“Opening Up” Is a Meaningless Term

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S1: One thing has become crystal clear when we talk about economic opportunities, economic growth and and reopening with modifications, the economy in a safe way in the state of California, not only should we be driven by data and public health as a predicate. And we will be. But we also have to be driven by considerations of workforce. And that means we really have to consider the needs of our workers, particularly those with children tested.

S2: You have the data. You can just be opening now, reopening. Now you trace the data, shows that disappear, has a clear cut, significant positive effect in diminishing returns. This is really quite.

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S3: Hello and welcome to Trump Cast. I’m Virginia Heffernan. So sometimes somewhere ages ago, I came across the maxim, don’t be careful, you might get hurt. And that’s been a sturdy and useful creed ever since. The idea, as I understand it, is that the poor separation, the churning we do in our minds about possible dangers, the immune overreactions to disease. The security measures meant to protect us from all suffering. These are the things that actually cause suffering. I don’t know if that’s like Daoist or Chicken Soup for the Soul or maybe Oprah, but it’s worked for me. Like it makes me decide to take a trip or go on stage or like sing something from Limas or Rob Lowe on this show, even if that thing seems potentially perilous to my ego or my routine. So don’t be careful. You might get hurt. Until now. All right. Like 90 percent of us who are still battened down against the coronavirus. I’m doing almost nothing but being careful. I’m home all day, every day, except for those short trips outside to pace around the prison yard. Actually, it’s a lovely park, but it feels like a scheduled recess and not a purposeful walk or an unpeaceful wander. And no part of me wants to go back to the studio for podcasts, I promise. It’s now familiar doing these shows here from home and I’m far too on edge about spreading or contracting the virus to want to go sit in a Waffle House outside Atlanta among people who are not wearing masks because we’ve become a masked country overnight. And not only have I come to think that is normal, I’m such a good citizen that I now think if you don’t wear a mask, you are dreadful, unsanitary and lethal. So I’m far from carefree. I’m careful this kind of new for me. I mean, after six plus weeks of this worrying and all this carefulness, I’m getting to think that this carefulness might eventually hurt us. I mean, putting nervous self-preservation and especially the preservation of one’s immediate tribe ahead of full throated participation in life, ahead of saying goodbye to the dying. I mean, that smacks of being bunkered with guns in Ruby Ridge and making enemies of everyone outside. I know I might be going too far, but putting health before everything else. And I don’t mean the economy or big business, definitely not that. But putting health before every other value, from education to intimacy to kindness to the sick and dying can kind of wear on a person. Which is why today I’m talking to Juliette Kayyem. She contains more than multitudes. Put it that way. Her Twitter bio is greatly abbreviated, but it hits the highlights. She’s a professor at Harvard. A CNN analyst and adviser to companies. She was an assistant secretary of homeland security, appointed by one Barack Obama. And she is the author of three books. The latest one is called Security Mom. Yes, she’s the mother of three children. I will say she was born eight days after I was in 1969. And yeah, when I spent time serving her life, I did meditate on my own squandered time on the planet Earth. Well, Juliette Kayyem was doing so much anyway. No resentments. I’m so happy to have her here. Welcome to Trump cast, Juliette. Oh, I’m so thrilled to be here. Thank you. We started out I started out thinking that we would talk about door dark corner. Jared Kushner, who just I wish had never come of over the threshold of our consciousness. But let’s talk about someone adjacent, but no more uplifting. Brian Kemp, the Republican governor of Georgia, because you’ve written a piece about where we are in this sort of jerry rigged, haphazard plan. You call it plan C, Plan C and C..

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S4: No, I need I need some runway to get to plan Z. Like, I it was still a plan C, though.

S3: Right, exactly. It’s like not putting on your winter clothes, you know, so that you have an additional sweater and coat as it gets colder, actually. But yes. So Plan C. Yeah. And you begin with someone who jumped many stages. That’s camp. And tell us a little bit about Camp and Wittmer in Michigan and their decisions to begin to reopen.

