Trump wanted him to do by overturning the election. So you have the leader of a party who’s going to be the next nominee who all the leaders of the party, you say, is unfit. That’s the thing that to me is the the most cockamamie with respect to the legitimate political discourse. It is fine in America to gather people together under the under a delusion and rally and be delusional in your rally. There is legitimate political discourse in a campaign. You have debates, you have rallies, you have a lot of big conversation that everybody settles that legitimate political discourse with a vote. We should note what they were trying to do is overturn that vote. You’re not in great territory. You’re also not in great territory when the leader of your party was inciting that riot. That’s not me talking. That’s Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy said he incited that riot. So when you have the leader of your party inciting a riot, it gets really hard to slice the baloney so thin that you say the thing I’m most concerned about is the name we attach to the people who were just at the rally under this delusion, not the people at the rally who were using fire extinguishers to attack police officers. Like as a political matter, you can’t slice the baloney that thin.
S2: So Emily John is mentioning that the political leadership Mitch McConnell this week did condemn this resolution and and repeated the truth. The January six was a violent attempt to overturn the legitimate election. Mike Pence said that Trump was wrong. Can you imagine how hard it must have been to say those three words Trump is wrong. But these are party mandarins like Can these institutionalist do the institutionalist actually have any sway in their party?
S1: I mean, I think the answer’s no. That’s why we had this censure. That’s why we had this language. And I mean, OK, Mark, but this is actually, like, really alarming, like really grim for the country that this is where we are that a year on one of the parties is in its entirety and some of its leadership totally committed to just pretending this didn’t happen in some way that was dangerous and celebrating and lifting up Donald Trump. And it doesn’t matter how many lies he tells about this. It doesn’t matter how much obfuscating like they’re all part of it, and they’re just pretending that this, you know, really scary event did not have the meaning that it’s so obviously hacked.
S3: And this what’s politically crazy about what the RNC did was it seems to me that the Republican strategy was to let January six be in the past. It was a bad day, but that was long ago and Joe Biden’s messing everything up and elected us in the future because we’re going to make things better and who who put January six back on the map. Donald Trump, who continues to say that Mike Pence could have done something, saying it so much and so regularly that Pence felt he had to speak out again. As David pointed out, that must have been somewhat difficult, given that Mike Pence has been the most loyal person and has in many previous instances where it obviously was a chance to speak out hasn’t. And then secondly, you know, the RNC raising this out of the blue also they were doing, they were wrapping the knuckles of Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney to members of Congress on the January six commission. That was the other thing they did was censure them for not acting in in the standards of Republican members of Congress. So these are unforced errors. And Jan six is being read discussed in current terms, so they’re not just trying to forget it, they’re basically trying to rewrite what happened.
S2: Are you so sure that it’s an error? I mean, why there is this conviction that, oh, this is that this is an unforced error. This is an own goal. Why would they bring this up? They’ve coined the phrase legitimate political discourse. I don’t know. I mean, just it like feels like we’re the stage in American politics where there are no errors anymore because everyone is so tribal. So no matter what you do, your tribe is on your side.
S3: Well, absolutely true. I think you’re I think you’re exactly right. I think the idea that that that what used to hurt you in the past relied on the maintenance of norms of a variety of people we’ve seen don’t maintain those norms. I do think it is a different situation where you have the leader of the Republicans in the Senate calling out basically the leader of the Republican Party. That is new. You also have splits in the party where you have the Republican Governors Association running ads on behalf of Brian Kemp, the incumbent Georgia governor, against David Perdue, who’s running against him in a primary. And part of the reason the National Gubernatorial Committee has to support its own person against another Republican, which is, which is I think never happened before, is because Donald Trump is supporting David Perdue, and these are tensions within the party which are causing upset. And the reason they’re causing upset in the Senate race is because they’re a bunch of races in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Mitch McConnell is worried that a party that gets defined as too thoroughly in the Donald Trump camp will actually lose in those states where where the electorate is not wholly tribal.
S1: So is that why McConnell spoke out? And is that like an effective move for him to make at this point? Like, is it enough? Is it anywhere near enough?
S3: I mean, I think that is why he spoke out. I think it’s a signal which he has to keep sending about making sure that Republicans nominate people who can win in those competitive states. So it’s not that it changes. It’s a it’s a signal to the political insiders. And you saw a number of other senators speak out as well, including Uncle Mitt Romney, who is the uncle to the head of the Republican Party, Ronna McDaniel, which was a very must have been an interesting text chain, the family text chain. But so whether it’s effective, I don’t know. But yes, it’s in the context of that of those places where it’s where the races won’t be determined wholly by the strength of the Republican Party. Of course, McConnell can’t get too far out because he obviously needs, you know, the Republican base to show up, too. Although what we call the Republican base is a shifting thing.
S2: I mean, there is this desire I can’t like. There’s some people who want a Republican Party that is Trump. That’s most of Republicans want a Republican Party, which is led by Trump. Then there’s a bunch of people who want Trumpism without Trump because they feel that Trump is toxic. And then there’s an increasingly tiny group of people who want neither Trumpism nor Trump. And for the Republican Party, too, you know, which is Mitch McConnell. I mean, not Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney and and a few friends of his like. So our choices are Republican Party, which which is in the thrall of of Trumpism. That is our only choice. And then the question is, can you have it with or without Trump? And I guess my hope is that they can somehow find a way to do it without Trump. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t look likely at this moment.
S3: I would just add one other thing about McConnell. He wants every conversation to be about inflation, crime. The border and Joe Biden have the entire election be, and all the political winds are at his back. So anything that changes the conversation to anything having to do with Donald Trump, who energizes the Democratic Party is a conversation he doesn’t want to have happen.
S2: Is there ever been a more effective politician in our lifetime than Mitch McConnell has? Truly. He’s amazing. He is just incredible.
S3: Well, yeah. You know, I’ve made that point very many times. I mean, the current court is organized because of his work. And I mean, you could are effective politician for sure. And and I think it’s a perfectly defensible case that he basically got Donald Trump elected.
S2: The Canadian trucker protests the freedom convoy that has snarled Ottawa for days, almost two weeks with enormous trucks. These protests are fascinating. They are also now incidentally snarling, not incidentally, their snarling border crossings in Windsor, Ontario. In Port Huron. Also in the west Canadian West, these protests are a confluence of various forces that in the immediately, of course, their truckers who are annoyed with a new vaccine mandate required for border crossing. But then also that flowed into the rise of right wing populist organizing in Canada, often fueled or funded by Americans, and just a kind of general frustration among a certain relatively small group of Canadians with with the mandates and policies of the Canadian government, the Trudeau government. I have to say like these, these protests must be just a nightmare to be in Ottawa. I live in our nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C. I can imagine it would be a nightmare. But this form of protest is absolutely brilliant. Like, I’m always surprised when someone comes up with a new way to protest. I’m like, Wow, this is a really, really great new way to protest. And I can’t imagine that the United States is going to escape this. We are going to have trucker protests in this country really soon. So.
S1: So wait, so explain why you think it’s brilliant because
S2: it takes a relatively small number of people there. Only a 400 truckers there to cause complete chaos because the trucks are so big, they are basically impossible to move. If if their owners refuse to help, they bleed their air brakes, making them locking their wheels. And it is. It requires an enormous effort just to move one, let alone 400 of them. And it’s just a tiny number of people who are able to do this, and it’s very visually effective as well. So it is. And also truckers, unlike like truckers, tend to be independent operators. So a lot of them own their rigs. So they’re not actually stealing anyone’s equipment, they’re just taking things that they own and deploying them for a purpose. And it doesn’t take them that long, doesn’t. It’s just it’s just the amount of chaos you can cause with a very small number of people, and relatively little effort is astonishing. It’s very effective.
S1: Yeah, it’s it’s terrifying, actually. I mean, 90 percent of the truckers are vaccinated, apparently, right?
S3: So it’s outsized if it’s not the actual reality, but it seemed like a bit with the coverage they got and everything else. It sends a disproportionately and asymmetrically powerful message.