S4: Yeah. So. So it starts with, you know, the term opening up has become meaningless in my mind, because you have to actually look at what are the policies that we are opening up to and what we’re trying to do. No one who was pro. So no one’s pro social distancing, but no one like me who is pushing for aggressive social distancing is for it. It’s just a way to buy time. And now maybe we might be able to get back to not normal, but get back to something that looks more familiar. But because the president has decided that he is going to for the you know, in a 50 state crisis, which is what we’re in right now, all 50 states activated to be an emergency response stance, that he is going to let this play out as if we were under and Articles of Confederation, a governance system. You’ve seen great behavior by governors, right. Who are way ahead of the White House and California, New York, my state and Massachusetts and then others that are are ready to open up. So I think it’s just become this buzz word of sort of what team are you on? And that’s what he’s done. So he’s like, I’m on I’m on Team Trump. I’m on team. These people overreacted. You know, this is what I call the preparedness paradox. If if you’re successful at preparedness response, everyone thinks you overreacted and Kemp has fallen into it and he’s opening up. And in ways that are sort of indefensible, I think is very hard to do. Tattoo’s with adequate social distancing, though, I wouldn’t know. But I will say he’s getting a bad rap. But let’s just be honest here, mayors and governors. This is not a blue, red divide. Although, you know, in Michigan, you have Governor Wittmer, you know, opening up golf, opening up water for boating in New York. You have Cuomo essentially committing to opening up parts of New York State much faster than he would want to in New York City. You’re seeing in California the playing around and then and then responding if it doesn’t work with opening up parks and beaches. And even in Europe, you know, we keep saying, oh, Europe is opening up. If you actually look at it, you know, it’s like they open up a park, but you’re only allowed to be in groups of two. So we have to just be honest about what opening up is. And it’s a policy. It’s not a it’s not a philosophy.

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S3: Yeah. I mean, there’s been lots of models. We heard about the so-called dance that might determine this in the very beginning, that we would, you know, kind of bring the hammer down and then there would be a kind of kind of push pull between the economy and the disease. And I don’t know. One would take the lead in the dance. The metaphors I find better are something like Como’s valve. You know, he says we’re gonna turn the valve a little bit and turn it back if we see these indices being hit. I think he says if 70 percent of the hospitals are filled with covered patients or more, and if we get to one or more on the are not, you know, and because Cuomo always fills his slides with all these question marks, makes it clear we have unknowns, we have unknown unknowns. We have unknown, unknown unknowns. Just having that metric, knowing at which point the valve turns has been very useful, at least to me as a New Yorker.

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S4: I think that’s absolutely right. I mean, I’ve been lucky to have these forums where I can communicate what I know because I came out of this world and I just think people want to know things they want to know, like what does that what is? You know, there’s different periods. What is my first column for The Atlantic? Was America. You have no idea what’s about to happen, right? I mean, here’s what’s about to happen. And I think, you know, that you could call it a dance or the or the valve in my Warnke, you know, sort of crisis management terms. I have been calling it adaptive recovery. And so what I mean by that so, you know, is and probably to walk ashore people’s tastes. But it’s just a way it’s helpful for me because in most disasters, you know, you have the response of where you are. Think about like Hurricane Sandy. You know, you pick up the debris, you find the bodies, and then you move to recovery. But Sandy is gone, right? You’re not. This is different. This is adaptive recovery, which is she is year. That virus is here. And we are going to learn to manage around her and manage, you know, and dance with her or him or and figure out ways in which each day we’re adapting to its presence. And so that’s why I think Cuomo is really helpful, because when that if there is a day in which we hit some metric, we’re shutting it back down. And I think the challenge now isn’t so much, you know, are we going to open up or not? Because we’re clearly opening up in the less least ideal city, you know, in a less ideal situation than most doctors or public health professionals would like. We don’t have adequate testing to make this as safe as possible. So we are going to accept as a society a greater number of losses and we will try to curtail those losses. But if they get too big, we will go back inside. And that’s what honestly, that’s what the next God willing, on this vaccine as some of the news we’re getting. But that’s basically what what this next period looks like anywhere from, you know, a year to beyond.

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S5: Yeah. I mean, this point about it not being at an isolated event like 9/11, although. You know, after 9/11, we worried about what a guess in the context of this virus we’d call the second wave and that panic went around, but maybe something closer to a drought or a famine or a dust of a dust bowl, you know, something that is affecting the economy and our health and our practices for a long time.