S2: And it’s right to say, I mean, they’ve shut down. I mean, Ford is shutting down plants. Toyota shutting down plants. The border crossings. I mean, it’s is. This part is genuinely ugly, and they will probably regret this. But blocking the actual border crossings amazingly effective with a very small number of people. And it’s already spreading to France, Australia, New Zealand. So it’s it’s I mean, I had the thought actually that what if you were truckers and you decided rather than putting this to the service of fighting vaccine mandates, which maybe is good, you put it to the service of higher wages for truckers. Could you could this could you have a trucker strike that would get, you know, double trucker wages in a minute just by doing something that’s disruptive but feels like you could?
S3: Well, except that wouldn’t that then rely on? I mean, one of the one of the things that’s happening here is that the Canadian truckers are landing in a moment of more of broader fatigue with mandates. There’s a fellow feeling or if not a fellow feeling a kind of sympathy for the truckers that you might not have for truckers wages, which will seem which would seem like special pleading in the case you’re talking about.
S1: Yeah, probably. I mean, also, they clearly capitalized on the problems and snarls with the supply chain, right? Like they saw that happening and they realized they had outsized power, in part because the supply chain is already vulnerable.
S2: Do you guys think? And I know none of us is Canadian and and honestly, don’t. None of us, I suspect, knows a lot about Canadian politics. But do you think that this will prefigure a kind of populist Trumpist move in Canadian politics, which so far have been relatively free of that? There are a bunch of reasons why Canada has not had quite the far right thrall that the United States has had. I mean, that they’re the the main Conservative Party in Canada has not been captured at all by this group. It’s a more polite society. The media there isn’t a fox equivalent with the same kind of power that Fox has in the U.S.. Partisanship is not quite an identity. I don’t think I think so much of what’s happened here is that people’s partisan identity has become their identity, and I don’t think that’s nearly as true in Canada as like people’s political beliefs or whatever their piece of them, but not the whole thing. So I suspect that Canada won’t be so toxic, but maybe it will.
S3: I think you’ve answered your essentially answered your own question. They also don’t have a primary system of the kind we have, which accentuates ideological extremism in our in our system, and they also don’t have. Same level of resentment, race based resentment. There was some in 2010 flare up of this kind with respect to immigration, and it just didn’t have the purchase that it has in the United States.
S1: I mean, also you’d expect a backlash from something like this where you have a very small number of people exerting this chokehold on border crossings and parts of the economy,
S2: although probably people don’t care that there’s a choke hold in the capital except the people who live in Ottawa. Those people are annoyed. But if you live in. Yeah, yeah. But that’s it. They exist.
S3: Yeah. What I wonder, though, is this is going to happen more and more because obviously there are American forces, financial and otherwise that are supporting the Canadian truckers protest for the purpose of making an argument in the states. And so we’re going to see this globally abuse happening in France. So the question is, is there a formula both for misinformation, disinformation, outsized benefit that this is getting? And then therefore what’s the countermeasures like? How do you quickly, as a global society, diffuse or make the case that 90 percent of truckers are vaccinated and there isn’t widespread political support for this in Canada, et cetera, et cetera?
S2: Well, I think what’s interesting here is that the you used one of you used the word asymmetry is that the the ability to cause disruption is from a small number of people is profound. And it turns out that it is much easier to fuck with the society that you live with than it is to make it work better. One of the things that we’ve seen from right wing populist movements is this willingness to fuck with the society that they’re living in. And so what worries me is you can have, you know, if you look at the anti-Trump protests and they the went, what was the Women’s March? The numbers of people participating were enormous, much greater, but they weren’t fundamentally aimed at disruption. The you could argue that maybe the protests after George Floyd, some of those were aimed at disrupting normal life and that those were effective. But I were I worried that that what we’re heading for is not necessarily like a civil war in this country, but a place where forces that want to just mess with the orderly working of daily life, which is what most of us want. Most people just want the orderly working of daily life that those forces are going to just be recognize their power. And I think what we’re seeing in Canada is like, Oh yeah, these guys have recognized they have an enormous amount of power to mess with. Things are going to deploy it. And we’re just going to see copycats of David different sorts, not where they want to be trucker protests. They’re going to be different forms, but I don’t know what they’re going to take. But I do think it’s this asymmetrical disruption is where we’re headed
S1: there, like the yellow vest movement in France, right? Because they also were like in city centers making traffic worse. I mean, on a less like intense kill off any movement scale, but similarly like trying to be sort of vividly present and disruptive.
S3: I wonder if in America, we just we apportion disappointment. Differently than other cultures and more poorly so, which is to say, if a bunch of truckers showed up in Washington to be interesting, they look at what the regulations are for the roads there because I’m not sure you can drive those big rigs close enough to the White House or the Capitol to have the same effect, although I guess you could drive it in front of the bridges and then screw everything up. But when things go bad, do Americans say, you know, the people who are causing the things to go bad, the truckers? We will evaluate the nature of their claims and decide whether to support them or not. Or do they go, man? It’s all snarled. They can’t get downtown. And then just blame whoever’s in charge, because if you don’t like whoever’s in charge, you don’t have to have people wrestle with your the validity of that, your underlying views. You just have to make life miserable and then you undermine the person in charge.
S2: Right, right. I want to close actually with one small thing, which I which I just read this morning. So one of the one of the things that defined these protests, the Ottawa protests, initially, there were air horns all day and night that the truckers used their horns and just caused a huge amount of noise. And a 21 year old Canadian filed a lawsuit, filed the suit, saying this was disruptive and it violated noise ordinances and was likely to cause permanent auditory damage to people who were in range of this and won an injunction against the truckers using their horns. And so these this protest has gone from being constantly a barrage of screeching noise to much less so. And as somebody who feels like noise pollution is the great pollution of our time, that is unappreciated. I’m just I’m so with that Canadian. All right. Let’s go to cocktail chatter. When you’re sitting in a hopefully deeply soundproof room encased in a in in in a suit of armor made of pillows. What would you be chattering about? Emily. Softly, softly, softly chatter.
S1: Softly chattering. This is an outrage chatter. This week, Sam Levine, who’s a writer for The Guardian, wrote about the case of Pamela Moses, a 44 year old activist in Memphis who happens to be black, who had a criminal record, went to the probation department to find out if she was eligible to vote, was told received paperwork that indeed her sentence was finished and she was eligible to vote. This is in 2019. Then she voted. Then it turned out the probation department had given her the wrong information, and Amy Weirick, the district attorney in Memphis, decided to prosecute her. And this week, Pamela Moses was sentenced to six years in prison for voting when she turned out to be ineligible. And this is just the kind of case that is so alarming in terms of casting a pall on people’s voting rights, sending a message that if you have any kind of record, you better not vote because if you get it wrong, you’re going to get in big trouble. And it comes in an election year in Memphis. Amy Weirick, who I wrote about in my book, she’s a district attorney who prosecuted Nora Jackson, who’s one of the characters in my book, Why is up for election this November for the first time in eight years? That’s how long the term for being the lead prosecutor is in Memphis and Shelby County, which is the district we’re talking about here. So it just seems kind of breathtaking that this case is happening right now in Memphis. And I was especially distressed that the response of the judge who sentenced Moses was to say to her, You tricked the probation department into giving you documents saying you were off probation when, as far as I can tell, there’s no evidence in this case that Moses knew that the probation department was in error when it gave her these documents.
S2: That is stunning. Will this get reversed? Is there no way this gets reversed or anything?
S1: I have no idea what is going to happen next. Kudos to Sam Levine for reporting on this, and the story has gotten picked up in The Washington Post and on Rachel Maddow. But yeah, it’s really distressing.
S2: John What’s your chatter? Softly, softly,
S3: my chatter is part of the quiet storm here on what was the name of what was the what was the station in D.C. that had the
S2: W w k Wyeth’s Democrats?
S3: Oh man, on the old on the old alarm clock that had the the little paddles that flipped with the time listening to David chaos. Anyway, my
S2: chest, I lost my my my real career should’ve been. It’s a quiet storm.
S3: Deja Yeah, exactly.
S2: This one’s going to Eleanor anyway. You know it’s raining where you are, Eleanor, but it’s Sun’s coming out in the morning.
S3: My chatter is about a
S2: it’s another Windham Hill hit.