S3: A long time. Yeah. And in a way, you never get over it. You know, like the feeling that, you know, if you lived through the Dust Bowl, you don’t take crops for granted.

S5: And, you know, don’t readily risk, you know, an unsustainable farm. We probably will not be going to, you know, swarming to attractive nuisances, concerts, upstate and so on anytime soon. I just don’t really feel like watching a Giants game right now.

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S4: Right. And I think I mean, I think the difference from the example you bring is and this is just always been true of a pandemic or biological or viral threats is of course, you can’t see them. And I think and look, you know, I mean, in other words, a drought, you can physically see a flooding. But, you know, that’s sort of the difference is that, you know, you see a girlfriend that you haven’t seen in a while. You want to give her a hug and you’re like, wait a second. She could be, you know, sick. Yeah. So that’s why we’re staying close to family. But I think good leadership right now would be preparing us for what I call, you know, the now normal, not the new normal. It is. And that is every single day we are going to be you and me and every person we know is going to be making risk calculations. Employers will be making risk calculations. And what’s interesting, I mean, one of the most surprising aspects out of all of this is that as early as recently as this week, Kaiser has been pulling Americans on on their sense of health and public health forever. But, of course, her focus on her own virus. Now, 80 percent of Americans, 80 percent still believe or two are still more fearful of coming out too early. Then the consequences of social distancing. In other words, they think the economy will come back. So, you know, people like Kent can open it, right. But they may not come. Is that right? No, it’s it’s the Waffle House index with a new variable. I had never heard of this. Oh, yes.

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S3: Blaine, the Waffle House index that I found, it’s so vivid.

S4: I feel like every profession has its little secrets. And so so we have something in disaster management, particularly because of where hurricanes and other bad things happen called the Waffle House Index. Those of you who don’t know what a Waffle House is. It is a fabulous chain of just, you know, disgustingness of pancakes, waffles all day breakfast. And they’re everywhere. I mean, any you know, any highway in the south. You know, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. You know, there’s always big you know, I think of that one because that’s one of my favorite ones. I’ve spent a lot of time in the South because of my work, and it’s disgusting and I love it. And so anyway, but they do not close their commitment to the South and to areas is that even in a hurricane, they’ve got a way of staying open. Their employees are committed to staying open. They even have their own emergency operations center, their generator, a everything. It’s like it’s like they have their own FEMA that’s deciding what’s up in court. So if something closes, it’s bad. And so FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, often in our situational reporting, we’ll have what we call situational reporting being, you know, people out in the field are are briefing people like me who, you know, are on the policy side of the situation reports. And they will often have the Waffle House index being three of ten waffle houses in the impacted area are now closed. And you’re like, oh, that’s that’s not bad. It’s ten of ten. Go. Then you’re in trouble anyway. So the Waffle Houses had to close because of the stay at home orders. So that was and and then they get to open because Governor Kemp is opening up. And the amazing thing is, at least on the first and second days, they did not come. In other words, the Waffle House index now has a new variant or a new which is a people’s sense of feeling safe. And this should really be a cautionary tale.

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S3: I love this. Also on the dial, there’s all open Waffle House or art. Ten of ten off a Waffle Houses open and everybody working there. But now there’s a new one, which is, say, five of ten waffle houses open, but nobody’s come in. Exactly. Half the staff have come in. This is great. It’s it’s a much more subtle index than it once was.

S4: Right. It’s it’s it’s it’s your consumer index, right? Yes. Yes. The other is your supplier index. This is the consumer index. And so that’s what we’re seeing. And this is true also. I spent a lot of my time thinking about what opening up is because because we are doing it. I mean, another I’m just not a person, you know, I wish for the ideal. I live in the world of reality. So my goal is, OK, if we are opening up under less than ideal situations, what can be a check on that? And there’s a. There’s a variety of things that are I think employers are probably more cautious than government. Colleges and universities certainly are. School administrators, places that might face liability like movie theaters or museums certainly are. But I think the American public may be a cautionary check into this brand new world. And that’s good because we are going to have to be cautious for many years to come, or many months at least.