S1: OK, OK,
S3: OK, all right. Oh my god, so stuffed tomato in his mouth. So my chatter is about the if by Whiskey speech, which came to my mind when I was writing the kicker for my Atlantic piece, which was about, well, you can read the piece anyway. The point Whiskey speech is a favorite of mine. Everybody probably knows that it comes from Mississippi and Mississippi in the 1950s was still a draw. Is the last state to be to allow alcohol, to allow Whiskey. It was a dry state. And so when you were running for the statehouse, you would when you campaign, somebody would often yell out, how do you feel about Whiskey while you were campaigning? And it was a problem because people wanted you to be against Whiskey, but there was Whiskey all throughout the state. Anyway, there was a famous speech by a member of Congress, Noah Swett, who was known as Soggy Sweat, not because apparently he was in favor of him. He was a wet or in favor of drinking, but because his it derived from the fact that his hair resembled a sugarcane tassel, a sorghum top, which apparently is why they called him Soggy anyway. I won’t read you the Whiskey speech, but you should go read it because it basically goes like this. Noah served. I mean, sorry. Sweat served one term in the Legislature and then became a judge and then a T and then a law professor. And this was his, I think, the last speech he ever gave. Although there’s some confusion that he might have said this at a rally. But he said, my friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take my stand on. New issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about Whiskey. Alright, this is how I feel about Whiskey. If when you say Whiskey, you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, the defiles innocence to thrones. reason destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, literally takes the bread from the mouths of children. If you mean evil, drink the topples the Christian man and the woman from the pinnacle of righteousness, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation and despair and shame and helplessness and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it. But if when you say Whiskey, you mean the oil of conversation that for philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts the song in the hearts and laughter in the lips, in the warm glow of contentment in their eyes. If you mean Christmas cheer, if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentlemen, step on a frosty, crispy morning. If you mean the drink, which enables a man to magnify his joy in his happiness and to forget, if only for a little while. Life’s great tragedies and heartaches and sorrows. If you mean that drink, the sale of which puts into our Treasury is untold. Millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children are blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful, aging and infirm to build highways and hospitals and schools. Then certainly I am for it. This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise like I did.
S1: Oh my god, Dickerson now is like the perfect marriage of soliloquy and your skill.
S3: I did end up reading it all, I guess, about elections. Go to YouTube if you’d like to see John Grisham. Read it because John Grisham, it turns out, was a law assistant for Soggy Sweat, and so he reads it in the most pleasant and lovely southern accent.
S2: Well, I hate to follow that one, but yeah, right? All right. My chatter is just to go check out this photo that you probably have seen, but if you haven’t, there’s a photo of Putin and Macron at their negotiating table. The Macron went to Russia to meet with Putin to attempt to negotiate a diplomatic end to the Ukraine crisis, and Putin is sitting at one end of a long white table. When I say long, I mean literally like a 50 foot long table. And Macron is sitting at the other. They are barely within shouting distance, let alone talking distance. And it is. It’s just a hilarious photograph of your sense, like, Oh, this is this is definitely not a negotiation that’s going well. This is not a negotiation of intimates. I felt like the Macron was just trying to stay out of Novichok range. He just wanted to avoid the Novichok tipped fork that Putin might stab in his direction. It probably is just Putin’s germ phobia. Putin is notorious germaphobe, and he’s really paranoid about COVID, so maybe that’s really what I really
S1: like the rug and the floor design.