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S5: I’m so glad to hear this from you because I have a confession to make, which is as soon as I heard the battle between, you know, whatever they are, trumpet’s and libertarian’s, to just throw open the doors and as Jared Kushner says, get the economy. I think he said rocking again by July. You know, all the way to the data scientists who are laser focused on reducing the virus or eliminating the virus.

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S3: And we know what their thing looks like. It looks like China looks like isolate everyone disease, trace and track. Test it every second. Develop MRI eyes that are portable so you can give people, you know, kind of lung radiology, you know, at the drop of a hat. Forget about civil liberties, like all bets are off right now. And the thing is that since we know that that exists, that at that extreme version and we know that the the extreme libertarian camp, whatever approach exists. Everyone is trying to find their way in the MIT in the middle, as you say, there’s like now a real spectrum of responses. Yeah. And yet, so if the right is being crazy in its own way, I do feel like the left has tried to say they’re idiots. We follow the science. We are just about the science and all like even to mention the economy or reopening or opening the schools in September is basically to don a red hat and join some cuttle party with, you know, with Trump.

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S4: That’s exactly right. So that’s the space I entered this week. And I got a lot of criticisms for my column because and look, I would ideally I as one of the benefits of living in disaster management is you tend not to be very romantic about things. And that’s good. I would ideally like a functioning White House and a supply chain that was working and lots of testing and a president who didn’t lie and stuff. Obviously, none of that is happening. And so what what happened is you’re exactly right, is that all these fancy reports came out. I’m part of them. I signed some them. I still agree with the fancy reports in terms of the ideal saying, you know, we can’t open up until eight times as much testing until this much is put into it. And I think that is true for the priority of life. Right. And so and I’m all for that, too. But if that’s the American public knows that can’t be right in the sense that we’re going to have to start to open up. And so maybe what’s this middle space? Small space is first of all, there’s good opening up and there’s a careless opening up. So at least, you know, there there are you know, let’s let’s be more cautious with our vulnerable populations, because actually, when we kind of admit it, it really is them that are suffering the most. Let’s do mass. Everyone wear masks. Everywhere you go. Like that period. Right. Because that’s so there are good ways of thinking about opening up. And so I just kind of think it’s important that, you know, maybe the fact that I’m not a doctor but in this space helps because I’m more of my world is risk reduction. I just want to reduce risk. Yes, but but we will have more deaths. I mean, there’s just no question about it. Our approach. We will. And, you know, I’m not as I said, I’m not very romantic, unfortunately.

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S5: I want to move this a little bit to a discussion. I don’t know. For some reason, the word values has come to me recently because when I was thinking I’m feeling an itch to do well with I’m trying to call it, I think, an L.A. Times column. I call it revise, not relax, but revise some of the restrictions. Right. Yeah. That’s great. Rather than reopen, you know, but that I’m not totally against and I will probably regret admitting this to you. Not totally against some church services. And it’s because first I cherish a concept of myself that is like kind of desperate self-preservation has its never come first. So, like, you know, I’m not a germophobia. It’s important to me not to sanitize my hands before shaking hands or constantly wash my hands. It’s just a staple of my identity to, like, reach out and emulate in its boldest form, sort of reach out and touch the sick, console the sick, you know, with my heart in my hand. Yes. And so I’ve had to forfeit that. I’ve had to forfeit my sense of myself as those things. Also, you know, one of the chief examples of this is if we are not allowed to say goodbye to the sick and dying, what is the long term effects on our values? Like we can tell ourselves and we’ve told ourselves for all these months, and I should say I’ve been on the extreme end of cautious about even leaving the house, but. You know, we can tell ourselves right now that we have this urgent, urgent priority to stop the spread of this virus. But that’s our job. Our job is our bodies. Our bodies are thinking about it, you know. And some I think Norman Doidge said, you know, our bodies know a lot. They’ve adapted a lot to beat viruses. Exactly. And I love that. I’m listening to and we are all listening to our bodies, including Waffle House customers who just know I’m not going to show up, even if I have a value of Trump ism or, you know, I’m a Republican by nature. I love big business. I don’t want, you know, my hands tied in any way. Civil liberties come first. Even if you’re that person, your body says, you know what? But right now, I don’t want to get sick. You know, right now I don’t want to infect someone else. I think that is wonderful to put that first. But as the months wear on, I think if school doesn’t open in September and my kids lose another semester and all the kids in the New York public schools lose another semester of, you know, bad hookups to the Internet, they fall off. The teachers are not trained or interested. You know, the kids drift away from the screens and missing. You know, I didn’t get to go to my aunt’s funeral. You know, my cousins had to have for a covered funeral, had to have a, you know, beautiful but six feet apart that her children didn’t even hug each other on the death. And, you know, what? Are we going to look back and say, oh, yeah, that’s good. I was really invested in keeping the are not under one. And that’s why I did all those things. That’s why I did not, you know, kiss my mother goodbye. And I don’t know if we’re gonna think in retrospect that forfeiting all our values was worth it.