S2: My gosh, the hotels are terrible. The room is crazy. But I, my immediate thought was like, Oh, this is what this is, is this is the Duke and Duchess of Grantchester having an intimate meal circa 1898 with whose Jocelyn it really looked like some some stuffy English lord, except updated with hideous Russian furnishings. And it was mostly humiliating for Macron. I assume it was humiliating for Macron. But anyway, check out that photo listeners. You send chatters to us and we love to hear your chatters. I mean, then we love to hear from you about them. So please tweet them to us at at Slate Gabfest or email them to us at Gabfest, at Slate.com. And this week we have one from Cason Reily. Hi, Gabfest is this is Cason Reily calling from Stanford, California. My chatters about Sue Gray UK civil servant and author of The Great Report. The inquiry into Boris Johnson’s pandemic parties as recent profiles, including a great video from the BBC Detail Grey is the daughter of Irish parents and joined the civil service straight out of high school. She took a break in the 1980s to run a pub in Northern Ireland before rising to the highest levels of civil service, and she seems to have been involved in every major internal government investigation in recent decades. While someone like Gray would almost certainly fail to receive a presidential appointment or pass Senate confirmation in the US, I think it’s pretty cool that a non university educated, non-partisan pub managing and corruption busting public servant can make it to you and remain at the highest levels of government service in Britain. The thing I liked about this chatter Cason elaborated on an email to us, is just that this idea of the bureaucrat, the powerful bureaucrat is one that’s much stronger in a parliamentary government like England and in the Europe. In Europe, generally, there are these bureaucrats who sort of stay in service for long periods of time. And we, I guess Tony Fauci kind of is that for the US? Tony FAU-G has sort of has that role here, although clearly controversial, but we don’t have those same kind of figures, and it’s nice to think that there are these government bureaucratic celebrities. We should have bureaucratic celebrities. That is our show for today. The Gabfest is produced by Jocelyn Frank. Our researcher is Bridgette Dunlap John Thomas is managing producer and Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate Podcast. Please follow us on Twitter at Adela Gabfest Tweet Chat or to us there or email chat or to us at Gabfest at Slate.com for Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson David Plotz. Thank you for listening, and we’ll talk to you next week. Hello. Slate plus man, John Dickerson is truly in the heights of John Dickerson realism this week after that chatter that chatter the John just gave us was so such a pinnacle of Dickerson, but he now brings us this other delight for Slate Plus John tell us what you want us to talk about.
S3: Yeah, help me here when I stumble because, OK, this was a real. This is a real shaggy dog chatter. So I was reading the Oxford Book of English prose, and there’s a an essay in there by William Haslett and John Kavanagh. So the reason I thought was interesting is he writes about John Kavanagh, who played Fives. And then there’s this passage. He, who takes playing at fives is twice young. He feels neither the past nor the future. In the instant debts, taxes, domestic treason, foreign Levine. Nothing can touch him further, which is basically a description of flow, as some of you may remember it anyway. I was reading along and I thought, What the hell is five’s looked it up on YouTube 5s is a game it’s known most popularly as Eton Fives because it was played at Eton School, and it’s essentially a kind of handball played in a very narrow court and part of the court. Just so just imagine a kind of a squash court, but made of concrete and brick, and you would see it on a public outdoor court, kind of. On the left hand side, as you face the wall is a notch that that sticks out, and it’s basically the the vestige of or replicating the first place. This was played, which was at a church and the notch was part of the church’s architecture. It was played, I think, between the buttresses of the church. I watched three videos on it. It’s very pleasing to watch those videos. I have no idea what the objective of the game is because none of them explain what the objective was. It was all. It was amazing. I mean, at some point I thought, I’m going to spend my whole life searching out the objective of Eton 5s, but it got me to thinking what constitutes a game and what is the minimum requirement for something to be a legitimate game, which this is a legitimate game. They’re teams and there’s, you know, there’s uniforms and the special glove. So I asked, I posed that to my colleagues here about what makes a legitimate game, because that often is brought up in the Olympic context.
S2: OK, I just so I had to bet a 45 minute conversation with my girlfriend about this last night. And I’m obsessed with this question because I feel that the Winter Olympics is filled with sports and games that are not actually competitions that are that are not sports. OK. To me, there’s a continuum. Obviously, everything is, you know, that hockey is a game. Going for a stroll is probably not a game, but hockey is clearly a game or a sport. I mean, a game in sport also. That’s different things to me. It’s like when you think about what is it? What is it? What are the necessary elements? Necessary elements are some element of physical or potentially mental sort of challenge to yourself. Chess? Yeah. Chess is a mind sport, some element of competition that there has to be somebody who wins or who who does better and somebody who does worse. And and that that you have to actually that what you do has to affect the other competitors. That, to me, is the key thing. So when I think about downhill skiing, luge, skeleton lets, that skeleton is sledding. It’s like luge. But on your stomach bobsled, those are not sports or games because you were just completely what you do has nothing to do with how other people do. You have no impact on them. You’re just racing against a time. You’re racing for time and you can do better or worse. You can have a faster or slower score, but that you’re actually not interacting with other human beings as you do it. You’re just you’re you’re you are engaged in a solitary pursue it to me.
S1: We aim to have a lot of sports. What about swimming? What about swimming? What about gymnastics?
S2: Swimming, gymnastics, I think probably is not a sport or game.
S3: Hold on, hold on. We’re getting messy here. Answer the swimming thing first.
S2: Swimming, no
S1: swimming, not interact. You are
S2: because you’re
S1: you’re in your own.
S2: No, no. You’re because a your own lane does interact with other people. But B, you’re watching you, you. What you are effectively doing, does, does, does determine what you do. And that’s why. That’s why high jump is a long jump is not a sport, but sprinting is a sport.
S3: Yeah, because you’ve got other people on the
S1: track by yourself. Yeah. But here’s the Nancy your distinction with gymnastics and ice skating.
S2: But gymnastics and ice skating, actually, I think because in fact, I can the other people watching the other people does affect you, right? You? Yes. Well, but what long jump, high jump actually does? There is a sport because actually you psychically you can choose when to enter the competition and you can psych your opponents out by entering the competition.
S3: Later we go John. OK, wait. But. I’d like to perhaps undo you by saying, you think that gymnastics is a sport?
S2: I’m unclear whether gymnastics,
S3: here’s here’s where I. But if you’re watching
S1: other your competitors is a factor, then Oliver.
S2: And also you can modify your routine based on I’m sure you do, but she’ll be.
S3: But should that be the governing thing? Because because the thing about gymnastics is it’s all based on the whims of these judges and who knows what they had for breakfast that day. So that seems to be crazy in downhill skiing, for example, you are you are up against it’s man against nature or woman against nature. One of the great centerpieces of human endeavor is not just the competition woman against woman or man against man, but man or woman against nature. And the determinate is the harsh reality of temporal time. So it seems more precise and and a real competition, which is to say human endeavor measured against a fixed standard as opposed to gymnastics, where you’ve just got a bunch of people who are, you know, making it up as they go along. I realize that’s not.
S1: No, I think you’re being unfair to gymnastics, of course, which I know nothing because its style. And it’s true that to the uninitiated people, it might be hard to see exactly what the judges are looking for. And yes, it’s more subjective than just like time. But I think there is there are obviously standards that they’re imposing. And if you understand it, then you can see that even if there are like fine grained distinctions between one person’s like triple vault and another person, that’s probably not even a thing I should say.
S3: Then I was only really trying to find gaps in David’s logic. I think both are sports.
S1: Well, I decided to be very early.
S2: I’m sorry, snowboard. So for example, like, there’s this great. The only one of the only Winter Olympic sports I actually like is the snowboard race, where they’re four of them who line up and race down together. And there’s also a parallel like there’s a parallel slalom, too. I think that they do, and those are great because it’s like you are actually competing against somebody else. I just find the idea of competing against a fixed standard. It’s certainly these people are incredible athletes. The achievements are astonishing. It doesn’t qualify to me as a that a game or sport to me implies there is human contact, there’s human connection, human engagement that we are competing somehow with each other, not competing just against some against against nature.
S3: A synchronicity. Oh yeah.
S1: So I like that.
S3: Do you all know of sports that are like Eton 5s? Which is to say something that really seems I mean, when we were kids, we made up games all the time, and even when we were adults, we once, you know, spent like five hours keeping a ball aloft among four of us where you couldn’t let it touch the ground and everybody had to hit it, which is now some kind of a game with a thing in the middle and so forth. This was like 20 years ago. But so what is the most obscure sport you’ve ever seen way? Slam ball, slam ball.
S2: That’s the great game. Yeah.
S1: What about that game where you like, throw the ball up the roof in it, you’re supposed to try to catch it before it comes down. You need like a particular kind of roof. It sounds like the 5se thing you are talking about. I love watching my kids and husband play that game.
S2: That sounds like a good game. I don’t know what it’s called. I don’t know that it has the official game, but a roof ball. Why not pitch ball?
S1: Yeah. Roof ball. Good. Good title.
S2: Good name. I thought Eden 5S was a I don’t quite understand your confusion over John. It just was like, it’s a handball. It’s probably I didn’t know what the scoring was, but it had the rules of squash or handball.