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S4: Yeah, I mean, it is. It’s going to be. That’s the paradox of where we were, because where we are, which is if we hadn’t done that, what would the world have looked like? And that we’ll never know. We have some sense from Suhan, but we just don’t know. And I think that’s one of the more difficult things about being in crisis measure. I don’t have any responsibility right now. I just, you know, the field. But, you know, it’s just the what ifs. Right. And what if what if we just approach this differently and we just sort of essentially closed all nursing homes? Would that have captured, you know, 50 percent of our losses in any event? What if we had had testing or. It is hard, but I do. That is the thing that I think about a lot, too, and why I sort of find myself in this middle about trying to define a responsible opening up that cannot be everything and wait until, you know, Donald Trump gets functional. Right. That’s not going to happen. Right. And we’re not going to we are not going to have the testing capacity that these other countries have. We’re just not doing that. And I think what’s driving me, I mean, part of his same thing, like what you said about kids and, you know, I’ve got older kids or I got one who came back from college in the sense of what what’s her college experience and what’s you know, is this going to be the most you know, this is going to be the most resilient nation? Or is it going to be the I mean, generation or is it going to be the most risk averse? I can’t tell yet, depending on which which day you ask me. But I miss intimacy, too. I mean, I miss I find myself short. I I’m generally pretty happy person. And I, I send crabby emails and I, you know, and I’m not you know, everyone talks about how nice everyone is to each other. The truth is, you kind of don’t feel that nice. A lot of the times like here, you know, you you. And so I just that’s the thing that I miss is that and I think that’s going to drive us towards behavior that may have consequences that are not ideal for health, but maybe are just part of who we are and part of our of our makeup.

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S5: I’m also concerned that when we get out on the streets, we’re gonna be giving each other sort of ocular purity tests to see who’s mask doesn’t cover their nose or who seems to be in a group, a non familial, non quarantined group or. And, you know, you see things like this happening with Bill de Blasio. And I I don’t want to totally focus on New York, but that’s where my head is right now. De Blasio saying, you know, the Jewish community. Yeah. You know, may have to might have to face arrests. Right. Yeah. And, you know, I see packs of people doing all kinds of things in the park. But, you know, who am I to tell if anyone is belongs to someone second generation quarantine like this is this is part of where there’s some give even among people absolutely committed to, you know, doing their part to stop the virus.

S3: I see a lot of people saying, you know, we’ve been quarantined for eight weeks. So have you. Yes. Am I pissed off? Can we hang out? And, you know, I went on a walk with a friend for the first time, masked over the Brooklyn Bridge. And we didn’t touch, didn’t hug, had a close conversation. Can I say we were six feet apart the whole time? Absolutely not. You know. Yeah. And she wasn’t part of my original quarantine. So. But if people are making those calculations and then once they get out and as you say, they irritability, I mean, we’re all quite tolerant of each other. We’re in our houses. Yeah. Good for you. Do like we don’t irritate each other much when we never see each other. On the other hand, you know, with this thing’s so politicized, someone could look like a Trump, right? If they, you know, just go into key food without a mask. And I worry about that.

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S4: Yeah. No, it’s right. And there’s going to be a shaming element to it. And there might be shaming element to certain populations like our parents. Like, I’m happy to shame my parents. I don’t you know, because it took them a while.

S3: It took them a while to. So they were still going to.

S6: You are like me. They’re like, oh, we have dinner. Like once you said to me, oh, we have dinner with them every Monday night.