S3: Well, that’s I didn’t understand the scoring, either. In the video, as I watched, people seem to be both competing against each other and somehow cooperating, and I didn’t think that was some,
S2: some just hoo ha that they were putting in that video to make it seem like it was a cooperative game. But actually, you’re trying to score points.
S3: Well, I should think. Yes, exactly. But then there were yes, and they all seem very fit and energetic and all of the rest, but I didn’t understand the scoring. Are you supposed to hit above the line or you’re supposed to just hit the wall? What happens if you like, hit it against the little notch, but don’t hit it against the one back wall? How does it all work?
S2: Yeah. All right. OK, fair enough.
S3: And this does a vicar need to be involved? I feel like a vicar is always shimmering somewhere just outside of camera lens. A vicar, a vicar,
S2: a saucy, a body vicar.
S3: But yes, if you can get a body vicar, all the better.
S2: I’m what are the weirdest games? I mean, I played so many weird games as kids. I mean, there was a game which we played, which I loved as a kid called Maul Ball, which was just whoever had the ball you maul unfocused rugby.
S3: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
S2: On a concrete playground, that was a great we
S3: totally we played mobile quite a lot. Yeah, yeah.
S1: Jocelyn asks whether there’s a difference between a game and a.
S2: Sport implies intense physical activity, whereas game does not imply that
S1: isn’t golf a sport in some
S2: golfers, golf requires intense physical activity. Golf is very hard physically.
S3: Now wait a minute, let’s. Oh Mike, let’s hold on. Don’t I find myself? I’d like you to defend that, which I think is possible. But then also doesn’t golf have some of the problem you were having with some downhill racing? I mean, yeah, you’re welcome that another golfer, but that’s hardly competition against all 18.
S2: No, because you’re you’re you are competing directly against other golfers and what they do affects how you play. And you need only to watch one golf tournament to see how much the performance of one golfer in a group affects the the performance of other golfers and how they play. And like,
S3: what the how is that not the case with downhill racing?
S2: Because downhill racing, there’s nothing there’s no goal except speed, and the only way you do it is get there faster than other people. Whereas in golf, like you make their all kinds of choices, you make about how risky or not risky to play the game to just to to score.
S3: But isn’t that true of skiing? I mean, skiing, you can. Definitely maybe. Yeah, you know, I mean, yeah, some of the of
S2: the other people, right? You know that you know that a good person wiped. And so you’re like, Oh, I can, I can brace a little more conservatively and right.
S3: And also, I think that if if the conditions and terrain advantages, certain kind of skiers kind of skiing that affects the way you would ski because, you know, they’re going to have a better day. And so you really have to burn it and take extra risks based on your style. I don’t know. I’m making it out.
S2: Yeah. No, no. That’s that’s a fair point. I guess I would say these are all matters of degree and skiing seems to me falls away at the end of the non-interactive other people’s performance really doesn’t matter scale. Whereas, you know, wrestling you, it really matters what your opponent is doing.
S1: Sport and game
S3: do we then find that it’s OK to do these ski either a not ski jumping, but the ski acrobatics, the you know where you go off all the jumps and all of that stuff, which is judged by judges? Is that analogous to gymnastics and therefore considered legitimate?
S2: Yeah, I don’t know of I. I just I am so bored with the Olympics because so much of it is individual athletes competing doing something amazing, claiming it clearly requires a massive amount of skill. But in the Winter Olympics, it’s just so rare that they are up against somebody else and trying to. I would like why don’t they do the figure skating where all of them are doing their jumps at once?
S1: They would be in each other’s way. It would be
S2: great. Well, you’d have to adjust. You’d have to deal. You’d have to like you could. There could be a Russian whose whole strategy was to get really close to that to you and mess with it
S1: and nationalist stereotypes. Are you invoking
S2: here? There could be a Serbian who does that. An American, an American sure would.
S3: That would sort of mix roller. It feels like a kind of a roller ball roller derby kind of skating competition.
S2: Have you watched the only Winter Olympic sport worth a damn short track speed skating, which is total rollerball there on the table track there, four of them there jockeying for position. They’re going fast as hell and they’re always crashing. It’s great. That’s a sport. Bring it. Sorry, if only I knew this much about about Canadian politics.
S1: I enjoyed this thoroughly.
S2: All right. Slate plus, talk to you later.