S4: And that was like, but the fact you had dinner with them every Monday night. But what’s happening the other six nights. But I will say one thing. So I look at this a little bit differently in the sense that to be more normal, if that’s all of our goals, although I don’t believe in a nude believe in the now normal, not the new normal, the everyday is gonna be different. Now, now, now things like, you know, reverting to social distancing as the norm, wearing masks the six feet apart, the meeting like, as you said, at a bridge and not at a bar that may get us to a better place faster. And so things like masks, I’ve become a convert. I you know, not in the sense that I think it’s like a social it’s like a it’s like a community contract that we’re giving each other. And I’m I’m sort of all for that because I know that we are not going to be able to satisfy that the metric of testing in time for the political push, for the push that we’re seeing where all the governors go.

S5: Now, what do you think about because there’s an element of paternalism, parental ism that’s come over. I mean, at least the way Cuomo talks about all of us that, you know, we have our freedom to choose. He’s going to just give us the facts, like someone giving about this. And then, you know, ideally, we will choose the right thing to stand side, to wear masks, stay six feet apart. Kind of like one of those parents who says, I’m just going to show you what the, you know, your brain on drugs looks like and what cocaine does do you long term. And here’s some pictures of smoking damage. You make your own choice. And that’s one style of parenting. Another one is and you’ve probably experienced this with older with older kids that they want to go outside without masks and want to see their friends. And I mean, you know, forget about civil liberties. Just as a practical matter, there’s no way to restrain a 20 plus year old from playing faster and looser with the rules. And they also, the way old people are, just so have this kind of I’m going to bridge because what do I have to lose? Which just parenthetically, I remember this from friends of mine during the AIDS epidemic. And you probably do, too, which is what when saliva was supposed to communicate it. Yeah.

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S3: You know, my friend Mike said, I don’t want to live in a world without kissing, so I’m just gonna do it, you know, and that if if our parents don’t want to live in a world without bridge or, you know, or the opera or NASCAR, you know, that is their choice. And for our teenagers, they know that they’re not at extreme risk. We don’t even know if they’re if they’re silent, they can be silent. Kids at least can be silent carriers or vectors. Like that’s not even proven yet.

S4: I get that. So I think one way to think about it for our kids and our parents is this is a short cure, is a long period, is a short period. Otherwise, there is an end to this. It’s a vaccine and the world is focused on a vaccine. And I might even cut the time it’s going to take the vaccine and half now, given the data I’m seeing. So. So for this 12, 14, 16 months, I said to my husband, you know, all of our, you know, sort of, oh, let them discover themselves, whatever. Like like now like Arab mom, I’m Lebanese, like Arab mom is like now out with a vengeance, which is like basically don’t mess around, you know, listen to me. I mean, all of this sort of let them discover themselves. And I, I think because because there is an end and I mean, in other words, it will everything will be funky and weird, but they can adapt to that funkiness and weird, that is for a short period of time. And it will be this like this is the good thing about adaptive recovery is each day something better is likely to come along, a better treatment, a better mask, a better, better rules that allow us to be together. And so we’re just sort of, you know, we’re just sort of waiting for the winds to subside. In some ways and bring, as I say, bring joy back into our lives, which we’re all looking forward to. I should say something to your listeners, because I do. I’m sure many of you will follow me, also our listeners for you. But give yourself a freaking break. I’m worried about people that I don’t even know the anger and the we have the president. We have he’s not going to change. Vote, stay healthy, survive, outlive him because he seems to be. Lived through everything, but we’re pretty resilient. And for many of us, I should say this, our stresses are not stresses of survival, right? I mean, there’s a lot of people and that’s just to remember, you know, it’s you can use that guilt on your kids, right? Yeah, that’s right.

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S6: That’s right. I like that. I’m going to try it and I’ll get back to you. Juliette Kayyem is a CNN analyst, a frequent contributor to The Atlantic and the author of three books. Thank you so much for being here, Juliette. Oh, my God. I’m a huge fan. I’ll talk to you soon. That’s it for today’s show.

S7: What do you think? Please say hi. Your support means a lot to us. While their cutbacks at Slate say hi, I’m at page 88. The show is that real Trump cast our show today was produced by Melissa Kaplan and engineered with heroism by Richard Stanislaw. I’m Virginia Heffernan. Thanks for listening to Trump cast.